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The office was dead silent, not that it mattered to the woman sitting with both hands pressed against her forehead. Expensive black glasses lay where they had carelessly been dropped on the notepad the attorney no longer needed.
How could the jury have looked at that bastard and listened to that little girl and come back with an acquittal? Both daughters would now be returned to the home. The mother's custody challenge was out the window.
She should have gone straight to SVU after court to let Elliot and Olivia know about the verdict, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. They had worked hard on this case, and, even though intellectually she knew she had tried a good case, Alex couldn't help but feel that she had let them down. And that little girl. She's probably going to be raped again tonight.
She barely registered the door opening, and District Attorney Arthur Branch approaching the desk in her small office.
"Tough one," he greeted her, lowering himself into one of her client chairs.
She laughed humorlessly. "Slightly."
"You did everything you could, Alexandra," he drawled. "It's a cliche, but it's true: You can't win them all."
"I know that," she said. "I'd just like to win the ones that matter."
"You do your share. SVU's closure rate has tripled in the past couple of years."
"Yeah," Alex said sarcastically. "From four percent to thirteen. We're really keeping the streets safe." She closed her eyes. "We can't even keep a six-year-old girl safe in her own home."
"It's the nature of the unit," Branch said. "That's never going to change."
Alex let her chin drop into her palms. "Thanks. That makes me feel much better."
"Well, this might," he said, sliding a sheet of paper across her desk. "Merry Christmas."
"Is it a transfer out of SVU?" she asked tiredly.
"Yes, it is."
There was no smile on Branch's face, and Alex picked up the document. Her question hadn't been serious, but there it was: A press release, dated the upcoming Monday, informing the world of the re-assignment of Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot to . . . whoa . . . Major Cases.
She looked up at her boss. "Why?" was all she could come up with.
"You've earned it," he said. "You've put your time in here, and you're a good prosecutor." He rose to leave. "I know you have your eye on the big chair, Alexandra, and this'll get you one step closer. It's not official until Monday morning, so that'll give you time to tell your SVU detectives."
"Um . . . OK." Alex was still stunned. "Thank you."
"Come on, Benson, let's see it," Fin demanded.
Olivia carefully hung the covered garment on the coat rack. "Like you guys would know a Karen Kline from a hole in the ground," she said.
"Actually, I would know a Karen Kline from a hole in the ground," Munch replied. "Kline's current line is daring yet conservative, an adaptation of last year's emphasis on"
"Fuck all that is it hot?" Fin asked him.
"Then let's see it."
With a roll of her eyes, Liv turned to her partner for support, but he wasn't offering any. "I have to side with my fellow male officers on this one," Elliot decreed. "We are legally entitled to drool over our partner's sexy outfit before it makes an appearance at the Christmas party."
"The 'Winter Holiday' party," Munch reminded him. "Inclusiveness, remember? 1PP finally realizing the need to be sensitive to all employees, not just those of the Judeo-Christian faith?" He turned to Olivia. "So, let's see the Dress of a Thousand Hard-ons."
"Could you guys be any more disgusting?" Olivia was relieved to see the assistant district attorney leaning against the doorway watching them. "Alex, thank God. I need you to confiscate my weapon." Her smile faded at the expression on the other woman's face. "Alex?"
"No way, Alex." The exclamation was Elliot's. "No way. Gerald Fulmer raped his six-year-old daughter for five years, then started in on his younger daughter when he wanted fresh blood. You are not telling me that bastard got a walk."
"Mrs. Fulmer made quite an eloquent speech on his behalf," she said. "I should have charged her as a co-conspirator."
"Rebecca?" Olivia asked in disbelief. "She was with us on this."
"Something must have happened over the weekend," Alex said. "I couldn't get it out of her."
"Fulmer probably bought her flowers and told her how much he loved her," Fin said. "That's all it takes for some of them."
"Yeah," Munch agreed. "Isn't there a Hallmark card for that? You know, when you care enough to say 'sorry I raped our children'?"
"There probably is," Fin muttered. "Sick fucks."
None of the detectives noticed Alex studying them. Finally, her eyes landed on Olivia, and the ADA turned away. There was nothing more she wanted to say tonight.
"This is nice." The detective spread a napkin across her lap. "I've never tried this place."
"I'm glad you could make it," Alex replied.
Olivia smiled at her. "That sounded very formal, Miss Cabot," she said. "This isn't black tie, is it?"
Alex was dismayed to realize that her heart was racing. Just tell her. It's not the end of the world, she told herself. Not her world, anyway. Instead, something unexpected popped out. "Olivia, have you ever considered transferring out of SVU?"
The detective paused midway through pouring a glass of water for the ADA. "Only two or three times a day," she said warily. "Why?"
Damn. That probably wasn't the best way to start this discussion, Alex realized, but she couldn't go back now. "I heard there's an opening in Major Cases. I just wondered if you've thought about applying for it."
Olivia snorted. "Right," she said, as if the answer was obvious.
"'Right,' meaning what?" Alex said.
"Meaning that half the detectives in town will be applying for that position," Olivia said. "And even if I did have more than a zero percent chance of getting it, my app would probably get round filed anyway."
That surprised Alex. Olivia never struck her as someone who lacked confidence in herself. "Why do you think that?"
"Too many visits from the rat squad."
"Yeah," Olivia said. "We've had several bonding moments over the years."
The conversation was interrupted while an overenthusiastic waiter took their orders. A detailed description of all ten of today's specialties was not truly necessary, she wanted to say, but Olivia seemed to be listening, and Alex didn't want to convey any particular sense of urgency about their lunch. It was hard for her to remember that, to Olivia, this was just another casual lunch meeting. The detective probably expected to talk about pending cases; that was always the premise of their get-togethers.
The unwelcome server finally took his leave, and Alex picked up where the conversation left off. "Everyone has 'bonding moments' with IAB at one time or another," she said. "That shouldn't keep you from being considered. I'm sure you could line up some good recommendations." Mine, for one. And Cragen, obviously. And I could probably get something from Liz and Petrovsky . . .
"You trying to get rid of me, Counselor?" The question was asked with a smile, but Alex could tell that Olivia wondered where this was going.
"No, of course not. I just . . . When I was assigned to SVU, I was told that most detectives were expected to get out after two years. You're going on six."
"Is that all?" Olivia joked. "Feels like a hundred and six."
"My point exactly."
Olivia seemed to recognize that Alex wanted a serious answer, and she shook her head. "Maybe one day I'll throw in the towel, if I don't get fired first. Until then, I'm hanging in there." She tore open a dinner roll. "You know how important it is to have people in SVU who care, Alex. People who don't think of us as the 'panty police.'"
Alex didn't respond to the impassioned monologue. She hadn't really expected to get anywhere with the idea, but it was worth a shot. It would be odd to put it mildly not seeing Olivia Benson several times a week, but probably better for the ADA's sanity in the long run. If humans had a limit to how much unrequited infatuation they could physically stand, she had reached it long ago. Besides, she told herself, just think how much more work you'll get done without popping down to SVU every time you can think of an excuse.
"You should talk to some of the losers who were there before us," Olivia went on, spreading a thin layer of butter across the bread. "One asshole actually believed that most rapes are fabricated." She waved the knife around in disgust. "Can you imagine what it must have been like for a woman to report something so personal to him?"
No, she couldn't. This was not a good time to tell Olivia she was leaving, Alex decided, and she sure as hell wasn't going to let anyone else know before Detective Benson. Damn it. Two more days to get her courage up.
Five neatly aligned stacks of case files covered the conference room table. "Christ, Alex, how did you keep up with this workload?" Everett Carlson seemed overwhelmed, and they weren't even through the first pile yet.
White collar. They're replacing me with someone from white collar, she marveled again. Don't they give a damn about SVU?
"There's no way I can take on all of this," Carlson continued. "I need you to give me deal ranges for as many of these as possible."
Gosh, Everett, you might actually have to work after 5 p.m., Alex thought. "I've already pled the rest out," she said. "These either don't deserve a deal, or they're being unreasonable."
"They're being unreasonable." The statement bore a hint of skepticism.
Alex frowned. "Yes, Everett. They're being unreasonable. One thing you'll get in this job are defense attorneys who don't consider sex crimes a big deal."
"Well, not to be argumentative, Alex," he said, "but look at this one, for example." He opened the file. "Trent Garn. He"
"I know what Trent Garn did," Alex interrupted. "He raped a 15-year-old girl."
"Technically, yes," Carlson agreed. "But at least it was consensual."
"It can't be consensual," she said. "Tracy Amory was 15. Garn was 28. The law says she can't consent."
"I know the law, Alex," he said. "I'm just saying that we have to prioritize." He gestured toward the files. "Not every case can be number one, and let's be honest: Girls are maturing faster these days, physically and emotionally. Some of these 15-year-olds are more sophisticated than 21-year-olds used to be in our day."
"They think they are," she countered. "That's why we need to protect them. Their brains are still 15 years old." It's a good thing Liv isn't hearing this conversation. "There's a bigger picture here, anyway." Alex hoped she could make him understand. "This probably isn't the first time that Garn has had sex with an underage girl," she said. "Even if you think Tracy Amory was mature enough to make that decision, most 15-year-old girls aren't. A lot of what we do here is preventive."
The other attorney didn't seem convinced, but he let it drop. "Fine. What about Lieberman?" He yanked another file open.
"What about him?"
"They're willing to deal if you take the death penalty off the table," he pointed out.
"Yes, they are. And I'm not."
"Look, this may not be my area, but I was told that the death penalty is usually negotiable unless there are special circumstances." Carlson skimmed Alex's summary of the case. "Here, you've got this Detective Benton"
"Benson. He's telling you--"
"She." Alex jabbed an index finger at the signature line on the DD-5 clipped to the inside cover. "O-liv-i-a Ben-son. Your best detective."
"Whatever," Carlson replied impatiently. "This Benson says she thinks Lieberman killed two other women, and that's why you won't deal on the Parsons case."
"That's right." This one was a no-brainer.
"But you haven't charged him with those murders."
"We don't have enough evidence yet," Alex admitted.
"So, in other words you've got nothing."
"Nooo," she said slowly. "I have Detective Benson."
"You have Detective Benson's gut. That's nothing."
"That's a lot," she disagreed. "You're going to learn that very quickly." You'd better. "Olivia thinks Saul Lieberman is a multiple killer. I'm not going to deal him."
"Well, after today that won't be your decision any more," Carlson said bluntly. He looked up at the wall clock, and flipped open his briefcase. "I've got to get home or my wife will kill me," he said, shoving in his note pad and three-ring binder. "It takes her three hours to get ready, so I've got to be home three hours early. Never mind that it only takes me half an hour." He closed the latch and spared Alex a last look. "You going tonight?"
"Yeah." Alex's tone reflected her apathy.
"See you there, then." Carlson turned back from the doorway. "Do SVUers usually go to this?"
Why wouldn't they attend the NYPD Christmas party? Alex wanted to snap. SVU is part of the NYPD, you dick. Instead, she simply nodded.
"Great maybe tonight would be a good time to introduce me. I'll look you up." A light slam of the door left Alex alone with her thoughts.
"What the hell is this?" Detective Benson didn't bother to knock. "His bedroom?" She shook a folded search warrant at the ADA. "We're stuck with his bedroom?"
Alex leaned back in her chair. "That's all Preston would give us." She didn't need to ask what Olivia was ranting about. She always knew, usually because she was unhappy about it herself. She also didn't think to question why the two of them were arguing about a search warrant on a Friday night when everyone else in the building had left long ago to get ready for a party that started in less than an hour.
"What about the garage?"
Alex settled in to enjoy the five-minute tirade. I'm going to miss this.
". . . perps don't hide stuff in their garages? What planet is Preston living on? Maybe I'll go search her garage. Why don't these judges ever--" The exercised detective stopped mid-harangue. "Alex, where's all your stuff?"
Now's the time. "I need to talk with you, Olivia."
The detective's eyes shifted from empty bookshelves to a box of knick knacks sitting beside the desk, and the color drained from her face. "Please tell me you're moving to a bigger office," she pleaded.
"Liv, please sit down."
"No." It wasn't a refusal, but rather a denial.
"I've been putting off telling you," Alex began. "I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it."
"I can tell you how I feel about it," Olivia lashed out. She shot to her feet and began pacing the floor. "It sucks, Alex. It's just terrific. I thought you gave a damn." Her tone was angry, but Alex could hear the hurt behind the words.
"Liv" she began.
"This is bullshit," Olivia interrupted.
Alex didn't reply. She really didn't have anything to say. Nothing appropriate, anyway.
Olivia nodded slowly, as if she should have seen it coming. "Hell of a lot more glamorous than SVU," she muttered. "Great career move. I guess we should thank you for sparing us some time on your way to a real job. Sorry we kept you." She turned toward the door. "I've got to go get ready," she said angrily. "I paid too much for a stupid dress for this thing; I need to get my money's worth." In three strides, she was gone.
Alex didn't move. "Your future isn't at SVU," Branch had told her. Obviously not. She wondered if she could just skip this damn party.
"Where's that fine partner of yours?" Fin asked Elliot, who was looking for an empty spot on a trash table to set down his cup.
"Off looking for Cabot. Where's yours?"
"I hope you ain't calling my bony-assed partner 'fine,'" Fin replied. "He's supposed to be bringing me a refill, if he can remember that long." He studied the crowd. "What's Cabot wearin', anyway? You remember that blue job from last year?"
"Ohhhh, yeah," Elliot replied. "The Blue Veiner." The nickname, courtesy of Dixon from the 3-3, had met with general agreement from his fellow detectives outside Olivia's presence, of course. His partner usually didn't take well to crassness directed at Cabot. Elliot glanced around. Good, his wife was still freshening up, or whatever women called it these days when they didn't want to say taking a leak. "There were a lot of cops wanting to search Alex's premises that night," he said. " hi, hon." He gave his wife a peck on the cheek.
"Where'd Olivia go?" she asked.
"Looking for our ADA again," Elliot replied. "She seems a little uptight."
"When I left, Benson was heading over to Cabot's office," Fin said. "She was pissed about the Roberts warrant."
Elliot winced. "Great. Somebody got an ass chewing."
"Probably both of 'em, the way they go at it," Fin speculated. "Liv's probably tryin' to make nice, it bein' the Christmas party and all."
"The 'Winter Holiday' party." His partner reappeared with two full glasses.
"Yeah, sorry." Fin reached for one of the beverages. "What the hell took you so long?"
"The bartender wants me," Munch announced with a sigh. "I finally had to break her heart by telling her that I was with you. Unfortunately, I'll have to dance with you later; otherwise, we'll be getting watered down drinks."
"That ain't gonna happen," Fin declared. "I'd slow dance with Cragen before I'd go out there with you."
"And on that note . . . ." Kathy tilted her head at her husband. "Come on, Hunk." With a slight grimace at his co-workers, Elliot let her pull him out to the dance floor.
"Romance," Munch said. "Isn't it sweet?"
"You mean disgustin'?"
Maybe Alex wasn't here. No, she had to be. The Police Commissioner was here, the mayor, and practically every supreme court judge. This was one shindig that ADAs did not miss.
So where the hell is she? Alex couldn't get away with avoiding SVU all night. Let's face it, Liv, she's not avoiding SVU, she's avoiding you. Because you're such an asshole. Because you there she is! Olivia's eyes widened. Wow. Alex looked fantastic. Those black spaghetti straps were every bit as hot as that dark blue number from last year's party.
Liv approached in stealth mode; she didn't want the other woman sprinting off. "Alex."
The attorney turned her head slightly to acknowledge her. "Detective."
Liv checked out who else was in this circle. Judge Lawson, Judge Seligman's law clerk, a couple of guys from the 2-7, and some unfamiliar faces. Oh, well. This couldn't wait. "I'm sorry to drag our ADA away, but something's come up," she said.
"I'm sure it can wait, Detective," Alex replied. So she didn't want to discuss it. Tough.
"No, it can't. Sorry." Without remorse, she used her strength to pull Alex away from the group.
"That was rude, Detective," Alex snapped. "I don't appreciate"
"Alex, please. I've got to talk to you."
The attorney relented at the sheer desperation in Olivia's voice. "Fine."
"Thank you." Olivia looked around for a little privacy. There. She led them to an unused corner behind a decorative tree/plant, keeping hold of the ADA's hand as a precaution. "Alex, I'm sorry for what I said in your office."
"Apology accepted," Alex said. She started to leave, and glared at the hand that grasped her bicep, preventing her escape. "Let me go, Detective."
"Please don't call me that," Olivia said.
"I call you that all the time."
"You know what I mean."
Alex angrily pried Liv's hand from her arm. "No, I don't, actually. I don't know what you're thinking, but that's fine, because after today it won't matter."
Olivia felt as though she had just been slapped. "Today?"
"They're making the announcement on Monday. There'll be some transition time with my successor."
None of the last part registered with the detective. Today was the last day she would work side by side with Alexandra Cabot. The last impassioned dialogue she would ever have with Alexandra Cabot. That was unthinkable. "Where will you be after that?" she asked.
"A couple of floors up from my old office." Alex drew in a deep breath. She really should be professional about this. "We'll probably run into each other in the halls," she said, trying to lighten the tone. "You'll like the new guy," she lied.
"That's not what I'm worried about," Olivia said. "You're a fantastic ADA, Alex, but . . . I mean there's no one better than you in court . . . "
For a moment, Olivia wrestled with what to say next. "I suppose you're going to be busier now," she ventured.
"Maybe not, from what I hear," Alex replied. "It's a smaller case load. And the detectives are probably more cooperative."
Olivia smiled at the gibe. So . . . "Do you want to go to a movie next week?"
"A movie?" Alex was confused.
If Olivia wasn't already embarrassed enough, that cinched it. "Yeah, well, dumb idea . . . ," she said self-consciously.
"No," Alex interjected hastily. "No, I'd love to. It's just . . . you've never suggested anything like that before." A memory surfaced. "Except after Cheryl Avery." That was one she would rather not think about.
Olivia shrugged. "I didn't think you'd be interested."
"I've always been interested."
The women stared at each other, recognizing what had just happened between them. Finally, Liv broke the silence. "So . . . are we going out?"
Alex held her gaze. "We're going out," she confirmed.
The detective visibly relaxed, except for the delighted smile plastered across her face. "I suppose I owe Branch a favor," she said. "We probably couldn't go out if we were working together."
"Is that really how you feel?"
"No," Olivia admitted. "I just thought it sounded politically correct."
"My bosses probably wouldn't like it," Alex acknowledged.
Olivia nodded. "Mine either."
"They'd be worried about a lack of objectivity," the attorney pointed out.
"Yeah," Olivia agreed. "It might be harder to yell at you when you're being soft on criminals."
"It might be harder to yell at you when you're trampling on the Constitution," Alex countered.
Olivia leaned in a little closer. "On the other hand, you're not supposed to be totally objective," she noted. "We do work for you, as I believe you've mentioned."
"We could see each other every day instead of once a week if we're lucky," Alex added.
"We could make out in your office when Cragen thinks we're going over my DD-5."
Alex froze, then quickly scanned the sea of humanity that filled the ballroom. "OK, Benson, let's see those detective skills in action," she directed. "Help me track down Branch. I need to correct a mistake I was about to make."
"Then we'll say hi to the others, dance, get drunk, and go search Judge Preston's garage." She took off on her quest to find the DA.
Olivia grinned and started after her. Merry Christmas to me . . . .
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