DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE Thanks to mikee_pm for the great beta(s). This fic was “requested” (in the loosest sense of the word) by lone_jaguar. Written for the 2004 SVU ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Lost and Found
By captain_sam

Part One

"Please state your name for the record."

Wearily, the brunette leaned over the tape recorder and spoke. "Sarah Wallace."

The interviewing agent opened an unmarked manila folder, then slowly lit a cigarette as he skimmed through its contents.

"Federal regulations prohibit you from smoking that in here."

The agent waved the cigarette through the air, leaving behind a hazy trail of smoke. "I like to act cliché from time to time. It really makes this job worthwhile, you know?" He flicked ash onto the floor. "Let's begin. Miss Wallace, you are aware that you are being investigated in relation to the shooting deaths of three U.S. Marshals and two civilians, destruction of federal and public property, the attempted murder of a member of the police department of New York City, ad nauseum?"


"Would you like to elaborate on any of that?"

Sarah Wallace folded her arms over her chest. Her lips formed a thin line.

"Look, Miss Wallace, you look really tired, and to tell you the truth, I'm not particularly fond of being dragged in before nine am, so why don't you come clean so I can make my report and you can get a decent meal. Sound good?"

She stared at him silently.

"You don't look like a big proponent of personal firearms, much less the kind of woman who could shoot up a busy street," the agent continued.

"You don't look like a proponent of toupees, but that hasn't stopped you," said Wallace.

The agent grinned at her, ran a hand through his rather stiff hair without self-consciousness. "Sharp eye," he said. "Now, your file is very boring. I did not enjoy reading it."

"I'll endeavor to be more exciting in the hours to come," said Wallace in a monotone.

"Please correct me if I get anything wrong. Your name is Sarah Francine Wallace, born March 10th, 1974—that was a good decade. No surviving family. Public school, state college, a low-profile job at the local library. And not much else." The agent flipped the file closed with an air of finality. "So how does a rather milquetoast lady like yourself end up being arrested after a protracted gun battle on the streets of New York?"

Three days earlier

"Time to go, Miss Wallace," said Greg. He patted a rolling suitcase. "Ready for sunny Maine?"

Sarah frowned at him from underneath the hood of her parka, eyebrows knitting in frustration. "Relocation I understand. But Maine in the middle of winter? Why not Flagstaff? I understand it's very warm and dry there." She settled her duffle bag over one shoulder and grabbed the suitcase on her way out of the bedroom she had slept in for only three weeks.

"You'll like it. I promise," said Greg unconvincingly.

Three solid knocks sounded at the door. Cautiously, Greg approached from the side, motioning for Sarah to stay put.

"Come on, guys. Quit making out in there."

Rolling his eyes, Greg opened the door. Marshal Trevor stepped inside, shaking rain from her hat. "Ready to go? Good," she said, not giving Sarah time to answer. They trooped single-file into the hallway running parallel to the long row of apartments. Trevor spoke into a small hand-held radio, informing the Marshal outside that they were underway. She got no response but static.

Both Marshals stopped short, exchanged glances. Sarah stopped behind them. "What is it?" she asked.

"Damn storm; it's probably interference," said Trevor even as one hand went to the gun at her waist. "Come again, lead car. Please respond." The hallway was silent but for the drumming rain and the radio's sibilant hiss.

"Get inside," said Greg, pushing Sarah back into her small apartment. His gun was drawn, the safety clicked off. Trevor followed. She had exchanged her radio for a cell phone. The three of them huddled in the sparsely decorated living room.

"Come on, come on," said Trevor impatiently as she dialed the field office.

"You don't think it's Velez," said Sarah, sounding uncertain. Her hands gripped the strap of her duffel bag tightly enough to turn her fingers red. "It's been so long. He can't…" She stopped speaking as Greg shoved his backup weapon into her hands.

"Take it," he ordered in a quiet voice. She managed to unclench one fist and comply. "Whatever happens, I want you to get to the car. You understand me? Drive to the nearest federal building, tell them you're with the Department of Justice." Trevor was speaking quickly and in a low voice on the other side of the room.

"No, I won't—"

"Take it, goddammit," snapped Greg, looking as if he were about to hit her. He held up a silencing hand as a blurred figure went past the windows, then gestured to Sarah. "Stay low. Follow me." He got Trevor's attention, pointed to the door, then walked his fingers around in the direction of the back entrance. She nodded and crab-walked up to the front door, staying as low as possible.

Sarah followed Baranski as he crawled towards the kitchen. Together, they inched their way underneath the small bank of windows in the living room, continuing at a painstakingly slow pace through the kitchen. Inches from Trevor's face, the doorknob twitched slightly, as if someone outside were tentatively testing the lock.

"Go," Trevor mouthed, jabbing a finger at Baranski.

Greg pushed gently on the back door; a gust of storm wind slammed it wide open. Leading with his gun, he ventured outside. Sarah waited behind the island in the kitchen until Greg waved her forward.

They came around the corner of the building to see a dark sedan parked next to their SUV. A pair of feet stuck out beyond the vehicle's front tire. Sarah tried to control her shaking hands before she accidentally shot Greg in the back.

A burst of gunfire accompanied Marshal Trevor as she sprinted into the open, making a beeline towards the Explorer from the apartment complex's main entrance. Greg took advantage of the distraction to run for the car, shielding Sarah with his body, twisting his torso around as he brought his gun to bear. Acute fear made the ten or so meters feel like the length of a football field; Sarah was panting heavily as she and Greg reached the vehicle. Greg yanked open the side door and shoved her headfirst onto the leather seat, sending her sprawling against the far door. The driver-side door opened seconds later; Trevor jammed the keys into the ignition and started the engine. Their wheels spun in the mud as the Explorer fought for traction.

Using the open door as partial cover, Greg fired indiscriminately at the man kneeling behind the doorframe of the building's main entrance. Sarah grabbed him by the belt and hung on fiercely as the Explorer finally found purchase, lurching forward. Greg toppled backwards, falling heavily on top of Sarah. She fought past his bulk to grab the door.

"Fuck!" Trevor snarled, slamming a hand against the steering wheel. She glanced in the rearview, saw that they weren't being followed. She sped up regardless, peering through the rain and the windshield wipers.

Greg moaned and rolled onto the tiny swath of floor space between the first and second row of seats. One hand rested awkwardly on his thigh. Sarah dropped the small gun he had given her and stared down at him, rainwater dripping from her hood. They were all soaked and the interior of the car was rapidly becoming humid.

"Greg?" she asked, her voice suddenly small.

"What? What's wrong?" asked Trevor from the front, checking all three mirrors in a frenzy.

Greg blinked a few times. The muscles of his jaw clenched spasmodically.

Sarah reached out with one hand, strangely compelled to touch the neat hole burrowed into Greg's forehead. He twitched—she snatched her hand back. "Hospital," she said hoarsely.


"We have to get to a hospital," said Sarah.

Trevor twisted in her seat, took in Sarah's ashen face, followed her gaze downward. "Oh, fuck," she said again. The speedometer needle jumped up to seventy.

"Greg Baranski," said Agent Rothford. He tossed a glossy eight-by-ten photo onto the table. It was obviously an autopsy photo; a white sheet poked up from the bottom edge and Baranski's skin looked pale and chalky. "Shot in the head."

Wallace resolutely refused to look at the picture.

Rothford set out three more photos: one of Marshal Trevor, a third of a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, and a fourth of a younger face. "Gena Trevor. Laurence Prejean. Terry Hicks." He folded his hands in front of him. "Did you know them too?"

They had been sitting in the car with Greg's body for the last hour.

It had stopped raining a few minutes ago and a low fog was rolling in across the bay, obscuring the city below them. Residual thunder rumbled in the grey distance. Sarah sat in the front now.

Another SUV slowly approached, rolled to a stop in front of their car. A tall man got out, adjusting his trenchcoat as he trudged across the soggy ground. Sarah slid Greg's gun off of her lap to hold it between her seat and the door.

The man paused, frowned, then walked to Sarah's window. He tapped on the glass. "Miss Wallace?" he called.

"Don't move, Hicks," said Gena. She stepped out from her hidden position behind the Explorer, weapon held high in a two-handed grip. "Take off your coat. Put your gun on the ground."

"What the hell? Marshal Trevor?" said Hicks.

"Just do it," she said, cocking her gun audibly.

He complied, draping his coat over the Explorer's hood and setting his gun gently in the mud. He raised his hands in the air as Gena approached.

"Step away from the vehicle," Gena ordered. He did so.

Sarah got out of the car to cover Hicks while Gena patted him down. She picked up Hicks's gun and removed the cell phone from his coat pocket.

"You want to tell me what's going on here? Where's the rest of your detail?" asked Hicks as Gena made him place his hands on his head and turn around.

"Who else knows you're here?" asked Gena.

"No one. Nobody knows; they all think I'm out to lunch," said Hicks. He risked a glance at Wallace; she was very pale, but she looked grimly determined holding a gun in each hand. "What the hell happened?"

"We got ambushed. One man. He killed Prejean and then he shot Baranski when we made a run for it. They're both dead." Gena punched the car with her left hand. The hollow, metallic thunk fell flat as the muggy atmosphere swallowed the sound.

"You know you can trust me," said Hicks. He turned around again, his face imploring and open. "I came, didn't I? I'm here to help you."

Gena seemed to struggle with herself before jerking her gun down. Sarah followed suit a moment later. "All right," Gena breathed. "All right. We gotta…we gotta figure out what to do. Greg's body is in there—" She waved a wand at the Explorer. "—and we had to leave Laurence at the safehouse. But first and foremost we have to get her out of here." She started to pace in front of Sarah.

"Miss Wallace, I'd like my weapon back," said Hicks gently. She handed it over butt-first, but there was no trust in her eyes. Gingerly, he took it in one gloved hand, but did not holster it.

"Who knew that the move was today?" asked Gena, emphasizing every word with one hand. "The three of us and the head of our department. There's no way that we were randomly discovered."

"You don't think someone from WPP tipped him off," said Hicks, sounding vaguely scandalized.

Sarah leaned against the wet Explorer, not caring if she resoaked her half-dried clothes. Greg's gun dangled loosely in her grip. Eyes closed, she let Trevor and Hicks draft their conspiracy theories. Gena had spent the first half-hour waiting rattling off dozens of scenarios, half-heartedly explaining what could happen now. Sarah hadn't paid attention.

She had been told that Maine would be the last stop on the relocation route; in fact, she should've been in the air by now, on a plane for Logan International. Then it was just a short hop to a private airfield and a small coastline town. Or it had been.

Sarah opened her eyes in time to see Hicks walk back to his SUV. Gena was still rambling, the stress of the past hour rapidly catching up to her.

"So tell me again why you didn't just proceed to the local field office? Why all the cloak-and-dagger?" asked Hicks. He reached across the driver's seat to retrieve something from his glove compartment.

"It had to have been someone inside," Gena repeated. "Velez placed a man in the Justice Department or got to someone already there. Somehow, he knows." She raked both hands through her damp hair.

Hicks was doing something in the front seat of his SUV. "You're probably right," he sighed. "You just can't trust the federal government these days." He came around the open car door firing—three times into Gena's body. She fell to the ground looking surprised. Sarah saw that he had screwed a silencer onto his gun barrel; the three shots had been high-pitched whines, zip-zip-zip. Before she could respond, Hicks trained his weapon on her. "Please don't make me kill you, Miss Cabot. I've been paid a lot of money to take you alive."

"My name is Sarah Wallace," she said, unable to stop her voice from breaking at the end. Just like that, she was on her own.

"Miss Cabot, nothing short of total reconstructive plastic surgery and about thirty extra pounds could effectively disguise you," said Hicks, leering. "Now please, get in my car."

She didn't move. Her hand slowly tightened around Greg's gun, though she was rapidly coming to regard it as her gun and her only means of survival at the moment. "Where are you taking me?" she asked uncertainly.

"For a scenic road trip," said Hicks, remaining cordial. He waggled his gun slightly. "Please get in the car."

"What about Gena? And Greg?" asked Sarah. "Someone will find their bodies, and then—"

"Someone will be along shortly to dispose of all this," said Hicks, gesturing to Gena's twisted form.

"Bodies aside, someone will notice the program is a witness short," blustered Sarah.

"Ah, well, the field office will make sure it stays local, because this has all been quite well thought out. You really put a bug up Velez's ass, Miss Cabot, and as you know, he's a rich, passionate man who tends to hold grudges. It's not the best combination. Now—" The sharp crack of a semi-automatic overlapped Hicks' yelp of surprise as he was thrown to the ground. Gena's arm squelched into the mud, smoking gun falling out of her grasp.

Sarah took advantage of Hicks' distraction to snap off a shot, but adrenaline and panic threw her aim far to the right and the bullet ploughed harmlessly into the ground. Hicks was already staggering to his feet.

She dashed for her Explorer. The keys were still in the ignition; the engine roared to life. She yanked the door shut even as she slammed on the gas. The Explorer sent up a deluge of mud and pebbles before leaping past Marshal Hicks. In the rearview, she saw him screaming something unintelligible as he clutched his gun arm.

Sarah glanced at Greg's corpse as she pulled away from the bluff. "I did not sign on for this," she muttered.

"When was the last time you slept?" asked Rothford. "Look pretty tired."

"I am tired." Wallace managed not to sound as if she were admitting to anything.

Rohtford clucked sympathetically. "Would you like some coffee? Maybe tea?"

"No thanks," said Sarah. The smiling flight attendant moved on, pushing her cart down the aisle to the next cramped passenger.

Having screeched to a halt at the airport several hours ago, Sarah had rifled through Greg's pockets and taken his wallet with a hastily uttered apology. She had left his gun next to his body, locked the Explorer, and entered the airport nervously, hoping she didn't look as bedraggled as she felt. She had debated going to the field office and reporting the incident, but Hicks' casual implication that the office itself had been compromised made her paranoid. She didn't dare go to Boston as originally planned; she wanted to be as unpredictable as possible. So instead she had mentally listed her other options as she sped away from the rogue Marshal, constantly checking her mirrors to see if she was being followed.

"How can I help you?" the ticket agent had asked, and Sarah had paid for a coach-class seat with the cash from Greg's wallet and the sodden wad of twenties in her jeans pocket. It was lucky that the program didn't like her to use credit cards, teaching her to always carry a substantial amount of cash on any given day.

She had felt a momentary flash of panic as she presented her ticket and her driver's license to the security guard at the luggage check-in; perhaps Hicks had issued an all-points bulletin, realizing that she eventually had to go for help. But the guard had waved her through the metal detector and she had boarded the flight in due time and had waited anxiously for the plane to taxi to the runway and take off.

Once in the air, she had relaxed slightly, wrapping herself in a small blanket, gratefully accepting several bags of peanuts and a bottle of water. Minutes after the attendant rattled off Sarah fell asleep, pushing her chair back as far as it would go, much to the chagrin of the passenger behind her. She awoke amidst a patch of turbulence.

"Sorry for the rough ride, folks. There's some sketchy weather here, but we'll be landing in about twenty minutes," the captain's tinny intercom voice announced. Then a flight attendant asked everyone to buckle up, and Sarah nervously did so as the plane bounced its way through the cloud layer covering New York City.

"Over dessert I finally spill that I work with the Special Victims Unit. He goes, 'What's that?' So I tell him what it's about. Then that jackass has the nerve to tell me—"

Olivia held up a hand in the middle of Casey's story to answer her cell phone, hoping it wasn't Cragen to inform her of a new case. She just wanted to finish her beer, see off a mildly drunk Casey Novak in a taxi, and turn in early. "Benson," she said, trying not to let her irritation creep into her voice.

There was only silence from the other end of the line.

"Hello?" Olivia said. She was on the verge of hanging up when a soft voice finally spoke.


Frowning slightly, Olivia glanced at the caller ID. She didn't recognize the number. "Yes, this is she."

"It's…uh…it's me. Alex."

The sounds of the bar faded away.


She fought to control her breathing, felt her temper flare. "Whoever you are, this isn't funny. Alex Cabot is dead," she hissed, the lie rolling off her tongue with practiced ease. Her eyes darted to the people around her to see if they had overheard.

Sounding hurt, the voice told her, "She's not. She's in witness protection, and she called you because she needs help."

It certinaly sounded like Alex; that cultured voice hadn't changed at all. Realizing that she was in a very public place, Olivia held one hand over the mouthpiece and told Casey apologetically, "I'm sorry. I have to take this." She got up and went to the ladies' room, locking the door behind her. "Alex?" she said at last, half-expecting a hoax.

"Oh my God, Olivia, you have no idea how good it is to hear your voice."

"I think I might," said Olivia, the shock of the sudden contact slowly wearing off. "I mean, where are you? I can't believe they actually let you call me."

"Well, things are a little complicated at the moment. I need a favor. Can you come get me?" She sounded rushed.

"What the hell? Where's your protective detail? Are you okay?" asked Olivia, pacing between the walls of the tiny bathroom.

"I'm in a phone booth outside of JFK, and I think my time's running out. I can answer all your questions later, but please trust me when I say it's a very, very long story."

"Where can I find you?" asked Olivia.

Alex hemmed a bit, trying to remember the airport's layout, before replying, "The bus stop."

"I'll be there as soon as I can. Sit tight," said Olivia. She rushed out to the bar, where Casey was miserably downing her third scotch. Olivia grabbed her coat from the back of her chair. "I'm really sorry, but I've got an emergency. Rain check," she called over her shoulder, leaving behind the confused ADA.

She took a taxi to the airport, offering the driver an extra twenty to push the speed limit as best he could in evening traffic. They came in hot from the expressway, Olivia fairly tossing her money at the cabbie before jumping out of the car and trotting towards the bus stop. She stopped, turned in a complete circle, scanning the multitude of travelers and random passers-by. Her breath caught as she saw the familiar face, the lanky frame dressed in jeans and a light jacket. Her hair had been dyed a much darker shade of blonde and she wasn't wearing those trademark glasses, but it was Alex sitting on a concrete bench hugging herself.

Olivia picked up the pace as she dodged and side-stepped her way to the other woman. Alex looked up at her with watery brown eyes and before she knew it she was hugging Alex fiercely, wrapping her arms around Alex's waist and pressing their bodies together. When she finally pulled away, she saw Alex was crying and nearly burst into tears herself. Pain and frustration, once thought well-suppressed, were rampaging unbidden through her chest.

Alex's face was haggard and pale and her lips had gone blue from the cold. "You're freezing," said Olivia. She took off her heavy coat and draped it around the other woman's shoulders. "What do you need me to do?" she asked, rubbing Alex's arms.

"I'm…not sure," Alex admitted. "But we should get away from public places."

Olivia's fear jumped exponentially. "Okay." She took a deep breath. "Okay. Let's go to my place."

Rothford was steadily working his way through the cigarette pack. "Let me tell you what I think. I think that no one who ends up getting arrested by the FBI could possibly have a file this boring."

"Well, it is always the quiet ones," said Wallace. She fiddled with her half-empty coffee cup.

"For all your reticence to speak, you don't strike me as being quiet," said Rothford charmingly.

"So I don't seem to be a gunslinger, and I don't seem to be the silent type. What is your opinion of me, exactly?" asked Wallace, slightly irritated by Rothford's seemingly endless supply of cheerful civility.

Rothford sat back, let his cigarette burn on its own for a few minutes. "Let's see," he said, tapping chin. "For a woman covered in dirt and blood, you speak well. I hear you trying to cover it up, but your enunciation is excellent."

Wallace's eyes tightened.

Rothford continued. "Am I right in assuming that's not your natural hair color?"

She glared at him outright.

"Your roots are showing," said Rothford. He inhaled smoke, released it slowly. "I guess you meant to dye it soon, but time just…slipped away from you. Happens to the best of us." He began to tick points off on his fingers. "You hide who you are. Were. Whatever. Your file is devoid of the usual flotsam we all accumulate in life. Nothing to raise red flags and nothing to not raise red flags, if you'll pardon the double negative. I think you're running from something, and I think that when you stop running, you're going to burrow so deep underground that not even the FBI will be able to haul you in for questioning." He stubbed out his cigarette. "Marco," he said in a sing-song voice.

"Polo's not in the pool at the moment," said Wallace.

"Cheater," said Rothford. "Well, you've recently been associating with federal agents whose files are most definitely raising red flags. We're having a hell of time finding out exactly what they've been doing. You're just wrapped in red tape from head to toe, Miss Wallace. All of this leads me to the stunning conclusion that you are not who you say you are."

My name is Sarah Wallace.

Alex Cabot shivered as she accidentally brushed the cold tile in Olivia's bathroom. Hurriedly, she returned to the hot water streaming from the shower head.

She had already rinsed and repeated and was quickly running out of excuses to stay in the shower. When she left the bathroom, she would have to go through the exhausting process of explaining all to a woman she hadn't seen for—she couldn't remember the exact number of years and months, having given up on counting last autumn. She shut the water off anyway, groped for a towel, and stepped out of the tub. Venturing into the warmly-lit bedroom, she found that Olivia had thoughtfully set out underwear, a pair of sweatpants, and a t-shirt. She dressed slowly, then sat on the bed, staring at her hands.

A few minutes later Olivia knocked before cautiously entering the room. She sat next to Alex. "Hungry?" she asked.

Alex nodded, so Olivia led her gently to the small kitchen where a pot of something savory was simmering on the stove. The detective got her settled with a bowl of beef stew and a basket of rolls, then watched her eat ravenously. Alex wasn't too absorbed in her food to notice the troublesome tic tugging down a corner of the detective's mouth. She was still a fidgeter, too; her hands found a napkin and tore it into tiny pieces, then arranged the fluffy pile into a perfect square. As Alex mopped up the last of her soup with a bread crust, Olivia asked her, "Second helping?"

Alex leaned back in her chair with both hands resting comfortably on her stomach in the age-old gesture of satisfaction. She let out a small burp. One hand flew to her mouth in embarrassment.

Olivia chuckled. "I guess not." She cleared the table and piled everything in the sink, where she stood with her back to Alex for a few moments. Moments stretched into minutes.

Slowly, hesitantly, Alex touched the small of Olivia's back, withdrew as the other woman tensed.

"What's going on, Alex?" she asked.

Alex stood, went to the living room where she sank onto the couch. Olivia followed. "Tell me what happened so I can help you," she urged, her voice automatically dropping to the reassuring low tones she used with victims. She sat on the opposite end of the couch, giving Alex maneuvering room if she needed it.

Alex tried unsuccessfully to settle her jittery nerves. She had been denying three decades of existence, time during which she had become a woman and experienced love and anger and agony and all the things that made up the sum total of her life. Three decades, crashing back into her consciousness.

A cool hand slid over hers and squeezed lightly. Without being pushy, without recrimination, Olivia offered support. Alex took it gratefully and started to explain.

The mildly battered door swung open, admitting another agent. He leaned over Rothford, muttered something in his ear, and left without a glance to spare for Sarah Wallace.

As soon as Wallace was alone with Rothford again, she asked, "What's going on?"

"Nothing," said Rothford.

"Don't stall. It's not flattering."

"Not your first interrogation, is it?" asked Rothford.

"Did he tell you that I'm not the American terrorist you seem to think I am?" said Wallace sharply.

"I never thought you were a terrorist. Who said you were a terrorist?" Rothford ignored the by-now expected glare. "You do seem to be connected to a number of law-enforcement types. The police officer, Detective Benson—"

"How is she?" interrupted Wallace.

Rothford steamrolled on. "How did she happen to get involved in all of this?"

Olivia felt like pacing.

She had turned off all the lights except for a dim lamp in the living room and drawn all the shades. She had braced a chair against the front door, wedging it solidly under the knob. She had put Alex to bed, claiming that she was going to bunk down on her battered but comfortable couch. That had been a blatant lie, uttered seven sleepless hours ago.

Olivia sat in the dark, watching Alex sleep fitfully. Her gun rested on the small table at her right side. Her feet were drawn up under her legs to keep them from tapping on the floor. She felt like a little girl again, trying to remain vigilant after watching a horror movie. As long as she was awake, the monsters wouldn't be able to get her.

She didn't quite know what she was going to do come daylight. She most certainly couldn't take Alex down to the precinct, parading her around in front of the whole world. She had thought several times about calling Elliot, but there was his family to consider. She knew several people at the Justice Department, but was conflicted about involving them either. Alex seemed to be operating under the impression that the corruption went beyond one Marshal, and while Olivia didn't believe that the higher-ranked members of Witness Protection had been compromised, there was no sense in taking chances.

Almost reluctantly, she dug an old business card out of her wallet, threaded it through her fingers and flicked it once or twice before setting it on top of her cell phone.

The window shades began to turn grey-blue in the winter morning light. Yawning, Olivia let her eyes close for a few minutes. The alarm clock woke her up two hours later and she came to with a start, noticing guiltily that the light sneaking under the shades had turned yellow. She checked on Alex, who had finally succumbed to some semblance of REM sleep, before scooping up her cell phone and the contact number and leaving the bedroom to make the call.

"Office of the U.S. Attorney's," answered a pleasant secretary after a few rings.

"Claudia Williams, please," Olivia requested.

Elliot stamped the snow off of his shoes before entering the precinct. The winter was turning out to be a bad one; he could feel the cold splintering in his bones as he went from wind-chilled temperatures to the too-warm squadroom. His partner's chair was empty. The casual disarray of files on her desk looked the same as yesterday. "Liv in yet?" he asked Munch in the passing.

Munch shrugged. "Neither hide nor hair," he said.

"Elliot," Cragen called, holding his phone to one shoulder. "Benson's taking the day off." He disappeared back into his office.

Surprised, Elliot automatically started dialing Olivia's number for himself. She answered immediately. "Liv, you okay?" he asked.

"No, I'm—" She drew in a long, gurgling breath. "I'm pretty phlegmy. I think someone on the subway got me sick. I'll be in tomorrow." A ragged cough.

"All right. See you then," said Elliot; but when five o'clock rolled around, he tidied up his paperwork, called Kathy to tell her he would be home by seven for once, and drove to Olivia's apartment. She buzzed him in, sounding oddly rushed, and he wondered in the elevator about her sudden ill turn.

Her door opened after a few seconds of waiting. She was in a fuzzy robe and bare feet and her cheeks looked slightly flushed, as if she were feverish. "Hey," she said, not moving to let him in.

"Hey," he replied, puzzled. "Just checking up on you."

"Thanks, Elliot. I'm fine." She almost looked disappointed to see him, like she wanted to close the door in his face.

"You sure?" he asked. He made a see-saw motion with one hand. "You look a little peaked."

Olivia stiffened slightly under the bulky robe. "Yeah, I am. Fever." She rocked onto the balls of her feet a few times. "Well, tell everyone 'hi' for me." And then she really did shut the door in his face, albeit with an apologetic look.

Confused and slightly put out, Elliot went home.

As soon as the last lock clicked into place, Olivia turned and leaned heavily against her door. She didn't often lie to Elliot; in fact, the last time she had purposely mislead him was so that he wouldn't know what Kathy had gotten him for his birthday.

Alex peeked out from the bedroom. "Coast clear?"

Olivia dragged her hands over her face and shuffled towards Alex. "He's gone," she mumbled through her hands. She tugged on the sash of her robe to reveal jeans and a v-necked shirt. "Why does he have to be so considerate?" she whined, and flopped onto the couch.

"You really think it's best that he doesn't know I'm here?" Alex asked, joining the detective. She was still wearing Olivia's NYPD-issue sweatpants, but had exchanged the old t-shirt for a new one.

Olivia shook her head. "I don't want him involved."

"He's your partner," said Alex, testing the idea on Olivia without trying to persuade her.

"Elliot might want to back me up, but his first obligation is to his family. It's too dangerous," said Olivia. She slid to one side of the sofa and drew her legs up onto the cushions. "We'll get everything sorted out with the U.S. Attorney's office, and he'll never even know you were here." Seeing Alex's expression drop slightly, Olivia added, "It's better that way. For everyone."

Alex mirrored Olivia and stretched out, letting her legs mesh with the detectives. "Not for you," she said astutely.

"Never for me," said Olivia boldy. She offered Alex what she hoped was a bright smile to offset the inevitable melancholy that had settled between them. "Speaking of which, what would you like for dinner?"

"Subtle, Detective," said Alex. She clamped a hand over Olivia's ankle, preventing the other woman from leaving the couch. "Please stop avoiding me."

"Hard to do in an apartment this size."

"Nevertheless, you're succeeding admirably." Softly at first, Alex rubbed Olivia's feet, avoiding the ticklish arches. If Olivia could only relax, she might open up. Thus far she had been Alex's staunch supporter, but it wasn't fair for her to have to internalize everything while Alex got to be an emotional mess. "What's been on your mind?" Alex asked, almost casually.

"A lot of stuff." Olivia shrugged. "Some of it having to do with you."

"It's a start," Alex murmured. She dug her thumbs into the soles of Olivia's feet. "Anything about me in particular?"

Olivia hesitated momentarily. "How much I…missed you."

"I missed you too," said Alex, trying to encourage Olivia to open up further. She seemed more guarded, less willing to share herself. Alex wondered if it was just with her, or if the long years at SVU were wearing down the detective with plain attrition. Unfortunately, Olivia chose to steer away from more vulnerable territory.

"I'm worried about Velez, obviously. What I'm gonna do after we deal with him."

"I don't have to stay in Witness Protection. It's my choice," said Alex.

"Don't even think about it," Olivia warned. "You—"

Before she could speak further, Alex expertly cracked the detective's toes, making her jump. "Holy crap," Olivia breathed. "Warn me next time."

"I will," said Alex, seemingly benign. She moved away from the toes, down to the ankles. "But as I was saying, it's starting to look as if running is not the best option."

"Alex, this city is crawling with Velez's men," Olivia protested. "And all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to get on his good side. That includes murder."

"I'm well aware of that," said Alex, the words coming out more bitterly than she had intended.

Olivia gave in, just a little. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," said Alex. "It's hard for both of us."

"About that, Alex, um…" Olivia bit her lower lip as she vacillated, trying to work up the nerve to express everything that had built up inside of her since the last time they had seen each other. Her mouth opened, and buzzing came out.

They both stared at the intercom until it buzzed again, the little red light above the speaker flashing.

Olivia reluctantly pulled her feet away from Alex and got up to answer the call. "Hello?"

"Detective Benson?"

Olivia glanced at Alex. "Yes, who's this?"

"It's Claudia. Claudia Williams."

Suddenly tense, Olivia buzzed her in. Behind her, Alex got up. "I want you to stay in the bedroom until I know it's her for sure," said Olivia. She turned away from the intercom, and her face was composed, neutral. "If I don't come for you, go out the fire escape."

Alex nodded, wishing she could speak past the sudden tightening of her throat.

Olivia saw Alex to the bedroom, made sure the door was locked, then took her gun and waited for Williams. Before long, she heard light knocking and sidled up to the door, prepared to bust out shooting. Through the peephole, Olivia only saw the prosecutor. She opened the door, leaving the chain lock in its groove, and peered out into the hallway.

"Detective, what the hell is going on?" asked Williams, looking every bit as demanding as Olivia remembered from their last encounter. Olivia let Williams into the apartment and the prosecutor's eyes widened as she saw the gun held tightly in Olivia's right hand. "Maybe I don't want to know," she amended.

Williams had told the two of them, Alex and Olivia, to sit tight, before leaving to make arrangements. She had claimed that she couldn't do anything over the phone; it was an unsecure line, and considering the apparent ease with which Velez had found Alex once, Williams wanted to be absolutely sure that the second time wasn't the charm. She had warned the other women that it might take a while to pull all the necessary strings before drawing Olivia aside.

"Detective, consider yourself deputized by the U.S. Marshals until we resolve this mess, and act accordingly. Until I contact you, you are solely responsible for Miss Cabot," Williams had said.

"Does that mean the U.S. Attorney's got my back?" Olivia had asked.

"Whatever the circumstances."

The answer left Olivia feeling even more concerned for Alex's safety; clearly, Williams regarded Velez as an imminent threat. She didn't share her forebodings with Alex, instead hustling her away from the windows and towards the kitchen.

Preparing dinner for two felt strange to Olivia; something tugged at the bottom of her stomach as she put a second placemat next to hers on the small wooden dining table. She and Alex ate silently, the memory of their interrupted conversation providing just enough tension to make the meal awkward. Afterwards, Alex watched television at low volume while Olivia washed the dishes. It was like a strange parody of domesticity, and it made Olivia uncomfortable enough to want to scratch her way out of her own skin.

Both women were tired by the time the ten o'clock news rolled around despite their confinement to the small apartment. Alex curled up in Olivia's bed and watched the detective pace from the bedroom to the living room and back again. "Not that I mind your vigilance, but you look exhausted," said Alex, sitting up, letting the sheets fall to her waist.

"So do you," said Olivia, stopping at the side of the bed.

"Yes, but I'm doing something about it. I'm going to sleep," said Alex. She slid her legs out from under the covers and faced Olivia, their knees touching. "You're not doing anybody any favors by wearing yourself out."

Olivia stared down at Alex, her shadowed eyes meeting Alex's pale ones, even paler in the contrasting darkness. "One of us has to keep watch," she said.

"Then let it be me, if only for a few hours," said Alex. She grasped one of Olivia's hands, fingers momentarily caressing the palm. "This is my ordeal too."

"You've already been through so much," murmured Olivia, her free hand hovering over Alex's jawline. The tiny hairs there stiffened in a wave of goosebumps. "Because I didn't protect you the first time. I won't let it happen again."

"Olivia," said Alex, the name emerging softly. She suddenly saw Olivia's guilt, her self-recrimination—she blamed herself. The upsetting realization made Alex stand up and hold Olivia tightly within her arms. Olivia immediately looped her arms under Alex's, reaching up to grasp the other woman's shoulders. She let her head fall into the curve where Alex's neck met her shoulder.

Olivia spoke into Alex's collarbone, mumbling "I missed you every day." The oddness in her stomach had risen into her chest, pushing painfully against her breastbone. She pressed her face against Alex's body and whispered, "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry." Her hands bunched up the soft fabric of Alex's shirt as they made fists. "I'm sorry," Olivia repeated as she began to sob. Their bodies trembled together.

"It's okay," said Alex, trying to hold Olivia still and stroke her hair at the same time. "It's okay. It's not your fault." She couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Oh, God," Olivia said, clutching at the other woman. "I missed you so much. It felt like a hole growing in my heart. I saw you everywhere and it hurt so badly…" She sniffed as she tried to stem the tears. "Alex," she said, sliding her hands up from the blonde's waist to hold her face.

"Kiss me," said Alex, eyes flicking back and forth between Olivia's. "Please."

Their lips met slowly, pressing against each other with almost chaste deliberation. Olivia's salty tears mingled with their kiss. Alex wiped the detective's face with soft fingertips, forehead resting against Olivia's. "Come to bed," she said. "Hold me."

They slipped underneath the cool cotton covers, Olivia cradling Alex against her body, their legs intertwined. Olivia pressed small kisses against the nape of Alex's neck. Together, they fell asleep, emotionally exhausted.

"Yeah, cap, I don't know what it—what it—" Olivia faked a huge sneeze. "What it is," she finished miserably. "I'd come in, but I'd infect half the squad." Whatever answer he gave must have been sympathetic, because Olivia said, "Thanks," and hung up.

"Impressive. I'm almost starting to believe you're sick," said Williams as she and a U.S. Marshal waited for Alex to finish dressing. They had arrived early in the morning, rousing a bleary-eyed Olivia from dreamless sleep.

Olivia pulled a wry face in reply before joining Alex in the bedroom. She pulled on jeans and a clean shirt, clipped gun and cell phone to her belt. She had insisted upon accompanying Alex to the U.S. Attorney's office, daring Williams or the Marshals to refuse. They had exchanged glances, muttered something about not minding the extra help, and had watched Olivia use some impressive theatrics on her boss.

In the bedroom, the two women slipped on their shoes before coming to a standstill. "You ready?" Olivia asked, willing her voice to stay normal.

Alex nodded.

As they joined the two DOJ officers, the marshal began issuing orders through his handset, securing all entry and exit points in the building before leading the three women to the ground floor. Alex remembered that this had been the snafu point before; apprehension coiled nauseatingly in her stomach as she followed the marshal to the waiting car. The driver sat with both hands on the steering wheel, looking oddly still.

"Shit," said the lead marshal, and Alex knew that it had happened again, she had been found again and she felt like screaming her frustration even as Olivia pushed her against the side of the car and covered Alex with her own body.

Bullets began raining down from somewhere above their position. The lead marshal yelled into his handset for cover even as the marshal on the roof started returning fire. He climbed into the car from the passenger side, shoved the dead body of the driver out of the car, and started the engine. Gun swinging wildly in an attempt to cover 180 degrees, Olivia fumbled with the rear door latch without looking, finally managing to yank open the door and get Alex inside.

"Where's Claudia?" cried Alex, sitting up. Olivia shoved her down again as she dove into the car.

"Williams got hit, she's down," Olivia yelled at the marshal. He stomped on the gas and drove the car away one-handed, the other still holding his radio to his mouth as he issued orders and received reports.

Behind them, a black Escalade peeled around the corner in hot pursuit.

"What the hell did you do to piss these guys off?" said the Marshal as a bullet pinged off the trunk. Savagely, he twisted the wheel over to pull a screeching turn at the next light. The Escalade stayed with them through the thickening traffic. "Shit!" he said again as the rear window imploded, sending glass scattering all over the back of the car.

"Get down," Olivia ordered Alex unnecessarily; the blonde was already kneeling on the carpet, lanky frame crouched as low as it could go. Olivia started shooting back at the pursuing vehicle; it swerved violently as her shots connected, walking up the grille and cracking the windshield. All hope that the SUV would back off disappeared as it used its superior acceleration to pull up next to the marshal's sedan. Hands poked out over the tinted windows. Olivia practically fell on top of Alex, shielding her from the return salvo. The marshal in the front grunted; their car veered into oncoming traffic.

"Are you hit?" called Olivia, firing blindly through the shattered glass of the side windows.

"I'm fine," said the marshal, wrestling the car back into the right lane.

There was a dull pop and the car shuddered. "Is that what I think it is?" asked Alex, lifting her head slightly.

"We just lost a tire," said the marshal, strain showing in his voice. He fought to keep the car going straight, searching frantically for a good place stop, take cover, and call for reinforcements. The car pivoted around its bad tire as the marshal swung it to a stop. "Go, go!" he yelled, drawing his weapon. "Head for the subway!"

"We can't! There's too many people," Olivia said.

"We'll never make it out in the open," said the marshal. He kicked his door open and exited the car backwards. "I'll cover you," he said, waving Olivia on. She grabbed Alex by the collar and dragged her onto the pavement, ignoring the startled screams of the scattered pedestrians. People dove for cover as the marshal started firing at the oncoming Escalade. Four men jumped out and charged the wrecked sedan as Olivia and Alex scurried towards the subway stairs. A resounding boom and the ensuing shockwave tossed them down the last few steps. Olivia risked a glance back and saw a greasy black cloud blooming into the sky, sparks showering all over the sidewalk.

"Was that the car?" Alex yelled, her ears ringing.

"Come on," grunted Olivia. She got a firm grip around Alex's waist and pulled her on. She flashed her badge at the token booth as she pushed Alex over a turnstile, then boosted herself over, ignoring the suddenly panicked mass of people attempting to scatter underground.

Olivia looked back again and saw at least three men still following them; the marshal had taken one down or he had been caught in the explosion. Either way, she and Alex had one half-spent gun between them and a lot of innocent civilians in the way. "NYPD! Coming through!" she bellowed, shoving her way through screaming early-morning commuters to get to the train. She and Alex just barely slipped through the closing doors.

"Gun! She's got a gun!" someone shouted.

"Everyone, please stay calm," Olivia announced. She held her badge high and turned in a complete circle. "NYPD." There were more screams from the far end of the car as a man jumped through the connecting door and started spraying bullets down the length of the train. Olivia shoved Alex down one way and dove the other. The other passengers did the same. Olivia blessed their sensibility as she took careful aim, hitting the lead gunman in the torso twice. The other two were momentarily tangled up with his body; Olivia took advantage of the respite to slam open the other connecting door and shout for Alex to go. She followed, weaving the best she could in the tight space.

The two women were thrown to their knees as the train suddenly jerked underneath them. "Dammit, that was the emergency brake," said Olivia, scrambling to her feet. She gathered Alex up and they sprinted for the very end of the train, where Olivia shouldered open the emergency exit. Careful to avoid the third rail, they ran down the dimly lit subway tunnel, feet crunching over concrete and gravel. They heard other feet hit the ground behind them; both women picked up the pace considerably. Olivia skidded to a stop, grabbed Alex's arm to get her attention. She pointed to a side passage, Alex nodded breathlessly. They followed the smaller tunnel until they came to a rusting metal ladder bolted to the wall. An "emergency exit" sign pointed up. Alex went first, pushing aside grating to emerge into a hazy morning gloom. She leaned down to help Olivia out of the hole.

"Think we lost them?" asked Alex just as shouts echoed below them. She almost rolled her eyes. "Right."

Olivia led Alex away from the subway access hole at a fast clip. She pulled her cell phone out and dialed 911 as she ran. "This is Detective Olivia Benson, badge number four-four-oh-one-five, requesting backup at—" She squinted at the nearest street sign. "—71st Street, heading south on Lexington. I am being pursued by two armed gunmen—" She paused to listen to the operator. "No, the suspects are in pursuit of me. Armed—yes, two—dammit, just send all units in the area!" She snapped the phone shut in disgust and caught up to Alex. "Let's jaywalk," she panted, and gave Alex a push into the street.

Alex hastily jumped back to avoid a speeding BMW, then lurched forward again. She and Olivia leapfrogged across traffic, which was already hectic though the sun had not yet cleared the tops of the skyscrapers. Cars honked liberally at them, some braking hard to avoid the two disheveled women. The honking increased in volume. Olivia hoped the commotion would draw police to the area.

Closer at the moment, however, were the two shooters. They had evidently made good time from the subway tunnels and were close enough to start firing again. Chaos erupted; people ran screaming into the nearest buildings or simply pressed themselves flat to the ground, hands covering their heads.

Brick shattered at head height, the small shards shredding Alex's cheek. Olivia dragged her around the corner of the nearest building, pressed her against the wall so that they were face-to-face. She peered down the sidewalk long enough to snap off a shot. She checked her clip, counted three bullets, slammed it back into her weapon. Sirens started wailing in the distance.

Suddenly, Alex darted forward to kiss Olivia, their lips coming into contact for a fraction of a second. "Make 'em count," she told the surprised detective.

"Alex," said Olivia quickly, "I've been rethinking this witness protection thing, and I'm sorry I wasn't more supportive before." Shot one. "It's just that your safety comes first. Whatever we might share, your life is more important." Shot two. "I'll be there for you no matter what you decide, but after I take this last shot, I want you to start running in the direction of those police cars." Shot three. The gun clicked emptily. Olivia flipped the gun over so that she was holding it by the barrel, ready to use it as a club. "I love you," she told Alex, ticking off the seconds in her head.

The detective charged around the corner, promptly barreling into the nearest gunman, her shoulder aimed low to catch him in the gut. The second shooter pulled up short, hesitatant to fire while his companion was tangled with Olivia.

The detective cleared one arm, hauled back, and let loose with a left cross. The shooter dropped his gun, more from surprise than pain before burying his fist in Olivia's side. She let out an "oof," but kept her wits, bending over as she pretended to clutch her stomach. She drove up into the other man's solar plexus with her elbow, quickly following up with a sharp knee to the crotch. Olivia grabbed the lapels of his coat as he fell towards her and spun him around so that he stood between her and the second assailant, but her opponent recovered just enough to slam her up against the nearest wall. Her head cracked painfully against the brick; bright blobs of color burst across her vision. He smashed her head back again and Olivia went down.

As Olivia collapsed, Alex cried out and dodged across the sidewalk to grab the lost gun. Her finger jerked inexpertly on the trigger and her arm kicked up wildly from the recoil of each shot, but the two men scrambled for cover anyway. She ducked behind a parked car just as two blue-and-white sedans sped up to the curb in a cacophony of sirens. The officers came out of their cars shouting, using their vehicles for cover. "Put your hands up!" they yelled in concert. "Hands up!"

Alex immediately did so, tossing away her gun. She glanced at Olivia's unconscious body, bleeding by the look of it.

A third police cruiser stopped a short distance away and two more officers began bellowing at the remaining shooter to surrender. Seeing he was heavily outnumbered, he put his weapon down and sank to his knees. As soon as the only people left armed were police officers, they moved in. Alex was hauled roughly to her feet and placed in handcuffs. She wormed out of the officer's grip. "Someone help her!" Alex exclaimed, struggling to get back to the detective. "She needs an ambulance. She needs—" The officer shoved Alex into the back of a squad car as he read her her rights, pushing her head down under the edge of the roof. She stared helplessly through the window as the car drove away.

"The other guy we arrested isn't talking. We looked him up, though, and he's wanted on several felony crimes. Murder, possession with intent to sell, not to mention his association with an extremely unsavory fellow named Carlos Velez," said Rothford. "As for the man you shot, well—if he had any useful information, it's a moot point now."

Wallace scratched at a cut on her face. She had seen a medic long enough to get a casual-once over and some disinfectant on her open wounds before being hustled into this interrogation with the most blithely patient man she had ever met. "Is that what the other agent told you?" she asked.

"Yes," said Rothford.

"What about Detective Benson?"

Rothford saw real emotion in Wallace's features and was tempted to give the woman a little relief, but stuck to his polite hardball routine. "What about her?"

"Fine," Wallace snorted, trying to match Rothford's casual demeanor.

"Miss Wallace, I can't understand why you're being so uncooperative. I'm trying to help you," said Rothford. He knew he sounded honest; it was a talent that came naturally. But Wallace only scowled at him and withdrew deeper into her recalcitrance. "All right. But I don't know if I can—"

The door opened again, this time to admit a gaunt-looking woman with one arm in a sling.

"Can I help you?" asked Rothford, puzzled. Across the table, Wallace straightened, her eyes wide.

The woman held up a badge. "Claudia Williams. I'm with the Department of Justice." She walked to the table with measured, deliberate steps. "This interrogation is over. Miss Wallace is now in my custody."

Rothford opened his mouth to object, but his boss came in behind Williams, shaking his head. "All right then. I'm sure the DOJ has its reasons." He stood and looked at the woman he had been questioning for the past hour. "Miss Wallace, it was a pleasure," he said. He almost shook her hand, thought better of it, and left the room.

"Oh my God. I thought you were dead," said Alex, coming around the side of the table to join Williams.

"Just a flesh wound," said Williams. She escorted the blonde from the small room and its two-way mirror to a larger conference room.

"Where's Olivia?" Alex asked as she sat gratefully in the plush leather chair at the head of a long, polished table.

"Detective Benson is at the hospital. She has a concussion and they're keeping her for observation, but she's going to be fine," said Williams reassuringly.

"What about the other marshal, the man who helped Olivia and me?"

"Marshal Sweeney is in intensive care, but it looks like he'll make it. As for you, you'll need to stay here for a few days until we figure out how to safely transport you to a secure location."

"I'm starting to think such a thing doesn't exist," Alex sighed, slumping in her chair. "How does Velez keep finding me?"

Williams sat down to Alex's right. "We think he's been watching Detective Benson ever since you left New York. Your 'death' didn't fool him, and he knew that if his first attempt on you failed, you might return to the city for help. He's a very smart man," she explained grimly.

"Then what was the point of witness protection in the first place?" asked Alex, exasperated.

Williams held up her hands, mollifying. "We didn't know it at the time. Velez has probably had men on the inside since before you popped on his radar, but he's never felt the need to use them until now. Especially now."

Alex cocked her head, gave Williams an inquiring look. "Why?"

"The men Velez sent after you are ready to testify against him. We have enough to extradite him and he knows it. His business and his reputation are on the line, and if he doesn't clean house he's going to lose his New York base of operations, which we figure brings in approximately three-point-six million US during a good year." She scooted her chair closer to the edge of the table to get closer to Alex. "Things are moving very quickly here, Miss Cabot; the Department of Justice is barely managing to tread water. I'm warning you now that the next few weeks are going to very messy."

Alex twisted in her chair for a few moments before she replied, "What do I have to do?"

Friday morning, and his partner was still absent. Elliot tapped his pen on his disk, a continuous staccato that eventually drove Munch to throw a wadded up ball of paper in his direction. "I realize we haven't seen your erstwhile partner going on three days straight, but I and everyone in this squadroom are of the opinion that you should simply go find her rather than drive the rest of us batty," expounded Munch.

Elliot waved a hand, feigning casualness. "It's just a bad cold. She's coming to the twins' birthday party this…weekend…" His voice trailed off as Cragen marched out of his office.

"Everyone should watch this," Cragen announced, turning on the TV stashed to one side of the room.

The screen came into focus in the middle of the police commissioner's speech. "—that all parties involved in the shooting have been apprehended and are in custody. I would like to reassure the people of New York City that this incident was not a terrorist action, but a local gang dispute that escalated into violence. The NYPD, in conjunction with the FBI, has the situation well in hand. I ask our citizens to aid local law enforcement by remaining calm. We will release more information as it is forthcoming." He was immediately hit with a barrage of flashbulbs and camera lights and clamoring reporters.

"Where was this?" asked Elliot.

"On Lexington, early this morning. Here's the real clincher," said Cragen, pointing to the TV as a reporter replaced the commissioner. He segued into a tape of the arrest, a typical tourist recording sold to the highest bidder—grainy and shaky, with a lot of inexpert zooming.

"I don't get—" began Munch until Cragen cut him off. The captain jabbed his finger at the screen, where two uniforms were hustling a bloody woman into a squad car.

"Shit," Fin drawled.

Elliot stared at Alex Cabot as she was arrested and driven away. The camera swung back to the crime scene, where a woman was slumped over behind a row of cars. "Tell me that's not Olivia," he breathed.

Cragen's phone began ringing. He jogged back to his office and snatched the receiver off its cradle. Minutes later he came back, the furrow in his forehead deeper than usual. "Elliot, you need to head over to St. Vincent's. Olivia is in the emergency room."

Elliot was already grabbing his coat and car keys. "What happened? Was she shot?"

"Head wound; apparently it's not bad, but she keeps trying to check herself out. Get her to see some reason," said Cragen.

"Let her know we're here for here," Munch called after the departing detective.

"Sir, may I ask what your business here is?" asked the officer stationed outside of Olivia's room.

Elliot practically shoved his badge in the uniform's face. "Detective Stabler," he said impatiently as he barged past the other man. His partner was sitting up in her bed, scrabbling with a nurse over the IV taped to her arm. "Liv," he said loudly to get her attention.

"Get me out of here, Elliot," she said desperately. She slapped the nurse's hands away.

"Actually, I have orders to keep you here," said Elliot, grinning broadly with relief. "It's all right," he told the nurse, gently moving her towards the door. She left, looking fairly indignant.

Olivia blew a long sigh out of one side of her mouth. "I can't be stuck here. There's…something I gotta take care of."

"You mean Alex?" Elliot supplied. Olivia looked away guiltily as he sat next to the bed. "When were you going to tell me?"

"I wasn't," admitted Olivia. She looked pleadingly at him. "You saw what happened today. It was too dangerous."

"That should've been for me to decide," said Elliot as mildly as his hurt would let him speak. He pointed to the thick white bandages wound around her head. "Might've helped to prevent that."

"Or you might've ended up in the morgue with Kathy coming down to identify your body," Olivia argued.

"I understand," said Elliot at last. He folded his hands together and placed them on the bed. "I know you were just looking out for me. Thank you."

Relieved, Olivia threw back her covers. "Come on. I know you want to see Cabot." She almost made it to her feet before vertigo sent her reeling. Her last meal crept up her esophagus.

"Easy there," said Elliot, quick to support her. "Cabot can wait. You need to stay here until you can make it to the door without passing out."

Resigned to her temporary weakness, Olivia finally settled into the uncomfortable mattress. "Do me a favor?" she asked.

"Anything short of busting you out."

"See how Alex is doing for me. Let her know I'm holed up in this place."

"Do you know where she is?" asked Elliot.

"That's just it," said Olivia anxiously. "I don't know anything. The last thing I remember we were running down Lexington. After that…" She gave a minimal shrug. "Find out for me?"

"I will," Elliot promised.

It had taken two hours of phone calls, a few strong-arm tactics, and even more finessing, but Elliot had finally managed to arrange a meeting with a Department of Justice official who had agreed to clear everything up for him. He was led to an office in a nondescript federal building where he waited patiently for twenty minutes.

"Detective Stabler, fancy seeing you here," said Claudia Williams, standing just inside the door.

Elliot stared at her. "I wasn't aware you were involved with any of this."

"Can't get more involved than getting shot," said Williams, indicating her bandaged arm. She motioned for Elliot to follow her and led him down a maze of hallways to another bland room. "I figure you're here for Miss Cabot."

"Among other things," said Elliot, glancing around. "Where is she?"

"Sleeping. It's been a long day for her."

Elliot prompted the prosecutor. "How so?"

"Running from a drug lord will exhaust a girl," said Williams smoothly.

"Velez," Elliot interpreted.

Williams nodded. "He's got several men placed inside the DOJ. We are, of course, investigating thoroughly."

"What about Velez?"

"Extradition is in the works," said Williams.

"Then you can release Cabot."

She hesitated. "Not right away. His organization is in turmoil right now, but a revenge hit is probably high on his to-do list."

"But once he's extradited…?"

"No guarantees," said Williams. "But tentatively, I'd say Miss Cabot is on the way to getting her life back."

Two days later


"Dammit, where the hell are my pants? I had pants when I came in here."

"I'm sure you did, detective, but you shouldn't even be up—" The doctor jumped back as Olivia waved her shirt at him.

"You can't keep me here. I'll sign your damn papers, but I'm checking out," she growled.

"Detective, please—"

"Pants!" she barked at him, and he scurried out.

Elliot sent an amused glance after the doctor as he sauntered in. "You know, the squad betting pool said you would bust your way out yesterday. I lost twenty bucks."

"Did you bring the clothes?" Olivia demanded. He handed her a duffel bag with things he had collected from her apartment. Gratefully, she took it, drew the curtain around her bed, and started getting dressed.

"I also have instructions not to take you home," Elliot informed his partner's silhouette.

"You can tell Cragen the only way he's keeping me from working is by arresting me because—"

"The order didn't come from Cragen. He's expecting you tomorrow at nine am sharp."

"I'm confused," said Olivia as she stepped away from the curtains, looking relieved to be in jeans again. "Where are we going?"

Elliot smirked at her. "Let's go. I'll buy you a burger on the way."

One fast-food stop later, they pulled up in the Crown Vic to a tall, non-descript, concrete building.

"This is a federal building," said Olivia.

"I noticed that."

"Why are we at a federal building?"

Elliot got out of the car and, for the first time Olivia could remember, opened the door for her. "I just thought we'd crash any office parties we find." He led her past the receptionist, into an elevator, to a small room on the ninth floor. A table and chairs had been set up, with a pitcher of water and glasses sitting in the middle of the table. It was a depressingly standard interview room.

"Is this the part where everyone jumps out and yells 'surprise'?" asked Olivia, the combination of concussion and painkillers making her feel grumpy and out of sorts. She turned as a side door opened, expecting an interfering federal agent. Her eyes widened fractionally.

"Hey," said Alex shyly, something neither detective had ever seen from the forthright blonde.

"Hey," said Olivia. She stuck her hands in her pockets to keep them from running through her hair; she kept forgetting and messing up her bandages. The two women avoided looking at each other until Elliot spoke up.

"I'm just gonna…go…" he said, pointing to the door. "I'll be right outside."

"Is this were you've been the past few days?" Olivia asked when Elliot was safely out of earshot. She trusted him to understand her relationship with Alex but couldn't speak freely with anyone else present, partner or not. Some things were just personal.

"I've got a cot in an unused office. I could show you, if you like. You could help me pick out some nice wallpaper," said Alex with weary good nature.

"It's a bit early for that, don't you think?" Olivia teased uncertainly, inching closer to Alex, then pausing, unsure of how to relate to the other woman. From what she had managed to piece together on her own, the concussion had erased a few things from her memory, but no one had been able to confirm this theory. Judging from the lack of big gaps, she hoped that she had only lost the few minutes leading up to the concussion.

"I would never ask you to live in a taupe fifteen by fifteen room, detective."

"How long do you have to stay here?"

Alex shrugged, déjà vu momentarily catching her off guard as she flashed back to her last night as Alex Cabot and her first as Sarah Wallace. "I haven't been told much, just that we've managed to piss off a drug lord—again—and that there's a standing hit hanging over my head. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine."

Olivia nodded in resignation. Silence settled uncomfortably in the small, drab room.

"I'm staying in the city," Alex blurted out.

"What? Alex, no," said Olivia, starting forward again.

"They won't move me again. It's too much of a security risk," said Alex, trying to head Olivia off before she built up steam. She added stubbornly, "It's my decision. I don't expect you to endanger yourself by being around me, but this is where I stop running."

"I don't care if every mob boss in New York is after you; if this is what you want, I'll stick with you," said Olivia.

She said it so honestly and without any hint of blustering that Alex felt her heart melting, and she laughed. Off of Olivia's slightly wounded look, Alex told her, "You sound like a hero." She smiled. "Which is fitting, since you are one. Mine, anyway."

Seeing the humor, Olivia smiled back. "Just yours?"

"I don't know. How many people have you rescued lately?"

"Well, I saw a beautiful woman in distress. I had to do something."

Alex blushed, and conversation ground to a halt again, replaced by low humming from the ventilation system.

"So…" Olivia kicked herself as she frantically sought out a new topic. She had spent the last two days wallowing in her hospital bed thinking up reunion scenarios and here she was trying to piece together a coherent sentence.

Luckily enough, Alex jumped in on her own. "So…I received a call from Arthur Branch. Everyone knows the truth; our little escapade got caught on tape. It's all very scandalous, especially for the DA's office."

Olivia smirked at that. "Think they'll have you back?"

"Perhaps. I don't know if I would accept the offer, though." She hugged herself lightly. "I don't know much for sure right now."

"Well, that's all right," said Olivia.

"Hmm," said Alex, deliberately remaining vague.

"Let's just get this out of the way," said Olivia suddenly. Two large steps brought her within inches of Alex. She slid one hand down Alex's arm to weave their fingers together, used the other to gently clasp the back of Alex's neck. Alex's eyes fluttered shut as Olivia slowly kissed her. She wrapped her arms around Olivia's waist and drew her closer, opening her mouth under Olivia's gentle pressure. Almost playfully, Olivia nipped at Alex's lower lip before withdrawing. "That wasn't so bad, was it?" the detective murmured.

"It was all right," said Alex, trying to suppress a cheek-splitting smile. "Considering you're so head-over-heels in love with me."

Olivia blinked, loosened her grip on the other woman. "I…" She searched Alex's face curiously. "Did I…tell you that?" So much for only losing a few minutes.

"Oh my God," said Alex, withdrawing from Olivia completely. "You don't—I'm sorry." She covered her mouth with both hands, appalled.

"I don't what?"

"In the alley, when we were being chased. You told me that you loved me," said Alex. Her heart sank as she saw the genuine confusion in Olivia's eyes. "I shouldn't have said anything." She began turning away from the detective.

"No," said Olivia, catching Alex's wrist. "You're right." This time the kiss was more forceful, her passion sweeping aside all of Alex's uncertainties.

"Do you remember now?" said Alex at last.

"I have a concussion," said Olivia. "Give me time."

Part 2

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