DISCLAIMER: The characters in the story are the creation of Dick Wolf and I'm using them without permission for entertainment and not for profit. The story is my own.
SPOILERS: Set after Alex comes out of witness protection, so there may be some spoilers for those who have not seen the show (or L&O) to that point. I've taken some minor liberties with canon, but they shouldn't be too distracting.
FEEDBACK: To Alcina_to_Zauberflote[at]sympatico.ca
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Blood is Thicker
By Allie



Detective Elliot Stabler smelled of smoke and sweat. He'd spent the afternoon playing ball with his kids and the evening at a "family" restaurant with inadequate air-conditioning, screaming children and sticky tables. The twins had had a fight in the car as he'd been driving them home, so that had taken longer than usual, and his ex-wife had implied he'd handled it badly. He'd just kicked off his shoes and popped open a beer when his phone had rung. Arson at a shelter for homeless families and a pervert who'd tried to snatch a couple of kids as they'd fled. He'd got away with one.

One hour of L.I.E. traffic later he'd arrived at the scene. Stunned survivors had milled about being treated by EMS workers and being interviewed by uniformed cops and fire investigators. The wind shifted constantly, so that smoke and fine, black particles swirled in the air and stuck to hair, clothes and skin.

His partner had been out of town and she arrived only after the victims had been taken to hospitals and the fire was more or less out. Unlike him, Olivia looked fresh, clean and relaxed, in low-riding gray cotton pants, a white t-shirt that fit like a second skin under a thin white linen blouse that she wore to cover her handcuffs and gun because it was too warm to wear a jacket. White Vans on bare, tanned feet completed the outfit and he swore she smelled like shower gel or shampoo.

"Where the hell were you?" He knew he was cranky, but the temperature had peaked at a hundred and five and was still in the nineties, even though it was after eleven.

Olivia smiled. "Got offered a ride back from P-town so I accepted instead of taking the train back. Turns out my ride only got me as far as Darien, Connecticut, but that had its compensations. Sorry it took me so long to get here, but Metro North…"

"I don't want to hear it," Elliot smiled. "While I was stopping my kids from thumping each other you were…"

"Having a shower and changing my clothes before getting on Conrail." Her grin contrasted with the tan she'd acquired on her week off.

"Well, back to the ugliness of real life. Captain's over there coordinating the search for the missing kid. Munch is dealing with another assault just reported, but the victim was also a resident of the shelter and thinks she might have been the target of the arson. I think it's bullshit, but we gotta check it out. I'm gonna stick around here and interview witnesses because I already stink and once the city and the Red Cross finish giving out vouchers and finding beds for everybody, the chances of getting information will be slim to none. Someone needs to go to the hospital and interview the attempted kidnapping vic and her mother, so I guess that'd be you."

"Stabler, you're so sexy when you're masterful," Olivia teased.

"Must be why you're the one getting laid," Elliot muttered.

"Come to P-Town and put on a bikini and I bet you'd get plenty of action."

"Yeah, well, some of us only have half of your prospects for 'getting action' and the P-town variety is in the wrong half for me."

"I was only trying to help. Which hospital?"

"St. Vincent's, but only because all the hospitals around here are overrun with victims of the fire. Smoke inhalation, burns, kids with asthma, one heart attack, but Major Case is working the arson. Eames is over there."

"Thanks. I'll head out now and meet you back at the house."

"Yeah. Welcome back, Liv. I missed you."

"Me, too."

A squad car dropped Olivia off at the hospital and she showed her badge to the nurse working the triage desk in the ER. "They're in room three, but the doctor's in there now."

Olivia nodded. "Thanks."

The door was open and Olivia could see a little girl in a soot-stained pink nightgown and bare feet, sitting on the edge of an examining table and visibly trembling as a doctor stood over her. As the doctor tried to touch her, she screamed and shrank away from him. Olivia knocked on the door jamb.

The doctor, looking shaken, glanced at Olivia's badge and said, "Miss Latimer, there's a police detective here who needs to speak to you. I'll be back in a few minutes, maybe after Jasmine has had some time to uhm calm down." He was unable to hide the relief in his voice and he smiled nervously at Olivia before he hurried out. He looked like an intern or a first year resident and he obviously had no idea what to do with a traumatized child.

Olivia introduced herself to the mother and then to the little girl. She spoke softly and soothingly to her, only gradually invading her personal space so that by the time she took the child's hand, the little girl clung to her fingers. She'd pulled up a chair so that she was below Jasmine's eye level and slowly, patiently, she got the little girl to talk about what had happened.

Jasmine's halting story was interrupted by hiccupping sobs. She recounted the terror of the smoke and not being able to find her mother. At that point Grace Latimer moved to sit on the table next to her daughter and hug her to her side. Olivia allowed the little girl to be comforted for several minutes before resuming the careful questions. Eventually Jasmine had said, "He took Lara. She was screaming, but she couldn't get away. But I bit him and he let go, just a little bit, and I fell. And then Lara was going to fall, so he called me a bad word and he held her tighter. And I ran away. But maybe if I didn't bite him, Lara might have runned away too."

"No, sweetie," Olivia said immediately, "it's not your fault that Lara couldn't get away. He was much bigger and stronger than either of you and you were very brave to fight so hard."

"We screamed and screamed, but nobody heard us, because of the noise from the people and the fire."

"I left her," Grace Latimer said in a shaky voice. "The alarm went off and I thought it was just a false alarm. She was sleeping, so I went out to make sure and they wouldn't let me back up… I told them my baby was up there, but…"

Olivia nodded in sympathy and wondered if the shelter had ever held a fire drill, but she couldn't allow herself to be sidetracked by that when another child was missing. Eventually, Olivia asked the question that she'd been leading up to for more than half an hour. "Jasmine, did you see the man who grabbed you and Lara?"

Jasmine nodded.

"Do you know him?"

The little girl nodded again and Olivia felt slightly relieved. She also knew that children's definition of "know" could mean that they'd seen the freak in line multiple times at the Mr. Softee truck. "Do you know his name?"

"Dave. We see him in the park." She looked wounded. "He was always so nice to us, even though Lucy told us he was a stranger." Olivia assumed Lucy was a babysitter, but she decided to verify with the mother later, rather than interrupting the little girl's train of thought. "But he wasn't. That's why, when he came to help us by the fire door, we went with him." Trust betrayed. "He said he'd get us something to drink and then find our moms."

Olivia wondered what "Dave" had had in mind for them to drink. The cynicism of experience led her to believe it was something to incapacitate them. Hard to subdue two healthy children in a public place otherwise. "Does Dave work in the park?"

Jasmine shrugged. "He watches the big boys play basketball sometimes. He says he was a coach."

"Do you know where he lives?" When that elicited a shake of the head, Olivia decided to deal with the details while the child's memories were fresh. "Would you be able to tell us what Dave looks like or what he was wearing?"

Jasmine nodded and then shook her head. "I don't know what he was wearing when he took Lara," she sounded as though she was on the verge of panic. "It was dark and…"

"It's ok, sweetheart," Olivia interrupted her. "Just tell us what you know about him from before tonight." That elicited a description of a thin white male about the same height as the doctor's five-ten and with the same sandy hair. No wonder the doctor trying to examine her made the kid freak out.

"Did he usually speak to anyone else in the park?"

Jasmine nodded. "He liked to play chess with Mr. Gooding." Olivia looked inquiringly at the little girl's mother, who nodded. At least Mr. Gooding was a known quantity and Olivia was able to get basic information, including his address from the mother.

"And what did Dave usually wear to the park?"

"A blue shirt and blue pants. The same color blue. And he had the word Brown on his shirt and that made me and Lara laugh because his shirt was blue." She stopped. "Are you going to find Lara?"

"Lots of police officers are looking for her right now, sweetie." She let go of the little girl's hand and stood up. "I'm going to go out and get a gown for you and then your mom is going to help you take off your nightie and hand it to me, ok? Because our lab is going to check it to see if anything got on it that might help us find Lara. Is that ok?"

The child looked confused, but she shrugged. With a reassuring smile at mother and daughter, Olivia left the room to get an evidence bag and she immediately dialed Donald Cragen's cell phone number. "Cap, we're looking for a white male, five-ten, one-fifty to one-sixty, sandy hair, possible name Dave Brown, who does the kind of job requiring blue work shirt and work pants. He's possibly known to another male, Oscar Gooding, who lives in the apartment block on the northeast corner of Avenue C and Third."

"Good work. Any physical evidence?"

"She bit him, so if we find him before it heals, that should help. Would have been nice if she'd scratched him and got some DNA, but this guy was grooming those girls for what sounds like months, so I doubt he's a first-timer. He might be in the system. I'm collecting her clothing and I'll drop it off at the crime lab."

"Good. Make sure we're kept in the loop when Social Services finds a home for them. And when you're done, I need you to join Fin at a scene on West 38th." He rattled off the full address. "It's a mess and he says there's a kid."

Shit. "Tell him I'll be there as soon as I can." After directing a few more questions to Jasmine's mother, Olivia headed to her second crime scene of the night.

Provincetown, Massachusetts and Darien, Connecticut suddenly felt as though she'd dreamt them and the soul-deep weariness she'd been trying to recover from by taking that vacation descended upon her again and she wondered for the first time if it was even physical. The one thing she refused to let herself think of was the status of her "friendship" with Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot.



Arthur Branch looked as tired as he felt. He remembered a time when a small dinner party for his senior ADA's would have left him feeling upbeat and energetic as he'd tried to decide who would be best groomed to succeed him. For a while it had been a given that Jack McCoy would be his successor, but that had been before the return of Alexandra Cabot. He was just glad that Liz Donnelly's ambitions leaned more towards the bench than his office, or the tension at the dining table might have become unbearable.

Both McCoy and Cabot had received invitations that read "and guest" and the way they'd handled that said a lot about who they were. Jack had escorted Philippa Morgan, heiress, widow, charter member of the exclusive club that was New York Society. Alexandra Cabot had arrived alone; her social credentials needed no enhancement and her war chest, should she decide to run for DA, could probably be filled with family funds. Liz, still merely at the speculative stage of her political career, had brought Kevin Lamb, Broadway actor and well-known wit. She'd clearly been the ADA who had enjoyed the evening the most.

Arthur swirled the single malt in his glass and looked thoughtfully at his wife. "What did you think of them?"

"You mean, what did I think of Miss Cabot? We've talked about the other two often enough that you already know what I think."

"I forget how well you know me." He waited for her opinion.

"She's almost the perfect candidate, isn't she? Jack has more experience, but she seems to have won a lot of the toughest, most visible, cases. I remember your commenting that she was better at playing the politics and emotions of the jury. And that was before she was forced to live the way the other half lives and support herself without a trust fund."

"And she's certainly got more attention from the public since she returned from the dead…" Arthur added wryly.

"Yes," his wife agreed, "it's quite the biography. She's a genuine all-American heroine, who risked everything to testify against a drug lord and gave up her life of privilege to live as an insurance adjuster." She smiled at her husband. "So why do you have so many reservations?"

"She came alone. She has many acquaintances and few friends. She has ties to her family, two judges and a United States Senator counting among the members of that family, but she never speaks about them or takes extra time off to be with them. She's a beautiful woman, yet she apparently chooses not to date or become emotionally involved with anyone."

"She does seem to be very self-contained."

"This job takes you places that most thinking people never want to find themselves." He didn't need to tell his wife that very time the Manhattan District Attorney's office prosecuted a capital crime, the decision to seek the death penalty lay with him. She had been witness to his agonized insomnia as he balanced his responsibility to the people who had voted for him, with the dictates of his own conscience and sometimes of his humanity. His eyes met hers and he asked, "How can someone who doesn't allow herself to form attachments truly understand the ramifications of that burden? And how can someone who doesn't allow another person to know her soul, deal with conflict of that depth without cracking under the strain of isolation?"

"You're uncomfortable with solipsism?" There was a smile in her voice.

"I may well be… But she strikes me as more of an existentialist," he countered with a smile of his own.

"So she takes responsibility for her choices and chooses not to have a man in her life. Maybe she's been hurt."

"Or maybe there's a woman in her life. Remember Serena Southerlyn?"

"So what if Alexandra has a woman in her life? Serena never distinguished herself as a lawyer and never seemed to want Jack's job, let alone yours. Alexandra has been preparing herself for bigger and better things from the first day she showed up at work as an ADA, or so you've told me. The two have little in common. Cabot has the educational credentials, public profile and legal mind required for your job. Does it matter whom she takes to her bed? We're in Manhattan, Arthur, things tend to be… different, here."

"A lot of people who have been very good to me would feel betrayed if I endorsed a lesbian over their preferred candidate to be my successor."

"Jack isn't without his flaws. Besides, you don't know that she's a lesbian."

"And it's not the sort of thing that I can ask," he agreed with a sigh. He finished his drink in a single gulp and said wearily. "It's been a long day. Would you consider taking a tired old man to your bed?"

The subject of the DA's conversation with his wife was sitting in the small roof garden outside her penthouse and sipping a bottle of water. She loved summer evenings and the way the warm, humid air brushed over her skin. She willed her muscles to relax, letting go of the tension that had built up during the evening at the Branch townhouse. It had been a good evening and she thought she'd performed well – or at least she'd performed better than Jack and that was all that mattered.

Intellectually, she knew that she was doing all the right things if she wanted to run for DA when Branch retired in a few years, but emotionally, it was starting to feel like a Faustian bargain: she was buying legal power and prestige and the method of payment was whatever Cesar Velez had left her of her soul.

Two weeks ago she'd pushed Olivia Benson away. Nothing new there, they'd been playing the game of stop-it-I-like-it for five years. The only difference was that she suspected that for the first time, Olivia had taken Alex at her word and there would be no more of that special closeness they'd shared that was more than professional or friendly, but less than overtly sexual. That closeness had been like a safety valve on feelings so intense that Alex harbored a barely-acknowledged fear that if she were to give into them, she would never quite regain control of herself or her destiny.

She'd gone into SVU because she'd believed that when the cases made the papers the prosecutors always won, even if the verdict went against them. She had always been determined to win, partly because winning against sexual predators played well in the press. She had also been determined to win because it was the right thing to do. That righteous zeal had won her the respect and friendship of the detectives she'd worked with, Olivia more so than the others.

Although raising her political profile had been the reason she'd gone in to SVU, Olivia Benson had been the reason she'd stayed.

When Alex had been forced into the witness protection program, she'd changed her mind about SVU cases; she'd decided that most of the time, even when they won, they didn't. Victims didn't "bounce back", life seldom went back to normal and shattered families often never recovered. She'd declined to return to SVU upon her release from witness protection because two years away had not changed her parting opinion of prosecuting SVU cases. And because two lonely years had forced her to acknowledge her feelings for a certain female detective; forced her to admit the role those feelings had played in her decision to stay with the unit until her "death", even though, by that point, she'd had the political capital to ask for a transfer to something more visible and less taxing.

In retrospect, she had to admit that her deeper feelings hadn't been all that obvious, even though she'd felt the attraction and the little thrill of excitement from the first time she'd seen Olivia Benson. Those tight pants, snug sweaters and the peek-a-boo sliver of bare skin at her waist were bad enough, but the way the detective wore a leather jacket and the sway of her hips as she took those patented long, confident strides… those were enough to make a straight girl swoon. And Alex wasn't straight. When you added gorgeous, long-lashed brown eyes, a kissable mouth and a voice that could be as soothing as a caress or threatening and dangerous enough to make you shiver, it was an uneven match against the meager defenses of an aspiring DA. Alex had told herself that all that was just lust and could be ignored.

She'd recognized early on that her bisexuality was going to be a political hindrance. She'd discussed it frankly with her uncle, United States Senator Lawrence Cabot III. Rather, she'd told him that she'd decided to ignore her feelings for women. After all, it wasn't as though there was a shortage of men in the world – or even in her social circle. "Alexandra," he'd said with a smile, "you might find that love gets in the way of many of our plans. I wanted to be president, but I want even more to be married to the love of my life. And I cannot ask her to make the sacrifice required to be First Lady, nor do I want to spend the kind of time away from her that a run for the White House would entail." His wife ran a successful management consulting company.

"I'm not built that way, Uncle Larry. I've never had crushes on rock stars, or swooned over film stars or cried over a broken heart. It's not that I don't love people, because you know I adore my family and I seriously considered spending the rest of my life with Dan, but I don't think I'm wired in the same way that most people seem to be. I'd die for the people I love, but I have never met anyone and thought that I'd die if he or she didn't love me."

Several years on, she smiled at her former naïveté and took a sip of water. She gave herself kudos for having kept that delusion going for five years. Her superego deserved a certain amount of credit.

The delusion had been destroyed when, two weeks earlier, Olivia had invited her to go rock-climbing in Pennsylvania. After five years of sexual tension, they'd both understood the relevance of the invitation. It wasn't that they didn't do social things together; they'd compromised on the location of the seats and they went to the opera together. They were also semi-regulars at the Downbeat, a small jazz club. But this invitation had been for an overnight trip. Whether they were to spend the night in a cottage, a motel or in the confines of a tent, neither could kid herself that the sexual attraction that simmered beneath the surface of their friendship would be held at bay, should they tempt themselves with isolation and physical closeness.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Alex had replied carefully. Not, "I don't climb" or "I have other plans", but a specific reference to the implication rather than the trip itself. Olivia had nodded, turned on her heel and walked away.

The following Tuesday, Olivia had walked into Alex's office and closed the door behind her. They no longer worked on the same cases, so Alex had known that whatever Olivia had had to say to her had been personal and she'd suspected she wouldn't like it. She'd put down her pen and stood, walking around her desk to stand facing Olivia, waiting for the detective to say what was on her mind.

"Alex, I understand that you're uninterested in me romantically and I really need to stop hanging around waiting for you to change your mind. It's unfair to both of us. You don't need the pressure and I need…. I guess I just need some time away from the City. Anyway, I'm planning a vacation, a proper vacation, to give myself some time to think about… everything."

When Olivia had delivered that little gem, Alex had not been able to hide the spasm of pain that had rocked her. "Liv… it's not…"

Olivia had laughed, but there'd been no humor in the sound. "Not what? Personal? Yeah, I gathered that." She'd laughed again, but the sound had been choked with suppressed tears. "D'you know, I used that line myself? On a co-worker I fucked once and who wouldn't let go. At least you've got a clear conscience, since you have successfully resisted the urge to do anything about this…"

Alex had not been expecting Olivia to step closer and lean forward so that their lips could meet. For five years she'd wondered what it would feel like to kiss Olivia Benson and as she clutched the bottle of water and allowed tears to come to her eyes, she wished she'd never found out.

She suspected that Olivia had kissed her out of sheer frustration; frustration at the impossibility of the situation. But the kiss had ignited something so long repressed that it had flared out of control. It had been bruising, hungry, urgent and unlike anything Alex had expected it to be. Seconds had turned into minutes; Olivia's linen blazer had fallen to the floor and her tank top had ended up bunched over her breasts, Alex's blouse had been pulled out of her skirt and her skirt had been hiked up by the presence of Olivia's thigh between her legs. Fingers had tangled in hair and stroked bare skin on waists and backs and eventually Alex's back had thudded against the closed door.

"Oh god!" She had no idea where Olivia had found the strength to pull away. If it had been up to Alex, they would have fucked right there, against the door of her office, at four o'clock on a Tuesday, with the business of the New York County District Attorney's office going on mere inches away. They'd stood barely a foot apart and stared at each other; both had been breathing hard. Lipstick had smeared and had been smudged against necks and collars and nobody seeing their disheveled clothing and bed-hair would have had any doubt about what they'd been doing – what they'd almost done.

"You don't want me in your life and I won't… can't just have… that. No matter how… good it would be."

Alex had wanted to object. She hadn't wanted a hurried sexual encounter in her office. Part of her was shocked by, and a bit ashamed of, what she'd just allowed to happen. But it was hard to object to something that you had so recently and so enthusiastically engaged in. In a way, their kiss had been emblematic of everything that was wrong with their non-relationship: it had been beautiful and hot and intense but, from the outside, it had probably looked like a tacky sexual encounter, which had put at risk both their careers and their dignity.

As Alex had stared, transfixed and silent, at the detective, Olivia had pulled down her tank top and grabbed her jacket off the floor. "I wanted to tell you that I was going on vacation – I'm going to Provincetown – so you wouldn't wonder why I wasn't working on any of your cases over the next week or so."

She noticed Alex's wounded look at the mention of Provincetown. Yes, she was going to a resort town that was almost exclusively gay. It wasn't intended to be an overt rejection of the closeted and repressed attraction that characterized her relationship with Alex, but she knew that Alex had seen it that way. The thought had made her angry, because all she'd been trying to do, for the first time in a long time, was what was best for herself. "I'm just not clear on where the boundaries are anymore, or how much you want me in your life. But I need to… live."

The detective's hand had been on the doorknob when Alex had said quietly. "Olivia, I have never wanted you to put your life on hold for me. And, in case you have any doubt, I do want you in my life…"

"Yeah," Olivia had replied, "as your friend, whatever that means on any given day." She'd turned away abruptly and Alex wondered if perhaps it was because there'd been tears in her eyes. "So I'll see you at Lincoln Center. I should be back in town by then, because I'm going to leave as soon as Cragen gives me the ok." Without waiting for a response from Alex, she'd been gone.

Alex had wanted a bit more distance from Olivia, because the detective threatened her equilibrium, but she knew that she was in danger of losing her best friend and it worried her. She knew she was in danger of being banished from the life of the woman she loved and it terrified her.

It was a relief when the phone rang and the display indicated that the call came from Arthur Branch's cellular phone.



Olivia showed her badge to the uniformed officer by the door and walked into the apartment. Her senses were on alert as they always were when she examined the aftermath of violence. There were signs of a struggle in the living room, but the overturned end table, broken lamp and the books and ornaments that had been knocked off a wall unit, even the smear of blood on the thin gray carpet, did not explain the metallic smell of blood that permeated the warm air. There was an air-conditioning unit in the window, but it was off and the two CSI's working the scene were sweating.

One of them smiled distractedly at Olivia. "Body's in the kitchen, M.E.'s talking to your detective in there." As he spoke, Olivia became aware of the sound of a child crying. "Baby's in the back bedroom. We've cleared it – not part of the crime scene. Air conditioning was on, door was closed and kid was sleeping when officers arrived on the scene, so we checked for prints and fluids, photographed it and released it."

"Thanks," Olivia said, choosing to ignore the plaintive crying and check in with Tutuola and Warner. It would be a while before ACS got here, considering how many case workers had been dragged out of their homes to attend to women and children displaced by the fire.

After she'd greeted Fin and Melinda Warner, Olivia looked through the doorway to the carnage in the kitchen. A man was lying on his back on the tiled floor. His chest was bare and his jeans were undone, his eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling and blood had pooled thickly around his head and shoulders. There was dark red spatter on the kitchen cabinets and blood and brain matter had splashed over the counter and, grotesquely, over magnetized baby pictures on the door of the fridge.

A phone attached to the wall was off the hook and smeared with blood and there was blood pooled on the floor below it. "What the hell happened?" Olivia asked.

"Detective, nice of you to join us," Warner smiled. "This isn't a mystery, but what it will take to make that little boy stop crying certainly is. I've tried, Fin has tried and the uniformed officer and her partner tried, but he just screams louder and the ambulance driver wouldn't take him. He's ten months old according to the baby book on the coffee table. His name is James – Jamie."

"So what? I'm supposed to take him to the hospital? If he wasn't involved in…"

"Olivia," Fin said, "you're the squad's baby wrangler, so do us a favor…"

"So you guys don't need…?" She gestured toward the body on the floor.

Tutuola sighed. Olivia obviously wasn't going to leave until somebody told her what was going on. "Far as we can tell, he raped the resident, Gladys Preston, beat her, strangled her and left her unconscious, or close to it, in the living room. He then decided to make himself a sandwich. She woke up, picked up that sales trophy over there," he pointed at a cut glass obelisk, "came up behind him and hit him. He fell, she hit him again on the side of the head, then she dropped the weapon and went to the phone to dial 9-1-1. She passed out while on the phone with the operator and she was still holding the receiver when patrol officers arrived."

"Where is she now?"

"Bus took her to St. Vincent's," Warner replied. "The lab will have to sort out which blood belonged to who, but I'm pretty sure the evidence will support what Fin just said." She sighed. "I know it's a busy night, but we do need another pair of hands."

"We have a missing kid." She tried not to betray her annoyance at having been called away to what amounted to a babysitting job.

"Cap says that's under control. He wanted a second detective on this scene – possible double homicide, since Preston is in bad shape."

"Sorry." Olivia was immediately contrite. "Blame it on the heat."

"The nursery's air-conditioned," Warner hinted and Olivia headed for the closed door, with Fin following behind her. "He should go to the hospital to get checked out…" the ME added.

Olivia opened the door to the nursery, grateful for the cool air that smelled like baby shampoo, clean laundry and, very faintly, of a wet diaper. A small boy was standing in a crib, tears streaming down his face and the damp leg of his pajamas clearly hinting at the need for a diaper change. He caught sight of Olivia in the warm light of a Winnie the Pooh lamp and he cried even harder, but he held up his arms and chanted, "mamamama".

Olivia was taken aback and Fin muttered, "Shit," turning it into a two-syllable word.

The female detective walked over and picked up the little boy who continued to whimper as he looked suspiciously at her. She smiled at him and spoke reassuringly, telling him it would be ok and that everything was fine. He seemed to make a decision, hiccupped and tucked his face into her shoulder.

"Maybe it's because I'm female," Olivia tried.

"I won't tell Warner you said that. Or the uniform with the blond hair and big boobs… not that I'd notice that kinda thing on a fellow officer, unless there was a valid reason…"

Olivia chuckled. Yeah, right.

She realized that, with the baby's arms clinging to her neck and his two little legs wrapped around her waist, it wouldn't be long before the damp pajamas became a personal problem for her. "Fin, you had a kid. Want to do some diaper duty here?"

"Hell, no. That lil man didn't want anything to do with me when all I wanted to do was comfort him, so since you're the chosen one – Pampers are over there and that's a changing table. Stupid people do this all the time; you can handle it."

It took several minutes for the baby to calm down enough for Olivia to try putting him down. With Fin standing back, his arms folded across his chest and a smug grin on his face, Olivia nevertheless managed to change the little boy into a clean diaper and a t-shirt, since it was too hot outside the tiny oasis of the nursery to consider putting anything else on him. Fin made the small concession of packing the diaper bag that hung from the closet door and slinging it over his shoulder. "Let's get this kid to the hospital to wait for ACS. I'll put the baby seat in the back of the car. You can wait here."

As he returned from his errand, the M.E. was leaving. The man who had last been seen in a pool of blood on the floor was anonymously zipped into a body bag and was being wheeled out of the apartment on a gurney. The wheel bumped into a small table, knocking over a framed photograph. Fin automatically reached out a gloved hand to right it and he froze. "Shit," he said for the second time.

Warner looked at the photo and echoed the sentiment. "That can not be a coincidence," she murmured.

"I need to call the Captain. Maybe Olivia shouldn't be working this particular case."

"I'll put a rush on the DNA and see you down at the morgue," Warner said quietly as she followed the technicians out of the apartment.

Fin opened the door to the nursery. The little boy's head was resting on Olivia's shoulder and he had one arm hooked firmly around her neck. His eyelids had been drooping, but as the door opened they flew open again. Fin looked closely at his face and shook his head as if to clear it. "I'm gonna stick around and see if I can talk to some of the neighbors. I'll help you get him in the car and meet you at the hospital later. Maybe the mother will regain consciousness and we can interview her at the same time."

He was avoiding looking at Olivia and she had the impression he wasn't being completely honest with her. She didn't dwell on it because she was trying to pay attention to the buckle on the car seat that was complicated enough to be suitable for a fighter jet, while juggling a cranky kid who didn't want to be put down.

As Olivia drove away, Fin flipped open his phone. "Cap'n, you need to come over here. There's something you gotta see. It's about Olivia. No, it can't."

Donald Cragen disconnected the call and dialed the cell phone of Alexandra Cabot. "Alex, where are you?"

"In a taxi on my way in." Her bureau had been pulled in because of the multiple homicides from the fire. She wasn't sleeping anyway, so she'd decided to handle it herself instead of waking up a member of her team.

"I need to brief you before you get to the House and now Fin wants me to stop by a scene on the West Side. Can you meet me there instead and we'll talk on the way back? I don't think it will take long."

Alex's cab pulled up at the police line at the same time as Cragen's unmarked car. They walked together to the building and showed ID to the officer at the door, repeating the procedure at the entrance to the apartment. "What's this about?" Alex was curious.

"All Tutuola would say is that in concerns Olivia."

"Cap'n, Alex." Fin greeted them.

"It's a busy night," Cragen said, unnecessarily. "What…?"

He stopped speaking as Fin held a framed photograph in front of him. "And if you need further freakiness in ya life, try this." He held out another photograph.

The first photo showed a woman with wavy dark hair and green eyes grinning into the camera. The shocking thing to the people who looked at the photograph was that, without the aberration of the green eyes and long hair, they might just as well have been looking at a photograph of Olivia. The second photo showed the same woman, but wearing sunglasses and with her hair tied back. She was smiling encouragingly and pointing at the camera as she obviously tried to get the baby she was holding to look towards it. Without the wide, unguarded smile and with her green eyes covered, the woman could have walked into the SVU squad room without being challenged. "Shit," Cragen said softly.

Exactly, Fin thought. "Olivia's DNA is on file and Warner's gonna put a rush on the DNA evidence at the scene, but I'm guessing all it's gonna do is prove what these pictures say: the vic is Olivia's half sister."

"Didn't Olivia notice…?" Alex was stunned.

Fin shrugged. "Vic had already been taken to the hospital when she showed up. I didn't see the resemblance because Gladys Preston was beaten so bad her mother probably wouldn't recognize her. But the kid called Olivia mama, so it's not just us."

"Where is Olivia?" Cragen wanted to know.

"I told her to take the kid to St. Vincent's and I'd meet her there. Mom's in surgery, so she won't wake up and bug out when she sees Olivia. ACS probably won't show up until tomorrow morning, so Olivia's gonna be stuck with her babysitting job and away from that little surprise."

"I'll tell her she's off the case," Cragen said firmly. "In the meantime, contact next of kin for this woman, Preston, and find out who her parents are or were. Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone: get some answers for Olivia and prevent the kid from ending up in the system if things don't go well for his mother. We should also do a DNA test on the boy to see if the dead guy was a relative. Clear it with whoever takes temporary custody."

"I can get a court order," Alex immediately offered.

Cragen looked tiredly at Tutuola. "You done here?"

"Just need to talk to the downstairs neighbor. I've interviewed all the others in the adjoining apartments and uniforms are canvassing the other residents. There was some thumping and shouting, but sounded like a quarrel, not a murder. One person called the super, who told her to call back if it continued and he'd knock on the door."

"Meet us at the hospital when you're done."

As they walked back to the car, Alex asked, "Don, do you want me to tell her?"

"Yes. Maybe it would be better coming from a friend."



Tutuola and Cragen were on the surgical floor awaiting news of Gladys Preston's condition. A nurse glared at them as Cragen's phone rang and he took the call. After he'd hung up, he made a point of switching off the phone in full view of the offended nurse and then said to Fin, "That was Elliot. They found the weasel. Babysitter remembered somebody calling him Lionel and the old guy he played chess with said he lived on Orchard. Believe it or not, Lionel Brown of Orchard Street is five-eleven, one-sixty, has sandy hair and a small bite mark on his left forearm."

"Did he still have the girl?"

"He says she ran away and he went home. Elliot and John are continuing to question him, but Elliot sounds… tense."

"If I had a few minutes alone with him and no badge, I think the whole thing would go a lot faster."

"Yes, well, I need to get back to the house because I'm worried that if anybody on the squad has a few minutes with him, they won't have a badge…"

"Gahead Cap'n. I'll wait for the doc."

"Thanks. And you might want to bring Cabot back with you. If we haven't got anything from Brown by then, maybe the promise of a deal will do the trick. We need to find that little girl alive."

"If she's still alive," Fin muttered.

Cragen didn't answer, because they both knew that the longer the child remained missing, the lower the odds that she'd be found alive.

A nurse directed Alex to a private examination room. "We put them in there because there's an armchair and it's so tiny that a gurney barely fits, so the doctors hate it."

Alex lifted her hand to knock on the door, but the blinds were open and the sight that greeted her made her pause. It was almost one in the morning, but the child sitting in Olivia's lap was awake. He was staring intently into the detective's face as she spoke to him and then he laughed. His little shoulders shook and all four of his teeth were proudly on display. Alex froze because the smile was just so familiar. Heart pounding, she knocked.

Two pairs of eyes turned toward the door. In the dim light the difference in eye color was barely apparent and Alex realized that the fact that Olivia had such distinctive features was probably the reason the resemblance between her and the child she held was so obvious.

"Alex, what are you doing here?"

"I came with Don. He's upstairs in the surgical waiting room with Fin." She didn't have to say more; Olivia knew the news that Fin was waiting for.

The little boy rested his head on Olivia's chest and, still staring at Alex, stuck his thumb in his mouth.

"Have they caught the guy who snatched the girls at the fire scene?" The question brought Alex's attention back to Olivia and the ADA noticed the deep tan and the casual clothes. She wondered if Olivia had had a chance to go home before being called to the scene.

"Yes, but they haven't found the other girl. I'm going down to observe the interrogation when I leave here." She was twisting the strap of her handbag in an uncharacteristically nervous gesture. "Did… did you have a good vacation?"

Olivia looked away. "Yes, I did. Thanks."

Was she anything like me? The question hovered on the tip of Alex's tongue, because she could see from Olivia's body language that she'd made good on her promise "live" while she'd been holidaying in the gay resort town. Alex closed her eyes for a few seconds and when she opened them again, she focused on an anatomical chart on the wall.

"Damn it, Alex… What do you want from me?" The pain in Olivia's voice echoed the spasm that had briefly registered on Alex's face as she'd acknowledged how Olivia had spent her vacation.

Alex had no answer to give the detective. She was confused by the pain she felt at Olivia's having moved on from their romantic non-romance. She supposed she'd naively assumed that she'd always have Olivia… in the way Olivia had her. She knew that they'd both been in a sort of stasis, sharing feelings that they hadn't been acting on - and even though she knew that she was the reason for that inaction, she'd been arrogant enough to assume that Olivia would choose a half-relationship with her over the possibility of a full life with someone else.

Despite her determination to keep her distance, Alex had been in love with Olivia Benson for years, a deep, sweet love that made dating anybody else awkward and unsatisfying. She'd really believed it had gone away while she'd been in witness protection, but she hadn't been willing to put her belief to the test upon her return.

Their first social meeting after Alex's return had been accidental and the decision to repeat it and to allow non-professional friendship to blossom had led to something whose roots were embedded more deeply in Alex's heart than the idealistic love she'd felt before she'd been shot. Idealistic not because she hadn't been aware of Olivia's flaws, but because she'd been more in love with the idea of Olivia than with the private, intense woman under the façade the detective showed to the rest of world. Unfortunately for Alex's heart, Olivia had opened up and allowed her in. And having seen the strength, vulnerability and beauty behind the façade, Alex knew that she could never unring that particular bell.

Even though theirs wasn't a physical relationship, she acknowledged that there was an element of romance. Olivia's forcing the issue with that explosive kiss had certainly been proof of that.

When Alex said nothing, Olivia asked, "Why are you here?"

"Something's come up with this case and Don's going to have to pull you off it until everything is resolved. I offered to tell you."


Immediately forgetting the mess she'd made of things between her and Olivia, Alex moved closer to Olivia and leaned against the gurney in the same way she'd habitually leaned against Olivia's desk in the SVU squad room. "We think that you and Gladys Preston may be related."

Olivia frowned. "Alex, my mother moved here from San Francisco and the only family she had on the east coast have the last name Peters and live in Maine."

"Not… not on your mother's side."

As the implication of the question sank in, Olivia asked the obvious question. "Why?"

Alex took the framed photo of mother and baby out of her handbag, it was enclosed in a sealed transparent evidence bag. She handed it to Olivia. The little boy lifted his head and pulled his thumb out of his mouth so he could use the same hand to point at the photo. "Mama," he said with a smile.

Olivia looked at the photograph and literally felt the world tilt. The woman in the photo seemed to have faint dimples in her cheeks and the hint of a cleft in her chin was more pronounced, but the shape of the mouth was identical. Since her long hair was pulled back and her eyes were covered by sunglasses, the other differences were hidden, so Olivia experienced the bizarre feeling that she was looking at a photo of herself that she hadn't remembered anyone taking. She looked up at Alex as she struggled to make sense of what the photograph meant.

"The best explanation is that you have the same father. Warner's running DNA tests so confirmation should be received within the next few days. The squad is also trying to track down next of kin for Gladys Preston, so there may be some answers there, but she killed a man and it wouldn't be appropriate for you to investigate his death."

"How did you get involved?"

"The DA is treating the arson as a straightforward multiple homicide and it's been assigned to my division. My ADA's will be working with Casey if it turns out that Brown really did set the fire. Donnelly is stepping back."

Olivia smiled faintly. "She's giving you the high profile case to piss Jack off, knowing that media attention in the next year or so will play a part in who Arthur decides to endorse."

Alex looked startled. Olivia's accurate assessment of the political landscape surprised her, although it shouldn't have. Olivia saw politics, especially gender politics, very clearly. "Neither Jack nor I would be ideal from the perspective of Arthur's party, but even if he doesn't endorse me, I intend to run."

"Good for you. You're younger and hotter; I even think you're brighter – but that's not really important in legal politics."

"Ha-ha." Alex smiled. It was nice to have the old Olivia back, even if only for a little while.

"I've always understood your ambition, Alex, I just resent having my feelings, no, having our feelings play second fiddle to it." She sighed and shook her head. "Anyway…" She visibly forced herself to focus on the current situation. "I understand why you were at the fire scene, but how'd you end up at the Preston scene?"

"Fin wanted to see Don, so Don decided to save time by briefing me on the arson case during the drive over. I was there when Fin showed him the photo." She shrugged.

"And you volunteered to be the one to tell me? Aren't you afraid people will talk?" Olivia sneered.

"I've never kept, or tried to keep, our friendship a secret." Olivia refused to look at her and Alex's eyes drifted back to the child. His thumb was back in his mouth and his hazel eyes were slowly closing. Her stint in SVU had given her a new appreciation of the resilience of children. This one, for example, had been plucked out of his home in the middle of the night and had no idea what had happened to his mother, but there he was, snuggled against a stranger and falling asleep. Then again, the stranger had to look at least vaguely familiar to him. "I'm guessing he doesn't look much like his father," she said aloud. And when Olivia looked puzzled, she said quietly, "He looks like you."

Olivia looked startled. "God, there's something I never thought I'd hear about a child."

"You don't want children?"

"Are you offering, Counselor?" She watched Alex flinch and she relented. "No. Half-predator, half-alcoholic… I figured I'd voluntarily remove myself from the gene pool – although I almost slipped up at university."

"Your alcoholic half is also an intellectual half… and what you've done with the raw material you inherited is pretty impressive to me, Liv."

Alex's statement hung between them for several minutes and then Olivia said softly. "Thank you. I…" She swallowed and continued in a voice barely above a whisper. "I probably have a sister and she might not live." She looked up at Alex and there were tears in her eyes. "And even if she does live, she's not likely to welcome everything I represent, is she? I mean, either her mother was another victim of rape by a stranger and I'll officially make her the daughter of not just a rapist, but a serial rapist, or I'm about to show up as living, breathing proof that her father was a sexual predator."

The child Olivia was holding snorted in his sleep and his thumb fell out of his mouth. "My… nephew," she said, as though practicing the word.

Alex wanted to hug her and never let her go. Unfortunately, she had given up any hope of having the right to comfort Olivia. "What time do you think you'll be able to go home?"

"ACS is swamped because of the fire. The nurse thinks I might have to wait for the hospital's assigned social worker, who gets in at seven-thirty."

There was a knock on the door and Fin opened it and poked his head in. "You ready Alex? Preston came through the surgery, but she won't be awake for several hours, if…" If at all. "At least."

Alex nodded to him and he withdrew, leaving them to finish their conversation. The ADA tried to smile reassuringly at Olivia, but she was at a loss as to how to comfort the detective. "I'll come back and check on you when I finish up at the precinct. Maybe bring you a coffee and one of those disgusting sticky buns you like."

"Thanks, Alex," Olivia said, visibly struggling to hold back tears.



"I told you, she ran away!" Lionel David Brown was sitting in Interrogation Room Two and sweating in the inadequate air-conditioning trickling through the vent. "I was jus' tryin' to help those girls and that one bit me right before she ran away." There were no windows and the door was closed, but the detective who was questioning him didn't seem to be affected by the heat.

John Munch crossed his arms over his thin chest. "That one's name is Jasmine. You sure you don't want a bandage for that bite? They tend to get infected – it happens to perps all the time."

"I'm not a perp! I'm a Good Samaritan. And I don't want a bandage. I watch TV, you people just want my blood on something so you can put my DNA in your files. I have rights."

"Ok, Mr. Good Samaritan, tell me again how you came to be inside a shelter for homeless women and children, standing by the fire door on the same floor where two little girls you befriended happen to be staying?"

"I was walking by and I saw the smoke. There was a lot of screamin' and hollerin' and when somebody came out the fire exit I went in to see if I could help with the evacuation."

"Did you call 9-1-1?"

"No, but…"

"So you saw a fire in a shelter full of kids and decided you could be of more use than the Fire Department."

"It sounds stupid, but in the heat of the moment, I wasn't thinking, you know?"

"You're right, Lionel; it sounds stupid." Munch looked down his nose at Brown. "Those the clothes you were wearing when you went into the building? Because I expected to see some soot or at least catch a whiff of smoke on them."

"I had a shower when I got home. I changed my clothes."

"You must have been in a hurry if you didn't even stop to put a band-aid on that bite? Worried that the cops would knock on the door?"

"No. I figured both those little girls musta been helped by somebody else, so there was no reason for anybody to knock on my door."

"So you wouldn't mind if our lab took a look at the clothes you were wearing earlier?"

"They were ruined, so I threw them out."


"Like you said, they were covered in soot and smelled like smoke and when Jasmine bit me, blood got all over my shirt."

"And if we were to search your house, all we'd find is your blood, right?"

"Yes. I didn't hurt that little girl."

In the observation room, Donald Cragen sighed. "Two hours and he's not even particularly stressed."

"He's a pro," Fin agreed. "Been here before and knows all he has to do is wait us out."

"I can get you a warrant for his home, but since he lives with his mother, it's likely to be restricted," Alex offered without enthusiasm. "Quite frankly, if there were anything incriminating at his residence, he'd probably be more worried than he appears to be."

They turned back to the interrogation room when Lionel Brown let out an incredulous, "What?"

"I said, Li, that we're going to be going through your vehicle with a fine-tooth comb, so I hope it's as clean as your clothes."

"You can't do that. I don't have a… vehicle."

"Interesting…" Cragen observed. "Fin, get back out and re-interview the babysitter and the old guy who played chess with Brown. Wake up his boss from the gas station. I need to know if that bastard has access to a car or a van and where we can find it. If it's not in his name, get the owner's permission to search it. And tell the crime lab to send someone over to toss the garbage room in his building and every dumpster in the three-block radius. We need to find the clothes he was wearing. Call me as soon as you have something."

"I'm all over it," Fin acknowledged as he quickly left the room.

"I'm wishing I hadn't sent Stabler home, now." Cragen wiped a hand over his face.

"I'll call in some help from major case," Alex said immediately, flipping open her phone. "I'll wake Casey up to start working on the search warrant for the vehicle as soon as we find out whose and where it is."

After she got off the phone, she looked curiously at Cragen. "Why did you send Elliot home?"

"He was too tired to be any good to me and I want him here tomorrow. I think Olivia needs to extend her vacation – whether she knows it or not."

Alex nodded. "It's a lot for her to absorb."

"I wonder how much longer she'll stay in SVU after this?" When Alex looked puzzled, he said thoughtfully, "I've always believed that each of my detectives has a special, very personal, reason for staying in SVU longer than any others in the history of the unit." He smiled wryly, "And I don't believe the reason has anything to do with me."

"Don't sell yourself short, Don. Your squad has a reputation for being rebellious and most of them had discipline problems before they came to be under your command. IAB still takes an interest in them, although the commendations and decorations make it harder to take any action in those instances where doing the right thing takes precedence over the details of proper procedure."

"You're one to talk," Cragen teased.

"Everything I know about breaking the rules I learned from Olivia Benson," Alex joked.

"There are worse teachers." Cragen sobered. "So much of what drives Olivia is related to the violence and uncertainty of her personal history. I just wonder: if she finds answers for herself, will she still feel such a strong need to find answers for the victims?"

An hour later, having trolled through countless DMV records by geography and by name, Detective Odafin Tutuola, accompanied by two uniformed officers, hammered on the door of an apartment on West 19th Street. "James Cohen? NYPD. Open up."

The door opened and a man peered curiously at the officers, while clutching a sheet around his obviously nude body. "It's four o'clock in the morning!"

"Are you the registered owner of a 2001 green Dodge Grand Caravan, registration 2L TYM?"

"Yeah, at the time it seemed like a good idea. It's really a company car for the garage. I drive a Benz." The sheet slipped and he hitched it up. "If you want to ask any more questions, come in while I get dressed." As he walked away from them he continued talking. "I don't drive the thing. Did Dave get in an accident or something?"

The cops stepped inside, grateful for the efficient air-conditioning in the apartment. "Is 'Dave' Lionel David Brown?"

"Yeah. He works for me at the garage. A good mechanic, but a strange guy… Best description I can give you is fastidious; in my old neighborhood we'd call him prissy. He always wore latex gloves to stop grease from getting under his nails. Bought 'em himself." He walked out of the bedroom wearing jeans and pulling a t-shirt over his head. "So, he crash the van? He's supposed to carry proof of insurance…"

"Where is the van normally parked?"

"I let Dave use it when he has errands to run and stuff, but he's supposed to return it to the end bay at the garage when he's done."

"Do you mind if we have a look at the van?"

"What's this about?"

"Not at liberty to say," Fin replied automatically, "but it might provide evidence related to an ongoing investigation. We can tell you that it concerns a possible kidnapping so time, including time spent answering questions, is of the essence." One of the uniforms smirked.

"Ok," Cohen muttered. "I get the point." He shrugged. "The garage is on the south side of Houston, a few blocks from the FDR. I can take you there, because the alarm system needs to be disabled. The keys to the minivan are in the office."

"Go with these officers," Fin instructed, then to the officers: "If the minivan is there, make sure there's nobody in it and then have it taken down to impound for CSI to go over it. You know what we're lookin' for."

He headed back to the sixteenth precinct, adrenaline holding exhaustion at bay. He'd been awake for almost twenty-four hours and had been on his feet for most of them. He got back into the unmarked car as he dialed Cragen's number. "We know where the van's supposed to be and the owner gave us permission to search it."

Cragen knocked on the door of the interrogation room and passed the information on to Munch. "Lionel, your boss just gave us permission to search your little love wagon," the detective said with a ghost of a smile. "Can you confirm for me whether it's parked at the garage or whether you left it somewhere else with little Lara still in the back?"

Brown froze. "I don't know what you mean."

"That's it," Alex muttered. She'd had enough of the game that Brown seemed to be playing with them.

She stalked into the interrogation room. "Mr. Brown, I'm Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot and right now, I'm your best friend in the entire world. Because, you see, if that little girl isn't alive and well and you do not tell me exactly where she is and what condition she is in, I will be solely responsible for deciding how many and what nature of crimes you are charged with. And if it turns out that you have killed her, I will be the one to decide whether or not to ask for the death penalty when you are convicted of her murder.

"Now, you have the right to ask for an attorney, so you'd better hurry and call one if you wish to exercise that right, because the police should be at the garage on Houston Street in under five minutes and if they find that little girl there, the clock runs out." She walked to the table and leaned on it, icy blue eyes locked with Brown's. "And let me make this perfectly clear: even if that little girl is alive and I find out that she has been kept in captivity for the last five hours as you lied to the police and wasted their time and the money of the taxpayers of New York City, I will make sure that you do not see the outside of a prison cell until my grandchildren are old enough to be on the parole board. Do you understand, Mr. Brown?"

There was a knock on the window and she looked up. "That might very well be the report from the garage, Mr. Brown, so what's it going to be?"

Brown's mouth opened and closed and Alex felt the tingle of anticipation along her spine that she always got when she knew she'd won – whether in court at the moment when the jurors' faces betrayed the fact that she had them, or in interviews with suspects or their lawyers. But before he could say anything else Cragen walked into the room with Alex's cell phone. "Display says Eames," he said by way of explanation for his interruption.

Alex hid her anger and took the phone. "Cabot."

She listened for several minutes and when she ended the call she said coldly to Brown, "Forget it. The deal is off the table."

"What?" Brown looked startled.

"It's irrelevant to your future whether that child is found alive or dead. We have two witnesses placing you near the laundry room where the fire started – and wearing latex gloves, no less."

"I was helping out – fixing a washing machine. I always wear gloves when I work – you can ask my boss, Mr. Cohen. Jim Cohen. I've been asked to help with mechanical things in that place before."

"But you weren't asked last night, were you, Mr. Brown? That fire has killed five people so far and seriously injured dozens, including a firefighter. The fact that you set it to lay a trap that would lead to the rape and possible murder of two little girls is going to make any attempt to avoid the death penalty politically impossible."

Tutuola walked into the room. "They found the girl. She was in the minivan. She's unconscious and a bus is taking her to St. Vincent's."

Alex turned to Munch. "Arrest him: arson, assault, murder, kidnapping and sexual assault. Multiple counts of each. There should be a list of the fire fatalities on the fax machine, you know the kidnapping victims and we'll have the names to add to the assault indictments by the start of business tomorrow morning."

"I didn't mean to kill anybody…" Brown, stark fear on his face, looked as though he was about to beg.

"Here's some free legal advice from the people of New York, Mr. Brown," Alex said in a voice that dripped icy contempt, "shut up until your lawyer gets here."

As Munch started to read Brown his Miranda rights, the Captain, the other detective and the ADA left the room. "I'm surprised you didn't push for a confession," Cragen said.

"We don't need it and he's been here for five hours without a lawyer – I don't want even a hint of impropriety or a suggestion that the confession was coerced." She picked her handbag off Olivia's desk, noticing the suitcase and overnight bag on the floor near the chair. "I'm going to the hospital to give Olivia an update. Do we have anything else on Preston?"

Tutuola shook his head. "We now know that next of kin is a mother living in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, but we haven't been able to get an answer. Local cops went over, but neighbors said she's out of town. We'll keep trying."

Alex nodded and picked up Olivia's overnight bag. "I'd better go. Liv might want this after a night as the guest of St. Vincent's."

The ADA was the first person to walk into the coffee shop when it opened. She bought two extra-hot cappuccinos and a sticky bun and was juggling the small tray, the overnight bag and her own handbag, when a taxi pulled over to the curb without waiting for her to raise her hand to hail it. She took that to be a good omen.

Part 6

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