DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
I want to thank DiNovia for her tireless efforts in editing my stabs at fanfiction funtimes – Thanks Erin… you help me to be a better writer, and that means the world to me.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By sHaYcH


Central Park

Early Morning

Monday, March 13

Springtime in New York City meant more than just an end to winter for the detectives of the NYPD. With the thaw came the discovery of winter's carnage, usually in the form of shallow graves lining the less traveled byways of Central Park.

Most of the time, these cases were caught by whatever Homicide squad had jurisdiction, but there was always at least one exception to that rule.

Pinching the bridge of his nose to ward off an impending six ibuprofen, three cups of black coffee and ten hour nap headache, Detective Elliot Stabler of the Manhattan Special Victims Unit peered down at the twisted skeletal remains of a Jane Doe. She was one of fifteen such burials found over the last four years in this area of the park. Aside from death, each woman had one thing in common – all were buried with a broken statue of justice. In every case, the head of the statue was missing.

Three days following the discovery of a body, those heads always showed up in the squad's mail. The packages were always nondescript, wrapped in cheap brown paper, and there was never any trace evidence.

Out of the fifteen victims, only three had been identified. The others languished unsolved, filed in the SVU's cold case file room in boxes labeled "Jane Doe numbers 3213-3225". This, more than anything, deeply angered the detectives. The killer had taken everything from his victims, including their names.

What a cluster fuck. Elliot sighed. His partner, Detective Olivia Benson, was interviewing the jogger who had made the grisly discovery. Melinda Warner, SVU's chief medical examiner, squatted beside the body, took meticulous photographs and bagged anything that might have even the devil's chance of being evidence.

Gotta get this bastard. The detective felt the failure to stop the serial killer deep in the tendons and bones of his soul. Pride was a sin he willingly enjoyed; Elliot Stabler loved his job and even more, he loved catching the fucks who got their kicks ruining the lives of the helpless. It pissed him off when he found himself pitted against someone who appeared to be smarter than the combined might of the NYPD.

Warner brushed away a layer of dirt and extracted the reason why this case, as the others had been, was SVU's catch. Buried beneath the unknown woman's hip bones was a pair of lacy black panties that had obviously been torn from her body. Blood stained what was once a piece of lingerie that could easily have come from the pages of a Victoria's Secret catalog.

"Silk – he's moving up in the world," Warner commented as she bagged the underwear. The ME held up the evidence to examine it in the light. Nothing about her classically beautiful face revealed her thoughts, and Elliot found himself wondering just what information the forensic scientist was leeching from the tattered underwear.

"Or she was treating herself," Olivia Benson said as she walked up to stand beside her partner. "Anything?" Sunglasses hid the detective's Turkish coffee colored eyes from view, but Elliot recognized the signs of a similar headache by the tone of her voice. The Icebox Killings, as the papers had dubbed the four year long string of murders, had pulled both detectives out of bed after far too few hours of sleep.

"The usual, but we might have a better chance at identifying this one," Melinda said as she stood. Nodding to her techs, she stepped out of their way while they went to work finishing the recovery job. She stripped off and pocketed her gloves.

"Oh?" Stabler said. They began to walk toward the coroner's van. He squinted and wished that he had remembered his sunglasses. The few remaining snow banks reflected the sunlight painfully.

"I'll know more once I get back to the office, but she must have been in an accident at some point. There's evidence of a severe break in the left femur. If my suspicions are correct … " Warner opened the back of the van, pulled out a clipboard and made some notations on it. "Then I should be able to get serial numbers from the stabilizing rod." A fragmentary smile creased her face.

"Let us know," Benson said. A gentle breeze kicked up and rifled her light brown hair. Though it was shorter than it had been in a while, it was still long enough to blow into her face, causing her to turn away from the wind.

Warner nodded and the two detectives headed over to the sidelines.

The area was crowded with rubberneckers. Some ogled the crime scene shamelessly while others tried to be more circumspect. Interspersed among the gawkers were reporters from every major news outlet. Each was followed by his or her entourage and each had the combined expression of the anticipatory hawk.

One, a particularly obnoxious fellow who was trailed by a troupe of makeup artists, camera and sound guys and an obvious personal assistant tried to push past the police barricade. Two of the burlier uniformed officers escorted him away, and his complaints could be heard above the din.

What a circus. Olivia tolerated the media most of the time, except for when they treated the discovery of a body like it was feeding time at the zoo. Jackals, she stifled a groan. I'd kill for a cup of coffee or twenty minutes in the crib.

Armed with digital cameras, Detectives John Munch and Fin Tutuola wandered about, snapping what seemed like random pictures of the scenery. Later, they would go over the images and compare them to those from the previous years. Any familiar faces would be investigated. Oftentimes, a perpetrator liked to watch the storm he had created.

So far, they hadn't found a repeat offender, except for law enforcement personnel. It never hurt to be thorough. Cases were solved by determination, hard work and a dash of luck. One photograph could be all the good karma the squad needed to put a lid on the open box to this case.

Just as Liv was about to suggest that they head back to the station, she caught sight of something unusual. Two women, arms linked and faces streaked with tears, arrived. Standing at the edge of the taped off area, they peered into the woods. Both wore expressions of faltering hope.

Nudging her partner, Olivia said, "Elliot."

The tall detective nodded. "I see 'em. I'll take the blonde."

"Right, that leaves the redhead for me. Divide and conquer?"

"Let's see how it plays out." He smiled thinly. "Maybe they'll be cooperative."

"Either way, let's take them back to the house. I need some coffee."

"Hi, I'm Detective Olivia Benson, this is my partner, Elliot Stabler, how can we help you?" Under Liv's concerned gaze, the blonde began to sob. The redhead sighed sadly and looked at the detective with pain-filled green eyes.

"My name is Myra Thornton and this is my roommate, Debra Watson." Myra's eyes closed briefly and she took a short, shuddering breath. "We were wondering if you had identified… her?"

"I'm sorry Miss Thornton, but we can't release that information yet," Stabler said gruffly.

Debra's tears slowed as she grabbed Myra's hand. "We have to tell him, Myrie… come on, you know it's her!"

Watching the interplay between the two friends, Olivia did not miss the look of absolute dread that filled Myra's eyes. Of the two, she was obviously the one who had held out some hope.

"Tell us what?" she asked kindly. Benson continued to watch the women, gathering visual evidence. Both were dressed in casual, yet expensive clothes and both had fresh manicures. A light perfume clung to them, the kind that had been blended especially for the buyer, rather than something purchased off the shelf.

Myra whispered, "We think we know who she is."

"Oh? Would you be willing to come down to the station and tell us more?" Detective Stabler's attitude shifted, becoming friendly and concerned. Turning on the charm full force, he directed a smile at Debra.

Smiling shyly, the blonde wiped away her tears and nodded. "Of course, I mean, if it is Wendy…"

Myra's response was filled with anger. "If that is Wendy, then I want the son of a bitch who did it to burn. We'll be glad to help in any way possible, Detectives."

Olivia and Elliot exchanged similar looks. If only all witnesses were so willing…

16th Precinct

Late Evening

Monday, March 13

"Wendy Roberts, age twenty-two, missing since late October of last year," Elliot said as he tacked a picture of a particularly attractive woman to the incident board. Depicted was a young woman who was laughing joyfully at something being whispered into her ear by Myra Thornton. Shoulder length reddish blonde hair was held back by decorative clips and a pair of wire framed glasses only enhanced the vivid blue of her eyes.

"Reported to the two-nine, investigated but the leads dried up after a few days," Olivia added.

"At least her family will have some closure," said the ME as she came into the squad room. All eyes turned to Warner. Smiling ruefully, the attractive black woman added, "I was right. Serial number confirms the ID." She tossed a manila envelope onto the pile already covering Benson's desk.

"Cause of death?" asked Stabler.

"A combination of blunt force trauma and asphyxiation led to your victim's death. The hyoid bone was shattered, but that alone would not have led to a conclusive determination. I found a series of radial fractures along the anterior of her skull." Pulling several photographs from the folder, Melinda tacked them to the board. "See here? I figure your perp had her around the throat," she demonstrated by putting her hands around Olivia's neck, "and then bashed her head into a wall or the ground." The impressions left by her fingers on Liv's neck, as well as where the detective's head impacted with the incident board matched up with the injury patterns displayed in the photograph.

"Brutal – and overkill. Guy must've had a serious rage-on."

Doctor George Huang, a criminal profiler for the F.B.I, nodded. Often the diminutive Asian man worked with the Special Victims Unit, and in the case of the Icebox Killer, it was standard procedure. Huang had been a part of the case since its inception.

"As we've covered before, this guy is angry and most serial killers need something to set them off – this victim must have really tweaked something in him to get him to react so violently." His tone was pedantic, but the detectives listened with interest.

As he opened his mouth to continue, Liv's cell rang. Unclipping it, she stepped away and answered. It was Myra Thornton.

"Detective, I found something you should see. I was going through Wendy's things, packing them up for her family and …"

"Slow down, Myra. What did you find?" The answer was garbled by a sudden spate of tears. Liv bit her lip. It could be nothing, or it could be evidence. Huang's lecture not withstanding, she had heard all the theories about the Icebox Killer before – this was something different, and it was worth a look. "Okay, Myra, listen to me… my partner and I will be there shortly. Don't touch anything else, just close the door and wait for us."


Hanging up, she rejoined the others. Huang had finished his psychobabble and was off to the side, speaking softly to Captain Cragen. Elliot raised an eyebrow at Olivia's approach.

"What's up?"

"That was Myra Thornton. She's found something in Wendy's things. I told her that we'd come take a look at it."

"Did she say what it was?"

"No, she didn't get that far. Whatever it was, it really upset her."

Fin grunted. "Probably just a picture of Wendy with Myra's boyfriend."

"Or maybe a journal detailing the entire sordid affair – should be prime late night reading material," Munch said, causing Olivia to roll her eyes.

Overhearing the conversation, Cragen said, "Call Novak and get a warrant. I want all the T's crossed and the I's dotted. If it is real evidence, I don't want some scumbag getting it tossed on a technicality. When we get him, I want the bastard to fry."

Thornton Residence


Monday, March 13

On the ride to the Thornton residence, Olivia put in the call to Casey Novak, SVU's resident ADA. By the time they arrived, the amber haired assistant district attorney was waiting for them. Warrant in hand, Casey stood next to a taxi. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she wore a navy hoody against the chill of the evening.

"Here," she said, handing the folded blue document to Elliot, "this should cover everything."

He smiled and tucked it into his jacket. "So are you ready to eat my dust this year, Counselor?"

Casey smirked. "In your dreams, Detective." She sighed. "Actually, I've been asked to switch sides."

"Yeah? Gonna play for the other team now, Casey?" Stabler said. The barest hint of a grin twitched on his lips.

Smiling wickedly, Casey replied, "We'll see, Detective. It's all about the incentives."

Laughing, Stabler said, "Why don't you wait for us? We can go have a drink later."

"As much as I'd love to, I've got a ton of work to do. And if what you find in there is probative, my workload will only increase."

"Oh come on, Counselor surely the DA can spare you for a few hours?"

Casey smiled shyly and shook her head. "Branch is riding my ass about the MacMurphy case."

"Bastard," Elliot growled.

Casey couldn't tell if he was referring to the district attorney or the perp.

Sharply, Olivia said, "I'll bring anything you need to see to your office later, Casey." Irritation burned in her belly. Watching Elliot flirt with the pretty attorney was not her idea of the best way to go about gathering evidence. It was actually more like nails on a chalkboard, screeling on her nerves and leaving her feeling a little dirty.

Elliot's marriage wasn't in the best of places, but it was still more than a little crass for him to make time with Casey while not more than a few feet away, Myra Thornton waited for them to come and take a look at her evidence.

The ADA looked at Stabler and nodded. "Great. I'll be expecting you then."

A tiny fragment of regret coasted through Olivia at Casey's statement. Why does it have to be so obvious that she's straight? She flirts with Elliot and acts like I don't exist. Elliot continued to smile, which only made Liv want to shake him. Damn him. She had to be fair to her partner, it wasn't entirely his fault – how could he know that she was interested in Casey? It wasn't as if Olivia had made it a point to announce to the squad, "Oh, I'm dating women now."

After all, she had barely mentioned the men in her life.

That's because I had so many regrets where they were concerned. She had nearly laughed when, after her first case with the SVU, Casey had asked about boyfriends. Dates of any kind had become as rare as the proverbial honest politician.

Long before the red headed ADA had wandered through the doors of One HP, Olivia had sworn off love, deciding that entanglements of the romantic nature were for people who didn't have to stare the worst of man's brutality in the face every day. Then, one evening, she had walked into Alexandra Cabot's office and found her dozing on a pile of depositions. Seeing the ADA so vulnerable, so carelessly beautiful, had driven a bolt of pure desire through the detective's heart.

Fear had kept her from speaking of her interest, even though at times it seemed that the other woman might have returned her feelings. The time just never seemed right. Then Alex had to leave… ADA Cabot had died, and the woman who had been Alexandra had vanished into the machine that was the Witness Protection Program. Hidden away in some innocent little town under an assumed identity, Olivia would never have the chance to overcome that fear.

The way Liv saw it, she had damned few choices. Move on and take a chance on someone else, or stagnate and live every day growing ever more bitter about the hand fate had dealt her. Her sanity demanded nothing less than the former, though a part of her would always wonder. That was all it would be, though, was a part. Even after the Connors case, she knew that there would never be a chance with Alex.

Olivia Benson still had most of a heart left to feel, and it seemed that heart had a soft spot for pretty ADAs.

"I'd better get back to the office," Novak said as she headed for a waiting cab. Olivia watched her go, and wished one more time that she had the guts to say something, anything that would put them on the road toward something more than friendship.

Myra Thornton opened the door on one knock. Signs of recent grief glistened on her face, and she looked like she hadn't slept in a week.

"Detectives, come in." She stepped out of the way and they entered.

Inside, they found the brownstone to be typical of its kind, appointed with a quiet elegance that spoke volumes about the young woman's bank account. A piano sat in one corner of the living room. Decorating the surface was a myriad of pictures, some depicting generations of family members and while others held more modern images of Myra and her friends.

Elliot and Olivia moved through the house, looking around and learning more about their victim just from the way she lived. To all appearances, Wendy Roberts was one of the privileged. Luxurious surroundings spoke of a life that never wanted for basic necessities. Food, shelter and the comfort of family seemed to flow in abundance.

Yet both detectives had long ago learned that deception was an art form practiced by every level of society.

Under the surface, Olivia could read a subtle tension. The not-quite perfect stack of magazines on the coffee table, the almost-there wine stain on the carpet, and even the thin layer of dust on the knick-knacks were cues that led her to wonder what was rotten in the Thornton home. If not rotten, then definitely not right. Where's the roommate, I wonder?

As they passed through the living room into a dining area, Olivia made note of a sliding door that led to a back patio.

"Where's Debra?" she asked.

"Out," Myra said. Bitterness edged her tone. "Wendy's room is this way." She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "I didn't know who else to call… I don't think her parents should see these…"

At the end of the hall they came to a door. Painted a vibrant, nearly neon purple, it was covered in a mosaic of decorative crystal gemstones. The overall effect was like that of a cheap jewelry box; at once striking and gaudy.

Elliot reached into his jacket and pulled out the warrant. Handing it to Myra he said, "This is just a technicality, since you are volunteering the evidence, but we like to be thorough."

"Oh, right," the young woman said, and nodded. Licking her lips she said, "Do I have to go in with you? I mean, I've already seen them, and…"

Olivia put her hand on the younger woman's shoulder. "No, you can wait in the living room if you'd prefer."

"Yeah, yes, I would." Backing away, Myra nearly ran from the hall.

Raising her eyebrows in surprise, Olivia said, "I wonder what's got her so spooked?"

Elliot grimaced. "Why don't we find out?" He opened the door. The room inside echoed the door with its jewel tones. The walls and ceiling were varying shades of blue and green while the carpet was a deep topaz. A queen sized bed, a desk with a computer, and several shelves full of books and curios occupied most of the space. Heavy, grape colored curtains covered the one window which looked out onto the street.

Half full boxes littered the floor. One held photo albums while another contained an assortment of clothing. Another contained what appeared to be files and old bills.

At the side of the desk was a garbage can filled with old mail and other bits of detritus left over from a life interrupted. Scattered across the desk, next to the computer, were a variety of gewgaws, including several framed photos of the victim and her friends. More jewels decorated the monitor and tower of the computer.

Affixed to one corner of the keyboard was a small image. When Olivia bent to examine it, she smiled. It was one of those pictures purchased at an arcade. The victim and Myra had been caught smearing what looked like ice cream on each other's faces.

As he looked around, Stabler said, "Well, she was certainly a fan of color."

Liv made a noise in the back of her throat. "She was a fan of color like Munch is a fan of conspiracy theories. This borders on obsession." She pulled out a pair of gloves, slipped them on, bent and went through the trashcan. Elliot, also gloved, was perusing her curio collection.

"She had a taste for unusual art," he said, holding up a crude carving. It had a rather large phallus and Olivia recognized it as a depiction of a primitive deity. On the same shelf was a similarly proportioned female figure.

"Cute," Liv said dryly. "But probably not what Myra was talking about."

Elliot snickered. "Oh, I don't know. If I knew that one of my daughters collected these…" He shuddered.

"I bet her parents gave her that statue," Olivia countered. "It's probably worth a fortune." She looked down at the mail in her hands. It was a letter, dated just a week before Wendy disappeared. Plain white paper with block printed words that read, YOU WILL BE TREASURED stared back up at her. "Elliot … look at this." Handing him the letter, she continued to sift through the mail. There were several more, and they all said the same thing.


Each envelope bore a date that led, day by day, up to the last day that Wendy Roberts had been seen alive. There was no return address, just the victim's address printed with the same block letters. One final envelope remained.

This one was unmarked, but sealed. Pulling out her knife, Liv carefully slit it open and shook out the letter.

The same white bond paper as the others fell to the desk. Carefully opening it, Liv scanned the contents.


"El -" She held it up for him to read.

"Holy shit." A break, an actual break… Detective Stabler could practically feel his blood begin to hum with anticipation.

"We need to talk to the families of the other three victims we've identified."

Elliot was already on the phone with Fin. When he hung up, he said, "Go, get those to the lab. I'll call CSU. Novak'll want copies, too." Casey's preference of being "hands on" was well established, and once they had worked out some ground rules, actually worked well. It was refreshing, in an odd way, to have an ADA who wanted to follow each aspect of the investigation, even if it made for some awkward moments.

She nodded. "Okay. Don't forget to call your kids." She looked at her watch. 10:15 pm. "It's not that late."

"The twins'll be asleep, but Kathleen should still be awake."

Liv offered him a half smile and patted his shoulder on the way out of the room. Elliot was already on the phone, calling in CSU to come process the rest of Wendy's things. If the letters were from the killer, there might be other evidence.

In the living room, Myra was curled up on the couch, and a bottle of wine and a half empty glass were resting on the coffee table. She stood when Liv came in sight.

"You found them?" Anxiously she glanced at the detective's hands. Seeing the letters, she breathed a sigh of relief. "So they're a clue? You'll be able to find the bastard with those?" Tears rimmed her eyes.

Suddenly, the clues clicked into place. The photograph on the keyboard, Myra's emotional state, and the absence of Debra … all were tiny cues that led to one conclusion.

"You loved her," Olivia said without preamble.

"With everything that makes me human," was the whispered reply. Visibly, Myra fought the urge to cry. "No one knows. We… we hadn't quite found the right … way… to say anything."

And I'll bet that there were parental issues involved. Thank God for small favors on my behalf. Whether Serena Benson would have cared about having a lesbian daughter was something that Olivia rarely considered. She gave even less thought to the man whose violence had provided half of the genetic material that made up her DNA.

"I'm sorry." Two words that Olivia knew would be branded on her heart and tongue for the rest of her days. It was never enough, it never would be. Softly, she added, "I will find him, Myra. I promise." Rarely did she make that oath, but the pain that leaked from the young woman like blood drops from a wound cut Olivia to the quick. It reminded her of Alex.

"Thank you." Gratitude spilled from Myra's eyes. "Here, take this – I want you to have this with you, for luck." It was a locket. Inside were tiny images of the two women.

"Myra, I –" She tried to hand it back, but the young woman shook her head.

"No, keep it, Detective. I need to know that some part of Wendy will be there when her killer is brought to justice."

Unable to withstand the pleading expression on Myra's face, Olivia pocketed the jewelry and left.

Office of Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak

Early Morning

Tuesday, March 14

Pushing open the door to Casey's office, Liv took one look at the situation and blew out an exasperated breath. "Oh good grief." Is it my curse to find ADAs passed out in their native environments? Soft snores ruffled the paperwork under Novak's cheek. Like fallen leaves, the debris of a hard day's work lay scattered about the younger woman's head. The attorney's pale hands were palm down on the desk.

Everything about her exuded a quiet sense of peace. Olivia almost turned around, so loathe was she to disturb the lovely vision.

At least she's not on the floor, broken and bleeding and making your heart clench so painfully that you thought you'd end up next to her. That was a bad night, upon which the detective preferred not to dwell.

Quietly, Olivia strode to Casey's side and reached out a hand to shake the attorney's shoulder. "Casey, come on honey, wake up. Time to go home, Counselor."

"Uh? Oh God, what time is it?" Casey sat up abruptly, barely missing smacking Liv in the chin with her head. Blinking owlishly, she looked at her clock.

"A little after one," Olivia said as she laid an envelope containing copies of the Roberts letters on Casey's desk.

"What's this?" The ADA took a drink from a very cold cup of coffee, grimaced and picked up the envelope. Opening it, she quickly perused them and then sighed. "So what do we know about them?"

"They were all printed by the same hand. Huang's profile hasn't changed much – white, middle aged, educated, and knows something about forensics."

"Like a cop knows, or like your average Discovery Channel viewer knows?" Casey shuffled the documents, pausing to read over the handwriting expert's preliminary report.

"He couldn't say for sure. A hobbyist would know more than your average armchair detective, but someone involved on the fringes of law enforcement – media, security, etc – they would have similar knowledge."

Casey shook her head and rubbed her temples. "Ugh, I do this for a living, I could not imagine wanting to surround myself in forensic paraphernalia for a hobby. Give me a good old game of softball any day of the week." She yawned, closed the folder and added it to a stack. "Speaking of hobbies… think fast!"

From out of no where, she tossed a softball at Liv, who caught it neatly.

"What the? Are you trying to break something, Casey?" she asked as she handed the ball back to the attorney.

Chuckling, the ADA said, "No. Just testing your reflexes. I need someone to practice with, Liv." She smiled sweetly and put on her best pleading look. "Will you be my catcher, Olivia? Please?"

Oh hell in a hand basket, how do I say no to that? Catcher? Couldn't she have asked about running, or swimming, or anything but the most boring game on the planet? Rock climbing, even! I haven't been to the wall since Jeffries left the squad, but at least I know my way around a harness.

The attorney's pleading look only grew softer and needier until Liv could take it no more. "All right! Fine! I'll catch your damn balls… but not if you're hitting them with a bat. I am not the run and fetch type."

Casey's smile could have lit half of New York. "That's what batting cages are for, Liv. No, I'm going to pitch this season, and I need to work on my throws before I go against some of those bruisers from Major Case."

Liv snorted. "Oh yeah, Alex Eames is just so scary."

"Put a bat in her hand, Detective, and you will know the definition of the words, power hitter."

"Yeah," Liv said, taking a breath and nodding as though she understood.

"Just meet me here on Saturday at three. You don't even need to bring a glove."

"And what will I get for my hard work?"

Casey pondered that for a moment. "I'll make you dinner."

Saliva flooded Liv's mouth at the thought of a home cooked meal. She hadn't had one of those since Kathy and Elliot had invited her over one night some time before their marriage hit a gravel road.

Olivia could cook; she just hated the idea of going to all that trouble to feed herself. Better that she eat frugally. A salad was easy to put together and helped to balance the junk she consumed when deep in a case.

"Deal," she said, hoping that she didn't sound too eager.

Thursday, March 16

Squad Room, 16th Precinct

Late Morning

"Mail call," Munch said as he wandered in, carrying a small, paper wrapped package.

"Take it directly to the lab," Cragen ordered. Captain Donald Cragen had the weary look of a man who had gotten far too few hours of sleep. His detectives had worked tirelessly, chasing down the few leads they had on Wendy Roberts' killer.

What they had discovered wouldn't fit in a thimble, but every shred helped. Two of the families of the other victims came up empty as far as letters, but the third, Monica Travers' parents, had a week's worth of strange letters they willingly handed over to the detectives.

Seven of the letters read, "YOU WILL BE CHERISHED ABOVE ALL OTHERS." The final letter read, "SHE WAS CHERISHED."

Upon reviewing the crime scene photos, the detectives discovered that Monica's body had been buried in a position that placed her further away from the others. Found under the sheltering branches of a giant oak tree, the placement of the bones suggested that great care had been taken with the body.

Going back to the rest of the photos, they found other earmarks that Huang felt could indicate a personal relationship with the victims.

"He knows them, or he thinks he does. He courts them, offers them something want, or thinks that they do. We know from interviews that Monica dreamed of being cherished – her diaries even indicate that her marriage failed because she didn't feel as though her husband cared about her. This is something that a confidante knows, or someone who spends a lot of time studying his victim." He was pacing the squad room. "We need to find the common factor between each of the victims – a restaurant where they ate, a bar they enjoyed… a place where they would find a stranger with a willing ear. I'm revising my profile to include a younger man, someone a woman would find safe… He might even pass himself off as gay to gain their trust."

"Oh great, so we have a straight man playing gay to get women – as if it wasn't hard enough to weed out the metrosexuals," Stabler groused.

"It's not too different a pathology from a straight man trolling gay bars looking for a reason to commit a hate crime," Munch said.

Stabler looked as though he wanted contradict the older detective when Olivia said, "So what we've got is a guy who puts on a mask and pretends to be their best buddy. Maybe our victim's real friends might know about this guy. We should re-interview as many as we can."

"Good call, Olivia. You and Elliot focus on Wendy Roberts. Munch, Fin you take the others." Cragen sighed. "One PP is crawling up my ass on this one. Turns out the Roberts girl has influential parents."

The detectives broke apart to begin their tasks.

The Five Boroughs

Various Times

Friday and Saturday, March 17-19

I'm gonna need new boots. Olivia Benson's feet felt like well pounded steak. She and Elliot had been slogging the pavement for several hours and she was sure that the soles of her shoes must be nearly worn through by all the walking.

Every bar, restaurant, nightclub and social atmosphere that Myra Thornton and Debra Watson had been able to direct the detectives to had proven to be a dead end. Only one place had popped, a gay bar that Myra and Wendy sometimes visited, and no one there could think of anyone that fit the profile.

Wendy Roberts worked as a research assistant for a professor of medieval studies at NYU. Matthew Almerdale, an eccentric man approaching his sixties with all the verve of a teenager facing his twenty-first birthday was the last person on their list. Locating him, however, had taken nearly an hour of crisscrossing the circuitous campus.

When they had finally caught up to the man outside of a classroom, he had affably informed them that though he enjoyed the services of Ms. Roberts as his assistant, they spent little to no time socializing.

"I'm a Chaucer and a cup of Earl Gray man, Detectives. She was much more interested in the likes of Virginia Wolf."

"Is there anyone here on campus that might have been closer to her social circle?" Olivia's pen was poised to write and she wore an expression of animated interest.

Elliot spent his time scanning the corridors. Every so often a student would wander by and glance their way. Down at the very end of the hall, one young man lingered, well within listening distance.

"Excuse me, Professor, Liv," he said and headed for the kid. The detective reached the young man's side before he could bolt. "Hi." He flashed his badge in the kid's face. "I'm investigating the death of Wendy Roberts. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" His voice was chummy, friendly and encouraging.

Nervously, the young man smiled, swallowed and said, "Uh, yeah, um, we uh, dated. Once or twice." He swallowed again and adjusted his glasses. A three day growth coated his chin. His clothes were rumpled like he had slept in them and there was a faint odor of incense and something less legal clinging to his hair.

"Really? What's your name, son?" Elliot decided to take the fatherly approach. Every witness he interviewed responded to him differently. Some wanted him to be a brother, others the great protector and still others their wildest fantasy. For each, he tried to fit their requirements because it allowed him to bond faster and get more information. Detective Stabler was tall, so he relaxed, and slouched a little, and made himself look just slightly older than he was. His receding hairline only aided in the impression.

The young man blinked slowly, calming under the detective's smile. "Daniel," he said. Shifting back and forth, he licked his lips and said, "Daniel Kline. I uh, clerk for Professor Reynolds."

"And he is?" Elliot started to scribble furiously.

"She's the head of the psych department." Daniel's Adam's apple bobbed precariously every time he swallowed.

"Really? You must have quite an important job then, Dan," Stabler said.

Dan smiled. "Yeah, it uh, can be pretty demanding. I do a lot of extra work."

Nodding, Stabler said, "So how much did that cut into your time with Wendy?"

Olivia had long since filled him in on Wendy's team switch – what he wanted to know was if Daniel was aware that his girlfriend's bread was buttered on both sides.

"Oh, well, uh it was only a couple of dates. Then she met someone else and uh, stopped seeing me. But I wasn't mad," he said quickly. "I mean, she was happy and that made me happy." He took off his glasses, wiped them on his shirt and licked his lips again.

"Are you sure?" Stabler affected genuine concern. "She was your girlfriend, and she just left you… If it were me, I'd be a little angry."

Violently shaking his head, Daniel said, "Oh, no, no… I mean…" He smiled abashedly. "She started dating this other woman. How do I compete with that? Besides," he said, grinning brightly. "I found someone else too." Shrugging, he sighed. "I just… I hope she didn't suffer too much. When she died, I mean. Cuz, I uh, still cared, you know? And I wouldn't want her to have fear as her last emotion. She deserved so much more."

Alarm bells went off in Elliot's head.

"Yeah, women like Wendy need to be treasured," he said casually. Come on, little fishy…

The young man laughed. "You sound like Professor Reynolds. Yeah, I guess. I mean, she was into jewels and stuff, so maybe, yeah."

Huh. My skel-o-meter just died. He's nothing.

"Is the good professor in today?" Maybe she'll know something. Can't hurt to talk to her… in fact, if she's the source of the "treasure" comment, maybe the perp was a student…

The kid shook his head. "No, I'm here to do some research on tumors and their affect on the emotional centers of the brain. Professor Reynolds has a theory …"

Elliot tuned out most of the kid's explanation. When Dan took a breath to continue, he interrupted and said, "Too bad. I would have liked to meet her. She sounds absolutely fascinating." Maybe I should get Huang to talk to her – those psychobabblers all speak the same language.

The young man puffed up importantly. "Well, come back on Monday. Her last class is over at four."

"Thanks, I'll think about it. I should let you get back to work – you've been very helpful, but I wouldn't want to keep the good professor waiting." He turned away and headed back toward Liv, who had finished her interview as well.

"Get something?"

He related what he'd learned.

"Sounds about as informative as what I got from the old guy. You think you should talk to Reynolds on Monday?"

Shrugging, Stabler said, "Why not? It's as good a lead as any. One PP won't be able to sustain this investigation much longer. Something else will come along and we'll have to concentrate on that."

That was the truth. Already they had other cases that they were fighting to juggle with the current Icebox murder. In fact, Casey had called and told her to be ready to go over her testimony on the MacMurphy trial after dinner. Mixing work and pleasure wasn't anything new, but she wished that just this once, she could forget about the assholes that populated New York City's prisons and streets.

"So are you and Casey still going to toss the ball around?" How Elliot had learned about her appointment with the ADA, Olivia didn't know, but he'd given her no end of grief about it. For almost as long as they'd been partners, he'd tried to get her to come play and she had turned him down every time.

Making a face, Liv said, "Yeah. I'm headed there after we drop off our notes at the house."

Stabler laughed and clapped a hand on her shoulder. "Relax, Liv. You'll love it, I promise. Then maybe we can finally see what you look like in uniform."

Remembering the baby blue on navy blue "Sex Crimes" jerseys, Olivia snorted. "It's more likely to snow in August."

Central Park, Random, Out-of-the-way Baseball Diamond

3:12 PM

Saturday, March 19

"Okay, Olivia, put this on," Casey said as she handed the detective a catcher's mask.

"What's this?" Liv examined the equipment suspiciously. She recognized it, and wasn't happy. "I'm not putting a fruit basket on my face."

"Yes, you are. I don't make nearly enough money to cover your dental bills if you miss a fast ball." Casey took the mask and fitted it over Liv's head, positioning it so that it covered properly.

"I won't miss." Liv sounded cocky.

"You say that now, but you haven't tried to catch my fastball yet." Casey winked. "Come on, it's for your protection, Detective. Think of it like Kevlar for your face."

"And the ball is a bullet?"

"Exactly. You wouldn't risk your body to a bullet, so don't risk your beautiful face to this ball."

She thinks I'm beautiful? Thrown, Olivia dumbly accepted another piece of equipment from the ADA.

"Here, this is your glove. Fit your hand in it thusly." Unaware of the emotional havoc she had just wreaked, Casey helped Liv to flex the mitt until it no longer creaked suspiciously. Once that was done, she said, "Now, I'm going to show you two signals, one for fast ball, one for curve. Those are the two pitches I want to work on first." She held up her hand and demonstrated each one.

"Why do I need to know this?" Liv was beginning to regret her decision. Can't think about anything else – I gotta concentrate or Casey'll kick my ass.

Casey smiled innocently. "Well, I need to practice my pitching, and it's the catcher who signals the pitch – therefore, you get to tell me what to do."

"Can't you just throw ten fast balls and ten curve balls?" Liv asked exasperatedly. What I'd really like to do is tell you to forget about practice and just kiss me, but that's not likely to be welcome. She suppressed a sigh. The day was warm, and tinged with a good dose of humidity. All she really wanted was to be inside, with her feet up on the coffee table and a cold beer chilling her hands. The TV would be on, tuned to something banal and she would fall asleep until her stomach woke her…

"No, because then I would become predictable." Casey poked the detective in the belly, and tickled her slightly. "We wouldn't want that, now, would we?" She flashed a bright grin and wriggled her eyebrows comically.

The touch burned right through Olivia. It was as if Casey's fingers had reached inside and plucked every hormone producing gland and sent them into overdrive. Licking suddenly dry lips, Liv said, "No, I guess not."

Raising her hand up to where Liv could see it, Casey said, "So, here we go, this is a curve ball –" She made the signal. "And this is a fast ball. I want you to alternate however you see fit, but try not to do too many of the same in a row. Once we have these down, we can add other pitches until we've covered them all."

"How many are there? Do I need to take notes?" Liv was really beginning to regret this.

"Not many, you'll see." Casey began to back up toward the mound. "Oh, and you have to squat," she called.

"I have to what?" She fixed the ADA with an evil glare. Olivia was wearing jeans, and they were not exactly conducive to squatting of any kind.

"Just kidding. Stay right there, Olivia." Once she was situated on the mound, she called, "Signal me!"

Flustered, Liv made a rude gesture.

Casey snickered. "Oh Liv, I don't think that's the right one."

Finally, Olivia remembered the right combination of fingers for the curve ball. Before she could ready herself properly, the ADA had wound up and pitched the ball. It landed with a thud in the glove. Looking down at the ball, Liv whispered, "I should shoot you. I really should." Then she scooped it up and hefted it back at the attorney.

Unlike Casey's toss, Olivia's went a little wide of the mark, forcing the ADA to leap off the mound to catch it. Liv's appreciation for the game raised a notch as she watched the way the tall attorney's body moved into the jump. God, what a shame she's straight.

On the mound, Casey watched Olivia watch her and felt a tingle of warmth ignite in her belly. She's looking at me. God, please, let her be looking at me. She flashed the detective another quick smile, and then nodded to show her readiness. After only a moment's hesitation, Liv managed to make the signal for a fast ball. Casey wound up and pitched.

The afternoon burned away quickly, with Liv learning four signals and successfully catching six out of every ten pitches that came her way. It was one of those misses that made her grateful for the mask. Never again would she complain about wearing it. She only wished that her vest was as effective at preventing injury.

Unfortunately, she didn't escape the day unscathed. A curve ball that should have zigged instead of zagging connected painfully with her left bicep.

Almost as soon as it struck, Casey was off the mound, running toward the detective. Throwing her glove down, she reached Liv's side before the detective could think to go after the ball, which had rolled toward the backstop.

"God, I'm so sorry, Olivia. Are you okay?" Without asking for permission, Casey pushed up Liv's shirt sleeve to examine her arm for damage.

"Yeah, yeah, it's just a bruise," Liv said. The warmth of the ADA's fingers penetrated even the heated flesh where a rapidly purpling mark was forming.

"Damn, I'm really sorry. I'll make you an ice pack at my apartment. Let's quit for today." Casey turned to gather her gear.

"No, really. It's all right. I'll live. If you want to throw a few more…" All of a sudden, Olivia didn't want the day to end. She hadn't exactly enjoyed playing a glorified game of catch, but it also hadn't been horrible. Besides, how often is it that I get the chance to admire my ADA?

Casey shook her head. "I really shouldn't. What I just did to you would have earned you a stroll to first base and me a spot on the bench. My arm is getting tired."

Pulling off the mask with obvious relief, Liv said, "Oh, well, okay. Is there … did you need to practice with that?" She nodded at the bat sticking out of Casey's sports bag.

The ADA smiled. "I had thought to head over to the cages for a short while, if you don't mind waiting? Otherwise, we can head to my place and I'll start dinner. I was thinking… chicken with veggies and rice?"

Liv's stomach rumbled its approval. "Sounds great, and I don't mind letting you practice some more. Elliot tells me that since joining the team, you've turned the tide for Sex Crimes."

Casey rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I thought about staying with my old team, but I felt like a blue duck in a barnyard full of pink chickens."

"You've been listening to Branch again," Olivia muttered.

Laughing as she gathered her things, Casey said, "You're probably right."

Together, they made their way to the batting cages. Unlike the ones that the attorney usually frequented, these were outside. The ball machine was coin operated and the area was deserted. The park wasn't empty – across the way, nearer to a playground, there were plenty of people, but this area was devoid of activity.

"Slow day," Casey noted. "I wonder if it's like this very often. Most of the time I have to wait ten or twenty minutes for a turn." From her bag, she withdrew a Ziploc filled with quarters. Taking a small handful of them, she fed the change into the machine until the digital readout satisfied her. "You'll want to stay over there." She indicated an area outside of the cage.

Nodding, Olivia stepped out and found a seat on a nearby bench. As Casey donned her cap and readied her bat, Liv put on a pair of sunglasses and got comfortable.

Casey took a few experimental swings and then tapped a button on the ground. There was a hum of gears and motors as the ball thrower came to life. Just before the first ball appeared, Olivia watched Casey take a deep breath and then, whack! The ball careened off the bat and into the net at the other end of the cage.

As ball after ball shot out of the odd machine, Casey swung and connected. Not every strike was perfect, some of the balls popped straight up, others dribbled off the edge of the bat and rolled to the side but the crack of the bat became as constant as a heartbeat.

"So what did you and Stabler find out today?" Casey asked as she settled into a rhythm. Swing-crack-swing-crack-swing-crack… it was almost like a ticking clock, the cadence was so perfect.

Olivia outlined their conversations with Wendy's associates. "You should check out Reynolds." The statement came out almost like an order.

Nettled Olivia said, "She's nothing, Casey. Warner's pretty sure that only a man would have the strength to bash in Wendy's skull."

Between hits, Casey turned and gave Liv a long, gravity filled look. "Could it have been an exceptionally strong woman?" The muscles of her arms flexed as she returned to batting position and Liv didn't think it was an accident.

Liv watched the deceptively thin young woman knock balls into the back wall of the batting cage with clockwork regularity. Each time she struck, Casey's muscles popped against her skin in stark relief. It didn't take the detective long to agree with the ADA. She'd be strong enough, if the victim was lighter than her… hell, she was strong enough to stand up to Zergin, and he nearly killed her.

Olivia shied away from that thought. It was one of the many failures she castigated herself for when she was feeling particularly useless.

Returning her thoughts to their original course, she realized that another woman, one who was perhaps even more physically inclined, could have honed her body into a killing machine.

But women aren't serial killers. Eileen Wurnos, and the few others like her were anomalies. Case history showed that women tended to kill by poison, or out of passion, not out of some sick need to fulfill a fantasy based in brutality. Women just weren't capable of…

Liv nearly laughed. Huang would surely have something appropriately psychological to say about the train of her thoughts. I'm making generalizations and Casey's acting like a kicked puppy. The attorney's shoulders were set in the familiar slant that meant that she was unhappy that her suggestions had been treated as unworthy. It was an expression she had worn often in the early days of her association with SVU… at least until the squad had learned to appreciate Casey's ability to get the job done.

She had a valid point. I need to remember that even though she's not in the field, she puts just as much effort into fighting the criminal mind as I do. She'd make a good detective, and she is a damn fine lawyer.

"Monday," Olivia said softly. "Elliot's going to talk to her on Monday."

Casey gave the detective a quick smile and returned her attention to the pitching machine.

Apartment of ADA Casey Novak

6:35 PM

Saturday, March 19

Olivia sat on Casey's couch, nursing her second beer. The heavenly aroma of cooking food filled the tiny apartment. Faintly, the detective could hear the shower running in the back of the small home. The attorney had started the meal and then ran off to get clean. Whatever Casey had done to prepare the chicken was creating such an enticing scent that Liv's mouth was already watering.

The beer she had found in the fridge. She didn't think Casey would mind, and it was nice to be able to unwind a little. Her cell buzzed. Unclipping it, she flashed a quick prayer that she wasn't being called out to a job. It would suck if dinner had to be postponed and her stomach would never forgive her for teasing it with chicken and then feeding it something like a stale donut.


"Hey, it's me. Have you converted to the religion that is our national pastime?" Elliot sounded bored.

"Hardly. But hey, I have a pretty nifty bruise." Her arm ached. In between drinks, she held the cold bottle against the damaged flesh. Casey had offered an ice pack, but she hated to be fussed over so she had said that it didn't hurt.

"She hit you?" Olivia could hear the laughter in her partner's voice. "Did you try to run away or something?"

"Ha-ha, you're a real riot. No. I stayed put just like a good little girl."

"And so you shall be richly rewarded?" Was that a hint of a lascivious tinge to Elliot's question? He couldn't be asking… no… Elliot would never guess that I was gay. He must be talking about food.

"Chicken, rice and veggies. My stomach is practically breaking my backbone over how good it smells." She laughed at his response.

From the doorway of the bathroom, Casey quietly listened to Liv as she talked with her partner. The easy, if one sided banter that passed between them only made the distance between her and the rest of the squad that much greater. After more than two years of working with the SVU, the ADA felt that she still didn't quite fit in and that often left her at odds with her detectives. It's hard to compete with Lady Alex the Avenging ADA. I do a good job – our closure rate is up three percent.

The squad's lack of respect wouldn't bother her so much if she didn't crave the attention of one detective in particular. There was no doubt in Casey's mind that District Attorney Arthur Branch would send her packing on the Southerlyn express if he knew about the secret fantasies that she harbored. Each and every one of them concerned Detective Olivia Benson and nearly all of them were illegal at one time or another.

It was why she was so careful, so utterly circumspect with regard to her interactions with the beautiful SVU detective. Her attraction had to be kept under wraps. Especially since it didn't seem that her desires were mutual.

Ever since the Zergin case though, it had been more difficult to conceal. How could it not be, when Liv stayed with me the entire time I was in the hospital? I woke up seeing her face, and I will never, ever forget rolling over and finding her fast asleep, with her head pillowed next to my arm.

It was in that moment that Casey had realized that she was falling off of a precipice that was so high that she couldn't even begin to see the ground. As if she were stealing diamonds, she had reached out and ran shaky fingers through Olivia's soft, cognac tinged hair.

She could still remember the delicate, whispery feel of it. In the living room, Olivia chuckled and the sound sent a bolt of barely controllable desire through Casey.

Get dressed, Counselor. You can fantasize later. By the time she had finished dressing and returned to the kitchen, Olivia had ended her conversation.

At her arrival, Olivia looked up and said, "I had a couple of beers."

Smiling, Casey said, "I owe you at least a case for hitting you. Would you like another? Or something else?" Me? She leaned on the counter under the pass through that looked out into the living room and gave the detective an inquisitive glance.

"Water, actually. I still have to drive home." You, naked, in that huge bed I glimpsed earlier… Olivia had to fight to keep her gaze from wandering. Fresh out of the shower, Casey had chosen to wear a pair of tight jeans and an old baseball jersey that had lost a battle with a pair of scissors. The sleeves had been removed, the neckline lowered to near scandalous levels and the midsection cropped high enough that she didn't have to wonder if the ADA was an innie or an outie. Add to the overall picture the fact that Casey had pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail and Olivia was very close to chucking propriety and kissing the younger woman senseless.

Casey brought the detective a glass of ice water and said, "Dinner should be ready shortly. Are you the casual kind of diner or would you prefer to sit at the table?"

Olivia shrugged. "It's your place, Case. Whatever you would do is fine."

In reply, Casey said, "Well, since I would normally order pizza and do paperwork until I passed out on the couch, this is as different for me as it is for you."

She's doing something special just for me? Olivia's heart nearly stopped. Suddenly ground that seemed so stable turned to mud. Just as quickly, it solidified. She'd probably do that for anyone she invited to dinner. "Table's fine with me, I guess."

From the kitchen, Casey called, "You should feel honored." She carried plates to the table and began to arrange settings. "I had some of the guys over here a couple of weeks ago and all they got was take-out from Chan's and a couple of inches on the couch."

Mud. She was wading in a quicksand of dissolving belief. Liv's mouth felt like it had been sandblasted. Drinking the last of her water, she stood and went to the table.

"Can I help?" she asked, proud that her voice didn't shatter.

Casey looked up at Liv, smiled and said, "There are some candles over there. You could put them on the table." She wiped her hands on her jeans and returned to the kitchen.

The smells wafting about were beginning to make Liv's stomach really complain. She was starving and more than happy to expedite the eating process. Retrieving the candles, she hunted about the same shelf for something with which to light them and came up with a decorative Zippo.

"Were you a smoker?" she asked as she lit the candles.

"My father was – the lighter was his. He gave it to me when he quit as proof that he was serious."

Liv examined the lighter. It was flat brass with a simple pattern that was etched into the entire surface. "It's quite pretty, for a lighter."

"Dad made it in Viet Nam. Boredom forced the men to come up with creative ways to occupy themselves. Using spare nails to etch metal was his outlet." Layers of emotion were patterned within the attorney's tone, weaving a tapestry of feeling. Sadness, regret, relief and a myriad of others that Olivia could barely separate colored an otherwise simple statement.

As Olivia examined the Zippo, she came to see that the lines formed words, one of which was the name, Casey. "He sounds like a great dad." It was harder to say than she thought it would be. Even now, after all this time, the wound was still fresh enough to sting. I'm the bastard child of a rapist and an alcoholic. Not exactly the woman you want to take home to Mother.

"He is. When Mom died, he was the glue that kept my family together." Casey wanted to find a way to change the subject. Halfway through her explanation, it had struck her that Olivia would have no happy memories of a father who had carried her on his shoulders, tickled her until she nearly peed her pants or held her when she cried over her first broken heart. A buzzer on the stove loudly announced the arrival of dinner.

Liv lit the candles and put the lighter away. "I take it that means dinner's ready?" She tried not to sound too hopeful.

Casey's face split into a secret smile. "Why, are you hungry?" she called.

"Starved, actually," Liv replied as she went to the kitchen entrance. "Anything I can carry for you?"

In the process of lifting the chicken from the oven, Casey looked up at Liv and grinned. "So gallant, Detective? Sure, you can grab the veggies." There was a bowl of steaming vegetables on the counter. Next to it was another filled with golden brown rice.

Juggling both, Liv quickly carried them to the table. Casey wasn't far behind with the chicken and together, they sat and served themselves. For a while the only sounds in Casey's apartment was the clink of forks against plates. Only when she had decimated half of her plate did Liv slow down enough to talk.

"This is really good, Case. Thanks for inviting me." She added a second helping and proceeded to demolish it, too.

Eating slower, though none the less enthusiastically, Casey said, "Thanks. I don't cook often enough, really. It's something that gets lost under the work load." Though I sense that I will be cooking more often, if only to spend time with you, Olivia.

Liv nodded. "Yeah, Alex used to say that if she didn't have a weekly date with her mother, she'd never see the inside of her kitchen." Around a mouthful of chicken, she added, "I don't envy you prosecutors. We work our butts off on a case, but you guys are the ones who have to take all that evidence and sell it to a jury."

Momentarily flabbergasted by Liv's statement, Casey could only blush in silence. Maybe I am a part of the team. She took a drink of the wine she had poured herself and said, "Well, it's easy when you guys give me a solid foundation to start the process. My problem is that half the time, the forensics seems so cockamamie that they go right over my head. That's why I spend so much time asking Warner questions – if I don't buy it, there's no way I can convince a jury of its value."

Chuckling, Liv said, "It starts that way. You'll catch on – I did. And I still spend an inordinate amount of time reading obscure forensics journals just to stay ahead of the game." She wiped her face with a napkin and pushed the now empty plate away. "It's all a matter of putting the right face on things. Speaking of juries – you said you wanted to go over the MacMurphy case?"

"Yeah," Casey said as she hurried to finish her meal. "I need to be sure that you can make the jury see how horrible it was for Sarah to have to live with her uncle."

"What's the problem, Casey? The guy was a drunk, abusive piece of shit that repeatedly molested her. Just make some enlarged, color images of Sarah after his last attack and you won't have any problem opening that particular door to Hell."

Casey bit her lip and looked down at her plate. Uncomfortably she said, "Yes, I had planned on that, but it might not be enough." Eddie MacMurphy had been a model before succumbing to the bottle, and he still bore enough of the hallmarks of that profession to be considered good looking. "The problem is that he doesn't look like he needs to force someone, while Sarah…" Sarah MacMurphy was typical of all teens – gawky, a little overweight, and afflicted with an unfortunate case of acne. "Juries are as easily swayed by looks as the rest of society," Casey finished softly.

"Don't even go there, Counselor. Sarah MacMurphy is a bright, vivacious fifteen year old girl – she was not grateful to be treated like her uncle's personal sex slave!" Olivia ground her teeth in frustration. "She should have been spending her hours on the phone with friends, gossiping about the latest Justin Timberlake CD, not pleading with God that her uncle would be too drunk to find her bedroom door!"

Casey closed her eyes briefly. Of course Liv would be passionate about this case. Not only had she and Stabler busted their humps getting the guy to confess, but Olivia's own history was like a thorn in the detective's side whenever they had to deal with a rape.

"Olivia, we both know this." Casey's voice was solemn, even, and almost without inflection. She leaned forward and tried to school her face to remain impassive. "But the jury will still have its preconceptions and the defense is going to use every weapon it can."

The defense, having already failed to have the confession thrown out, was turning the case on its ear by claiming that Sarah MacMurphy had consented to the sex. Already, Casey had spent too much time arguing with Richard Madison, the defendant's lawyer, over whether the case was even worthy of trial.

Sarah MacMurphy had said no, and that was that. Add to the sordid story that it was her uncle who had violated her, and Casey would do her best to steamroll the bastard into Ossining or Attica. Either way, she wasn't going to offer a deal. If she could get Olivia to see this, to get behind her and use her considerable skills at persuasion to lead the jury to this same conclusion … well, then Edward MacMurphy would have a long time to contemplate his sins.

Taking a deep breath to calm down, Olivia thought about what Casey was saying. As much as it galled her, as much as she wished that human nature had evolved beyond the schoolyard clique syndrome, she realized that the attorney was right. The jury needed to be led with whatever breadcrumbs they could devise, and if it required her ability to recreate a situation, then so be it.

"All right Casey, you've got my cooperation. What do you want me to say?"

"The truth, Detective. I always want to hear the truth from you." Always, Liv – no matter how hard it might be for me to take.

It took nearly two hours to hammer out her testimony, but by the time they were done, Olivia was as committed to the route as Casey. She stood and stretched, her neck and back cracking loudly.

Casey rose as well and began clearing the table. "Would you like some dessert? I've got ice cream."

Pleasantly full, but unwilling to end the night, Liv said, "No, but I'd love a cup of coffee if you have some."

"I do, and I guarantee that it's better than that sludge you drink at the squad." Taking out her French press, Casey loaded it with fresh grounds and set water to boil. While waiting, she rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. By the time she was done, the water was ready and she poured it into the press.

The rich aroma of coffee quickly filled the small apartment. Liv poked her head into the kitchen and said, "Wow, smells like Starbucks in here."

Raising an eyebrow, Casey said, "I'd like to think this is better."

"Oh really?"

"Uh huh, here, hold this," Casey said as she handed Olivia a cup. Carefully, she took her pot and poured off a bit of the dark liquid and then filled the mug. "Okay, this is yours. If you want to pollute it, there's cream in the fridge and sugar right there." She handed the full cup to Liv and took the empty one.

A little self consciously, the detective spooned a dash of sugar into the coffee and stirred. The aroma was heavenly. The roast was rich, dark and left her mouth tingling in anticipation of the caffeinated goodness. Sipping it, she nearly moaned at the beautiful flavor.

Casey watched the detective try her first cup of Novak's special blend and hid a smile. Her father swore by the stuff and he had never been wrong. The nearly orgasmic joy that washed over Liv's face would feed the ADA's fantasies for many a night.

"Told you it was good," she said knowingly.

"You did, and it is. Thanks." Liv sipped at the coffee some more and wandered back into the living room. Once there, she set the cup down on an end table and rubbed at her arm. The muscle had started to ache. She should go home and get some sleep, but she didn't want to leave. Casey's company was pleasant, almost soothing and it seemed such a shame to let the night end so plainly.

"Does it hurt?"

"Huh?" Liv turned to look at the attorney. "Oh, my arm?" Vivid flashes of memory interposed themselves over her retinas. Casey's flesh, torn, battered, pale beyond measure and covered in a patina of pain that had left Liv breathless with rage were visions she preferred not to revisit. Licking her lips, she shook her head. "No, not really." How could she admit to pain after what Casey had suffered?

"Don't be so butch, Liv. I nailed you good. Here, let me look." Casey made her way to the back of the couch, hitched one hip on the edge and reach for Olivia's arm. When the detective made as if to move, Casey raised both eyebrows and said, "Liv, come on… I swear I'm not going to bite you."

Acquiescing, Olivia stood patiently while Casey rolled up her sleeve and examined the injury with a critical eye. With gentle fingers, the ADA probed the bruise. The pain was incidental. What caused Liv's breath to catch was just how good it felt to be touched by Casey.

Smiling up at the detective, Casey said, "I don't think there's a break in there. I've had a few broken bones in my life and it always felt mushy under the bruise where the bone was snapped. I think you'll live."

"How fortunate for me," Liv said dryly. Her heart was stomping out a frenetic beat that only grew more frantic the longer the attorney's fingers lingered.

"However, let me apply a special healing technique I learned from my father. He swears by it, I promise," Casey said. Her cheeks dimpled with a smile and her eyes glinted mischievously.

"Casey Novak, I swear if you pinch me –" Liv's tirade came to an abrupt end the second the attorney's lips touched her arm. The kiss was soft, a butterfly caress that floated on the surface of her skin and sent crackling bolts of fire through Olivia's body.

When she pulled back, Casey quickly looked up at Liv's face. What she saw written openly for her to interpret left her breathless. Her heart began to pound. Letting the detective go, she braced herself on the couch and whispered, "All better?"

Olivia opened her eyes and looked down at Casey. The attorney was so damned beautiful. Everything was tingling. Liv's fingers, her toes, hell, even her hair was buzzing with the need to react to that kiss. Licking her lips, she said, "I, uh –"

"Olivia?" Casey tipped her head at just the right angle for the detective to lean forward and kiss her. They were bare inches apart. It wouldn't take much for Olivia to just step in and –

A distant vibration followed by a chirruping ring startled both women apart. Liv grabbed the cell at her waist while Casey rushed to answer the house phone.



Their conversations were short. Olivia was closing her phone and reaching for her jacket when Casey cradled her handset.

Sliding her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, Casey sighed and looked at the detective. "Shitty time to catch one, Liv."

"I know," Olivia replied, biting her lip. "I'll call you and let you know how it goes," she said as she wrapped her scarf around her neck. "Thanks for dinner."

Nothing was said about the moment. Liv turned and left without a backward glance. Casey felt like kicking something.

"Damn it!"

Downstairs, Olivia looked up at Casey's window and whispered, "Damn it."

The Bellflower

Saturday, March 19

Sometime before Midnight

"T-and-T with a twist," Casey Novak said softly to the bartender. Even though it was late, the Bellflower, an understated gay bar not far from her apartment complex was still busy. It took all of five minutes before her drink arrived. Paying, she lifted the curled lemon rind from the edge of the glass and broke it into little bits over the top of the crushed ice before taking her first sip. The alcohol burned pleasantly and went to work at thawing the core of ice that had frozen in her chest as she had sat in her apartment, thinking about Olivia.

I could have kissed her tonight. She would have let me. She would have kissed me back. I should be at home, lying in bed, with Liv wrapped around me, her hands buried in my hair, her lips… Casey's eyes fluttered shut as her pulse began to pound. The fantasy was all too familiar.

"Casey, girl, honey you look like shit."

"Jamie, hey… what are you still doing here? Aren't you supposed to be at home with Dan?" The attorney turned to look at the person who spoke. Jamie Ray, drag queen extraordinaire sat in the seat next to her, nursing the dregs of a colorful cocktail. Even though her clothes bore the traces of a full night's dancing, not a hair was out of place, nor was any part of the queen's makeup imperfect.

"Danny boy, oh Danny boy, the pipes they called him… or rather a pipe, and it wasn't mine…" Briefly, sadness flickered in pale blue eyes but was quickly suppressed. "So I am free to fly and flutter to the hand of another. Saw you sitting there so alone and I had to wonder, what's a pretty little lady like you doing here all by yourself on such a lovely Saturday night?" She pursed her lips into a fetching moue.

Running her fingers over the edge of her glass, Casey said, "Whiling away the hours until my brain shuts down and the hormone factories close for the night."

"Oh baby it sounds serious. You better tell Jamie everything," the queen drawled. "Frankie fill 'er up." She slid her glass to the bartender who smiled shyly when Jamie winked flirtatiously. He quickly mixed her a refill and passed the glass back. Drink in hand, she turned her eyes on Casey and fluttered her eyelashes until the ADA chuckled ruefully.

"Can't keep anything from you, can I Jamers? It's a woman, of course."

"What else would it be, honey? You wouldn't be mentioning hormones if it wasn't. Tell me all about her." She leaned forward interestedly.

So Casey did. Everything from the way Olivia tilted her head to listen when she spoke to the way the detective's gaze would follow her around a room. It took two more T-and-T's to get the whole story out, but by the time she was done, both Frankie and Jamie had heard quite a bit about the illustrious Detective Benson, except for her name.

"I won't name her, because it's not fair to her – I know she's not out at work, and I wouldn't want to jam her up. In any case, I'm probably just imagining everything." Casey slugged the rest of her last drink and burped loudly. Giggling softly, she said, "Okay, I think that's my signal to head home."

"I'll walk you, baby. With these dark days, no one's safe, not even our knight in shining go-go boots." Jamie stood and dropped a ten on the bar. It vanished with the pass of Frankie's cloth.

"You know the way as well as I do," Casey said as she ambled toward the door.

Together, they stumbled down the street until they reached Casey's building. Laughing at something Jamie had said, the attorney put a hand on the tall queen's cheek and patted it gently.

"You're a good friend, Jamie. Thanks for listening to me gripe." She sighed and shook her head. "I just wish she wanted me like I want her."

"Oh baby, don't you worry. You will be wanted," Jamie said sweetly. "I mean, look at you. Smart, funny, sexy… she won't know what hit her. Sometimes you just have to let nature wend its way through the seasons."

"Queen logic, I love it. Good night, Jamie. If you see Dan, tell him that I think he's a fool for leaving you."

"Eh, I guess there's just no justice for an old queen in this world." Jamie smiled sadly. "Don't worry about me, Casey – you go on up to your bed and sleep the sleep of the righteous."

Yawning, Casey nodded and went inside without a backward glance.

Office of Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak

Monday, March 21st

Early Morning

There was a jonquil on her desk. It was brilliantly yellow against the dark mahogany of the wood. A vial of liquid kept it moist. Attached was a simple card, upon which was written in fancy script, "Thank you."

Touched by the obvious gesture, Casey laid the flower on the sideboard next to her bat. Later, she would take it home and put it in water.

NYU University, Psych Department

Monday, March 21st

4:22 pm

"Yes, how can I help you?" The sonorous voice of the professor made Elliot feel as though he had returned to his college days. Only the lack of a ten pound stack of books kept him from staring abashedly at his feet.

"Professor Reynolds? I'm Detective Elliot Stabler – I spoke with your assistant on Saturday."

"Oh yes, Daniel mentioned it. I really don't know what I can do to help. I barely knew Miss Roberts." Brenda Reynolds had the stereotypical look of a middle aged woman. Her hair was shoulder length, a shade of red not found in nature, and she wore enough cosmetics to make it obvious that she was fighting off age with every ounce of strength in her body.

Shrugging, Elliot said, "All the same, I'd like to hear your opinion of her." He smiled, pouring on the charm. She wants me to flirt with her. Okay, here's another rose I owe Kathy.

"Oh, well, all right, I suppose I can spare a few minutes. Why don't you follow me to my office?"

They exited the lecture hall and entered the corridor. Students moved along in hurried or sedate paces as their schedules demanded. Even this late in the afternoon, the hall was filled with a steady stream of dour faced youngsters.

The professor stopped and studied one couple as they casually made out in the shadow of a doorway. A poignant smile crossed her face briefly before she said, "It won't last. He doesn't honor the goddess that she represents. Look at the way his hand lingers overlong on her buttocks – so typical of the hormonal male."

Elliot watched the kids for a moment but had to look away. Public displays of youthful affection, when it wasn't he who was a part of them, always made him uncomfortable.

Catching his reaction, Brenda smiled knowingly. "I bet you have your own troubles, Detective. A word of advice – women need to be treasured, cherished and adored… the road to a happy romance is to remember this trifecta. Of course, there's going to be additional needs, but those are the three major elements to success."

"I'll try to remember that," Elliot said jovially. Inside, alarms were ringing. Casually, he pulled out his notebook and reminded himself to look into Brenda's background. Could their killer be a woman? It seemed like a long shot, but at this point, Stabler wasn't going to throw out an idea just because it seemed unfeasible.

Once inside the professor's office, Elliot looked around with interest. It was immaculate. One wall was lined with books while the others bore carefully placed pieces of art. Diplomas hung in places of honor and in the center of it all sat an antique tiger maple desk. The color scheme was pleasant, warm browns and cool beiges touched with lavender here and there gave what would otherwise be an overly masculine place a sense of femininity that left Elliot feeling as though he had stepped into a very private space.

"Have a seat, Detective." The professor rounded the desk to her chair and sat. As soon as she was comfortable, Brenda's demeanor quickly became that of a queen in her throne room.

Elliot took the chair across from her. Immediately he noticed picture frames on her desk. There was quite a collection and every image was of the professor and a boy in the various stages of growing. In many, there was a distinguished, handsome gentleman, but though Brenda and the boy looked happy, the man's face bore the lined, haggard expression of one who has not slept well.

"Do you have children, Professor?"

Brenda smiled and caressed one of the photographs fondly. "I have a son. Do you like kids, Detective?"

Tit for tat. "I have four." He allowed a hint of his affection for his brood to show in his smile.

"Ah, married then. She must be a saint." Steepling her fingers, Reynolds pursed her lips and said, "Miss Roberts would not have liked a man like you, Detective. Your job keeps you away from home far too much – as it would any officer of the law." The professor said this with such a casual air that Elliot wondered if she had known any other cops. "Wendy was one of those women who needed to feel like the center of her man's world. His treasure – young Daniel never understood that. Of course, poor Dan is terribly confused anyway. He'll never be truly happy until he accepts the fact that he will never be man enough for a woman."

"Are you saying that Daniel is gay?" Stabler sat forward. Maybe he was wrong about the kid.

Brenda smiled and it was the kind of expression that Elliot would call "predatory". "Are clouds white? Is the sky blue? Yes, Detective. My assistant is queerer than a three dollar bill."

Huang said our guy was fronting as a homo, but maybe he is gay. Maybe he kills because he can't be what society expects of him. "I take it that he's conflicted about his sexuality?"

Brenda snorted. It was the first unladylike sound she had made. "Hardly. More like clueless, Detective."

"If he's clueless, how do you know he's gay, Professor?"

"A woman knows, Detective. Just like a man recognizes the signs of lesbianism in the women around him." She said it with a straight face, a fact which boggled Elliot.

Okay, she's a quack. I wouldn't know a lesbian if she bit me. I know they exist because I've met my fair share, but unless they're screaming bull dykes in leather and chains, I'm as clueless as she claims Daniel is. He certainly didn't seem gay to me.

Brenda leaned forward. "So Detective, was there anything else?" Her voice was an oral caress that made Elliot shiver with revulsion. It was time to go. He didn't need another complaint about his unprofessional conduct on his record and if he didn't leave, he would not be able to contain his disgust.

Standing, he pocketed his notebook and said, "No, ma'am. Thank you. You've been very helpful."

"Anytime, Detective." She sat back, crossed her legs and gave him a long, sultry stare. "Come by again, I'll be happy to tell you more about what women want."

Manhattan County Court House

Monday, March 21st

2:15 pm

"I call Detective Olivia Benson to the stand." Casey waited while Liv moved up from the gallery to stand and take the oath to tell 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help her, God' and then strode over to the witness stand.

Olivia looked up at Casey and smiled briefly. She had been watching the attorney all morning and it always was such a pleasure to view the ADA in action. Casey had gone through witness after witness, establishing the forensics of the case, and now it was up to her to paint the emotional picture for the jury.

"Detective, would you begin by telling us what you first saw when you walked into Sarah MacMurphy's hospital room?" Casey stood before the Jury Box, but directed her gaze at Olivia.

Leaning forward, Liv said, "I saw a girl who had been violated by a man she trusted."

"Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence." The defense attorney, a short, bulldog-faced man, jumped to his feet and glared at the detective.

Casey ground her teeth and said, "Judge Petrovsky, we have DNA –"

"Overruled, please continue, Miss Novak."

"Detective Benson," Casey said as she began to pace around the courtroom. "Tell us what it's like for someone who has been raped to be examined."

Slowly, but methodically, Casey led Olivia through the process of the rape kit, taking every opportunity to remind the jury that the victim in the case was just a teenager. The defense attempted to object, but the judge ruled that the jury had a right to know and understand the process of evidence collection.

When they got to where Sarah broke down and admitted that it was her uncle, juror number three wiped her eyes and glared at the defendant. Sensing victory, Casey pressed on, taking the detective through until the uncle was arrested.

When it was the defense's turn to question Olivia, they immediately attacked her past.

"Isn't it true, Detective, that your own mother was raped and that you are, in fact, the product of that crime?"

"Objection! What possible bearing could this have on the case?"

"It goes toward the detective's state of mind when she interviewed Miss MacMurphy. Detective Benson is clearly biased and would not be willing to accept that the girl had consensual sex with her uncle."

"It was still her uncle and as far as I know, incest is illegal in New York." Casey's jaw tensed. How dare that scumbag drag Olivia's past into her courtroom!

Petrovsky frowned. "In chambers, now, all of you."

Once within the judge's office, the diminutive brunette spent a good thirty seconds glaring at the defense lawyer. Finally, she said, "Mr. Madison, as much as I detest your approach, it has some merit." Turning to Olivia, she said, "Detective Benson, can you, in all honesty, say that you would have listened if the victim had claimed it was consensual?"

"Judge Petrovsky, I try not to let my history interfere with my work. If anything, I like to think that it makes it more imperative for me to get to the truth. When I interviewed Sarah MacMurphy, I followed procedure to the letter. Ask my partner – he was there when she confessed that it was her uncle who molested her."

"Your honor, I object to this witness. Detective Benson is clearly biased – why isn't Detective Stabler here to testify?"

Lena turned to Casey. "Well, Miss Novak?"

"Detective Stabler is investigating another matter, Your Honor, but I'm sure that if I call him, he'll be more than willing to testify."

Olivia's ears were beginning to grow warm. Anger seethed in her stomach and if she had been anywhere but in a judge's chambers, she would have decked Richard Madison. She was also not very happy with Casey, who didn't seem to be putting up much of a fight on her behalf. Damn it, Casey, I know we aren't the best of friends, but you should have my back!

Casey took a breath and added, "However, I don't think its necessary. Detective Benson has years of experience working in Special Victims – surely she's learned how to compartmentalize her emotions by now?"

I didn't think she'd noticed. The anger drained as quickly as it had risen. A cocky half grin flashed across Olivia's face and she had to suppress the urge to stick her tongue out at Madison.

Petrovsky sat back and steepled her fingers. "You've opened a can of worms, Mr. Madison. Are you prepared to learn if they're the bait you expected them to be?" She gave the defense attorney a long, hard stare.

He swallowed but bravely stood his ground. "My client would ask no less of me." Beside him, Edward MacMurphy smirked. Casting his gaze at Casey, he added a slight leer as he gave her a long once over.

"Then let us return to the courtroom."

Once everyone had retaken their positions, Petrovsky spoke. "Detective Benson, I cannot see where your history has any bearing on this case other than that it leant you a certain ability to bond with the victim. Objection sustained. You may carry on Mr. Madison."

The defense attorney grimaced. "Detective Benson, did you at any time try to discover whether the sex was consensual?"

"I didn't have to – the victim wasn't of age to consent."

"So you're saying that you never looked for any other explanation other than rape?"

Olivia pressed her lips together. "Again, I didn't have to. The victim claimed that she had been molested and I treated the case as such."

"But didn't the girl later recant and say that she had wanted it?" Madison's smile was filled with equal parts of snake-like oiliness and shark-like wildness.

This was the part that Casey had been dreading. Under pressure from her mother, who was being supported by MacMurphy, Sarah recanted and said that she had gone to her uncle willingly. However, when Olivia had questioned her about this, she had broken down and admitted what her mother had made her do.

"Sarah was pressured by her mother –"

"Yes or no, Detective: Did Sarah MacMurphy recant her accusation?"

Juror's five and seven looked mildly ill. Two and nine were twitching, a possible sign that they were growing irritated with the defense. All to the good as far as Casey was concerned.

Olivia gritted her teeth and growled, "Yes."

"Thank you, Detective," Madison said, directing a shark like grin to Casey. He sat down and spoke softly to his client. Edward MacMurphy directed a leering smile in Olivia's direction but otherwise schooled his face to bored impassivity.

"Redirect, Your Honor?"

Petrovsky nodded. Casey stood and went to the side of the witness box. Looking at the jury, she said, "Detective Benson, when Sarah recanted, what action did you take?

"I spoke with her at length to determine why she had suddenly changed her story."

"And when you found out about her mother's involvement?"

"I arrested Mrs. MacMurphy for witness tampering and placed Sarah in a foster home."

"Thank you, Detective."

Once excused, Olivia headed for the gallery. Halfway there, she felt the buzzing of her cell. Exiting the court room, she flipped open her phone and read the text message from Elliot.

Reynolds is a quack, but she had some interesting things to say. See you at the house.

16th Precinct Squad Room

Monday, March 21st

Early Evening

Half a box of chow mein sat on Olivia's desk, left over from her hurriedly consumed dinner. Elliot was going over his interview with Brenda Reynolds while she shuffled through notes pertaining to the case.

A newspaper bearing the headline, "DETECTIVES SAY NO LEADS ON ICEBOX KILLER" glared at the squad from its position of infamy on the incident board. It had joined four other clippings with similar headlines. They were a goad to get the detectives thinking. Sixteen victims were sixteen victims too many and One Police Plaza had finally decided that it was time to devote more energy into solving the case.

More energy didn't equal much other than a few more bodies to help dig through files, but it was enough to keep what would have been a back-burnered case alive.

Across from her, Elliot was chewing on the end of his pencil as he went over his notes from his interview with Professor Brenda Reynolds.

"She was an odd bird," he said, tapping the notebook.

"Brenda Reynolds is known for her rather draconian views on the male/female dynamic," George Huang said. He was pacing the room, cradling his chin between his thumb and forefinger. "I've attended a few of her lectures – she's very fond of the maiden/hero ideal."

"Rescue me o fair prince?" Munch quipped.

"Yes, exactly. Rapunzel in her tower, Sleeping Beauty in her bed – she teaches that women all want to be treated like the romantic half of a child's fairy tale."

"I can imagine how hard that must have been for her husband to live up to," Olivia said.

"Yeah, most guys have a hard enough time trying to remember their girl's birthdays." Fin shook his head.

"Well, I checked around and it seems that the good Professor's husband passed away a few years ago, so Cinderella has been without her Prince Charming for a while now." Elliot scratched his head. "What's getting to me is her choice of words… they're far too similar to the killer's notes for coincidence."

"Perhaps the killer knows her, or is familiar with her work? He could have taken her class – it fits with the profile of a well educated man," Huang said softly.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Stabler said. "Maybe Novak should subpoena Reynolds' class list."

"So, our killer was or is a psych student? Wouldn't be the first time a head shrinker resorted to murder as a cure for what ails his patients." Detective Munch grimaced sardonically.

Cragen came out of his office. "Okay people, you're spinning your wheels. Go home. Get some sleep. Tomorrow you can tackle this with fresh eyes. Olivia, Novak called – she wanted to remind you that Sarah's testifying in the morning."

"Right. See you guys tomorrow." Olivia gathered her jacket and headed for home.

Office of the Medical Examiner

Friday, March 25th

Early Afternoon

"You called us down here?" Olivia said to Warner as she opened the door to the ME's office.

"Yeah, I found something on Wendy Roberts' underwear. DNA – male, most likely Caucasian, type A blood. CODIS came up empty, so did VICAP. We're running it through other databases now." Melinda's caramel colored skin was rendered ochre by the fluorescent lighting. Standing, she walked over to a table bearing several boxes of files and lifted a loose manila folder off the top and handed it to Stabler.

"What's this?"

"I.D. on victim number eight. Tanya Morris, prostitute, found two years ago buried about six feet from where Wendy was discovered. An organization that looks for missing persons matched her DNA to a woman in Connecticut who'd been looking for her estranged sister."

"Cause of death?" Liv peered over her partner's shoulder as he thumbed through the report. There wasn't much – she remembered the case. The killer had been pretty clean on that one. The link was the broken statue of justice and the cut up underwear.

"The hyoid was intact, so I'd say he didn't strangle her, but there was a three inch long fracture on the left occipital ridge. Blunt force trauma. I'd say he used a pipe, or a baseball bat given the depth and shape of the injury."

"What about a nightstick?" Elliot asked, thinking about their early postulation that the perp was involved in law enforcement.

"No, a nightstick would have left a thinner impression. Look here," Warner said, removing several X-Rays and sticking them into a lightbox. "This is the perimeter of the impression." She reached into a nearby container and pulled out a nightstick and held it up to the negative. It was clearly smaller than the wound area.

"Okay, so not a nightstick. If we find a weapon, could you match it?" Liv said while scribbling on her notepad.

"Yes, I think so."

Liv's cell rang. "Benson." She stepped out into the hall while her partner continued to speak to Warner. "Casey, hey, how'd it go?"

"Guilty, on all counts." The smugness of victory was crystal clear in the ADA's voice. "We did it Liv!"

"No, you did it, Case. Good job." Olivia smiled briefly. One more scumbag off the streets.

Office of ADA Novak

Friday, March 25th

Early Afternoon

There was a collection of flowers sitting in a vase on the sideboard today. Every day for the last week, she had found a single blossom on her desk. Each had come with a card bearing a simple, yet pleasant inscription.

"To begin the dance of desire, one must first court the fields of want," was the second card but the first such note. It accompanied a single red carnation.

Then came, "To pay thee court, I, my face masked, come to thy hall." The flower it was attached to was a beautiful white gardenia.

Day three brought, "To thy side, I shall fly where upon your lips my name shall cry." The pinkness of the rose was a hair off of red.

On the fourth day, the card was attached to a peony that had been carefully dyed a mottling of pink and red. "To charity's touch upon my skin from wanted be. You in my heart upon my hearth and in my bed."

Casey perused the cards. The handwriting was a little too even to be real and after a little bit of work looking at the fonts on her computer, she realized that each card had been printed. It did not lessen the impact of the words, however.

She's a poet. At least, she hoped it was she, as in Olivia… who else could it be?

Even Jamie Ray seemed convinced that her Girl in Blue, as she called her, was paying her subtle court.

Which was why, when she had Liv on the phone, she decided to ask, "Would you like to celebrate with drinks later?"

"I can't. I'm jammed up with three cases besides the Icebox killings."

Casey tried not to feel too disappointed. "I understand. I'll take a rain check."

"You got it."

16th Precinct Squad Room

Sunday, March 27th


"Daniel Kline, aged twenty-three, lives with a roommate in a one bedroom apartment in Flatbush." Elliot taped a picture of the geeky clerk to the incident board.

"Professor Brenda Reynolds, fifty-seven, widowed, lives alone in Gramercy Park." Olivia taped up a faculty photo of the professor next to Daniel's picture.

"So what do they have in common with our vics?" Cragen said. "Aside from the obvious connection to Wendy Roberts."

"The other victim's families didn't recognize either of them," Munch said.

"And ain't none of them could say whether their girls had any friends who were on the downlow," Fin added.

A desk sergeant came in and handed Olivia a piece of paper, which she opened and read. Her face drained of all color and she said, "Guys…"

They crowded around to read the note.


The precinct was a crowded mess. Officers and detectives danced the dance of the exhausted as they attempted to do the impossible – identify the previously unidentifiable Icebox killer.

He was out there, hunting, and they knew neither his name nor the name of his intended victim. Frustrated rage hung over the squad room like a miasma of foul smoke. No one had slept in over a day. Novak was riding their butts, Cragen was up at One PP trying to come up with the best way to spin the new information to the public without causing a panic and Olivia's head felt like it was about ready to burst.

Almost all of Warner's staff was going over every last shred of evidence from the previous cases. Two more bodies had been identified. Two more families could now have closure, but it wasn't enough. They were still no closer to an answer.

Even the FBI had gotten involved, via Huang. He had made the decision that the killer was escalating and that if they didn't catch him soon, another woman would die. Yet even with the extra resources, the squad kept running into dead ends.

The DNA had turned up blank again and again on every database. Even Interpol had come back empty. Their last, best hope made everyone on the task force cringe – to find a match within the records of law enforcement personnel.

Running her fingers through her hair, Liv looked at her partner and said, "Okay, so where are we with Dan Kline?"

"No where. Everyone I've talked to says that he's a nice, if somewhat shy kid. If he's gay, no one has either noticed or cared." Elliot sat back in his chair and frowned. His shirt was rumpled, his tie had long been abandoned in favor of a more casual appearance and the hair on one side of his head was smashed flat from his last nap in the crib.

"And Brenda?"

"Kooky, but incapable of murder."

"Doesn't she have a kid? What do we know about him?" Liv closed her eyes and tried to recall if anything had been mentioned about the professor's son.

Elliot shuffled through a pile of papers. "James Reynolds. Aged twenty-nine. Lives with, well this is interesting – up until a few weeks ago, he lived with Daniel Kline."

"Why didn't we know this before?" Liv started to push off her exhaustion. "What else do we know about James?" Her blood began to race, chasing away the threads of sleep that had begun to overtake her mind.

"Well his mother is a quack –" Elliot continued to read from the notes. "He works as a night security guard at a bank, likes to work out, oh and he's a drag queen."

Munch sat on the edge of their desk. "Charming. Sounds like mommy did a real number on him. Maybe we should be talking to him… he had access to at least one victim through his roommate."

"The roomie that mommy said was gay. Maybe she wasn't all that quacked," Fin said.

"Why don't we go pay him a visit?" Elliot said as he stood and put on his jacket.

Apartment of ADA Casey Novak

Monday, March 28th


Casey quickly changed clothes. It had been over twenty four hours since she'd showered and she wanted to at least feel a little less scungy before appearing on the late news. They were going public with a smattering of information in the hopes that someone would come through with the golden tip.

While she was home, she nuked two slices of day old pizza, ate and watered her plants. Just as she was getting ready to go, there was a knock on her door.

Daniel Kline's Apartment

Monday, March 28th


"Jamie? He, I mean she's probably at the Bellflower, Detectives. Its margarita night and she likes to dance for the boys." He smiled wistfully.

"You didn't mention that you were gay, before, Daniel," Stabler said. Disapproval colored his tone. He was still playing the fatherly role.

Daniel laughed. "I'm not, Detective. James isn't my lover, Jamie is and she's as feminine as she can be." There was a wildness to his eyes that suggested that Daniel didn't exactly function on all cylinders. There was also a pungent odor of marijuana emanating from the flat.

Elliot looked at Liv and his expression clearly stated, "Nut job."

"Do you mind if we come in and look around?"

Shrugging, Daniel said, "Sure. I have nothing to hide." He turned away from them and gave them a quick tour.

They came to a room that was bare of personal items. Slipping on gloves, Elliot said, "Was this James' room?"

"Yeah, his mom would freak if she knew about Jamie."

Yeah, I bet she would. Her macho son isn't so macho in a dress.

"Do you mind if we take a look inside?" Olivia said. Elliot put his hand on his cell. If he had to, he would call Novak and have her rush a warrant. With the current state of frenetic activity over the Icebox killer, there wasn't a judge in New York City who would deny the pretty ADA's request.

"I don't care. James moved most of his things back to his mom's place anyhow," Daniel said laconically.

The two detectives made quick work out of tearing apart the bedroom, seeking anything that might be a clue. Liv flipped the mattress and box spring off the frame and stopped.

"Elliot, look," she said, reaching down toward something on the ground. It was a baseball bat.

Elliot's nostrils flared. This was something real. A cold investigation suddenly flared into a bonfire of possibilities.

Liv examined the bat and stopped when she came to a dark blotchy area at the tip. "Blood. Layers of it," she whispered.

"Where's the Bellflower," Elliot said to Daniel.

"Upper West Side… "

When the location was revealed, Olivia's first thought was, Casey's apartment is three blocks from there.

Stabler closed his phone. "CSU is on the way. I'll stay here, you go get the bastard."

"I'll have Munch and Fin meet me there," she said as she exited the Kline apartment.

The Bellflower

Monday, March 28th


The nightclub was hopping. Liv's badge barely got her in the door. At the bar, she had to yell to be heard and then was disappointed to learn that "Jamie Ray" as James Reynolds' alter ego was know, was not in attendance.

"She said something about getting a friend first," the bartender said as he handed out drinks.

Olivia affected a curious expression. "Really? Jamie said she'd wait for me. Do you know where she went?"

The bartender frowned. "Uh, yeah, I think it was Casey's place."

"Casey?" Liv's heart went triple time.

"Yeah, Casey, um, Noviv …uh,no, Nova erm, Novak, Casey Novak – I think she's a cop or something."

"Assistant District Attorney," Liv muttered. "Thanks," she added, smiling brightly.

On her way out, she radioed to Munch and Fin. "Novak's place. He's headed there. I don't know how, but the bastard's after Casey!"

She started to run. Half way to Casey's apartment, she heard Fin yell, "Liv, get in!"

The door to a dark blue unmarked sedan opened only feet away from her. She dove in and the car was speeding up before she had closed the door.

"Warner called," Fin said as Olivia tapped the window restlessly.


"DNA's a match to a sample we had on file for Reynolds' guard card." The car came to a squealing stop. The detectives piled out and headed for the ADA's building.

Six flights of stairs seemed to fly by as she and Munch raced to Casey's door.

Apartment of ADA Novak

Monday, March 28th


"Just a minute," Casey called as she finished putting her on her jacket. Peering through the peephole, she spotted Jamie Ray standing in the hall. "Hey, girl," she said as she opened the door. "I'm a little busy for margarita night –"

"You are wanted," Jamie whispered and rushed her.

All Casey saw were gloved hands reaching for her throat and it was enough to snap her back into the nightmare that was the Zergin case.

"No!" she shouted, twisting away and reaching for the baseball bat that she kept near the door for just such a happenstance.

The strident tone of Casey Novak's voice slammed into Olivia like a brick wall.

"Casey!" Adrenalin spiked and sent her into a burst of speed that carried her up the last two steps, down the hall and into the attorney's apartment.

Casey was struggling with a tall female figure. Drawing her gun, Olivia shouted, "James! Stop!"

The drag queen jumped as though she'd been slapped. Turning her head she looked at Olivia and smiled wickedly. "You didn't want her enough." One hand shot out and grabbed Casey by the throat and lifted her off the ground.

"James, listen to me – put Casey down, James. Come on, just let her go and we can go talk about this." Olivia's voice was soothing, soft, and pleading.

Laughing, James said, "Are you going to give me justice, Detective? Will you sit on me until I break and my sordid little story comes spilling out?" He looked at her with wild eyes. "Will you offer me your compassion, Officer?" The hands around Casey's throat tightened. "So sweet," he whispered, turning his gaze to his captive. In a parody of love, he bent his head and brushed a single kiss on the attorney's lips.

Casey kicked weakly at the queen. Her face was beginning to turn purple. When James kissed her, her lips twisted into a rictus and she struggled to speak.

James cocked his head and looked at the ADA. "What's the matter baby, having trouble breathing? Maybe you'll understand what it feels like to be me!"

Olivia cocked the gun. The sound was deafening. "James, let Casey go or I will have to shoot you."

"Shoot me then, Detective." The queen moved with the speed of a boxer, pulling Casey in against his body. The motion forced him to release the death grip he had on the attorney's throat, allowing her to take in several heaving gasps of air.

"Jamie, why?" Casey whispered brokenly. Have to hold it together. Can't let Liv kill him. He's got to go to trial.

James laughed. It was a dry, bitter, and mirthless sound. "If you knew my mother, Casey girl, you wouldn't ask me that."

Despite herself, Casey snorted. "You can't blame your mother for attempting to kill me."

The words seemed to hit James harder than bullets. Staggering, he shook his head as if to clear it. "No, I – I only – you needed to be, Casey you said you wanted to be wanted… I want you, don't you understand?"

Gone was the confident queen who had burst through her door. The man holding her now was cracking, on the verge of shattering into a thousand pieces. He clung to her, squeezing until she felt her ribs creak and grind together. Pain flared along her side and Casey gasped. "Jamie, please –"

"I want you," he whispered and plastered a torrent of unwanted kisses along the side of her head. "Doesn't that make you happy? Mother says that you have to give a woman what they want. You have to treasure them, and I do … I really do!"

"Jamie - James, let me go. I don't want you." Casey sounded truly sad.

Tears poured from the queen's heavily painted eyes and the makeup streaked his face with dark lines. "Casey, don't make me… you have to want me. I want you," he pled brokenly.

"No, Jamie. You know that… you know who I want," Casey said softly.

"But… you said that you were just imagining things…" Confusion dominated James' tone. His arms began to loosen and the attorney relaxed marginally.

Casey sighed. "That doesn't mean that my feelings have changed." She put her hands on James' arms. "Let me go, Jamers. Please. Don't make Olivia shoot you."

For the first time, Casey looked at the detective. What she saw made her even more determined to talk James into surrendering. Olivia had death in her eyes. It sent a tiny thrill of fear laden desire through the ADA. She'd kill for me.

There was something else in her face. A hint, a signal – Casey looked at Liv's hands and nearly burst out laughing. Curve ball. The ADA took a breath and said, "James, please – let me go. We can go and talk about this peacefully."

"Casey, I don't want to talk. I just want you to want me," James said plaintively.

Liv gave a slight nod.

"Let her go or I'll give you an air conditioned skull." Fin Tutuola's voice grated into the conversation. The detective was only slightly out of breath from having to climb up a fire escape, break into Casey's bedroom window and make his way into the hall without attracting notice.

James swallowed and then, let Casey go. Putting up his arms, he softly said, "I guess there's just no justice for an old queen."

Apartment of Detective Olivia Benson

Friday, April 7th

Late Afternoon

The beer was warm. Liv wiped her mouth and took another drink anyway.

"You said you wanted to be wanted…" The words echoed in the detective's mind. She sat in her apartment, staring at the boring artwork that decorated her walls. Aesthetically, they weren't anything exciting, but the still lives and landscapes were better scenery than the mire that was her mind.

Two weeks had gone by since they had collared James Reynolds. That he was loopier than a box of Cheerios was a given – once back at the station, the queen had willingly spilled his guts, copping to every single case including five they hadn't discovered. Through it all, Casey had sat and held James' hand while ADA Kelly Gaffney took his statement.

Casey had also made sure that James had the best representation possible. When Olivia had asked why she had gone to such lengths for the serial killer, the attorney had only said, "Jamie Ray was my friend. She listened to me when I needed someone to lean on. How can I abandon her now?"

She had turned over all of the notes and the flowers, which were linked to a single florist within walking distance of Casey's office. James had readily admitted to sending them, as well as to sending letters to all of his victims.

James Reynolds was serving a life sentence within the walls of a state mental facility and Olivia hadn't seen Casey since the young man had been led away in handcuffs.

District Attorney Arthur Branch had mandated that Casey take some time off, which the ADA did. He had also suggested that she spend that time off in the loving arms of her family, which was where she was now.

Olivia didn't even have a phone number, and Casey's cell was off.

"You said you wanted to be wanted…"

Who, Casey? Who did you want to want you? Was it me? My heart wants it to be true, but my head says that I'm just fantasizing.

She took another drink of warm beer.

Novak Family Home

Saturday, April 8th


"Casey, why won't you stay a little longer?" David Novak looked at his daughter pleadingly.

"Daddy, I can't. I need to get back to work." Casey smiled at her father and turned to leave.

"But honey, that freak tried to kill you! Surely your boss can give you a few weeks off!"

"That freak was my friend, Dad. He's sick, not evil!" Stopping, the attorney swallowed a sigh. Casey was growing tired of having to defend James to everyone, even her psychologist. Dr. Kendal had come highly recommended and she had been instrumental in helping Casey to overcome her fear of working late after she'd been attacked in her office. Of course, it also helped that she never went anywhere without a can of pepper spray and that she kept an ever-growing collection of baseball bats stashed in strategic places around her home and office.

And if I'd remembered to keep my damn keys on the counter, I might have saved Fin a hell of a climb.

Hefting her overnight bag onto her shoulder, Casey continued walking toward her car. It was time to go home. There were bad guys to put away, and Arthur Branch had never been more right when she said that she would want it. There was a fire inside of her that never seemed to go out, and had only burned low since the attack. It was beginning to flare again.

David chased after her. "Honey, I'm not saying that! I love you, and I want you to be safe." Concern was etched onto his lined, world-weary face. "You're my baby girl, Casey and that damn city has tried to kill you twice now. Can't you come home? Surely you could get a job with the DA's office here?" The where it's safer was unspoken.

Standing at the door to her car, Casey ran her fingers through her hair and smiled up at her father. "Dad, I'll be safe, I promise." She lifted her keys up, displaying a can of pepper spray. "Won't leave home without it."

"Casey –" He reached out and captured her face in his hands. Smoothing her hair away from her face, he said, "You are my dearest little girl, you know that? It would kill me if something happened to you."

"Daddy," Casey whispered as she dropped her bag and was engulfed in a tight embrace. "I'm okay, really."

"Thanks to your detectives. If they hadn't arrived when they did –"

"Don't think of that, Dad. It's over now. I need to go back. There are others, people like me who are still trapped in their personal Hells and they need me Daddy." The conviction in her voice was solid, bone deep and bound to every iota of her expression. And Olivia is in New York… A tiny smile bowed her lips.

Letting her go, David fondly ruffled her hair. "So, next time, you'll bring the one who puts the secret smile on your face?"

Ah shit, I didn't know he'd seen that.

Casey blushed. "Dad there's no –"

"Don't lie to your father, Casey-boo. Just bring her home with you next time." He leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Go and do your job, Boo-boo. Call me when you get home."

"I love you Daddy."

"Love you too."

Casey picked up her bag, got in her car and headed for New York.

Highway somewhere between New York City and Alexandria, VA

Saturday, April 8th

Late Afternoon

The messages rolled by in a monotone as Casey drove. Most were from co-workers wishing her a speedy recovery, as if having had the life nearly choked out of her by someone she considered a friend was akin to having the flu.

It had been like this before, after Zergin had put her in the hospital. Even though they wallowed in human misery, the cops and lawyers she worked with had trouble dealing with it when it struck close to home. Platitudes were easily spoken, and she could remember a time when they had fallen from her lips to cascade on the emotional armor that Fin Tutuola wore with all the aplomb of a medieval knight. I wonder if he felt then like I do now?

She wanted to tell the well wishers that she was fine, but they would know the truth. They would know, all too well, the hidden, barely healed wounds that would eventually scar. Once, someone had told her that they did the job they did because there was no one else, and at the time, she hadn't really grasped it.

Now, she did. Casey Novak was headed home to a life of weekly shrink visits and daily headaches because she was needed.

The messages blurred on, but there was only one voice that the ADA wanted to hear. Just one, single voice, and yet, in all the many well wishes it never appeared.

Did I dream it? Was I hallucinating that night, when she looked at me, and I felt the weight of her desire wrap around me like a blanket fresh from the dryer?

Arthur Branch's southern fried tones filled the tiny space of her car. "Miss Novak, I know I sent you off to the bosom of your family but please remember that we need your services here. Kibre and Gaffney are bustin' my balls about your absence."

Casey smiled. Executive Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kibre and her assistant, ADA Kelly Gaffney had volunteered to take on her caseload while she was away. She owed them big – perhaps she could see what she could do about swinging tickets to one of those frou-frou shows they liked so much.

"Novak, get your sorry butt back here and help your team out. We're getting our asses handed to us by the Bronx vice team." Elliot's voice was warm, filled with all the candor of a big brother and the wrong partner of her SVU squad from whom she wanted to hear.

"Yo, Case, baby, we need your special kind of pain in our asses, so haul that ghost face of yours back soon, ai'it?"

Casey chuckled. Fin's dry voice was welcome, as was the next message.

"I heard a rumor that you'd been kidnapped by the men in black and dragged off for secret government testing. If you wake up with a weird scar on your neck and the sudden urge to mate with tall, older men, give me a call."

"In your dreams, John."

Several more messages from friends and co-workers she hadn't heard from since she worked in White Collar came through, then another voice that made her smile.

"Casey, if you aren't careful you're going to have to get a tattoo on your forehead that says, 'hit me I'm a good target'," Mary Conway Clark, Casey's mentor and friend, said good-naturedly.

"Return call." The phone reacted to her command, and soon she heard the sound of a phone ringing. When it was answered, she said, "RE: Tattoo – I was drunk. Can we just let it go?"

"Well hello to you too, Casey," Mary's raspy voice came back filled with amusement. "Where are you?"

"On the road. Somewhere between here and there – story of my life."

Mary chuckled. "I saw James the other day. He's doing well."

Casey briefly closed her eyes. Moisture made them burn. "Good. I'm glad."

"He wanted me to tell you –"

"He can tell me himself." Casey cut her off. "He has to face me, Mary. I won't let him run away from that." Since being committed, James Reynolds had refused to have any contact with Casey, which only served to make the young attorney feel worse for her friend.

"He knows. Casey, it'll take time. He's not… you were right to call me." The weight of sadness in the older woman's voice conveyed a host of information. James Reynolds was diagnosed as clinically unable to serve in his own defense. Until such time as he is able to pass a psychiatric exam, he will remain a guest of the state board of mental health.

"He's sick, Mary. He needed help and the system failed him. His mother is the one who should be serving life with no possibility. Instead, she'll just go on preaching her vile ideas to fresh minds." Bitterness tinged every word. "That bitch ruined a man I was proud to call my friend."

"Well, you can be consoled by this then – she quit her position at NYU. It seems the shame of being the mother of one of the worst serial killers since Berkowitz was too much for her." Casey heard papers shuffling in the background.

"Did they ever find out why the broken statues?" It was the one detail she hadn't heard the night James had confessed.

"When he was nine, he was molested by a cop. He was a friend of the family – one of Brenda's 'manly men' that she used as an example for the young James to follow."

"So there really was no justice for him." Tears streaked Casey's face.

"Not until it was too late," Mary replied softly. "Listen, Casey – could you… send him a card or something? He would love to hear from you, even if he's not ready to face you yet."

A muscle in Casey's jaw spasmed. "I'll think about it."

"That's all I ask. So, how's David?"

"Dad's fine."

"Did he try to get you to come home?"

She smiled, thinking about her father's subtle and not so subtle attempts at wooing his youngest child back to the nest. "Not as hard as he did last time, but yeah, he tried."

"You know, no one would hold it against you if you did decide to leave Special Victims. Two attacks in one year is a little excessive for an ADA. I'm sure there's a firm out there who would be delighted to have the services of an eager, attractive young attorney."

Casey chuckled ruefully. "I'm a glutton for punishment."

"Hah! Right. I think you're a glutton for a certain pair of sultry brown eyes. And speaking of the lovely Detective Benson – she was in to see me earlier."

"Oh?" Casey tried not to sound too interested.

Now it was Mary's turn to chuckle. "Oh yes – she was bringing me some documents pertaining to the Reynolds case. I'm glad you're coming home."

The abrupt shift in conversation startled Casey. "Huh? Uh, Why?"

"Because your detective looked like hell. She misses you Casey."

Does everyone know how I feel about Liv? Was I that obvious? She recalled Elliot's flirting and decided, No, there's at least one person who is clueless. The rest of the squad probably doesn't know either. Mary just figured it out because she's known me for so long. She knows my tastes.

Mary knew that Casey liked older women. Especially brunettes who had a cause that they were willing to fight for, come Hell or high water.

"I'd be jealous if I didn't know that it was a lost cause," Mary added softly.

"Mary, I –" The ADA bit her lip. Damn it, was she always going to stumble into conversational quicksand?

"Casey, don't, please? The past is where it belongs. You're a good friend and I want it to stay that way. Just… come home and find your happiness, okay?"

Casey swallowed. Somehow, the conversation had turned on its tail and ended up going from being fairly light to bearing the weight of too many memories. There had been a time, not so long ago, when ethics had gone out the window and surrendered to the desire and need voiced in whiskey-smoke tones. Faced with the ghosts of old emotion, Casey could only say, "Okay."

The phone went dead.

How can she be so calm? I know she loves me, and yet, she just… she's letting me go. How many different kinds of fool am I to turn away from what I know for something that might be a mirage?

Liquid brown eyes looking up at her through a set of mussed bangs flashed in her memory. Just the suggestion, the merest hint of Olivia in her thoughts and Casey's heart began to thud in time with the beating of a hummingbird's wings.

"Message center, play remaining new messages."

The phone dialed, then began to tick off the rest of the new voicemails. There were only three. Two from her doctor confirming a midweek appointment and the third –

"Hey, Casey. Um, when you get back, I'd um, like to repay you, for um, dinner. So, give me a call, okay? I can cook too, when I put my mind to it." Casey could hear the smile in Olivia's voice. "I make a pretty mean three cheese ravioli." God, she was sexy when she was being persuasive.

"Return call."

The phone dialed. There were several rings and then, a sleepy, "Benson."

"Hey, I love ravioli."

"Casey." The tone of Olivia's voice nearly made the ADA go off the road. Layered into the one word was so many emotions that Casey dared not speculate on their meaning.

"I'm coming home, Liv."

"When?" There was more than a little interest in Olivia's response.

"I'm about an hour out, right now." Casey felt a little jittery, almost nervous.

"God." Was that out loud? Did Casey really hear that relief, that utter thankfulness in Olivia's voice? "Have dinner with me. I'll order something that will be ready when you get here."

"You're not on a case?" The ADA had to fight the urge to hold her breath.

"No. Elliot's catching tonight. Kathy and the kids went to Boston for the weekend."

The terrain was becoming familiar. Countryside vanished, replaced by the outskirts of New York City. The skyline on the horizon beckoned her – it was home.

Olivia's offer was tempting. A meal she wouldn't have to cook would be nice. Avoiding my apartment for a few more hours would be even nicer.

No matter how many times she said that she didn't blame James for what happened, going home and walking into the place where she had been brutalized left her cold and shaking. At work, she could solve it by asking for a new office. Arthur had been sweet about it, going so far as to offer to have it painted lime green, her response to which had been to spend several minutes laughing until she was nearly sick with the giddy sense of relief.

That solution was not something she could apply to a rent controlled, postage stamp sized apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan.

"Casey? You still with me, hon?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Liv. Dinner sounds… great."

"Italian or Chinese?"

"Surprise me."

"Okay. Call me when you get to my building. I'll pass you into the garage."

Apartment of Detective Olivia Benson

Saturday, April 8th

Early Evening

Casey stood before Liv's door and tried to calm the nervous fluttering in her stomach. It was just a dinner between friends. They hadn't seen each other in two weeks and it was this was a good time to catch up on department gossip. She could inquire after Kibre and Gaffney's handling of SVU while Liv inquired after the ADA's family. She could handle this.

Steeling herself, Casey knocked. The door opened almost immediately, as if Liv had been standing on the other side, waiting for her to request admittance.

The detective was dressed casually. Hip hugging jeans curved over her legs while a hoody in an indeterminate shade of brown covered her top. Under it, Casey could see the hint of a maroon tank top.

The attorney was also in jeans and she was wearing a teal blue shirt with a lavender scarf. Accessorizing had been a necessity. There were still bruises on her throat and looking at them in the mirror was disturbing. She smiled and said, "Hey. I'm home."

Liv nodded. "So I see. Food's here. Hope you're hungry, there's enough for a small army." She moved away from the doorway so that Casey could go inside.

"I'm starving." Walking past Olivia was like moving past an electromagnet. She felt naturally drawn to the detective's side. It was painful not to reach out and touch her. Once the door was shut, Casey said, "How's your arm?"

Cracking a small smile, Liv said, "Fine. See?" She pushed up her sleeve. The bruise was barely visible. "Your time tested method worked like a charm."

"Good, good," Casey said, nodding absently.

"How about you? Is your throat okay?" Liv's gaze searched Casey's face for any sign that she might not be well.

Smiling, Casey said, "Yeah, I'm fine. Really."

Liv's fingers twitched.

Casey took a breath, reached up and untied the scarf. The material fell away to reveal a fading necklace of bruises. "See?"

Liv made an inarticulate sound. To Casey, it sounded like something between a growl and a whimper of pain. Stepping into the attorney's personal space, Liv whispered, "It's my turn."

Before Casey could move, Liv had pulled her into a gentle embrace and was placing a series of soft, feather-light kisses around her neck. On fire, Casey could only stand and burn as Olivia kissed her throat.

At some point, the older woman must have pulled away because the distant sound of Liv's voice finally penetrated the fog in Casey's head. "All better?"

Opening her eyes, Casey looked down at Liv. The detective had moved perhaps two inches away and was gazing up at her with a level of fear she had never seen in Olivia Benson's eyes.

"Almost," Casey replied. Slowly, she leaned into Olivia and pressed her lips to the detective's. Their kisses were hesitant. Their lips moved against each other in a gradual progression of touch that was at once an expression of their fear and a testament to their desire.

Liv's hands slid up into Casey's hair and entwined in the amber colored tresses. Casey slipped her hands into Liv's back pockets and pulled the detective close. Their kisses grew heated. Open mouths allowed for their tongues to flirt out and tangle, their breaths to mingle and their teeth to nip at each other's lips.

God, please tell me I'm not dreaming.

It was a thought they both shared.

Content to kiss each other senseless for almost half an hour, they stood in the center of Olivia's living room, lost in the splendor of long-suppressed desire given wing. It was only when Casey's stomach rumbled loudly that they reluctantly parted. Almost as soon as her lips had cooled, Casey reached for Liv and kissed her again, a quick tasting of mouths that lasted only long enough for her to reassure herself that she wasn't imagining the moment.

"Do you have any idea of how long I've wanted to do that?" she asked when they parted again.

Liv smiled. "I can guess. Come on, let's eat. We have a lot to talk about."

"Okay, but first… kiss me again."

Olivia laughed and brushed her lips over Casey's jaw. "I'll kiss you all night after we eat, Casey."

The breath whooshed out of the ADA with a soft puff. "Well, a girl can hardly turn down such a wonderful offer, can she?"

They settled at Liv's table. The detective had already laid out all they would need for their meal. Under a decorative cover, she revealed a feast – a huge bowl of pasta. It was fettuccini alfredo with a heaping serving of garlic bread. There was also a salad and a bowl full of crumbled feta to sprinkle over the food.

As before, the first few minutes of dinner were silent, punctuated only by the sound of eating. Under the table, their feet spoke volumes as Casey shucked her thongs and slid one foot up the inside of Liv's calf.

Swallowing heavily, Olivia moved her chair closer to the table, which allowed the ADA to slide her foot all the way up the detective's leg until it was resting in her lap. The only acknowledgement Casey made of this arrangement was the sexy smirk that crossed her face when Liv captured the attorney's foot between her thighs.

Olivia flexed the muscles in her legs, causing Casey's smirk to waver. Licking her lips, the detective said, "I'm glad you're home."

"Me too," Casey replied. She took a bite, chewed and swallowed. "This is good. Local take-out?"

Liv smiled. "You could say that." She twirled her fork in the noodles and ate a few bites, then reached under the table to run her fingernails over the top of Casey's foot.

The ADA bit her lip. "You made it." The caress continued up her leg. "It's delicious."

The detective's smile sparkled. "Thanks." Her teasing touch continued all through the meal.

By the time they were done, Casey was wishing that she had worn a skirt. Skittery tingles rushed from her toes to her groin with every touch of Olivia's fingers upon her leg.

Pushing her plate away, Casey rested her elbows on the table, leaned on her hands and whispered, "You've made me so wet, Olivia." Through half-lidded eyes, she watched the detective's reaction.

Liv's fingers clutched Casey's foot in an iron shackle-like embrace. Slowly, she released the attorney's appendage. Opening her legs, she dragged Casey's toes inward and pressed them into the heat at her center. "Like this?"

Casey's eyes closed and she moaned. Flexing her toes, she said, "You're such a tease."

Olivia ground her hips into Casey's foot. "I can be. If that's what you like?"

Biting her lip, Casey said, "Sometimes. But…" She suddenly stood and walked to Liv's side of the table. Holding out her hand, she said, "Not tonight."

Liv floated into Casey's arms. She could hardly believe she was here, in this moment where the woman she had wanted for so long was reacting to her with such passionate intensity. A shroud of gossamer thin fear trickled over her in the seconds between sitting and standing.

It vanished only heartbeats later when Casey's fingers skimmed over her face, drawing her up for a kiss that washed over her like the gentle rain of a summer shower. Star-like explosions dappled behind her eyes. If, at that moment, the phone had rung, Olivia was certain that she would have willingly, and with malice aforethought, committed a felonious act.

Casey wanted to look down and verify whether or not she was really levitating above the ground, but she was far too involved with kissing Olivia. In her arms, the stern detective vanished, and was replaced by an intensely passionate woman.

"Want you so much," she whispered as she marked a trail of kisses from Liv's lips to her throat.

Throwing her head back, Olivia groaned. It was me, God, thank you, it was me. She wound her fingers in Casey's hair and surrendered to the rising swell of desire that crested through her.

"Bed," she said in a nearly inarticulate voice. "I need you in my bed, Casey." Her hands fumbled with the edges Casey's shirt, untucking it from the attorney's jeans and seeking to touch the warm flesh beneath.

The ADA's breath came in short, broken gasps with every light caress. Heat suffused her entire body, radiating from a core of need that burned hotter than a solar flare. Leaning in, she nuzzled the side of Olivia's face and whispered, "You make me so fucking hot, Detective."

"Casey… God, Casey… "

The attorney stepped away from Olivia and held out her hand. "Take me to bed, Olivia."

How they managed to get from the dining room to her bedroom, Liv would never remember. A trail of clothes and disturbed furniture marked their passage. At the doorway, Casey paused and wrapped herself around Olivia's smaller frame.

Whispering, she said, "I want to wake up in your arms, Olivia Benson. Don't expect me to leave after you touch me."

Olivia made a mirthful sound. "Do you think I'm going to let you go?" She turned to face her lover. "Casey, this isn't about one night. I'm sick to death of just one night. If I take you to my bed, I expect us to wake up together." Cupping a hand over the attorney's cheek she said, "I want you, Casey. I more than want you – I need you to want me." Brushing a gentle kiss over her chin, Olivia whispered, "I want to fall in love with you, Counselor."

Casey let go of her last fears and fell into the sea of emotions that had pooled in her heart. Smiling joyfully, she said, "It won't be easy, Detective. I can be a special –"

"Woman who makes me want to forget everything I know about relationships," Olivia said and then ended all conversation with a kiss.

Smiling into the kiss as she guided the detective backwards, Casey said, "Not everything, I hope." Given free rein to explore, the ADA's hands were busy gliding over the surface of Olivia's bared flesh.

Tossing her head back to laugh, Liv replied, "No, not everything." Tangling her fingers in Casey's hair, she said, "Though it would not necessarily be a bad thing if I took my time in learning how to love you."

"I hope you're an excellent study," Casey said as they kissed.

Falling into the bed, Olivia pulled Casey against her and said, "Oh, I think I can be motivated to pursue extra credit."

"Olivia?" Casey whispered into a nearby ear.

"Yeah?" Liv gasped as the ADA began to suckle her earlobe softly.

"Shut up."

Olivia purred. "Mm, shutting up now." Wrapping her arms around Casey, she proceeded to find other ways with which to occupy her mouth.

The End

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