DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE Who's that private [beta] who's a sex machine with all the chicks? mikee_pm! Can ya dig it? (That mikee_pm is one baaaad mutha--shut yo' mouth!)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Lost and Found
By captain_sam

Part Two
A Call to Arms

"An intense feeling carries with it its own universe, magnificent or wretched as the case may be." – Albert Camus

"Follow your heart, and you perish." – Margaret Laurence

"Get to see Alex this weekend?" Elliot asked while he and his partner waited for an erstwhile Munch and Fin. His steady gaze was focused on the building across the street where their suspect was doing his laundry, blissfully unaware that he was about to be arrested for multiple rapes.

"No," said Olivia. She sighed and scratched idly at the healing wound at the back of her head. She had just been allowed to take off her dressings a few days ago. The tightly-wrapped gauze had made her hair stick out oddly and, when not fussing over her, Elliot had made fun of her to no end. Shampooing was still a tender process. "She's buttoned up tight in there. And I can't show up out of the blue. It looks suspicious."

"Well, maybe I should have a word with Claudia about visitation. It's making you tense."

"I am not tense."

"You seem a little tense."


"Hold on. Looks like he's done sorting and folding," said Elliot. He tilted his wrist to read his watch. "We can't wait for those two." He and Olivia got out of the car and approached the laundromat at a brisk pace. "Joseph Tarses?" he called out.

Tarses took one look at the approaching detectives, threw his clothes at Elliot, and bolted. In a timely entrance, Munch and Fin pulled up in a dark sedan to cut off his escape at the end of the block. Tarses skidded to a stop and cut to the right, where Olivia was waiting for him. Running tangent to Tarses, she sprinted directly into his path, crouched low as their bodies intersected, then used the strength of her legs to shoot up, flipping Tarses like a hockey player. He crashed to the pavement, where Olivia practically dived on him, cuffs ready. "Joseph Tarses, you are under arrest," she barked, ratcheting the cuffs closed until she felt skin pinching.

Elliot jogged up to his partner as she hauled a dazed Tarses to his feet.

"What?" said Olivia, breathing lightly through her mouth.

Elliot brushed a sock off of his shoulder, sniffed, and stared at her.

"So I'm a little tense," she snarled.

Alex Cabot paced in her tiny, temporary room. One of the marshals newly assigned to her detail watched her from the doorway. "Hey, Miss Cabot. You seem…"

"Tense?" she supplied. Twelve steps one way, and twelve steps back.


"No, I'm definitely tense," said Alex. Twelve steps, thirty-two laps by her count. If she figured her stride to be about two-and-a-half feet, and a mile had about 5200 feet… Alex performed a quick burst of mental arithmetic and arrived at a depressing answer. Grimly, she stuck with the calculations, trying to remember high-school lessons long past.

"Miss Cabot…"

"You can call me Alex," she said, trying not to sound like she was being generous. She was tired of being "ma'am-ed" and "miss-ed" every time she spoke to someone.

"Uh, Alex," said the marshal, almost tripping over her name. "If you don't mind my asking, are you okay? I mean, uh, I mean, obviously, not in any traditional sense of the word, uh…" He looked positively flustered now. "Never mind."

"What's your name?" Alex asked, stopping in the middle of the room. The fresh-faced young man had arrived at her door yesterday, taking the morning shift of her round-the-clock guard.

"Ian McAllister," he said automatically, as if he were answering a teacher.

That gave Alex pause. She certainly wasn't old enough to be treated like—well, like an older woman. She fixed Ian with her gaze. "How long have you been a U.S. Marshal, Ian?"

He glanced sideways nervously. "Eighteen months, ma'am."

She tried not to flinch at his deferential tone. "Have you ever worked in the Witness Protection Program?" she asked.

"No. You're my first assignment." His eyes widened as he saw Alex's eyebrow go up. "I mean, that is to say, you're the first woman—er, person—I've been asked to—but you shouldn't worry that I'm…" He gave up, looking cutely pathetic as only a young man fresh out of training could.

"Can you do me favor?" Alex asked as sweetly as possible.

"Sure," said Ian.

"Let me make a phone call."

"Oh, well, anything but that, Miss—er—Alex. I can't let you," he said, looking disappointed that he couldn't do what she wanted.

Alex hoped he wasn't developing a Mrs. Robinson complex, but at the same time, she needed to call Olivia, and this young man was the only thing stopping her. She turned on the charm full-blast. "I have to make this call, Ian. I'll keep it short, I promise." She gave him the most genuine smile she could muster. "Please," she added.

His face crumpled and he handed over his cell phone dumbly.

Calmly, Alex took it, dialed the number from memory, and waited for Olivia to pick up. "Thank you," she mouthed at him. He blushed.

To Alex's disappointment, Olivia's voice messaging picked up. An automated voice told her, "You have reached the phone of," and then Olivia's voice inserted "Olivia Benson." Alex hung up.

"Sorry," said Ian, taking back his phone.

"So am I," Alex muttered.

"Joseph, it's over!" said Elliot, clapping his hands loudly in Tarses' face. Opposite Tarses, Fin smirked silently at him.

"What're you laughing at, mook?" sneered Tarses.

Like a veteran, Fin didn't react to the racial provocation. "How tall are you? Six-three?" he asked instead.

"Six-four," said Tarses defensively.

"About 170, 175?" Fin continued.

Tarses flexed unconsciously. "I'm 183 and in better condition than you'll ever be. What's your point?"

Fin barked out a laugh. "Detective Benson flipped you like a little girl." Standing behind Tarses, Elliot snickered cruelly.

"Bitch came out of nowhere," said Tarses, a hint of whine making his voice rise. "If I'd seen her coming—"

"But you didn't, did you Joseph?" said Elliot, leaning over Tarses closely. "Wham, bam, thank-you-ma'am. You went down hard. What's Benson, Fin? She five-eight?"

"I'd say five-seven," said Fin. "And she ain't no cow, either. She's just more of a man than you, Joseph, but that's not saying much."

"Listen to the two of you; you're both pussywhipped," said Tarses scornfully. "And for what? Some dyke cop?"

"Well, now that you mention it, I saw this waitress giving her the eye last week," said Elliot thoughtfully, letting the implication dangle. He sat on the edge of the table, stared down at Tarses. "You don't get asked out much, do you, Joseph?"

Behind the two-way glass, Olivia's jaw dropped. "No one, male or female, has been giving me 'the eye'," she said, glancing at the assembled group. She studied her boss closely for any signs of a reaction.

Cragen remained carefully blank, but Casey's eyebrows skyrocketed and Munch outright scoffed at her. "Last week when we canvassed the bars in Midtown you got two phone numbers." He peered at her over the rim of his glasses. "Did you ever give the lovely Patricia a call as promised?"

Olivia opened her mouth to unleash a severe comeback when a uniform knocked on the door frame. Her mouth closed with a click of teeth; she was not about to air out her personal business in front of a uniform with a wagging tongue. "Detective Benson, your cell phone's ringing."

"It's just an interrogation tactic," she informed Munch sternly before marching out of the observation area.

"Really? Two numbers?" said Casey after she'd left.

At her desk, Olivia snatched up her phone just as it stopped ringing. She checked her caller ID in a mild state of exasperation, saw that the number was local, and punched "dial."

"Hello?" The voice was unfamiliar. He sounded young.

"This is Detective Benson, NYPD. I just received a call from this number," she explained.

"Oh, you're—just let me—" Fumbling sounds, then a muffled, "It's for you."

"Hello?" asked a different voice this time.

"Alex?" said Olivia, surprised. "Are you okay?"

"It's really very good to hear your voice right now," said Alex, relief evident in her voice.

"So you say," said Olivia, alternately concerned and amused. "What's up?"

"They won't let me leave," Alex hissed. "I offered to sign a waiver, but Williams has got me locked down in what has got to be the most drab federal building I have ever had the misfortune to spend time in. Apparently, I'm a liability."

"I thought taupe was supposed to be soothing," said Olivia.

"Don't tease me."

"Really? I thought you liked—"

"Hush. Is there any possibility that you could fight your way here soon?" asked Alex. She hated to sound so plaintive, but there was no avoiding it. She almost wanted Olivia to know how desperate she was. They had left a lot unspoken during Olivia's first and, as it turned out, last visit.

"I'll try, but they're not letting many people in, regardless of business," said Olivia regretfully.

"Tell them you're my booty call."

Olivia spluttered, ignored the looks she got as she exclaimed, "Your what?"

"I have to go," said Alex. "Please, I just…" Her voice lowered significantly, as if she didn't want to be overheard. "I really need to see you."

Olivia rejoined the small group in observation just in time to catch the tail end of Elliot's question.

"—that you're a bottom, Joseph?"

"The emasculation is right on schedule," Munch informed her, not quite gleeful.

"I'm starting to have a hard time believing you were responsible for any of these," said Elliot, throwing a small stack of eight-by-tens in front of Tarses. They fanned across the tabletop, stopped from sliding off the edge by Tarses as he stared down at them. "The guy who did this overpowered his vics. You got taken down by a woman, Joseph. A woman." He clucked his tongue.

"How do you think that's gonna go over in Rikers?" Fin asked rhetorically, leaning back in his chair.

"Rikers? What?" said Tarses.

"Resisting arrest is a big no-no for a parolee, Joseph," said Elliot. He pulled a chair out, turned it around, and sat down, leaning over the back edge with a genial smile. "You remember how they treat sissies in Rikers, don't you?"

"Word spreads through the genpop, you get a rep for being easy meat…" Fin shrugged.

"You're not allowed to do that," said Tarses, his surly façade slipping. The beginnings of flopsweat beaded on his hairline.

"Watch me," said Elliot, and the expression on his face was almost predatory.

Tarses inhaled noisily. "What do you want?"

"You know what we want," said Elliot. "Just tell us about the rapes. Who really raped these women, Joseph? Tell us, and we'll let you keep your, ah, good name."

Tarses swiped at the photos, sending them flying in Elliot's face. "I fucking did it!" he snapped. He stood up quickly enough to knock his chair backwards.

"Whoa, easy, easy," cautioned Elliot, approaching Tarses with his hands open.

"Easy my ass, that's a confession," said Fin, starting towards the agitated suspect.

"Fuck you," Tarses screamed. Table followed chair as he exerted his considerable brawn. Fin and Elliot dived on him from opposite sides, grabbing an arm each. Tarses howled and collapsed to the concrete floor as Fin kneed him in the crotch.

"We'll just tack on assaulting two police officers and send you up, then," said Elliot, kneeling hard on Tarses' back.

Fin crouched down in front of the prostrate man, tilted his head to look at him in the eye. "Names, Joseph. Names."

He mumbled something incoherent, abruptly squealing as Elliot used a knee to selectively apply pressure along his ribs. "I had a list!"

Elliot relaxed slightly. "Tell us about the list."

"One blonde, couple of brunettes," said Tarses, his words coming out tightly from being sandwiched between detective and floor. "I got paid. Five grand per bitch."

"Paid? Paid by whom?" asked Elliot, resisting the urge to shove Tarses' face through the floor.

Tarses remained silent until Elliot starting leaning into him again, forcing out a strangled sentence. "It's out of your league, detective."

"All right, that's it," said Fin. At his insistence, Elliot stood up, dragging Tarses with him. Together, the two detectives backed the suspect into a corner.

"Am I the only one who's glad that this whole alpha male thing is only an act?" asked Munch rhetorically.

"You think we're a couple of punks?" asked Fin, his bulldog jowls drawn down in a glower. "Is that what you think, little punk-ass bitch?" He slapped Tarses on the side of the head, the smack of skin on skin echoing thinly. Hard enough to sting but light enough not to leave a mark, it was almost condescending in its delivery. "Why don't you let us figure out what we can and can't handle?"

"I'm going to pretend I didn't see all that," noted Casey.

At this, Tarses seemed to stop shrinking back into the wall. As if the proverbial light bulb had just graced him with its light, he said slyly, "All right. As long as you understand that I can't be held responsible for anything that might happen."

"Didn't I just tell you not to worry?" said Fin confidently.

Elliot picked up an overturned chair, turning it to receive Tarses as Fin grabbed him by his shirt lapels and gave him a light shove in the right direction. Elliot spoke directly into his ear. "Who gave you the list, Joseph?"

Tarses faked a huge sigh, his shoulders heaving. "All right. This guy, he deals at a club I like. I don't buy his product, you know, but I see him around. Anyway, I suppose he heard I have a reputation with the ladies, so one night he tells me he'll make me a rich man if I just take care of a couple of bitches who've been hassling him. He gives me a list, one grand cash advance, and I do it."

"Name," Elliot drawled in Tarses' ear.

"He just went by Al. No last names," said Tarses smugly. He glanced up at Elliot. "But I can give you a description and a bunch of crap with his fingerprints all over it."

"If this pans out, we got enough for a search warrant?" Cragen asked, turning to Casey.

"Probably," she said, looking thoughtful. "But see if you can catch him in the act, just to be sure."

"God, I hate these high-class stings. You know, why do I always have to be the single woman trolling for a date every time we go undercover in places like this?" Olivia complained into her mic. She could just imagine Munch and Fin smirking at each other. She looked down at her seltzer and lime with a grimace, poured conspicuously in a martini glass. It was her third fake drink and her bladder was starting to get restless. "I'm gonna hit the ladies' room," she said. She drained the last of the seltzer, swiped her purse off the bartop, and put a little wobble in her step as she headed for the bathroom, passing her smartly-dressed partner on the way.

"Oh, yeah. She's working it," Elliot reported from his corner. He glared at a woman who looked like she wanted to sit with him; she veered off to try her luck elsewhere.

"Think our friend 'Al' is even going to show up tonight?" Munch asked, sipping his coffee. He glanced again at the photo of Alfonso Toscar generated by their fingerprint search.

"You heard Joseph. Thinks he's sending us straight into a trap," said Fin. He slapped Munch on the shoulder and gestured for the thermos. "Hey, man, don't hog that."

"Elliot, are you sure Liv's putting out as much as possible?" Munch asked, passing his partner the oblong container.

Elliot rolled his eyes and didn't answer.

Olivia came back, tripping up to the bar and asking for another seltzer in a martini glass. She tipped the bartender generously, making sure to flash the stack of currency in her small handbag. He perked up as he glimpsed the thick wad of bills, taking her money with a fleeting smile.

"Heads up, I think our friendly barkeep is about to make the deal for us," said Olivia. She watched as the aproned figure scuttled to the other end of the bar, whispered something in another man's ear, and jerked his head none too subtly in Olivia's direction. "Looks like our boy," she murmured, masking the communication with a casual sip of her drink.

"I can confirm—it's Toscar," said Elliot.

Toscar slid something over the counter for the barkeep before sidling over to Olivia's little corner. "Good evening," he purred, his voice a deep rumble. "May I join you?"

Olivia smiled brightly at him. "Of course."

"My name is Alfonso. I have never seen such a beautiful woman alone in this place," he schmoozed.

"Is this guy for real?" said Fin.

"I'm Donna," said Olivia, mentally reminding herself to strike that name from consideration should she ever have a child. "And I did have a date, but…" She pretended to glance around. "…he ditched me."

"Ooh," said Munch, looking stung. "She's milking this for all it's worth."

"No," said Toscar, feigning surprise badly.

"Yeah, I don't know where he is," said Olivia miserably. She tossed back the rest of the seltzer, opened her mouth to order another.

"No, please, allow me." Toscar waved at the bartender. "Sir, another for the beautiful lady. On my tab." The bartender played it up, winking at Toscar before turning away to pour drinks. "So, Don-na," he said, stretching her name out beyond reason. "You have the look of a woman who could enjoy this city immensely, if only given the opportunity."

"Oh yeah?" said Olivia, trying to sound sufficiently charmed by Toscar's ham-fisted attempts at subtlety. "What opportunity is that?"

"The right entertainment, dear lady. And for you, the right entertainment is not in this lonely club."

As Toscar left a slimy trail of saliva on her neck, Olivia found herself wishing for the umpteenth time that her dress left some room for a gun. As it were, she only had a small canister of police-issue mace in her handbag. They were in a back booth of a rather swank eating establishment where Toscar was apparently well-known, and he had taken the liberty of ordering a bottle of red wine from the "private stock." Luckily, there was a potted ficus close by, and she periodically emptied her glass into its soil whenever Toscar looked away.

"Ah, Donna," he whispered, murmuring something in Spanish obviously meant to add to the seduction attempt.

Parked in front of the restaurant, Munch and Fin snorted into their coffee. "What did he just say?" asked Munch, wiping off the steering wheel.

"Sounded like, 'Your face is made of beef' or something," said Fin.

Olivia had also picked up on the nonsensical words and was biting her tongue in an effort not to laugh out loud. She kept hinting at what she—what a woman like Donna—wanted, giving Toscar plenty of rope to hang himself, but he seemed intent on taking his time. "I'm sorry, Alfonso, all this time I've just been going on and on about myself. What do you do?" she asked, doing her level best not to squirm away from his touch.

"Ah," he said, withdrawing slightly. "I am a private businessman. I work here in the city."

"Doing what?"

"Imports and exports, mainly," he said, looking at her a little more closely, as if really assessing her for the first time.

"Oh, that sounds like so much fun. I like to travel a lot, and I usually pick up souvenirs wherever I go," she said.

"Really? Have you ever been to South America?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah, keep talking, baby," said Fin.

"Yes, several times," said Olivia, sensing where the conversation was leading. She tugged Toscar a little further in the right direction. "Do you import from there?"

"You could say this. Mostly from Colombia. It is beautiful country down there, Donna."

"Well, Colombia has a lot of…valuable…resources to offer the United States," said Olivia, looking Toscar directly in the eyes.

He blinked, mildly surprise by her suddenly forthright demeanor. "I suppose," he said slowly. "Artwork, cuisine…"

"Recreation," Olivia supplied in a breathy voice.

Toscar's eyes narrowed at the same time his lips drew back in open amusement. "One of us is not saying what we mean to say."

"Oh, God," Olivia exclaimed, flopping back in the booth, lower lip protruding in a pout. "The people here are so boring. The clubs and the charity lunches are boring. This city is boring." She ran one finger under Toscar's chin. "You know how to have fun, though. Don't you, Alfonso?"

"What have you heard about me?" he asked, looking pleased.

"Some friends of mine from the club tell me you're the man to see when you're a bored single girl with cash to unload," said Olivia.

"Which friends are these?"

This was the tough part: convincing Toscar that she wasn't exactly who she was. Fortunately for her, Narcotics had done a little reconnaissance and dug up several of Toscar's repeat customers. Olivia dropped their names immediately. "Patricia. Allison. Over on the Upper East Side. You know; your regulars."

"Yes, Allison, she likes me very much," said Toscar. His face loomed in Olivia's peripheral vision as he nuzzled her ear. "But I like you, Donna. And because I like you, I will help to relieve your boredom." He reached into his coat pocket. Olivia tensed, tried to turn the tightening of her shoulders into an expression of excitement as Toscar withdrew a small plastic baggie. He held it between his pointer and middle fingers, dangling it just below table-height.

Olivia eyed the bag. "Where did you get that?" she breathed.

"Try it. You won't be disappointed."

Olivia scooted out of the booth and made her way to the bathroom, weaving a little as she went. She bypassed the toilet completely, went instead for the back entrance. She opened the door to find Elliot lurking in the alley behind the restaurant. "Come on in," she said. The two of them headed back to Toscar, who was pouring himself another glass of wine and humming quietly.

"Alfonso Toscar?" said Elliot.

"Donna, who is this?" asked Toscar, setting the wine bottle aside.

"I'm her date," said Elliot. "Now get up."

"He wishes," said Munch, getting out of the car with Fin to take Elliot's place.

Toscar stood. "Sir, I must insist that you leave. The lady is here with me."

"The lady is arresting you for drug possession and facilitating rape," said Olivia, pushing a stunned Toscar against the nearest wall. He didn't resist as Elliot handcuffed him and patted him down. Together, the partners led him back the way they came, to the waiting Munch and Fin.

"This is entrapment," Toscar finally protested as Fin pushed him backwards into the Crown Vic.

"Look at this way, Al. Your last night as a free man, and you got to spend it with a beautiful woman," said Munch before the door slammed shut. Olivia promptly punched him in the arm. He gave her a wounded look as he rubbed his tender bicep. "What was that for?"

"Don't encourage him," said Olivia, ripping off her high heels as she followed Elliot to their car.

"Not a very smart man," said Elliot, turning away from the two-way glass.

Casey regarded Toscar a moment longer with arms akimbo. "And he just produced the drugs. Just like that."

"Well, not 'just like that'. He took some convincing," said Elliot.

"I'll say," muttered Munch.

"What was that?" Olivia asked loudly as she entered the observation room, hooded jacket pulled over her black dress, stocking feet shoved in a pair of trainers. Munch shut his mouth, his lips twisting into yet another smirk.

Very discreetly, Casey sneaked a peek at the detective's legs before turning back to the pending interrogation. "A confession on ordering the assaults would be nice. Anything else pertaining to the drugs, we turn over to Narcotics."

"What? No," said Olivia immediately. "This is our bust. I did not let that guy drool on me just so Narcotics could step in and ride our hard work to the finish line."

Casey's nostrils flared impatiently. "We've already stepped all over their toes. I'd prefer not to have to deal with their very crabby ADAs," she said. She tipped her head at Toscar. "Just get whatever you can out of him."

Olivia scratched her leg idly as she finished running through the DD-5. She hated wearing pantyhose, especially the control-top into which she had struggled to smooth out the lines of her rather snug silk dress. It wasn't strictly her dress; it belonged to the NYPD, and it had been custom-made for a narcotics officer with a more willowy frame than hers. The important thing was that the cut was low across her chest and dipped down to reveal the small of her back; rich and revealing was the key combination for attracting Toscar's attention. An unfortunate side effect manifested itself in far too many wolf whistles as she and Elliot escorted Toscar through the sixteenth precinct.

She would have preferred to interrogate Toscar herself, but he was more than likely feeling a bit betrayed. Munch and Fin were no doubt working him over—

"Olivia, I think you'd better listen to this."

She looked up from the paperwork. Elliot beckoned to her and she rose, following him to Interrogation One. Cragen made room for her at the two-way and turned up the intercom's volume slightly.

"What's this about?" she asked.

Elliot hooked a thumb at Toscar. "He just confessed."

"It's about time. They've been in there for hours," said Olivia, sounding satisfied. "Why'd you need me for that?"

Cragen picked up the thread. "Toscar's employer is a man named Estoban Gallego. He runs a lot of the business on the Upper East Side."

The connections were already clicking into place in Olivia's mind as Elliot told her, "Guess which part of the Upper East Side."

"Velez?" Olivia intuited, gaping at her partner. He nodded. She turned to Cragen, excitement already building in her voice. "Captain, we have to bring in Narcotics."

His brow furrowed at her u-turn. "I'm all for interdepartmental cooperation, but I thought you wanted this one."

"We have to throw everything we've got at Velez this time," said Olivia firmly. "We can use Toscar, follow him up the ladder. The Department of Justice already wants to crack down on him. We bring in Narc and the DEA, attack him as many ways as possible."

"Olivia, I want you to just step back for a moment," said Cragen, calmly in command. He was doing his level to best to curb her call to arms, but he had a feeling subtle wasn't going to do the job. The stakes were just too high for her, and that had him worried. "We're Special Victims, not Major Felonies. I know you want Velez bad, but our first duty is to get Toscar on the rapes."

"Velez enabled him to pay off Joseph Tarses. His entire organization is responsible," Olivia argued, making a sweeping gesture with one hand.

"Captain," Elliot began, fully intending to back his partner on this one.

Cragen held up a single finger, silencing the detectives around him. "I will check with Novak. Check," he repeated, the warning clear.

Resigned to the compromise, Elliot and Olivia relaxed slightly, the argumentative tension leaving the set of their shoulders. Olivia turned to the two-way, watching Toscar scribble on a legal pad.

"Looks like he's writing a novel in there," commented Elliot, folding his arms as he stood next to Olivia.

"I think I'm gonna like reading it," she murmured.

"Let me get this straight. You arrested Joseph Tarses for the rapes, which led you to Alfonso Toscar, who gave up Estoban Gallego, who is actually a lieutenant for Cesar Velez, wanted Colombian drug lord?" Casey put her pen down and looked expectantly at Captain Cragen, daring him to tell her it was all just a joke.


"And you want me to bring in the big guns?"

"Relatively big guns, yes," said Cragen.

Casey folded her hands together. "As you know, Narcotics isn't a problem. But if you want federal support, I'll have to run it by Branch first. You know he'll want to coordinate press on this."

Cragen felt a twitch of irritation, but quickly forced himself to be professional. She was doing things properly to prevent snags later on. "Try and expedite this, huh, counselor?" he said on his way out of the office.

"Captain," she said, stopping him just outside of the doorway. "I know what's at stake here. You can count on me," she told him.

Cragen gave her a tiny nod, barely perceptible acknowledgement, and then was gone. Casey watched the tail end of his trench coat flow out of sight before she reached for her phone. "Alice, hi. Can you pencil me in to meet with Branch?"

Alex had given up on pacing. Though she took some small, sadistic pleasure in driving the shit out of her security detail with the repetition, she begrudgingly stilled when Tim, the day shift, brought her lunch. She picked over her chicken peccata, normally a favorite. Her stomach gave a twinge at the memory of Olivia's beef stew-in-a-can. It was bachelor food, just like everything else Olivia ate. It had been disheartening, sneaking a peek at the detective's stores of canned food and frozen dinners. There was the odd take-out container, a few home-cooked leftovers—all things that Olivia could zap in the microwave and eat in front of the television.

She would give anything to be gnawing her way through Olivia's instant meals right now. She would scrape the thick, uneven gravy off her salisbury steak onto Liv's tray, mix the leftover, rubbery meat with her soft vegetables, and eat with relish, trying not to snort her food everywhere as Olivia yelled at the Knicks to pull it together. At least, that was how she imagined it; Olivia had mentioned basketball once or twice in the course of casual bar conversation, and Alex had seen that Olivia preferred the salisbury steak and macaroni and cheese dinners over whatever other options were available. Regardless, she didn't need fine wine and class out the wazoo. What she needed was five uninterrupted minutes with Cesar Velez.

"Hey, Miss Cabot, if you're not going to eat that…" Tim ventured.

"I saw you eating that enormous burger. This is mine," said Alex, reflexively scooping lukewarm food into her mouth. She had to admit, it was good, and she took another bite.

Olivia was no doubt forgoing nutrition during another long night with her partner. Worrying over the detective was refreshing, in its own way. In between hiding from a Colombian drug lord and piecing her life back together, it was nice to think about something as mundane as someone else's balanced diet. There was also the unresolved matter of their supposed relationship.

Alex had last seen Olivia a week ago, when the brunette was still a bit disheveled, still trying to recover her literal and figurative equilibrium. Things were probably no more stable now. Alex couldn't stay tucked away in her little corner of the federal government forever, but it had been amply proven that wherever she went, Velez was determined to find her. The only acceptable solution was to eliminate the threat at its source, and that was proving to be tricky with so many of the government's resources being diverted to the war on terror.

In the meantime, she was left completely cut off from the outside world. Claudia hadn't been by to brief her for several days, which Alex chose to take as a good sign. Olivia was evidently AWOL. The rotating marshals made sure no one got into her room and that she didn't get out. Her participation had gone from voluntary to necessary to nonexistent. She was afraid that she would be forced to sit on her hands forever.

To her surprise, Alex scraped an empty plate after several minutes of thoughtful eating.

"Hungry after all?" asked Tim, calling for someone to clear away the remnants of dinner.

Alex piled her dishes and silverware into a neat pile on the tray. "I have to do something to pass the time," she said, rather more cheekily than she felt.

Olivia was surprised to see Claudia Williams striding purposefully through the SVU squad room over a week after last seeing the attorney. Her arm was still in a sling, though Williams held it like it was more of a nuisance than a necessity. She gave Olivia a vaguely irritated look before stepping into Cragen's office and closing the door.

Elliot returned with two bags of chips and two sodas from the vending machines down the hall. He tossed Olivia her half, sat at his desk to enjoy his hoagie.

"You'll never guess who just walked in," said Olivia as she popped open her chips, crushing them into manageable pieces.

"Claudia," said Elliot easily, taking a huge bite of his sandwich.

Olivia blinked at him. Her partner rarely surprised her, and vice-versa. It was an inevitability after so many years working together.

"Saw her in the hallway," he explained. "Looked like a woman with a mission."

"When does she not?" asked Olivia, not quite able to hide her frustration, staring at Cragen's office as if she could pierce solid wood with the force of her gaze.

Cragen yanked his door open moments later, as though he had sensed Olivia's nerves taking a dodgy turn. "Benson, Stabler," he barked, standing to one side to allow the detectives to hustle into the office. He just managed to avoid slamming the door, the blinds crashing against the glass. Cragen sat behind his desk in a huff. "Miss Williams has news for us."

"I hear you have a drug dealer in custody," she began, cool as ever. If nothing else, Olivia admired and respected her toughness—but she wasn't SVU. She wasn't even NYPD. She was a federal officer, and the omnipresent tension between local and federal forces never made for easy meetings.

"We're holding him on four counts of rape," said Elliot, equally cool. He leveled his gaze straight down his nose, arms folded obstinately. "Why don't you get to a point."

Williams smirked at him. "We have reliable information that Cesar Velez is coming to New York. Ever since Miss Cabot publicly defied him, he's had a hell of a time riding herd over his organization. It doesn't help that your Narcotics division has slowly been dismantling things on this end from the bottom up for several years now."

"Is that why he's so pissed at Alex?" asked Olivia. The back of her head gave a phantom twinge.

"That's part of it. She's a thorn in his side. Not crucial to day-to-day operations, but a loose end nevertheless," explained Williams. "But when Velez's organization murdered an undercover officer, assassinated a DEA agent, and tried to kill an ADA in the span of a week, you can bet someone noticed. The Department of Justice has taken a very special interest in Cesar Velez and he's out several million in profits as a result. Our man says Velez is coming here to settle things himself since his lieutenants obviously can't be trusted to handle things on their own."

"When? Where?" asked Olivia, stepping past her partner.

"That, we don't know," Williams admitted. She pointed to the two detectives. "That's where you come in."

"Miss Cabot, you have a phone call."

Alex looked up in surprise, set down her tome of Camus on her cot. She accepted the cell phone from Marshal MacAllister daintily. "Hello?"

"Alex, hi."

"Olivia," breathed Alex. She turned away from Ian, momentarily unable to summon words. "Hi."

"I'm, uh…" Olivia drew in a long breath, the hiss of her exhalation carrying over the line. "I'm just calling. Checking in with you. I'm going to be out of touch for a while."

"Why? What's going on?" asked Alex. A moment of hesitation, nearly undetectable. Hypervigilant after days with no contact with the detective, Alex picked it out immediately. "What is it?" she urged.

"I'm taking a short vacation," said Olivia miserably. "I just wanted to say, uh…that I…well…" Her voice trailed off. "Take care of yourself," she finished lamely. Alex could feel her slipping away.

"Olivia, wait—"

"Bye, Alex."

"No, don't hang—"

A click, and silence.


Alex stared at the tiny cell phone in her hand. It was a marvelous piece of technology, really, hardly a few ounces on her palm. For such a tiny device it certainly carried a lot of weight. She handed it back to Ian. "Thanks," she said numbly.

"What was that about?" he asked as he tucked the phone into its clip on his belt.

Alex grabbed the blanket from the end of her cot, pulled it over herself as she curled up on her cot, faced the wall. "It was nothing," she said, suddenly exhausted.

One month later

Tim Fielding took a long, hard drink from his canteen. Technically, he was only supposed to carry water, but he liked packing Gatorade for the extra dose of sugar and electrolytes. Out here on the Mexican border he sweated a good liter every day just sitting in his jeep. Despite all the vaunted American technology used by the border patrol, none of it was a match for the desert scrublands that made passage from Mexico so perilous.

Sitting next to him, his partner pushed his cap up to scratch his forehead. "Thermometer's topping out again," he grunted noncommittally. It was the third such day in a row.

Fielding scanned the horizon with his binoculars, not caring to respond. Roth was due for a transfer soon anyway; the nearer his departure came, the more he bitched and—Fielding did a short double-take, swinging his binoculars back to focus on a black speck directly ahead. It was moving slowly, wavering in and out of solidity between heat lines.

Fielding started the jeep, yanked it into gear, and took for his mark. "I think we got something," he told Roth, who drew his shotgun onto his lap.

The jeep bounced along the hard, uneven ground. The speck gradually resolved itself into a figure on a horse, slumped against its neck. The animal was plodding along faithfully, undisturbed by the approaching vehicle.

Fielding halted in a small cloud of tan dust a few meters from the rider. He got out of the jeep, Roth standing in his seat to provide cover from the vehicle's open top. "That what I think it is?" he drawled.

Fielding grabbed the horse by its dangling reins and led it back to the jeep. "It's a woman," he said. He shook her shoulder, trying unsuccessfully to rouse her. Fielding tilted her head up to look at her face; under the matter hair, it was severely sunburned and her lips were oozing dark blood from several cracks. Her clothes were incredibly dirty and torn in several places. "She doesn't look Mexican," he noted, pulling her down from the saddle and carrying her to the back of the jeep. He wet a rag from the thermos in the back and gently patted the woman's face.

"Looks bad," said Roth, turned around in the front, shotgun strap looped over one shoulder.

Fielding placed a temperature strip on the woman's peeling forehead, saw that she was hovering just above one hundred. Not good, but not the worst he'd ever seen. "Let's get her back," he said, arranging the woman into a half-lying position. He opened a proper cold compress and replaced the wet rag. The woman stirred under the sudden temperature change. Wearily, she attempted to sit up. She favored her left arm, cradling it to her side.

"Stay still, ma'am," said Fielding. "Relaja, por favor." She reached for him, her hand sliding weakly off his chest. "Usted esta en los Estados Unidos," he told her.

"No," she said, wincing as her lips practically tore themselves to pieces. She worked her jaw slowly as she squinted at Fielding in the harsh light. "American," she whispered.

"We gotta go," said Roth, who hadn't heard. "Look at her, she's dehydrated. Talk later." He sat properly in the passenger seat, reached for the radio to call it in.

"Just relax," said Fielding, hiding his surprise. He removed her hand easily. "You're home now."

"Where did you find her?" asked Adam Kierny, Fielding's commanding officer. He studied the somnolent woman carefully, noting the slight pinch at her cheeks that told of malnutrition.

"Grid B9," said Fielding. "Whoever she is, she picked a rough spot to cross."

"And she said she's an American?" asked Kierny suspiciously. He was always suspicious. Fielding wondered sometimes if years of on-the-job paranoia had turned Kierny into an unconscious racist.

Fielding shrugged. "That's what she said before she passed out again."

They watched the medic switched out saline bags. Already the woman looked healthier, though the sunburn would take a few weeks to heal completely. Also, her arm seemed to be broken though they couldn't be sure without an x-ray. For now, they were seeing to the most immediate health risks; namely, dehydration and heat stroke

Kierny rubbed his chin for a few minutes, then knocked on the observation window. The medic looked up, then nodded in response to Kierny's questioning gesture towards the woman. "Let's ask her again," he said, leading the way into the small room. He stopped at the woman's bedside, looming over her. Fielding took up a subordinate position at the foot of the bed, feeling distinctly uneasy about his superior's intimidating manner. Interviews with Kierny rarely went well; he dealt brusquely with the illegals and sent them packing with little ado.

The woman let her head loll on one shoulder before she found the energy to hold it up straight. She stared at Kierny. "Where am I?" she asked hoarsely, the words stumbling over her swollen tongue.

"You're at a border patrol outpost," said Kierny.

She blinked slowly. "I'm an American," she said, her lips barely moving. "God, I—" She tried to sit up. "Water?"

"What were you doing crossing the border by yourself?" asked Kierny as Fielding pushed a few ice chips into her mouth.

Gratefully, she wet her mouth before speaking again. "I need to make a phone call." Fielding gave her another ice chip, earning a glare from Kierny, who would not be delayed in receiving answers.

"Miss, I can't allow you to—"

Apparently, she only looked weak, because one hand shot out to grab Kierny by the shirtfront. She pulled herself up so that her face was inches from his. "I am an American citizen," she said with deliberate precision. "Four-three-one, two-six, eight-eight-nine-one." She released him and sank back into her pillow, suddenly overcome by coughing. The medic, who had been hovering outside, returned to help ease her through the fit, getting her to sit straight and purge the phlegm buildup from her throat.

Kierny left, glowering. "What was that she rattled off? Social security?" he asked, turning to Fielding as he followed his CO from the room.

"Sounded like it, sir. I'll run it through the database." Fielding marched off smartly, curiosity inspiring alacrity. He muttered the numbers to himself as he entered them in a computer terminal. The search took less than a minute, returning a single entry. He read her information with surprise, started when he felt Kierny's heavy hand descend on his shoulder.

"Well?" said Kierny impatiently.

Fielding pointed to the screen. "There's our border breach, sir: Olivia Benson."

To Be Continued

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