DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Hard Feelings
By D.S.



In typically efficient Cabot style, the ADA managed to watch the clock and straighten her desk at the same time. To kill time, she bypassed the clerk and walked a couple of thick manilla folders to the file cabinet herself, shoving them in and replacing the Checked Out cards.

It was a rare luxury to leave work this early, but the attorney had been planning this – anticipating it – all week. Her trial prep was finished, and a courtesy copy of her memo opposing Walker's motion in limine was sitting on the judge's desk. Alex had even risked a rare no when an already irritable Chief Deputy came looking for a last-minute favor. The only item on ADA Cabot's agenda tonight was one Olivia Benson.

Wrapping a gray scarf around her neck, Alex buttoned her coat and slipped on her gloves. It would have been nice, not to mention convenient, to meet Olivia at SVU and share a ride to the restaurant, but that would have been a little too public. At least they could leave together.

Alex smiled at that thought. Struggling under Olivia's delicious weight was just what she needed to draw her out of this funk. If she believed in curses, that might at least have provided some explanation for this whole lousy week, culminating in one hell of a lousy day. To start with, a normally peaceful subway commute had been ruined by some smarmy condo salesman utterly convinced that he could charm her into sampling his wares. Where's the 110-decibel boom box when you need it, she'd wondered. Eventually, she had asked the smooth talker politely – then pointedly – to get lost.

Next came the tossing of Henry Hill's confession, thanks to Detective Odafin Tutuola somehow managing to slam Hill's finger in the car door shortly before the suspect owned up to three rapes. Fin said it was an accident, and maybe it was, but it still put a question mark on a conviction – one more thing to add to this afternoon's ream job from Chief Warden Donnelly. Like it was all Alex's fault that their closure rate was down a percent this year? And if Liz was going to second-guess her refusal to deal Bakowski, she could damn well do the job herself.

Still fuming, Alex finally noticed the cab driver trying to get her attention. Apparently they had arrived. "Sorry," she said, adding an extra buck to the tip for her inattentiveness, even though she knew the meter had been clicking away while she sat there gathering wool.

Maybe I should have gone for a run. The endorphins would have helped. But it was too late now, and the waiter paid the price when he came around with a second offer to take her order. No, she reminded him icily; she'd already told him that she was waiting for someone. Even if that person was – she checked her watch for the fourth time – thirty-eight minutes late.

"Alex, I am so sorry." Olivia eased into the opposite chair. "That damn Woodson case."

Like I don't have cases to work? Alex held her tongue. Be happy she's here, she told herself. Next time I may be the one making the excuse. She did feel a little curious about what was happening with the case, but she had no intention of asking about it. When she made these plans, she thought she had made one rule crystal clear: No shop talk. Not tonight.

Olivia spread a napkin across her lap. "Taggert's alibi checked out."

No work, Olivia. Please.

"I suppose that blows our shot at a warrant," the detective added casually. Alex could hear the question in her voice.

"Probably," she agreed.

"I don't think the alibi clears him," Olivia continued. "It could be a two-man operation. We found a couple of rape/robberies on the east side with a similar m.o."

The ADA scanned the menu. She refused to be drawn into a discussion of Woodson or any other case.

"I'll have to skip the appetizer," the detective said. "I told Henderson I'd cover stakeout duty for him tonight."

A blonde head snapped up.

"It's their third anniversary," Olivia said. "He was trying to figure out if it's paper or what. I told him it was a little late to be clever; just take Su Lin some place classier than he is and then make like honeymooners." She raised a hand to decline coffee, but posed a question to their server. "What have you got that's vegetarian and worth dying for?"

The waiter seemed to have taken a shine to her lover, Alex concluded, and suddenly she found his effusiveness quite annoying. He leaned in for a saucy answer. "The eggplant parmagiana hasn't killed anyone, but it has been known to give screaming orgasms."

"Really. . . ." Olivia shared a smirk with him. "Can't pass that up, can I?"

Alex curtly ordered roast chicken.

"This worked out better for Elliot, anyway," Olivia resumed when her new friend finally took their orders back to the kitchen. "He's a bachelor tonight. Aah – speak of the devil." She flipped open her cell phone. "Benson. . . . Yeah, yeah. I'll meet you there. I'll be done here in about an hour."

Done here. Like this was a chore on the detective's to-do list. Damn it, Liv.

Alex rose, folded her napkin, and tossed it onto the tablecloth. "Don't let me keep you," she said coldly, slapping two twenty-dollar bills on the table.

Liv reached out to clasp Alex's wrist. "What are you doing?"

Alex looked down at her. "This isn't going to work, Olivia."

"What's not going to work?" The detective seemed bewildered.

"Nothing." That was the whole problem, wasn't it? There was nothing between them except for an occasional good time. "I need to get back to the office."

"Alex, wait. Obviously we need to talk."

"No, we don't."

It was plain from Olivia's expression that the detective knew better, but she didn't push it. "If you need to go, that's fine," she said slowly. "We're still on for Saturday, aren't we?"

"I'm going to be tied up," Alex said. She had made up her mind, and now she was determined to go through with it. "For the next few weeks. I know your schedule's crazy, too." Without looking at Olivia, she added, "I'm in trial tomorrow. If you need something on Woodson, leave a message, or talk to Liz if it's an emergency." It was hard, but she managed to turn her back on the beautiful brunette and take one step after another until she was out on the street flagging down an approaching taxi.

"What's with you tonight?"

Olivia continued to stare out the window.

"Where'd you run off to after work?"

She wasn't touching that one, either.

"Munch and Fin are modeling women's underwear at lunch tomorrow."

His partner turned her head lazily and flashed him her "don't fuck with me" look, which Elliot ignored. "Three hours ago, you were in a good mood; now I'm getting the deep freeze," he said. "Tell me what I did so I can apologize."

"It wasn't you."

Ah. One small concession. At this rate, it would take all night to pry whatever it was out of her. Good thing they had all night.

Unexpectedly, Olivia spoke again. "I think I just got dumped," she said, her tone almost one of disbelief.

Elliot hadn't seen that coming. "Damn. I'm sorry, Liv."

Once she had finally decided to talk, his partner let loose. "I've had nothing but shitty relationships all my life, and when I finally hit the big time, I screw it up." She went back to staring out the window.

Whoa. A lot of information there that Elliot was hearing for the first time. Better start slow. "You said you 'think' you were dumped. She didn't come right out and say it?"

"Close enough," she muttered. "'We're both too busy to make this work,' and all that."

Mm. Yeah, that didn't sound good. "How long you two been goin' out?"

For some reason, the question brought a smile to Olivia's face. That must have been some first date. "St. Patrick's Day," she replied.

Elliot did the math. "Damn, that's cold. On your six-month anniversary."

Her head swung around. "What?"

"I know it's not a big deal to some women, but man, I remember the crap I took from Kath for blowing ours off." From the expression on his partner's face, Elliot put the pieces together. Oh, Liv . . . "Did she ask you out specifically for tonight?"

There was no answer, but Olivia appeared to be paying attention. He took that as a confirmation.

"You ran out of the station house like a bat out of hell, so you were late." Another yes. "She sits there waiting for you . . . how long?"

"Half an hour," she fudged.

Ouch. "So, you're late for your six-month anniversary date, then you tell her you've got to run because you're going back to work." Elliot glanced over at his partner. Judging by her stiff posture, he was hitting pretty close to home. "Well, the bad news is that you're screwed," he declared. "The good news is that it doesn't sound fatal. If you play your cards right, you'll have some make-up sex to look forward to."

"I don't think so," she said.

"Really? Did she throw her drink in your face or something?"

She frowned. "I don't want to talk about this."

"Don't give up, Liv," he urged her. "I can tell you like this woman. Give her a call. Tell her you're a fuck up."

"Call her now? After she's told me to go to hell?" Olivia gaped at him like he had just suggested she finish the stakeout naked. "She'll think I'm a stalker."

"If she's already dumped you, it won't matter," he said with a smile. "If she hasn't, she won't think that."

"It's . . . ." She twisted her wrist for a glimpse of her watch. ". . . not that late," she was forced to acknowledge.

"Call her, Liv," Elliot said. "You want to catch her before she gets used to the idea of dinner for one."

Olivia plainly had her doubts, but she drew out her cell phone anyway and pressed a number. There was no answer, and she clicked it shut without comment.

"Try her again in – Hey, there's our boy," Elliot said.

His partner perked up. "Please resist," she said in the suspect's direction. The detectives waited until he passed, then jumped out of the car and took off after their quarry.

In the offices of the Manhattan District Attorney, an unattended cell phone stopped ringing. Its owner was, at the moment, having trouble deciding which buttons to press on the vending machine down the hall from her office.

I am such a bitch.

Alex Cabot had plenty of regrets in her life, most of them involving some aspect of her job that she couldn't change yet stewed over anyway, but those paled in comparison to what she was feeling after tonight's fiasco.

Of course Olivia isn't into this long-term. You've known that from the beginning. She's never expressed any interest in moving beyond what we have. So what? What's the harm in enjoying things while they last? Olivia was good company on their occasional free evenings. She seemed open to anything. Art gallery? OK. Basketball game? Sure. And the sex . . . . Alex wished she hadn't gone there. The sex was incredible. You should consider yourself lucky that you're getting it. Unconsciously, she turned her left wrist to look at the fading bruise there from Olivia's thumb, a souvenir from one of the detective's more . . . energetic . . . performances last Sunday.

The memory created certain physical sensations that Alex could have done without. She tried to push them back by actually focusing on the wares behind the plexiglass window. Peanut M & Ms? Rollos? None of this stuff was going to be much of a substitute for her missed dinner, but it was better than nothing. Better than going home. She just couldn't face her apartment yet. She'd fantasized all week about what would happen there after their romantic dinner tonight – an impatient Olivia shoving her up against the door as soon as it clicked shut, Olivia stretched out on the bed with her knees apart . . .

Damn it. The thrumming intensified. Alex punched a couple of buttons and bent over to snatch up the candy bar, then retreated to her office. The desk lamp wasn't doing much to illuminate her exhibit list, but she hadn't really been looking at it anyway.

Walking out on her lover. The attorney had never done anything so stupid in her life. She glanced at her phone. Liv would probably hang up on her if she called to apologize. She couldn't anyway; Liv was sitting in a car somewhere with Elliot Stabler.

"Well, that was fun." A legal pad with notes from an unproductive interrogation landed on Elliot's desk. "You ought to get some ice on that thing."

Olivia rolled a Diet Coke can against her swollen cheek bone.

"You think we should call Cabot?" he continued.

Hell no. "Nah," she replied. "Not this late. We can hold him on the assault if nothing else. Give her a call tomorrow."

"Yeeeah . . . ." Elliot propped his feet up on the desk. "So, you wanna go grab a bite?"

"I am starved," Olivia admitted. She had bailed out of the restaurant immediately after Alex. "But shouldn't you be rushing home to your wife?"

He looked at the wall clock. "It's 2:05 a.m. She'll be just as sound asleep at 3:30 as she is at 3:00."

Made sense. "Sandwich?" she suggested.

"Your treat?"

Olivia slipped into her jacket. "And I should be so generous, why?"

"Because my great advice is gonna save your love life."

"And what great advice is that?" She swung her purse over her shoulder and started for the hallway. As she passed by, her partner gently grasped her arm.

"If you want this relationship, don't give up," Elliot said seriously. "Court her." At her skeptical expression, he added, "Trust me on this. I haven't been banished to the couch for five years."

"Better behaved now?"

"No, better damage control."

Olivia thought about it. She didn't hold out much hope, but it wouldn't hurt to listen.

Another day, another asswipe, as Olivia would say. Alex flipped the lightswitch to illuminate her annoyingly small office. Her sense of self awareness warned her that three hours of fitful sleep did not bode well for her mood. Better be careful with Petrovsky, she reminded herself.

What . . . How had she missed those? Perfectly centered on her desk was a vase with a dozen gorgeous (and expensive) red roses. Letting herself hope for just a moment – they really couldn't be from anyone else – she crossed the room and grabbed the card. A corner of her mouth turned upward as she read it. Not exactly the most romantic of declarations, but they were talking about Olivia Benson here. Actions always spoke louder than words with Liv when it came to personal issues.

Alex briefly considered putting in a call to thank her, then dismissed the thought as silly. Not only had Olivia been out on surveillance until who knew when, but the ADA needed to hustle her butt down to Petrovsky's courtroom; otherwise, she'd be calling Olivia from jail.

Later, Alex could feel her impatience building. It was ridiculous enough for Petrovsky to deny her Daubert challenge on this bozo, and now she was letting the defendant's "expert" articulate a theory just slightly less credible than the Twinkie defense. Like every nutty new theory, it was drawing its share of observers, half of them scribbling madly to recreate on their crackpot.org blogs, the other half looking forward to a debunking at the hands of the People.

Alex had pored over enough depositions from civil cases to be able to testify as an expert herself on Goldberg's findings, and she drifted off into a fantasy cross-examination. "Mr. Goldberg, you're either a nut or a whore. Which is it?" That entertainment only kept her mind off the object of her obsession for a few minutes, after which her thoughts drifted back to the burning question of the day: what to do about Olivia.

"I'm sorry, Olivia. I'd had a really hard day and I was just a bitch. Lie back and let me make it up to you . . . ." Would that be better than the truth: "I'm sorry, Olivia. I'm afraid that I'm head over heels, and I can't seem to get past the fact that you're not."

When it came time for her cross, Alex spoke politely. "Mr. Goldberg, you've been retained as an expert for the plaintiffs in more than a dozen civil asbestos lawsuits, is that correct?"


"And the purpose of your retention in those cases was to increase the plaintiff's claimed damages from asbestos exposure?"

He smiled slightly. "No, the purpose was to explain the scope of harm caused by asbestos."

"But if a jury believed your testimony, the plaintiff would get more money, right?" she pointed out.

"I suppose," he conceded.

"And for this public service, plaintiffs pay you $350 per hour?"


"So you're being paid $350 an hour to convince this jury that asbestos made Mr. Nelson rape and stab Ellen Sheckley? Is this the new millenium version of 'the devil made me do it?'"

Alex wasn't surprised by the objection (OK, maybe it was a tad argumentative), or Petrovsky's glare when she sustained it.

"And so far you're the pioneer in this claim of yours that asbestos causes personality disorders in addition to lung disease, isn't that correct?"

"That's true, Ms. Cabot," he replied. "But by definition, all scientific discoveries are novel."

"Now, you say that you've reviewed all available depositions and medical records of plaintiffs in asbestos litigation across the United States," she continued. "To your knowledge, in how many of those cases has the plaintiff brutally raped and murdered someone?"

"I'm not aware of any."

Alex gave him her 'confused' look. "I thought your big discovery was that one of the side effects of asbestos exposure is damage to the patient's frontal lobe, thereby reducing the person's inhibitions?"

"That's correct."

"So even though the exposure of these other plaintiffs was so severe that they suffered permanent physical effects, not one of them manifested it by raping and murdering someone?"

"That's hardly a fair comparison," the expert protested.

"Please answer the question, Mr. Goldberg." Alex knew that he hated her refusal to call him doctor, but as far as she was concerned, the credentials of the school that conferred a doctorate on this man were on a par with the proverbial matchbook cover. "As far as you know, has one single person among the thousands injured by asbestos done what Mr. Nelson did?"


Duh. Alex walked back to her table to pick up her binder. She'd need those five-syllable medical terms now for phase two of dismantling Nelson's hope for an acquittal.

Of course Alex was in trial. She'd mentioned that last night. Where's my brain? Olivia rebuked herself. Still asleep, like the rest of her body wished it was.

She hesitated outside the attorney's office door. Was this a dumb idea, leaving Alex a note? It was better than voice mail, like Elliot said, and if she couldn't have face to face, she needed to do one of those two things. "What's this note supposed to say?" she asked her partner.

"How should I know?" he replied. "I don't know who this hot lick is."

"You've been hanging around Munch too long," Olivia said. "I'm going to tell her that you–" She stopped herself from saying the rest of it, "said that," which might have sparked his curiosity. Why would someone he didn't know care what Elliot Stabler said? "–that you put me up to this if she gets a restraining order against me," she finished. Now, push had come to shove. Olivia turned the doorknob and stepped inside.

Her eyes immediately went to the colorful display on Alex's desk, and after only a moment's hesitation, she made a beeline for it. This is wrong, she told herself, like that was going to stop her. Some actions were as irresistible as breathing, and this was one of them. The card was at an angle – Alex had read it already – and Liv's fingers deftly plucked it from the holder.

No hard feelings.

Olivia went cold. Those words . . . She peered at the card, reading them over and over. There was no signature. It's just a coincidence, she told herself, but the pounding of her heart belied her fears. She had her cell phone out and a number dialed in seconds. "Elliot." She took a deep breath. It's just a coincidence.

"Hey, Liv, Cragen wants us to–"

"Elliot, I need you to run something for me right now."

Her partner must have recognized the urgency in her tone; he was all business now. "Give it to me."

"I need you to check and see if Richard White is still inside."

Silence followed, but she knew better than to think it was because Elliot was already working on it. He would be just as stunned as she was at the thought of this ghost from their past.

"Liv, are you all right?" he finally replied.

"Elliot, just run it," she said. "Call me as soon as you know." She dropped into one of Alex's client chairs. It's just a coincidence. White was undoubtedly still in Attica, serving his sentence for raping an ADA. He had killed Karen Fitzgerald, too; they all knew it, but hadn't been able to prove it.

White's downfall had been his obsession with Olivia, and his willingness to believe that the SVU detective would actually agree to meet him without backup. Unknown to her, White had been following Liv to her laundry, her gym, her grocery store, even tracking down her unlisted home number. Before he struck, each of the women he stalked – including Olivia – had received a beautiful bouquet of red roses with a short message: No hard feelings. It had been, what, five years now? That thought drove her panic higher; the average time served by most first-time rapists was four years.

Her phone rang, and she pressed the receive button. "Elliot?"

"Liv, where are you?"

Damn it! "He's out," she said.

"Six weeks ago. We weren't notified because they didn't classify you as a victim." Elliot sounded worried. "Where are you? Are you all right?"

No, I'm not. "I'm headed to Petrovsky's courtroom," she said. "I think he's after Alex."

"Son of a bitch."

Detective Benson stepped quietly through the door, but instead of taking a seat, she remained standing against the wall, scanning her surroundings. What were all of these people doing here? This was a straight rape and stab of a prostitute, wasn't it? Unfortunately, those trials didn't usually garner much interest, let alone a packed courtroom.

Row by row, she examined each individual seated behind the prosecution table. When her eyes moved to the second row behind the defense table, Olivia froze. On the aisle, wearing a tan sports jacket and brown slacks, sat a murdering rapist. It was easy to see why he had chosen that seat; from there, he had an unobstructed view of the beautiful blonde ADA wherever she was in the courtroom. At this particular moment, she was on her feet, dissecting some medical witness.

Olivia unsnapped the holster of her gun, and held her gaze on White. A few minutes later, the courtroom door opened again, and in slipped her partner and two white shirts.

From the bench, Judge Lena Petrovsky spared them a glance. Mostly as a matter of curiosity, she liked to maintain some awareness of who was in her courtroom and typically gave new arrivals a quick once over, even in the midst of a cross-examination as entertaining as this one. This time, something was different. Two SVU detectives and Ben and Ahmed from court security were carefully making their way along the back wall. Olivia Benson's jacket was drawn back, her hand clearly positioned to reach for her gun, and she was directing the others' attention to something.

"Miss Cabot," Petrovsky interrupted the cross-examination. "Would this be a good time for a short break?"

The ADA seemed a bit taken aback, which was understandable. The judge's suggestion had come mid-question. "Uh . . . of course, Your Honor."

"We'll take a fifteen-minute break," the judge declared, and everyone rose while the jury filed out the side entrance.

The instant the door shut, several things happened at once. Elliot stepped over the front row bench, isolating his target, while Olivia grabbed White and shoved him to the ground. "On the floor, White," she ordered, as if he had a choice. With one knee planted firmly in his back, she patted him down for weapons.

"As much as I'm enjoying this, Olivia, I'm not armed," he said.

"Shut up." She reached behind her for handcuffs, squeezing them tightly around his wrists.

"Now, are those necessary?" White asked. "I'm just here to enjoy the show." He was jerked roughly to his feet. "And you know what a fine show it is, Detective Benson." His eyes flickered to something behind Olivia's shoulder.

She shoved White toward Elliot, suppressing an intense urge to strangle him.


She turned to see the assistant district attorney standing directly behind her, flanked by two white shirts who would not be leaving the ADA's side as long as she remained in the courthouse. "We need to talk," Olivia said.

"What's this about?" Alex gestured at the vacant seat formerly occupied by White, and to the bodyguards suddenly crowding her.

"You're in danger," Olivia said bluntly. It was critical to make her understand the need for caution. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"

"Uh . . . there's a room . . . ," the attorney said distractedly. "But we . . . ." She checked her watch. "We've only got eight minutes."

"You've got however long you need," Petrovsky declared from the bench. She rose and headed for her chambers. "Let me know when you're ready."

By habit, Alex peeked through the small window before opening the conference room door, trailed by the detective. Neither of them took advantage of the chairs circling the small round table.

"What's going on, Liv?" Alex was standing next to the table, arms crossed in her nervousness.

Olivia calmly began her explanation. "Before you came to SVU, an ADA named Karen Fitzgerald was raped and murdered."

"I remember that," Alex replied.

"Richard White was convicted for the rape, but they couldn't get him on the murder. We know he also killed another woman, but the ADA on the case didn't charge him for it. Insufficient evidence, I guess." She tucked her hands into her pockets. "White used to send his victims roses. With a card . . . ."

Alex paled. "No hard feelings."

"I went to your office this morning," Olivia continued. And I had to know who was sending you flowers, so I looked at the card.

The attorney lowered herself to a chair. "I thought–" She shook her head. "Why me?"

This was going to be hard. "White has a grudge against me. He's probably seen us together." They both knew what she meant: He's seen us spend the night together. For a moment, neither spoke. "I'm sorry, Alex," Olivia said. "I didn't know he was out. Otherwise, I would have . . . ." What? Avoided you? Yes, if that's what it took to keep you safe. She buried the ironic thought that this wouldn't have been a problem if White had been released yesterday. "Alex . . . ." Olivia hated to add to the other woman's burden, but it had to be said. "The reason for White's interest in you is probably going to come out."

Alex stared at worn floor tiles.

"I'm sorry," Liv repeated helplessly. She really didn't know what else to say. The ADA's life was about to be turned upside down because of her.

"Are you safe?"

For some reason, Alex's question surprised her. Olivia hadn't thought about it. She shrugged. "Probably. You'll have a courthouse security detail as long as you're here, and around the clock protection. Give us about half an hour's notice before you leave today so we can make sure everything's coordinated."

"What about you?"

Come on, Alex, pay attention. "I'll be fine." Olivia waved off the concern. "Don't go anywhere without your escort, OK?" She kept her hands in her pockets. "You'll be all right," she said. "I promise."

Olivia watched him through the glass. White seemed to be amusing himself, waiting for the entertainment to begin. She wondered if there was much point to going through this interrogation. As soon as White brought up her relationship with Alex, that would be the end of Liv's official involvement in the case. She opened the door, striding to the table.

"Olivia," White exclaimed. "I'm so glad to see you."

"I'm surprised to hear that," she replied.

"I know what you're thinking, but I don't blame you for what happened," he said. "Yes, you lied to me, but prison didn't turn out to be quite as unpleasant as one might think. It gave me time that most people don't have to expand my horizons."

"I'm sure some of your bunkmates were happy to expand your horizons," she retorted.

White ignored the crude gibe. "That's why I'm glad to see you, Olivia," he resumed. "I need a refresher if I'm going to write you."

"Write me?" That was a new one. "Write me what?"

"Write you," he said. "I've discovered a passion for the written word."

I am not in the mood for this shit. "Giving up on real estate, Richard? Aren't there more people out there you haven't ripped off yet?"

"One needs hobbies." He leaned forward. "I've been outlining a story in my head. Do you want to know what it's about?"

"A cop who's bored to death by a suspect?"

"It's about a woman who has bad things happen to her." He leaned back in his chair. "Originally, I wrote her as a police officer. I thought you'd be flattered." He folded his hands together. "But then, after I got out, I started thinking lawyer. Maybe she's friends with a detective. You know, 'protect and serve,' all that. Just think how the detective would feel when she couldn't . . . ." He pretended to search for a word. "Protect."

Olivia refused to give him the reaction he wanted. "In other words, your hero's too big a pussy to take on the cop, so he settles for someone easier," she said. "What's this character's name, Dickless Wonder?"

White continued as if she had not spoken. "I decided to model the lawyer after an ADA I once knew." He smiled. "You know, once you get a taste of ADA, it's hard to stop. Don't you agree, Olivia?"

She didn't answer.

"Of course, I really didn't know my first ADA all that well," he continued. "Although it did include the biblical sense."

"You knew her well enough to kill her," Olivia said, but all that did was elicit another smile.

"I think you have me confused with someone else," White said. "I did have sex with her–"

"You raped her."

"–and it was quite enjoyable. In fact, when my research steered me to the delectable Miss Cabot, fond memories came flooding back. Alexandra Cabot is a beautiful woman. So there I was, enjoying her in court and thinking, 'How would she like it? On her back? On top? On her face?' So many options. What do you think?"

In the observation room, Alex joined three SVU detectives watching the interaction. "Olivia's in there alone with him?"

"We got it covered," Fin assured her. "White wouldn't talk to anyone but Benson."

"That's because he wants to kill her," she pointed out with some irritation. "I don't think they should be in there alone."

"Liv was OK with it," Elliot said.

"Oh, that's fine then," Alex retorted. "Why don't you guys just go grab a bite? Maybe he'll hold your guns for you."

Elliot puffed out his cheeks. Count to ten, Stabler. Alex was under a lot of pressure, he reminded himself, and she cared about his partner.

"Wait a minute . . . ." Alex stepped closer to the window. "I know him."

That drew Elliot's attention. "From where?"

"The subway. Yesterday." She reached back into her memory. "Trying to sell me a house or something. I told him to quit bothering me." She peered through the window.

"You don't want to know what I think." Olivia's voice sounded loud in the silence. Over the past half hour, it had become apparent to her that White did not intend to disclose his knowledge of her relationship with Alex, except for the veiled allusions that always peppered his interviews. That didn't surprise the detective. White liked the power of sharing a secret with her.

"Sure I do." White held up a hand. "Wait. You're not going to call me a nosy Parker again, are you? That really hurt."

Her response was cut short by the entrance of a three-piece suit that would have cost Olivia an entire paycheck. "Hello, Detective," the stranger greeted her insincerely. "I'm Peter Nestelli, Mr. White's attorney. I think Mr. White's been here long enough."

Olivia noticed a flicker of irritation cross White's face. "Looks like Mommy's come to the rescue," she speculated aloud. "Did she sew your name into your waistband, too?"

"I'm not interested in your help," White told the lawyer. With White's ego, Olivia knew, he wouldn't like the notion of someone else speaking for him. Especially someone hired by his witch of a mother.

"Well, you're getting it." Nestelli turned to the detective. "As I understand it, Mr. White was doing nothing but taking advantage of his constitutional right to observe a public trial. You had no basis for arresting him."

"He threatened an assistant district attorney."

Nestelli scoffed. "Roses with an apology? My wife would like to be threatened that way."

"You know that's his signature," Olivia said.

"Mr. White doesn't have a signature," the lawyer replied. "He was convicted on a single count of rape, and he served his time. You can't arrest someone for sending flowers. Come on, Mr. White, let's go."

"You had me going there for a minute, Richard," Olivia said. "I actually thought you might have turned into a man in the past five years. Once a mama's boy, always a mama's boy, I guess." She watched him leave.

"Elliot." Olivia relaxed for a moment, leaning back in her chair while she focused on the pleasant sound of her partner's voice. "Feeling any better?"

"Well, I haven't hacked up a lung today." Detective Stabler was now on his third straight day of sick leave. "Of course, I'm in too much pain to move, and Kath's keeping me doped up."

"Of course she is," Olivia replied. "How else can she do her thing with the mailman if her husband's there wide awake?"

"True," Elliot mused, "but I feel too shitty to do anything if I catch 'em anyway. So, how are things there?"

Olivia hesitated. There wasn't anything he could do, anyway. "Fine," she said with false enthusiasm. There was no point in telling him that Cragen and Fin were out now, too, Munch was in Florida on some extradition issue, three new cases had landed on her desk yesterday, and another three today. Elliot would feel guilty knowing that Olivia was flying solo these days.

"Anything new going on?"

Just the rapes of an 81-year-old woman and a prostitute, and the rape-murder of a 13-year-old girl. "Nah, it's been pretty quiet."

"How's Alex?"

Damned if I know. "She's fine. White hasn't made a move."

"You're not sitting on him without me, are you?"

"Nah," she lied again. "Half the force is out sick, so we're mostly sticking to Alex." One more thing keeping Olivia up nights.

"You OK with taking my place in the Jenkins trial tomorrow?"

And that.

"'cause maybe I could . . . ." Elliot faltered, and Olivia cringed at the relentless coughing. "Shit. Later, Liv."

Her partner obviously wasn't ready to come back to work yet. As she cradled the receiver, Olivia glanced into the hallway and closed her eyes. Not again. She rose, and met a disheveled couple walking toward her.

"Detective Benson," the husband said. "We just wanted to know if you have any leads yet."

Olivia opened her mouth, wanting to say no, she didn't, and coming by twice a day wasn't going to help find any. Tonight, though, she did have something new to offer them. "We got a tip this afternoon from someone who read about it in the paper," she said. "He gave us a description of someone who might have been seen with Vanessa shortly before her death."

"Oh, thank God." Mrs. Carlisle leaned against her husband.

The detective frowned. "We'll do our best to find him and question him," she said. But not tonight. I can't do this tonight.

The pair nodded. "Thank you, Detective. It just makes us sick to think that he could be out there right now, doing that to someone else's little girl."

Olivia averted her gaze.

Mr. Carlisle handed her a card. "This has all our numbers on it," he said. "Call any time, day or night. We don't sleep any more, anyway."

Detective Benson accepted the card, and clipped it to the file folder. "I will," she promised. She escorted the broken-hearted couple outside, debating with herself. She could go check out the witness and then park outside White's place or Alex's after that.

Granted, Alex was already covered by the DA's investigators, and Jensen and Westervelt from the 3-1 were on White tonight, but she couldn't just sit around and do nothing. You don't need to do this, part of her reasoned. The rest of her knew better. White was waiting for them to let up; Olivia just knew it. And so every night for the past three weeks, it had been one or the other – watching over the ADA from a safe distance, or keeping track of the psychopath that Detective Benson was certain was just biding his time.

She was getting worn down, Olivia knew, and at times she even questioned her own mental processes. The problem was clear: How to keep Alex safe. Lately, however, an increasingly obvious solution had been creeping into her brain. Was she willing to go to prison for Alex? Yes. All it would take was–

Liv shook her head to clear the thoughts. She was going nuts. She needed some sleep, maybe upstairs in the crib. I've got to be on my game in court tomorrow, she reminded herself. Alex will be–

"Alex!" Olivia looked at her watch. "Shit!"

Fifteen minutes later, she nodded to the officer seated outside and hurried into ADA Cabot's office without knocking. "Alex, I'm sorry," she said immediately. "I was with Vanessa Carlisle's parents."

"The teenager?"

"Yeah." Olivia sank into one of the uncomfortable client chairs, and let her head fall back. "God, this week sucks."

Alex studied her for a moment. "No offense, Olivia, but could you look a little less like shit in court tomorrow?"

The detective did not move. "No problem. Just solve the six new cases I'm working, and I'll head home for my beauty sleep." She didn't mention to the ADA what else was occupying her time these days. Alex would protest, Olivia would ignore her, and nothing would be accomplished.

The lack of a response brought her back to an upright position. Alex was looking at her with an unreadable expression. Finally, the ADA spoke. "Are you in any condition to go over tomorrow's testimony?"

Olivia was already feeling a little testy; she didn't need Alex questioning her professionalism. "I've been a cop a lot longer than you've been an ADA," she snapped. "I'm as ready as you are." Alex raised an eyebrow, and Olivia got to her feet. "Sometime tonight, Counselor?" she said. "I've got to go check out a guy in the Carlisle case after this."

"Not tonight, surely," the surprised prosecutor said.

"Yeah, maybe I should just wait until next week," Olivia said nastily. "It'll be easier after he's killed another girl."

She flinched at the sound of Alex's palms slapping the top of her desk. "OK, that's enough," the attorney declared. "I don't need this bitch routine, Olivia. I am sorry your partner has pneumonia. I know you're overloaded. If there was anything I could do to help you, I would. But I am not your enemy." I used to be your lover.

The speech was met with silence, which Olivia knew Alex would correctly interpret as a half-assed apology.

"Liv." The attorney was calmer now. "Maybe I can help you. I'll go with you to your witness, and we can talk about Jenkins on the way."

Olivia was tempted – killing two birds seemed like a godsend right about now – but this wasn't the best part of town, and she didn't like the idea of Alex being there.

Her reservations must have been transparent. "You're not having some misplaced chivalrous notions, are you, Olivia?" Alex asked with a hint of amusement. "I have been to my share of crime scenes and only screamed like a girl once."

Olivia smiled. Busted. "Never," she proclaimed. "Ready when you are."

Olivia checked her watch again. Two hours behind schedule. She'd been riding this pine bench for two and a half hours that she could have been using to look for the sadist who raped and terrorized a grandmother while a four-year-old child was locked in a closet. Just like the two hours wasted last night chasing after some witness-slash-suspect who seemed to have disappeared into thin air, according to his unhelpful neighbors.

To make matters worse, there she'd been last night, sitting in a car next to Alex, finished with their trial prep, desperately wanting to blurt out "I love you," but what would have been the point? She'd blown her chance, if she'd had one, at putting that relationship back together by not crawling to Alex three weeks earlier. Alex hadn't spoken of that night or their relationship since then; Olivia could read between those lines.

The door opened, and a bailiff called her name. Olivia straightened her clothes and headed into the court.

". . . and it was at that time that Detective Stabler and I observed the blood on Mr. Jenkins' shoe," she concluded.

Alex gave a slight smile that only Olivia could see. "Thank you, Detective." The ADA walked back to her counsel table, and defense counsel approached the stand.

"Detective Benson." He turned toward her with a fake inquisitive expression. "How long did Mrs. Werner lie in that alley?"

"About five hours," Olivia replied.

"And during that time, a number of people walked in that area without realizing that they were treading in Edna Werner's blood, didn't they?"


"You found at least three trails of blood leading out from the alley, did you not?"


Alex wondered if her opposing counsel was about to make the classic rookie mistake of asking one too many questions.

"So, Detective–"


"–Mr. Jenkins could simply have stepped into the blood trailed from the area by someone else, couldn't he?"

"No," Olivia replied. "Mr. Jenkins insisted that he had not been within 30 miles of the crime scene. We also found blood on the top of his shoes and in the laces, not just the soles."

Alex watched the jury's reaction to her star witness. Detective Benson was wowing them, as usual.

"But you didn't try to track down everyone else who had Mrs. Werner's blood on their shoes, did you?"

"No," Liv replied. "That would have been impossible."

"And did you test the shoes of everyone in Mrs. Werner's apartment building?"

Again, the answer was no.

"And that's because, when you arrested Mr. Jenkins, you had already decided that he was guilty, hadn't you, Detective?"

"No." Olivia shook her head. "I don't decide guilt. That's for the jury. We had probable cause to believe that Mr. Jenkins murdered Mrs. Werner."

"Oh, come now, Detective. You beat up my client before he was even booked."

"I didn't 'beat him up,'" Olivia disagreed. "He resisted arrest, and I was forced to subdue him."

"Subdue. Like you subdued Peter Waller?"

Olivia was surprised. "Peter Waller?"

"He filed a complaint against you for excessive force."

Alex was on her feet. "Irrelevant."

"I don't mind," the detective said amiably. "I remember Mr. Waller. I pulled him off a 7-year-old girl, and he took a swing at me. He's upstate now, doing 10 to 15."

"You also had a complaint lodged against you by a Jesus Garza."

"Your honor." The ADA was irritated. "These questions are totally irrelevant."

"I beg to differ, your Honor," defense counsel interposed. "It shows Detective Benson's tendency to be overly aggressive in her assumptions of guilt, which affects the scope of her investigation."

"Actually," Olivia interjected, "it usually does show guilt."

"Excuse me?"

Olivia shrugged. "In my experience, 90 percent of the perpetrators who assault an arresting officer end up pleading guilty or being convicted at trial."

"Move to strike," the attorney protested. "Nonresponsive."

"Your Honor, the defendant opened the door to inferences drawn by Detective Benson from the act of resisting arrest," Alex replied.

Judge Yao nodded. "Overruled."

The lawyer resumed his seat, and Alex rose to take further advantage of counsel's error. She suspected that the defendant might not have told his attorney the whole story. "Detective Benson, counsel mentioned that Mr. Jenkins was injured at the time of his arrest. Why don't you describe the circumstances for us?"

"Well." Olivia kept her face expressionless. "We were in the interview room at the 16th precinct when you directed my partner Detective Stabler to take Mr. Jenkins into custody," she said. "Mr. Jenkins then leaped across the table at you, and I grabbed him around the waist. He elbowed me in the forehead, at which time I took out his knees to force him to the ground, causing him to strike his head on the wall. He then told you to suck his–"

As Alex listened, she felt an odd sense of de ja vu. They had been in this same position so many times, the attorney standing in front of the prosecution table watching Olivia explain things in her open, professional way. For a moment, Alex could almost fool herself into thinking that things were normal, as they were just one month ago. But they weren't.

The two women rarely saw each other, and almost never spoke beyond the usual requests for subpoenas or financials, or staccato fact summaries over the phone to get a thumbs up or down on a warrant. The ADA knew that Olivia was stretched beyond her limits right now, especially with Elliot and other SVU detectives out of action. She also knew that Olivia was obsessing about this Richard White threat – to a point. It was frustrating to Alex that all of Olivia's attention seemed to be focused on her. This man had tried to kill Liv once and obviously was still targeting her, but any efforts to get Olivia to concentrate more on her own safety had been brushed aside.

And then, of course, there was the elephant in the corner: The Fight. That was how Alex thought of it; she didn't know what Olivia thought, since they never talked about it. If there had been a chance to undo the damage, it didn't seem to be there any more. Olivia Benson now was Detective Benson, brusque and efficient, as if they had never lain side by side just staring at each other after . . . .

"Thank you, Detective," she said. "No further questions."

It was time for the noon recess, and Alex managed to catch Olivia before she cleared the courtroom door. What was the downside in asking her to dinner, apart from the embarrassment of a rejection? "Olivia," she said. "I know you're swamped, but I–" She lost her nerve. "I just wanted to thank you."

With a brief smile of acknowledgment, Olivia turned and left.

Liz Donnelly turned the final page of ADA Cabot's summary. "I agree," she announced.

"Meggetti should have charged White with both murders the first time," Alex replied, irritated. That would have avoided this whole mess.

"Yeah," Liz said drily. "This was, what, a month and a half before Meggetti bolted for private practice? Whatever could he have been thinking?"

"Lazy son of a bitch." Alex made a mental note to make Meggetti's life miserable the next time – or two, or ten – that she faced him. "He put Olivia at risk."

"And you," Liz pointed out. "Which is why" – the Chief Deputy DA drew a document from the cardstock file with one hand, and picked up a pen with the other – "you won't be the one filing these charges." Scrawling her signature across the arrest warrant application, Donnelly laid it atop the file. "I'll take it from here."

Alex wasn't going to argue. "Are you still licensed?" she smirked. "I didn't think you administrative types did the 'court thing.'"

"You've got me confused with Branch," Liz replied. "Besides, there are only so many hours in the day that one can golf. You want Benson to have the honors?"

Alex frowned. "Not really. I don't want them together any more than necessary."

"No problem." Donnelly seemed happy to be back in the saddle. "I'll have our guys pick him up."

"Mng." Olivia jerked awake, gradually becoming aware of something partially obscuring her vision. Oh. She peeled a large post-it note off her forehead. What the hell time was it? 6:49 a.m., according to the wall clock, which she remembered vaguely was a little fast.

She padded to the showers, unfolding a set of clean clothes from her locker. The hot water and a fresh donut woke her up somewhat, and she studied the file in front of her. Her complaining witness wasn't complaining any more. Had her pimp gotten to her? Caseload or not, this was not how Olivia wanted to close a file. At least Tiffany's friend Roberta seemed like a capable protector. "If someone tries to mess with Tiff again, I got 38 reasons they're gonna regret it." Maybe Olivia wouldn't be seeing Tiffany Hundley again.

"Got enough overtime racked up to retire yet, Benson?"

This was the happiest that Olivia had ever been to see her captain. And – thank God – Fin, too, back from sick leave. "Oh, guys. If I weren't so tired, I'd kiss you."

"Missed me, huh?" Fin asked, his voice still a little raspy. He plopped into his chair, extending his legs as he relaxed.

"Getting Richard White behind bars might have helped her mood a little, too," Cragen speculated.

Olivia was confused. "White?"

"Last night," Cragen said. "I had a message from the DA's office."

"Picked up for what?"

"Murder – Karen Fitzgerald and the date-rape victim in '99. Cabot pulled the files last week."

"Alex had him arrested?" For some reason, Olivia felt slightly uneasy at the news.

Cragen shrugged. "I guess so. Didn't she talk to you?"

Of course not; that would have required personal interaction.

Olivia was tempted to go see him. Knowing Richard White as she did – and White not knowing Alex Cabot – the arrogant bastard probably had convinced himself that he was destined for an acquittal. Hell, he might even have expected this.

That thought disturbed her, and Liv dialed the number that she called every morning. "Hey, Jerry, Liv. Anything interesting?" She frowned. "Why not? . . . I know he is, but what difference does that–? . . . Jesus, Jerry, the guy's got a trust account; you don't think he can buy help? . . . No, I don't think I am overreacting. I want someone on her until further notice."

Olivia's next call was to Alex and, when there was no answer, to the ADA's frustrated assistant. No, she didn't know where her boss was. She'd had two calls from the court already this morning; Alex hadn't shown up for arraignments or for the suppression hearing in Woolsey.

Olivia hung up the phone.

It took one phone call to Liz Donnelly and twenty minutes to have Richard White, still handcuffed, sitting in an interview room at the D.A.'s office.

Staring at him through the window glass, the detective was again seized with a sensation that she recognized as pure hatred. It wasn't the first time that she had experienced the emotion, but it was the most intense. At times like this, Liv understood Elliot's occasional fantasy – shared only with her – about dispensing his own form of justice.

Olivia stepped into the room. "Where is she?"

"Have a seat, Olivia." White gestured toward a chair, but she remained standing. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said. "I've been here all night, as you know."

"Where is she?"

"I'm speculating from your tone that someone close to you is missing," White said. "That's too bad. If I weren't stuck in here, I'd help you look for her."

Liv's cell phone rang, and she quickly answered it.

It was Cragen. "Olivia, we have a report of a woman matching Alex's description grabbed at gunpoint outside a deli two blocks from the courthouse just after seven this morning."

Oh, fuck. "Anything else?"

"They took off in a black SUV. No plates. She took a tumble on the sidewalk; witnesses say she was limping."

After clicking the phone shut, Liv stood motionless, her back to White.

With her thumb, Olivia dialed a number. "Liz? I need another favor."

Detective Benson led White to her car, opened the door, and shoved him into the passenger's seat.

"Let me be clear, Olivia," White said. "I'm happy to help you out with this, but I need to feel comfortable. Your gun."

Ignoring him, Olivia inserted the key and began to turn it.

"I'm serious, Olivia," he said sternly. "Your gun."

"I am not giving you my gun," she snapped.

"You took me out of there because you think I might be able to help you find Cabot," White said. "I'm doing this as a favor."

"As a favor to yourself," she corrected him. "You wanted this all along."

Hampered somewhat by handcuffs, White managed to maneuver his hands to the door handle. "Good luck, Olivia."

She closed her eyes for a moment, then reached behind her for her .38, and tossed it into the back, still within her reach, but not his.

"Not good enough," he said.

Olivia retrieved the gun and emptied the cylinder before tossing it onto the floor behind the driver's seat. Whatever else happened, White was not going to shoot her with her own gun.

"Now, I seem to recall reading something about another gun registered to the lovely Detective Benson," White said.

Olivia shook her head. "I lost it three weeks ago chasing a perp," she told him.

He stared at her.

"It's true, White," she said. "I filed a report. It cost me three days' pay."

The silence stretched into minutes, until, finally, Olivia bent over and unstrapped a second gun from her left ankle. As she had with the first, she unloaded the weapon and slid it behind her seat.

"And we really don't need anyone bothering us," White said. "Your phone."

It landed on the floor with the guns.

"One last thing before you take these handcuffs off," he said.

She waited, already knowing from his tone that she wasn't going to like it.

"I need to make sure that no one else is listening in to our private conversations." He smiled at the expression on her face, and leaned back expectantly against the door.

I hate you. Olivia reached for the buttons on her blouse.

It was nearly dark when they finally pulled into a cul de sac, one of several in a new, relatively isolated residential development. Except for one on the corner identified by a large rectangular sign as the Model Home, the houses were in various stages of completion.

Olivia was, by then, at the limit of what little patience she still had. White had been playing games with her all afternoon, first insisting that she drive them to a car rental, to alleviate his concern about a tracker on Liv's vehicle . . . .

. . . then to a café, for his favorite mocha latte.

. . . then to a bookstore, where he browsed leisurely through the true-crime section while Olivia fumed.

. . . then to a park, where they sat on a bench, White asking question after question about Alex, Olivia refusing to answer any of them.

Cragen was probably going ballistic by now, eight-plus hours after his detective's scheduled check in. Half a dozen times, Olivia had been tempted to return White to his cell, or do something more drastic. Through it all, though, she remained convinced that the bastard would ultimately lead her to Alex. The rest would be up to her.

White walked around the back of the second house, the exterior of which appeared mostly finished. Inside, Olivia noted that the walls lacked sheetrock, and carpeting was a few weeks away. From somewhere, she heard music, and – Alex! Their eyes met, but Liv returned her attention to the dark presence looming over their reunion.

"Terence," White yelled out. "Turn that off!"

The noise ended, and from her left, Olivia saw a young man approach them. He was thin with unkempt red hair and, the detective could tell, high as a kite.

"Any problems with your guest?" White asked.

Terence shook his head. "Nah," he mumbled. "Her leg's kinda banged up, but that wasn't my fault." He drew a handgun from his belt and handed it to White.

"I wouldn't do that, Terence," Olivia said. "He'll just shoot you with it."

"Now, Olivia," White chided, "why would you say such a thing?"

"You're predictable," she replied.

White appeared offended. "Then I might just have to surprise you," he said. He pointed the gun at Alex. "Maybe I'll let her go."

"Why should I believe you?" Liv asked.

"Because, unlike you, Olivia I don't lie."

"Yeah?" she retorted. "Did you kill Karen Fitzgerald?"

He smiled. "Of course I did."

"And Louise Billings?"

"You already know that."

"Humor me."

"I killed Louise, too."

Olivia wondered if Terence got it now. White was confessing to two murders, which he obviously intended to follow up with two more. And the kid thought he was going to walk out of there? Detective Benson had no such delusions.

"Let me see her," she said. Without waiting for White's nod, she walked over to Alex and crouched beside her. "You all right?" she said gently.

"A little thirsty," Alex replied. "Otherwise, just terrific."

Knowing that White would watch their interaction, Olivia rested her forehead against Alex's neck and muttered vague words of comfort to the other woman, letting her right hand drop down beside her calf. Edging the hand beneath her pant leg, she drew out a small gun.

She rose, a .22 pointed directly at White. Olivia kept Terence in her view as well – he might have another gun, but she doubted it. White obviously planned on killing his helper once he was no longer needed; he would only have provided the youth a single weapon.

Before Olivia could speak, White raised his own gun. Two bullets from the .22 punctured his chest, and he slumped to the ground.

Just like that, it's over, Liv realized. From the corner of her eye, she caught motion, but was unable to dodge the blow. Son of a bitch! The sharp pain in her shoulder surprised her. Spinning, she saw Terence swing the two by four again. It struck just as she pulled the trigger.

Neither man moved. Both were clearly dead – even with a small caliber, point blank shots did plenty of damage – and Olivia crouched down to work on Alex's bindings.

Of course – police-issue handcuffs. Typical White humor. For an instant, Olivia wondered irrationally if he'd gotten hold of hers. No – she'd dumped them, too, behind the seat.

"Damn. I don't have a key on me," she apologized. "It's in my car."

"Are they dead?" Alex asked, indicating her kidnapers.

Olivia nodded.

"Then I'll wait here for you," Alex replied.

The detective felt like an idiot. "It's not outside. I'm in a rental." She held out a palm. "Please don't ask."

"Then let's go get your car," Alex said. "I don't care what we do. I just want out of here." With Olivia's help, the attorney was able to get to her feet, but as she took a step, her left leg buckled, and she let out a soft exclamation of pain. "I think it just needs some ice," she said unconvincingly.

"Why don't we get a second opinion on that?"

"Well, that was a bust. That's the last time we fall for one of those Liza Minnelli rumors." The strawberry blonde television reporter tied back her hair while the cameraman began packing up. Just then, a car sped into the parking lot, and she caught a glimpse of the passenger. "Hey, I think that's – shit! Ted, get that car."

Ted Montez lifted the camera onto his shoulder, and together they watched the driver, an attractive brunette, jump from the vehicle and hurry around to the passenger side, squatting beside the car as she spoke with someone. From that distance, they couldn't hear the words, but the brunette looked around, apparently hoping to spot an employee. Finally, she reached into the car and took a slender blonde woman into her arms, carrying her into the emergency room.

"That's Cabot! I knew it!" Sonya Bestabarger exulted. "Yes!" She flipped open her cell phone. "Aaron – I've got our lead."

Ninety minutes later, she added some finishing touches with a little hair spray, and gripped her microphone. It had cost the station eight bills and half a dozen calls to her best NYPD sources, but she had a nice exclusive. Yeah, there'd be the usual whining tomorrow (these disclosures were unauthorized, the media are irresponsible, yada yada), but if the Department paid its people more, they wouldn't need to supplement their income by helping out the fourth estate on occasion, she reasoned.

In Queens, Elliot Stabler took a cautious sip. He hadn't suffered a coughing fit for hours, and wasn't going to trigger one through any unnecessary exertion. That single trip outside to get the mail had incapacitated him for twenty minutes.

He'd finally gotten some sleep this afternoon, after the damn phone stopped ringing off the wall. Turning the volume down on his end hadn't helped much, since he could still hear the one downstairs before Kathy rushed to answer it. So much for that do-not-call list. Now, the detective was wide awake and plenty sick of this bed. With a lazy glance at the clock – 9:59 – Elliot picked up the remote and clicked on the local Fox channel. Might as well find out what he'd slept through the past couple of days.

If he'd been feeling better, he might have appreciated that new beer ad more. Do women really give a damn what brand of dust mop they use? Of course, if Olivia had been there, he would have said "people," but you couldn't tell him that men bought more than five percent of dust mops in this country. He thought about it. Maybe ten. Elliot sighed. Too tired to channel surf, and thinking about dust mops. Life is over. He took another sip of broth.

The news anchor finally appeared. "Leading off the news tonight: A dramatic rescue of kidnaped Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot." Elliot set his soup bowl on the night stand and stared as images flashed onto the screen.

The first was a file photo of Alex on the courthouse steps. Now that foofoo with the weird name was reporting live outside an emergency room. "Tim, as we reported earlier today, ADA Cabot was kidnaped at gunpoint this morning from a local delicatessen. Tonight, we've learned that Cabot's kidnapers have been shot and killed by Special Victims Unit Detective Olivia Benson." A nice head and shoulders shot of Olivia appeared. "Sources within the NYPD tell us that Detective Benson has herself been the subject of an unofficial search by the Department since this morning."

An exterior shot of a house, illuminated by harsh camera lights, followed. "Cabot was held at this residential construction site, where Benson apparently tracked the kidnapers before subduing them. One suspect has been identified as Richard White, who was convicted of sexually assaulting another assistant district attorney, Karen Fitzgerald, five years ago." White's ugly mug filled the screen.

The next image was of Olivia carrying Alex into the hospital and then, in closeup, sitting with her back against a nondescript wall, head hanging down between her knees. Elliot could tell that she wasn't asleep, just exhausted. Probably waiting on word about Alex. She ran a hand through her hair, then buried her face in both hands. While Bestabarger talked, the camera lingered on his partner.

"Fuckers," he shouted at the television. Olivia obviously had no idea she was being filmed during that private moment. What the hell has been going on? "Kath!" he yelled.

Kathy Stabler, a glass of water for her husband in hand, reached the doorway, and watched the story wrap up.

"Sonya, what is Cabot's condition?" the anchor asked.

"She appears to have been injured, but we don't have any details yet," she replied. "Doctors have been with her since Detective Benson brought her to the hospital two hours ago."

"Oh, thank God." The soft exclamation from his wife caught Elliot's attention. Her expression transformed from concern to guilt, and he realized instantly what she was hiding.

"You kept this from me?" he demanded.

"No." She sighed. "Well, I knew about Alex." She held up her hands to forestall his outburst. "They said there was nothing you could do," she said. "Especially in your condition. And then when they called about Olivia–" She risked a glance at him, and saw his eyes widen. "They just asked if we'd heard from her. They didn't say she was missing; they just said they were having trouble reaching her."

Elliot turned off the television and reached for the bedside phone. He didn't want to say anything he would regret later. When he was calmer, he would lay down some basic rules.

Olivia stepped tentatively into the room. With all the victims she had interviewed in the hospital, her stomach had never been tied in knots like this. "Hey," she said upon seeing Alex awake and sitting up.

"I was beginning to wonder," Alex said. "I thought maybe you dumped me here and went out for a drink."

"Yeah, well, I thought about it, but I didn't have any money on me." Olivia jerked a thumb toward the hall. "I've been sitting out there for two hours. Every ten minutes, they said it would be another five minutes."

Alex smiled tiredly. "It took them a while to unnecessarily poke and prod every bone in my body. I suppose I have you to thank for that."

That question didn't require an answer. "And what's the verdict?"

"Sprained knee, a few cuts and scrapes," the attorney reported. "Nothing more than you'd expect from a good date."

Olivia smiled, and looked at her hands. "You always were a fun date."

An awkward silence followed, and both women realized that they had broached a previously forbidden subject.

"So were you," Alex replied.

"Not always."

"Yes always."

"I was a fuck up." Olivia shifted in her seat, and winced slightly. It lasted only a moment, but Alex was watching her too closely not to notice.



Alex frowned. "Take off your jacket."

After a pause, Olivia drew her left arm out of the leather jacket, then carefully slid it over her other arm.

"Turn around," Alex instructed.

"This is ridiculous." With a roll of her eyes, Olivia pirhouetted.

"My God, Liv, what is that?"

The detective shrugged. "Nothing."

"Have you had it looked at?" Alex eyed the shredded cloth of Olivia's blouse. Blood from some kind of injury was seeping through.

"I'm going to." Olivia didn't elaborate. After an eternity waiting, she hadn't wanted to risk blowing her chance to see Alex by being off somewhere having her stupid shoulder tended. Besides, she already knew what was wrong: a two by four enhanced by a couple of rather sharp nails, to be precise.

Alex reached for the call button beside the bed. "Yes, you are."

"Wait," Olivia pleaded. "Just give me a minute, Alex. I promise. I just . . . I've been worried about you. I just want a couple of minutes."

She couldn't resist an entreaty like that. "I've been worried about you, too, Olivia."

"You're the one who was in trouble. I thought . . . ."

"And I didn't know where you were," Alex countered. "I thought . . . ." She held the other woman's gaze. "Olivia, I–"

"Here we go." Detective Tutuola's deep voice preceded his entrance. "Hey, Cabot!"

Fin trailed into the room with his boss. "Counselor," the captain greeted her. His attention shifted to the other woman in the room. "Detective." Normally, he would have given Olivia some time before hitting her with this, but she needed the heads up. "IAB's reviewing the shoot," he reminded her.

"White had a gun on us," Alex protested. "He was ready to–"

"It's just routine," Cragen assured her. To his detective, he added, "I assume you'll have an explanation for where that unregistered .22 came from."

Olivia fiddled with Alex's chart. "Some mother in Alphabet City gave it to me," she said casually. "Wouldn't give me her name. Said she found it in her kid's room. I've been so swamped, I forgot to turn it in."

That would probably work. This shoot was not going to be heavily scrutinized, not with an ADA as witness and potential victim. "We'll talk later," Cragen told Olivia quietly, and she nodded.

"Jesus, Liv, what'd you do to your back?" Fin exclaimed.

That gave Olivia an excuse to make some space. All she wanted right now was to spend time with Alex, and she didn't trust herself not to shout, "Leave us the fuck alone!" to a couple of good friends. "Yeah, I'm gonna go have it looked at," she said.

"They're letting me out of here pretty soon," Alex quickly mentioned.

"Want a ride?" Cragen's offer was nice, but not what Alex had in mind.

She glanced at Olivia. A little help here, Liv? "Well, I'm not sure how long it'll be," she replied vaguely.

"I got you covered," Olivia said. "I'm gonna be stuck here a while, anyway."

"You sure you want to ride with Benson? She's dead on her feet," Fin pointed out.

"I'm still a better driver than you," Olivia retorted.

Alex smiled. "We did make it here in one piece," she said. "I should probably give her the benefit of the doubt."

Olivia lingered a while longer, until the ADA's well-meaning visitors finally took their leave.

"Thanks for taking me home," Alex said.

"Thanks for wanting me to take you home."

Alex couldn't take any more dancing around. "If it were up to me, you could take me home every night," she said.

Instinctively, Olivia's mind sought for a quip – "Not if you keep working midnights" – but that wasn't what she wanted to say, or how she wanted to say it. She finally settled on the truth. "I'd love to," she said. She stepped closer to the bed, and leaned in.

The kiss was long and loving. She'd missed this, and the softness of Alex's hand curved around her neck.

Olivia pulled her chair closer to the bed, her torn shoulder forgotten. Nothing hurt any more.

The End

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