DISCLAIMER: CSI and all characters are the property of CBS and Bruckheimer. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ok, I know the premise is a little far-fetched, to begin the fic, but hey, I'm trying to move fan universes here. It's really hard work. I could do a mythology reference just to make myself feel better, but really, it would be pretentious.
And I personally think people who write crossover fics should be regulated to the 9th circle of hell, so, well, of course I decided to write a crossover fic. So if anyone wants to know what this circle of hell is like, I'm down here, stoking the fires.
SPOILERS: Through the current seasons on CSI and SVU.
FANDOMS/PAIRING: L&O: SVU/CSI Olivia/Sara.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Between Love and Hate
"What?" Olivia left Cragen no time to answer her question as she continued to rage, "You have got to be fucking kidding me. A leave of absence? And a temporary assignment?" She turned to pace and then swung back to face Cragen, who was looking at her with that mixture of patience and exasperation that was his trademark in dealing with his sometimes headstrong detectives. "No way. NO WAY, I won't do it. You will have to fire me."
Her gauntlet thrown down, Olivia folded her arms across her chest and waited, staring down at the wisened captain who had picked up a container of Twizzlers from his desk, making a half-hearted attempt to offer the fuming, dark-haired detective a licorice before taking one himself and settling into his chair. Her narrowed eyes told him what she thought of his delaying tactics. "Liv, if it was up to me, you know I wouldn't even ask." He sighed, knowing the corner the bureaucracy had painted them into, and he tried to figure out the right words to make his detective understand. "It's that damn psych eval. The shrink is recommending you get away from sex crimes for a while." When she opened her mouth to protest again, he continued, "At a minimum. He's pushing hard for reassignment." He avoided looking at the tall, overly thin woman in front of him, missing the way her mouth tightened and her face paled as the word 'reassignment' was used. "Huang has tried arguing on your behalf, but no dice." He laid the scenario out as it had been spelled out for him at the meeting with the division captain. "If you don't take the time away from the squad, you'll be away from the squad permanently. We'll lose you like we lost Jeffries." His pause told her how much that loss still weighed on his mind and how much he didn't want to repeat the experience. "I worked out this deal about the temporary assignment so you didn't have to stay in the city and watch us work while you worked some 'low stress' assignment, like PR, for the next few months."
He dared a look up and saw the same horror on her face that he had had on his face earlier. "Yeah, that was the chief's great brainstorm." Cragen didn't mention the reasoning that had gone behind the brainstorm, which followed the classic lines of a pretty woman would make a great PR spokeswoman, a line he hadn't even bothered to point out was sexist and stupid because the old-school chief would have taken it as a compliment. "Look, the Vegas job is a six-month assignment, working all kinds of cases, including B&Es and trick rolls, but at least it's detective work. And it satisfies 1PP and it gets you back here sooner rather than later." He finished on that hopeful note.
The brunette's shoulders sagged as she realized the corner she had been backed into. PR scutwork, Vegas, or a third option that wasn't an option at all. Being a detective was what she was, her identity, not just something she did, and it was impossible to envision a life outside of the PD. In the end, it was an easy decision, but not a decision she ever considered having to make, and the necessity galled. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob as she turned to leave. "What's the start date?"
Cragen released the breath he wasn't aware he had been holding. "Right after the first of the year. So you'll be leaving here right when the wind starts up and the snow starts falling. So it's not all bad."
Her first impression of Vegas was loud, bright, and gaudy, and it only took the short walk through the concourse of the airport for Olivia to become tired of the incessant ringing and buzzing of slot machines. It wasn't a surprise that she missed New York City as soon as she had left; she rarely left the city and every place she had visited, mostly on business assignments, like Boston, Philadelphia, and one miserable week in Atlanta, none had measured up to the city she knew and loved. Walking thought the concourse now, swinging her carry-on, her apathy to the idea of travel and glitzy tourist traps like Vegas increased a hundredfold. And I'm here for the next six months, she reminded herself bitterly. I could have avoided this exile if I had actually taken a break, a vacation, anything, away from work. The line between working a case and a case working you is so thin in a unit like ours, she thought, and it's so easy to let the work consume you, become you, if you drift too close. I needed a break; in fact, I've needed a break for the last year and a half, ever since we lost Alex, and the whole world went dark and grey. The slate grey of pavement and skyscrapers had seeped into everything after that one sudden, horrific loss, so that the only color in her world was red, the red of bloodied and bruised bodies. She had known it was happening to her and she hadn't taken action, thinking that she would fly under the radar in an official capacity and that her unofficial safety net would keep her from slipping down too far. Obviously, that strategy hadn't worked. And now here she was, in the world of bright neon colors threatening her comfortable monotone world.
But one thing never really changed, and that was the way people gawked at red and blue lights; it was the same in New York and it was the same in Las Vegas, even though the police lights had to compete with a much more cluttered background of neon lights. Jim Brass, the captain in charge of the night shift detectives, had escorted her to her first crime scene, which consisted of the mangled body of a Gap store manager in a trash compactor behind a shopping mall. Olivia walked around the scene while a beat cop rounded up the employees, Brass's scrutiny an almost physical sensation against her back. The one problem with being the new kid on the block was the fact that she now had to prove herself all over again to yet another group of close-knit guys, a self-contained unit much like the one she had just left, and being the outsider ached at her. She already missed the included feeling of her old unit, and Olivia wondered if she would ever feel like that during her tenure in Las Vegas.
"We got lucky tonight," Brass said, breaking the silence, and Olivia followed his gaze to see a tall, thin brunette woman ducking under the crime scene tape being held by a young uniform. Given the courtesy displayed by the uniform, the woman didn't even acknowledge the gesture, as if she was used to people easing the way for her everywhere she might go. A large aluminum case swung from her hand and she was bundled in a navy pea coat and watch cap against the chill of the Nevada night, so she didn't look like royalty, regardless of how she acted. "We got the best for the night," he explained.
"Best what?" Olivia asked, straightening from her crouch near the compactor. The woman walking toward them had a long, easy, relaxed stride, but something in the tilt of her head and the carriage of her body conveyed a certain arrogance Olivia usually associated with cops, firefighters, members of the military or certain members of the prosecutor's office: the kind of people who believed in the righteousness of their cause and believed they could back up their actions with might or intellect. The woman in question wasn't in uniform, or a suit, and there were already too many detectives on the scene, and the way she was glaring at Olivia as she stood beside the half-exposed body lead Olivia to conclude that she was a criminalist, but Olivia had never seen a criminalist swagger like that before. She watched in rapt fascination as the woman stalked toward her with a short, stocky man with thick glasses in a coroner's jacket trailing her hurriedly. They both made a beeline for the compactor, the tall brunette stepping between Olivia and the scene bodily as she took over the space.
"Well, this is going to be fun," quipped the guy in the coroner's jacket, looking anxiously at the woman, both completely ignoring Olivia standing not two feet away from them.
The brunette frowned. "I'll process the outside of the container and then we'll get a saws-all or jaws to cut this open," she replied with an odd, almost slurred accent that Olivia couldn't place. Her way of speaking elongated her words, but didn't sound like any Southern accent Olivia had heard before. "This is going to take a while," she concluded as took in the thick walls of the compactor.
Olivia waited quietly behind the duo, waiting for one of them to acknowledge her presence, but instead the brunette knelt to pop the locks on the aluminum case and pulled out a pair of latex gloves while the coroner headed off to talk to the emergency crews. Brass stepped up beside Olivia then, catching her arm to bring her closer to the woman readying powders and brushes. "Sara, this is Detective Benson; she'll be working night shift for the next few months for Vega." Olivia started to extend her hand, to shake hands as the brunette straightened, but the woman pulled her hands away quickly, wiggling her gloved fingers.
"Hey," sheobviously the Sara of Brass's introductionsaid by way of greeting, distractedly, all her attention on the already ripe corpse stuffed into the industrial trash compactor. "Anyone touch the door besides the assistant manager?"
Jim managed to look embarrassed as he shrugged his shoulders at Olivia. "No."
She raised her head and finally met Olivia's eyes, and Olivia was surprised to see that she was younger than she had first surmised, and more attractive than her manner and attitude suggested. Her hair framed even darker eyes that burned with a keen intelligence and a deep sadness, eyes that dominated the rest of her face. Her features were just a little too raw and unrefined to be considered pretty, but she had a magnetism that made her effortlessly attractive, yet she was seemingly clueless about how people saw her, as evidenced by how she interacted with the men around her. The impression came to her effortlessly, from years of reading people and perps, and Olivia filed it away for future reference. "Benson, right?" the brunette asked, showing that she had actually been paying attention during Brass's recitation. "Did you touch the body or the compactor?" Her tone was as frosty as her eyes.
"No," she replied in an equally chilly tone, summoning up her own arrogance and attitude. Olivia had expected to prove herself to fellow detectives, but this criminalist sizing her up was an unexpected challenge, and an unwarranted one at that. After all, criminalists worked for detectives and not the other way around. It didn't help that as Sara pulled herself to full height, she obviously had an inch or two of height on Olivia. Visibly bristling at the insinuation that she had contaminated the crime scene, Olivia gave Sara her best perp glare, to which Sara responded with a tightening of her lips and an amused tilt of her eyebrows. They held the stare for a few moments, until Brass stepped between them, distracting Sara by declaring, "Your saw is here." Nodding to show she heard him, the tall brunette turned to the compactor and began swirling fingerprint powder on the door. "And your witness is here," Brass indicated a woman standing beside a uniform sporting a Gap nametag.
The desert air had chilled even further in the short time Olivia spoke with the assistant manager, but long enough for her to get a line on a disgruntled former employee who seemed like a viable first suspect. Despite herself, Olivia found it almost enjoyable to work a case with no breathing and battered victim violated in some new, unspeakable way, and instead focus on the straight-up detective work. Maybe I did need this, she mused, taking in the night sky artificially brightened by neon and the bustle so alike and yet so different from the city streets she had grown up on. A muttered curse brought her attention back to the scene just in time to catch Sara peeling off her heavy coat and suit jacket to pull on a navy blue jumpsuit with the word 'Forensics' stenciled on the back. The fire fighter holding the saw and a pair of gogglesyet another man waiting on her royal highness, Olivia snarked to herselflaughed at something Sara said as she directed the efforts of the coroner and emergency crew as they prepared for the extraction. Everyone jumped to follow her directions as she cradled the saw in her hands, the look of pure delight as she fired it up transforming her entire face. She put the blade to steel, expertly wielding the heavy tool with a proficiency and confidence that would have been admirable, even attractive, to Olivia in anyone else on the planet. As it was, Olivia was hard pressed to keep from grabbing the saw away from Sara and wielding it herself in a juvenile display of oneupsmanship. Walking up beside her, Brass chuckled. "Sara and her power tools," he said with a touch of admiration in his voice as the whine of the saw reached a higher note and sparks flew around the other woman. Disgusted, Olivia stalked away from the scene, ostensibly to get a list of off-duty store employees to canvas.
A few hours later, Olivia found herself once again facing down Sara, who was rapidly becoming her least favorite coworker ever. The young CSI, who seemed younger and yet more arrogant every time Olivia saw her, was leaning against the layout table, enumerating all the reasons that Dave, their disgruntled former employee and best suspect, wasn't their perp at all. "Look," Sara said, in a tone reserved for speaking to a particularly obstinate or slow child, "we've collected a ton of fibers and DNA transfer from the body, none of which matches to your suspect. I don't care about the motive, the evidence says you are looking at the wrong guy." Observed from the outside, their conversation could be seen as a civilized debate among colleagues having a difference of opinion on the direction of the investigation, unless the observer saw the flash of anger in the taller woman's eyes or the tight way Olivia held herself.
Olivia matched Sara's posture perfectly across the table, balancing her weight on her palms as she answered all of Sara's reasons with reasons of her own. "He has no alibi for the time of the murder, he started calling the store and the victim's apartment three times a day recently, after nearly a month of being fired, and he had a clear motive. Nobody else I interviewed had any reason to kill him."
"Maybe you didn't ask the right questions," Sara suggested blandly.
"I know how to do my job," Olivia retorted, suddenly wishing she could use some of her intimidation and scare tactics on colleagues instead of saving them for suspects. Never had she felt the urge to slam one of her coworkers down onto a table and cuff them like an unruly perp, not even Casey, regardless of how much the red-haired attorney irritated her. Never, that is, until now. She entertained herself briefly with a mental image of Sara's face bouncing off the table before focusing back on the woman in front of her. Doesn't she understand that she works for me, not the other way around? The other crims don't appear to be this insufferable and arrogant. Well, except for that spacey know-it-all guy, Grissom. And that Catherine the other detectives were talking about. Ok, it must be endemic to this crime lab.
"As do I. If you widen the suspect pool, I'll be able to do a comparison and we can actually find the perp."
"Don't tell me how to run my investigation," Olivia warned quietly. She pushed herself off the table and turned toward the door, signaling an end to the conversation. "We're bringing him in for an interview," she announced as she crossed the threshold, leaving the brunette fuming behind her.
Half an hour later, Olivia felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, sensing a malevolent presence watching her. Sara must be in the observation room, she concluded, stifling a sigh as Dave, her prime suspect, calmly answered each of her questions without arousing the slightest hint of suspicion. Yes, he had been calling the manager for the past month, but only the last few days on his own phone and not his girlfriend'snow expre-paid cellular phone. And while he had continued the harassment because he felt the manager had fired him out of spite, he had gotten a new job almost immediately. Olivia had a familiar sinking feeling in her stomach as her suspect became less and less viable, the nausea only exacerbated by the knowledge that her new best friend was probably gloating while she watched Olivia crash and burn in her first investigation. Not all leads pan out, she told herself as the interview concluded, and you have to chase down them all. She cast a glance at the mirror, seeing her disgusted expression reflected back at her. Yeah, but would you have narrowed down to this one lead so quickly if you hadn't been so determined to be proved right? she silently questioned the face staring back at her.
As a patrolman escorted the suspect out of the interview room to be held on a few outstanding speeding tickets, Olivia turned to Brass to discuss the interview just as Sara stepped into the room, confirming that she had indeed been watching the interview. "We got the lab results back on that admixture of blood on the victim's hands." Brass looked up expectantly, but the triumph in Sara's tone told Olivia all she needed to know. "The results rule him out." She paused long enough to smirk in Olivia's direction. "Conclusively." Sara tossed the file folder on the table. 'You've got the wrong guy," she asserted before striding out of the interview room, getting the last word in, much like Olivia had earlier. Brass picked up the file, perusing it quietly, before handing it over to Olivia with a sigh. "She's right."
Olivia glanced over the printouts herself before sighing, heavily. "I liked this guy for it, Jim."
Brass nodded knowingly, recognizing a detective's instinct to trust guts and interpretations of people to solve crimes. "We work differently here. We have the second best crime lab in the country, and so we work more closely with our criminalists and we follow the CSIs' lead more than other police departments. You just need to learn the system here, Benson." It was as close to a pep talk as she was likely to get from the gruff detective, she knew, not that she really needed it. She knew she was a good detective; it just irked her to have to prove herself in a new city, to a new batch of cops and now even criminalists. Brass nodded and left the interview room himself, albeitly in a much less huffy manner than the dark-haired CSI, leaving Olivia to thumb through the lab results a second time. She threw them down on the table just like Sara had and ran her hands through her close-cropped hair before flipping open her phone to get the other store employees rounded up and brought in to the station.
A few nights later, Olivia arrived at the site of a bar fight at a biker bar, a typical he-said, he-said, eight burly guys lined up against a wall, broken lips and swollen knuckles, and one bloodied knife tossed into a dumpster behind the bar. The unfortunate ninth lay in a pool of blood soaking into the green felt of a pool table. Taking in the row of beeping video poker machines under flintlocks and a massive bear's head coated in dust, Olivia took a moment to mourn the distance between the kitsch-inspired, neon-infested Vegas décor and the comfortable pretension of New York's shadowed lights and dark wood. Nothing like a bar brawl to provide distance from raped co-eds and abducted children, she thought as she chatted with the bartender, an impossibly young blonde in a pink baby-doll t and jeans so low her thong straps showed against the large swath of tanned skin at her midriff. After a surprised glance down, Olivia kept her eyes squarely on the girl's face while she heard the usual witness non-statement: "I didn't see anything, everything happened so fast, everyone looks alike." She kept her eye-roll to herself as she turned away from the over-endowed girl, but Olivia couldn't conceal her look of exasperation as a tall brunette set an aluminum case beside the pool table.
Working with Sara for yet another night confirmed Olivia's feeling that the fix was in: Jim and that CSI supervisor have to be pairing us up deliberately, she thought, some form of newbie hazing ritual, sticking me with the attitude case for five straight shifts. She had to admit that not all the shifts had been as rocky as the first, since it's hard to go downhill from that disastrous first outing, but working with a woman who couldn't be bothered to be civil or engage in basic human interaction conventions like greetings had gotten tiresome very quickly. What surprised and annoyed her was that the other night shift detectives reported that this behavior was unusual for the intense and focused, but generally friendly, CSI, although her temper was apparently infamous around the precinct, capped by a recent week-long suspension for losing it at work. I must be special, she thought, but then, I'm probably not blameless. Olivia had made no overtures herself in the subsequent nights, finding herself taking an oppositional stance whenever she could just to goad the younger woman. They had been snipping at each other throughout each case, and seemingly taking a great deal of pleasure in it, if the running tally of points scored Olivia was mentally tracking was any indication.
Olivia skipped the formalities of a greeting as she stepped up to the brunette and launched into recounting her absolute lack of any useful information from the eyewitness accounts. Sara nodded her head to show she was listening as she knelt beside the body, her eyes already cataloging evidence to process, and then glanced up at Olivia with a half-smile, the warmest expression Olivia had ever seen from her, seeing for the first time the wide gap between her front two teeth. "Good. Then it's all about the evidence." She hefted a camera and began to snap images of body on the pool table, working with her usual precision and attention to detail. "It's better to have one piece of evidence than ten eyewitnesses," she muttered, a truism Olivia had heard crime scene guys use to justify their disinterest in the human element of a crime before.
Sara knelt down to get some shots of the ground surrounding the body, her movements economical and smooth from years of practice. In the nights since their first experience working together, Olivia had found her incredibly dedicated and skilled in hunting down evidence to put perps in jail almost as much as she found her personally grating and annoying. In working together, Olivia had come to a grudging respect and even a professional admiration for the young CSI that was equally matched by her personal loathing. Finished with the ground shots, Sara straightened, propped the camera on her shoulder, and gave Olivia a cocky grin. "Don't worry, I'll have an answer for you soon." Olivia opened her mouth to respond, but Sara cut her off, "You'll just have to listen to me. I trust that won't be too hard for you, detective." Olivia cast a glare in her general direction before walking over to talk to the first officers on the scene. None of the eight upstanding citizens standing in the parking lot even admitted to throwing a punch, the officer reported, much less to being the one who stabbed the victim, and suddenly the hours of shift looked like an unimaginable boring stretch of the same lie, repeated in varying degrees of bad grammar with breath reeking of beer, and she sighed.
Olivia quelled her first impulse to respond to the taunting tone in the CSI's voice, for once deciding to avoid escalating the war of words, and instead answered more-or-less truthfully. "Just trying to figure out how many times I'm going to hear the same story tonight."
Sara surprised her with a good-natured grin before she set her case down and took out several swab containers. "What, you mean you suspect these upstanding citizens will be somewhat less than truthful?" she asked in a mock-incredulous tone. Olivia chuckled in spite of herself, wondering if this interaction with Sara was a momentary thaw or an indication that the CSI was warming to her. Or yet another attempt to put her off-balance for the next round of sniping. "I'd like to pre-process these guys, go over clothes for trace and DNA, before you haul them in." For once Sara's tone wasn't demanding or bossy, but rather a professional request, and Olivia couldn't figure out if she was sincere or the best actress in the world.
"Sure," Olivia said, sweeping an arm toward the mass of men reeking of alcohol. "They're all yours."
"When you get them in, have them change into overalls and collect their clothes," Sara continued, explaining, "If they won't talk, the trace on their hands and clothes will have to talk for them."
Stepping into the middle of a crowd of men, both police officers and suspects, Sara's slight frame was forcefully contradicted by her commanding presence as she took over the milling, directionless group, "Ok, gentlemen, I'll need you to line up against the wall here for a DNA sample and pictures." Over the grumbling, she continued, "You are all going down to the station, but if you refuse to cooperate, we'll just haul you in now and you can wait until morning for a warrant. Anyone care to refuse?" When there were no takers for her offer, Sara began working her way down the line, taking pictures of bruised hands and black eyes, swabbing cheeks and knuckles, and lifting hairs off of clothes. After she finished with each one, Olivia mirandized them and sent them with a uniform to the station, silently marveling at how smoothly two people who couldn't even carry on a simple conversation had slipped into a rhythm as they worked.
While she repeated the Miranda warning by rote, Olivia risked a sideways glance at Sara, who was glaring at a suspect who didn't open his mouth quickly enough. She's almost bearable when her venom is directed at the suspects and not me, she mused, realizing that, in their first interaction, Olivia had committed the cardinal sin from the tall CSI's point of view: Olivia had gotten in the way of her single-minded focus on matching suspect to crime, evidence to perp, with the fewest possible steps and in the shortest possible amount of time. Anything that interfered with that focus, that mission, became the target of all of her impatience and hostility, which apparently was considerable. Watching Sara stare down yet another brawler who outweighted her by at least 150 pounds while not looking intimidated in the least bit, Olivia was forced to admit that they were a lot alike in terms of their work, and the thought was equal parts comforting and disturbing.
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