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Manhattan Melodrama
By Del

Just her luck, trudging all the way over here to see Alex only to be greeted by an empty office. She could have called ahead, but that would have made it a little harder to sell the "just in the neighborhood" line that Olivia usually excused her late-in-the-day visits with.

As she spun around to leave, she collided with the ADA, who had walked up behind her. Olivia reached out to stabilize her. "Sorry," she said.

"My fault," Alex replied. "That's what I get for sneaking up on trained police officers." She crossed over to the desk and dropped into her chair. "I'm glad you're here, Olivia. I was just looking for you down at SVU."

Good; maybe she wouldn't notice the complete lack of any legitimate reason for Olivia's visit.

"But first, did you need something?" Alex asked.

"Nah, I was just . . . heading out to a movie," Olivia improvised. "And I thought maybe . . . ." She hoped her face didn't look as warm as it felt.

Alex removed her glasses and placed them on the desk. "If I didn't have a meeting with the Code revision committee tonight, I would invite myself along," she said.

Olivia felt a sense of relief; the rejection hadn't been as painful as she had imagined. "Another time, maybe," she said.

"I'll hold you to that."

That made the visit worthwhile, Olivia decided. "So were you looking for me for anything in particular, Counselor?" she asked.

"Yes," Alex replied. "I was wondering if you could put as much effort into looking for Tamela Dixon as you would a wealthy white child."

"Excuse me?" She couldn't have heard that correctly.

Alex sighed. "The Dixons' lawyer stopped by this afternoon," she said. "That was his helpful suggestion. I told him that hadn't occurred to us."

"You didn't," Olivia said.

"No, of course I didn't," Alex replied. "I told him, or rather tried to tell him, that you and Elliot have put everything you have into this case. I asked him if he had anything constructive to offer, like actual information."

"And did he?"

"As a matter of fact, he did mention something that sounded new to me." Alex reached for her notepad. "For a couple of weeks last summer, Tamela stayed with her aunt Semeka in an apartment building on the same block as the first girl who disappeared, Adrienne Kelso."

"Why the hell didn't they tell us that before?" Olivia said.

Alex tossed up her hands.

"That's what happens when everything's filtered through a mouthpiece," Olivia said. It was a lawyer's duty, or so most of them seemed to think, to sift through their client's information on behalf of the police, offering only what their superior brains deemed relevant - unlike their clients, who called every time they thought of some new tidbit, desperate to find any way to aid the search.

This was a lead, anyway, a long-sought link between two of the victims. "It can't be a coincidence that the first two girls spent time in the same area," Alex said, and Olivia agreed. This bolstered their earlier suspicions that the perp might have started in familiar territory and ventured out from there.

"Maybe the girls played together," Alex went on. "Maybe someone saw Tamela while she was there." She tore off the sheet with her notes and held it out to the detective.

"Maybe," Olivia agreed. She folded the paper and shoved it into her back pocket. "We'll check it out tomorrow." She had her hand on the doorknob when Alex called out to her.

"What movie are you going to see?"

Olivia turned back around to see the blonde leaning against the side of her desk with her legs crossed gracefully at the ankle. Beautiful. "Whatever's starting when I get there," she equivocated. "I'm easy."

Alex smiled at her. "Well, save something good for our movie date," she said.

"Anything in particular you have in mind?"

"Preferably something without mass quantities of blood."

"OK, I'll get the blood lust out of my system tonight."

`Movie date,' Alex had said. Two perfectly innocent words that carried no romantic implications. Still, Olivia liked the sound of it. She batted it around in her brain as she strolled out of the SVU squad room with purse, coat, and file in hand.

How long should she wait before issuing another invitation? Two images of Alex, one happily saying `yes, she'd love to,' the other awkwardly surprised that Olivia had taken her seriously, occupied her thoughts. Sitting in a darkened theater staring at something she wasn't really in the mood to see would in actuality mean sitting in a darkened theater stewing about Alex Cabot for hours. She already did plenty of that.

And so an hour later, Olivia found herself climbing up two flight of stairs, walking down a hall toward an apartment at the end, and knocking in a non-threatening manner on the door. "Mrs. Kelso?" she said when it opened the few inches allowed by flimsy chain links. "It's Detective Benson."

"Have you found my Adrienne?"

"No," Olivia replied. "I'm sorry. I just have a few questions."

The door closed, then opened again after the tenant drew back the lock. Olivia followed her inside the apartment and waited while she turned off the television. Reaching inside the file folder, Olivia drew out a picture of Tamela Dixon. "Do you ever remember seeing this girl in the neighborhood?"

The woman studied it for a long moment, then finally shook her head. "I don't believe so."

"Does she look familiar at all?"

"No," she said. "Should she?"

"Not necessarily," Olivia said. "I'm just following up on a possible lead. I'll check in with some of your neighbors." She slid the photo back inside its paper clip.

"Most of `em are out tonight," Mrs. Kelso said. "Down to the skating rink. It's 12-and-under night."

Olivia glanced at the woman sitting dejectedly on the couch. Mrs. Kelso would not be going out for kids night any more. I'm sorry, she wanted to say again.

"You could try him in 303," the woman continued. "He's not one you talked to before."

No, that was incorrect. She and Elliot had diligently tracked down and interviewed every tenant in this damn building, including a pair who had since moved to Vermont. "We spoke to the tenant in 303," Olivia said.

"This ain't the same one. This is his brother."

"His brother?"

"Tim, or Tom, or somethin'," she said. "He wasn't here when Adrienne went missing, but he mighta seen somethin' one of the times that he was."

Olivia didn't recall there being two occupants in that apartment. "Does he live here?" she asked.

"Just a couple months a year," Mrs. Kelso replied. "Mr. McLeod goes to Vietnam in the spring and fall to see his fiancee; his brother comes and takes care of the place while he's gone."

So McLeod's brother knew the people in the neighborhood. Knew the layout. Wasn't a stranger that kids would shy away from. Or maybe he was just a guy's brother. "Where is he the rest of the time?" Olivia asked.

A shrug was her answer. Mrs. Kelso liked Mr. McLeod a little more than his sibling, Olivia concluded.

"You say he wasn't here when Adrienne disappeared?"

Mrs. Kelso shook her head. "Nah, Mr. McLeod is always back by June."

"OK," Olivia said. With her best `We're going to keep working on it' smile, she took her leave. Outside in the hall, she calculated which apartment was 303 and drew out her cell phone. "Elliot," she said when her partner answered. "What're you up to?"

"I am just stepping out of my newly washed car in Queens," he replied. On cue, she heard a car door slam in the background.

"Queens?" she repeated. "What are you doing there?"

"Picking Kath up," he replied. "We're having dinner."

"Oh, my God, Elliot," she exclaimed. "That's terrific!"

"It's just dinner," he said. "To talk about tuition, stuff like that." In spite of the neutral words, Olivia detected a hopeful tone in his voice.

"At the house?"

"Nah," he said. "The Olive Garden. We used to go there for occasions," he said. "Lizzie wins the spelling bee, that kind of thing." He paused. "Do you think it's too much?"

"She said yes, didn't she?" Olivia encouraged him. "Just take it one step at a time."

"Yeah," he said. "Not that I don't appreciate your infinite wisdom, but did you have a reason to call?"

Like she was going to tell him after hearing that. "Nah, nothing," she said. "Just killing time. It was either this or call Munch and ask who he thinks was really behind the Patriot Act."

"Glad to know I rate," Elliot said. "Killing time until what?"

"Movie," she lied.

"Got a date?"

"Nah, just me," she said. "Walls closing in, you know."

"Well, hey, I'm sure Kath wouldn't mind if you wanted to?-"

"Elliot, you're too nice for your own good," Olivia interrupted. "Go get your wife. And let me know how it goes."

Folding the phone shut, she paused at the top of the stairs, contemplating the door to apartment 303. Procedure required backup for witness interviews. So, she could either ruin some fellow detective's evening and wait an hour for his arrival in order to conduct a three-minute interview, or come back another time, or . . . .

What the hell.

The man who answered Olivia's knock was at least 6'4" and weighed probably 280 pounds. Olivia craned her neck to look up at him. "Mr. McLeod?" she asked, showing him her badge.

Without answering her question, he stepped back and invited her in, closing the door behind her. As Olivia walked into the living room, McLeod wandered back to the kitchen counter, where he dipped a butter knife into an open jar of peanut butter and began spreading it onto a slice of bread. "You're the best looking detective I've ever seen," he complimented her. "And on the very night that I realized I'm bored with it all. This could be fun."

As come ons went, it was one of the lamer ones. "I'm looking into the disappearance of Adrienne Kelso," Olivia said.

"Just her?"

That wasn't exactly a typical response.

"And four other girls," she said.

He smiled oddly at her.

Olivia's cop intuition - or paranoia, as Munch labeled it - flared. "Something funny?" she asked, subtly assessing her environment. The phone was there; the back bedroom there; fire escape there.

"It should be nine," he said casually.

Under his watchful gaze, she held back from reaching for her gun while she considered her next move.

"Actually, I stand corrected," he said. "Four of them weren't in your jurisdiction."

SVU hadn't tied the five disappearances they were investigating to any others. Four more families out there somewhere whose prayers would not be answered. "Where is Adrienne Kelso?" Olivia asked.

He smiled, and spread more peanut butter across the bread.

"You need to give those parents closure," she said. "Tell me where they are."

"Now what would be the fun of that?"

Olivia reached behind her for her gun and pointed it at McLeod's chest. "Put your hands behind your head."

Ignoring her, he drew a long carving knife from a cutlery stand on the counter. Olivia still had the upper hand - gun versus knife - but she watched him warily as she unclipped her cell phone and raised it to her lips. To her shock, McLeod suddenly plunged the knife into his side, deep enough for a red splotch of blood to form on the side of his shirt, shallow enough not to be disabling. What the fuck?

"Don't move!" she said.

He laughed. "Shoot me," he taunted her.

They stood there for a long moment, measuring each other.

"Go on, kill me," he said.

And ensure that nine families would never have closure?

"What to do?" he said. "I guess you could shoot me in the leg, but I might still bleed out." He pressed the tip of the knife against the femoral artery of his right leg.

In Olivia's mind, the wheels were turning. Standard operating procedure was unambiguous: Shoot him. Protect yourself. The safety of the law enforcement officer is paramount. She wasn't sure the woman down the hall would see it that way, though.

McLeod spoke again, the calmness of his voice contrasting with the thudding in her chest. "Or there's the shoulder," he went on, "but that wouldn't keep me from doing this, would it?" He reached up, holding the knife up high with both hands, aimed at his stomach.

Instinctively, Olivia lunged for the weapon, dropping the phone as she charged. "No, you don't!" she yelled.

They crashed into the kitchen counter, sending McLeod's dinner tray and half-full glass of milk flying. The knife fell to the wooden floor with a clank.

Her training taught Olivia to go for the big man's vulnerable areas, and fast. She slammed her knee into his groin and an instant later broke his nose with the heel of her hand, keeping him off balance with her frenzied attack. Sweeping McLeod's legs out from under him, she quickly scrambled on top of him as he tumbled to the floor, pressing her knee against his throat to cut off his airway. He clawed at her leg with both hands and bucked furiously in an attempt to dislodge her, but she held on and pressed harder, panting at the exertion as they thrashed about on the floor. He would be out soon, just . . . a . . . little . . . longer.

One hand uncurled from her calf. Before she realized what was happening, Olivia felt a searing pain in her side. She screamed, and the knife plunged into her back, and then again, this time tearing into her thigh. Leaning forward to put more pressure on his throat, she twisted around to grab his arm and prevent him from slicing into her again. Finally, the weapon dropped from his hand as McLeod lay motionless beneath her.

Olivia rolled off him, gasping at the pain, and lay still, forcing herself to calm her breathing. She looked over at McLeod. It was a fine line between rendering someone unconscious and strangling him. Had she overdone it? No, he was breathing. After a minute, her eyes drifted shut.

When they fluttered open again, Olivia realized that she couldn't move. She studied the rise and fall of McLeod's chest. She had committed a fatal error not finishing him off while she still could. Her injuries were far worse than his. He would wake up shortly and, if she was still alive by then, he wouldn't make the same mistake.

She swung her legs around and tried crawling toward the door, but her body betrayed her and she gave up. She had no energy to yell for help, either.

I'm gonna die. Olivia might not have been thinking clearly, but that much seemed clear enough. She was drenched in red, most of it hers. She was only semi-conscious. Stupid bitch, she thought, almost with a laugh. That's what Elliot would say when they found her, and he'd be right.

Drawing on what little remaining strength she had, Olivia turned her head to scan her surroundings. Fuck McLeod's phone; it was halfway across the room. A flash of silver from a few yards away on the floor caught her eye. Her cell phone. It was a lot closer, but that ten feet seemed like ten miles right now. Maybe she'd try for it in a minute. She just needed a little rest. She was so tired . . . .

As half-lidded brown eyes stared at the unattainable prize, it suddenly started ringing. Who would be calling her? Not Elliot. He was busy. She smiled a bit dreamily at the thought of her best friend having dinner with his wife. She liked it when Elliot was happy.

The picture shifted to Olivia having dinner with Alex last week, and her smile grew. Maybe it's Alex. If she was going to die, let the last sound she heard be Alex Cabot's voice. She pulled herself up on one elbow and, then, when the nausea subsided, began dragging herself toward the phone.

The ringing had long since stopped when she reached it several minutes later, completely exhausted. She hadn't thought the pain could get any worse or that she could feel any more lightheaded, but she'd been wrong on both counts. Fuck it, she thought aimlessly.

After a moment of indecision, she focused on the small device in her hand, trying to remember what to do with it. Press send. Send.

Two pasta entrees had just been carefully positioned on the table when the last telephone that Olivia Benson had dialed rang again. Elliot hesitated. This wasn't exactly a date, but . . . .

"Go ahead," Kathy said.

Checking the display, he said with some relief, "It's Liv." Calls from his partner had not been part of the problem between them.

"Say hi for me."

"Short movie," he greeted his partner. But instead of the familiar voice, there was no one on the other end of the line. "Olivia?" Had she accidentally hit redial without realizing it? "You sit on your cell again?" he said, flashing Kathy a grin.

Then he heard it, a faint, "Elliot?"

What was going on? He knew his partner; this was not a joke. "Olivia? Are you all right?"

"I'm gonna die," she said matter-of-factly.

Elliot tried to remain calm. "Where are you?"

"I don't know," she said, the reply punctuated by a short fit of coughing. "Shit."

"Let me borrow your cell," he said urgently to Kathy.

She quickly fished it out of her purse.

"Dial 911," he told her. While she followed his direction, he tried again. "Olivia, where are you?" He reached for Kathy's phone. "This is Detective Elliot Stabler with the 1-6. We have an officer down; Detective Olivia Benson is in need of medical assistance. I'm trying to ascertain her location; hold on."

"Copy, Stabler," dispatch responded. "All units stand by, we have a 10-13 with injury in progress, location pending."

"Olivia, are you at home?"

Home, Olivia's mind wandered. Home would be nice.

Her partner's voice interrupted her revery. "Are you at the theater, Olivia?"

The theater? She knew what that was, but the words just weren't coming to mind.

"Are you on the job?"

On the job. That was right. "Yeah," she said. On the job.

"Are you at a suspect's?"

A suspect. Her head lolled toward McLeod's splayed body. Was he moving? "He did it," she mumbled.

"Which case, Olivia?"

Which case? The image of a little girl flashed into her head. What was her name? She was looking for this girl.

"Have you found my Adrienne?"

That was it. "Adrienne," she said, pleased with herself.

"Did you go see Adrienne's mother?" When he received no reply, Elliot addressed her more firmly. "Olivia, I need your help, OK? Did you go see Adrienne's mother?"


"Are you there now?"

That was a hard one. She wasn't, was she? Sort of, though. Maybe. She couldn't answer that one.

"Dispatch, I need units at-" Elliot's mind went blank for an instant - where was that fucking building? They hadn't been there for months. "At 83rd and Valparaiso; apartment building, southeast corner. Third floor. Kelso family."

"Do you have an apartment number, Stabler?" the dispatcher asked.

"No," he replied. "Have `em bust down every fucking door in the place if they have to." He listened as dispatch began relaying his instructions. "I'm coming, Olivia," he said. "Help's on the way." Grabbing his coat, he whispered to his wife, "I've gotta go."

Kathy nodded her understanding. "Elliot," she called out as he hurried toward the door.

He turned around.

"Let me how she is when you bring the phone back," she said with a slight smile.

Elliot smiled back at her. "I will."

"Elliot?" he heard in his ear.

"I'm here, Olivia," he replied.

"Did Alex call?"

"I don't know, Liv," he said. "Do you want her to call you?"

Alex. "Yeah."

"OK, she's gonna call," he said. There was no response. "Olivia?"

"Tired," she murmured.

"You can't sleep now, Olivia," he said, hurrying toward his car. If his partner wasn't at the Kelsos', they would need her help to find her. "You need to stay awake for Alex's call, OK?"


"I'll be back in a second, I just have to talk to dispatch. Stay on the line, Liv." Elliot picked Kathy's phone up from his lap and said, "Dispatch, you still there?"

"Affirmative. Be advised that two units are en route to the location, eta three minutes," the woman's voice replied in the usual monotone. Munch had joked once that dispatchers wouldn't change their tones if they were calling in their own house on fire.

"Will you get hold of ADA Alex Cabot?"

Storming into her office, Alex whipped out her rarely used dictaphone. "Stephanie, this is a letter to Penal Code Revision Committee chair Todd Winters," she began. "Dear Mr. Winters: As a member of the revision committee for more than two years, I can no longer remain silent regarding the growing disparity between the number of criminal defense attorneys and the number of prosecutors on the committee. Over the past several months,-"

She paused at the sound of a quiet tapping on her door. "Come in," she said.

"I thought it was you," fellow ADA Leslie Dever said.

"What are you doing here this late?" Alex asked politely, wanting to return to her venting. If they didn't add some prosecutors to that committee before the next meeting, she was through. As if she really needed one more thing on her calendar, anyway. If it hadn't been for this utterly useless waste of three hours, she could have gone to a movie with Olivia. Hell, maybe she would just quit anyway, she fumed. She had better things to do with her time.

"I've got trial tomorrow morning," Leslie replied. "I'm surprised to see you here, though. Is Benson all right?"

It took a moment for the question to sink in. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, shit, Alex, I assumed you knew. Donnelly was looking everywhere for you earlier," she said. "Olivia's at Mercy-she was stabbed by a perp tonight."

"What?" Alex's heart raced. A thought suddenly occurred to her, and she hurriedly plucked her cell phone from her purse and pressed the power button. Four calls missed during that damn meeting, two from Liz, one from Elliot, one from Cragen. "Oh, God," she said, feeling as though she were going to throw up.

"It took them a while to find her, I guess," Leslie said. "I guess she . . . ."

Alex grabbed her purse and, without another word, ran out of her office and down the hall.

Ten days later . . .

Alex was digging out the key that Elliot had made for her when, to her surprise, the door to Olivia's apartment opened. A young blonde woman stood in the doorway. "Yes?" she said.

"Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot," Alex replied. "I'm here to see Detective Benson."

"Just a minute." Closing the door behind her, the woman opened it again a minute later. "Come on in," she said.

Olivia was lying face down on a newly made bed, clad in comfortable- looking dark shorts and nothing else. "Wardrobe change," she said, apparently referring to the used cloth strips lying beside her on the bed.

"Did I come at a bad time?"

"Nah, it's the highlight of my day," Olivia replied.

The unidentified woman, apparently a health care provider, spoke up. "Let's roll you over," she ordered.

"I can wait outside," Alex offered.

"No way; if I have to put up with this, you have to," Olivia said.

Leaning against a wall, Alex watched as the aide covered Olivia's breasts with a thin towel and finished wrapping crisp white bandages around three areas on her torso and upper leg. The task was completed by draping an oversized t-shirt over Olivia's head and tugging it carefully down over her waist.

"Thanks, Annise," Olivia said. To her visitor she added, "Anything interesting happen in the halls of justice today?"

Alex didn't reply immediately. Her eyes followed every stroke as the nurse's hands skillfully kneaded Olivia's calves. Was that standard medical procedure? Granted, the patient was essentially bedridden, she conceded; her body might be getting stiff. She wondered how long Olivia would need that particular kind of treatment. I could do that for her, she thought.

Belatedly, she realized that Olivia had asked her a question. It wasn't one that she cared to answer yet, however. "Any word on when you'll be cleared for work?" she asked, changing the subject.

Unlike Alex, Olivia didn't seem to notice as the massage moved up her thighs. "In a day or two, I hope," she said.

The blonde gave Alex a subtle shake of her head.

"I'm trying to talk Annise into coming by to change my sheets on a regular basis after I'm back on my feet," Olivia joked.

"I might just do that," the young woman said warmly.

I'll bet, Alex thought meanly, before chiding herself for her pettiness. Lousy day, she excused it.

The helpful Florence Nightingale rose and tossed the discarded bandages into the trash. "All good?" she asked.

"All good," Olivia confirmed. "See you tomorrow."

With a final nod to Alex, the young woman let herself out, leaving the two friends alone.

"So, is this a social call?" Olivia asked.

She wished it was. She should just get this over with, Alex decided. "McLeod wants to plead," she said.

"In return for what?"

She hesitated.

"Does he want the death penalty off the table?" Olivia guessed. "Because I hope you're not seriously considering it, Alex."

The ADA shook her head. "No, he's not asking for that."

"He's pleading to a first-degree with special circumstances?" Olivia asked incredulously.


"So what's the catch? Does he want the 120 on me dropped?" She grinned. "Fine with me; I don't want him to know how close he got, anyway."

Alex did not find the comment amusing. It hadn't been Olivia sitting tensely with friends and co-workers most of that night waiting for word from busy doctors. She hadn't seen the pallor of her skin, endured graphic descriptions of blood loss and punctured lungs, or spent hours listening to the hypnotic beeping of a heart monitor.

She shook those memories away. "He hasn't asked for that either," she said.

"Did he tell you where the girls are?" Olivia asked.


"He'll have to as a condition of the plea, won't he?"

Alex hated having to say this. "No."

"What?" The detective was confused. "It's a plea bargain; he'll have to allocute."

"No, he won't."

"Look, I almost died keeping that bastard alive so that he could do the right thing for those parents," she said angrily. "What the fuck's going on?"

"It's called an Alford plea. If McLeod pleads guilty to the entire indictment, I can't make him allocute," Alex explained. "I can only do that if we drop something."

"Then drop something!" Olivia said, her voice rising.

"I tried," Alex said. In desperation, she had even swallowed her disgust and offered to dismiss the attempt on a police officer just as Olivia had joked, but McLeod wasn't stupid. He was pleading to a capital offense; they could drop every other charge and he would still be facing a needle. Not that it bothered him. If anything, he seemed to enjoy the notion.

Sitting across from that man had been one of the ADA's worst experiences. How Olivia Benson with her lithe body had managed to take down the monstrosity hand-to-hand had been the stuff of admiring speculation among her colleagues for days. Few of them realized just how close it had been, and only Alex had been privy to the intimate details from the perp's own mouth.

"Where's the detective?" McLeod had asked as soon as Alex lowered herself to the chair across the interrogation room table.

"We're here to discuss a plea, Mr. McLeod."

"Is she dead?"

She shot him a glance. She shouldn't let him personalize this, she knew, but she didn't want him to have the satisfaction of thinking that he had managed to kill Olivia. "No," she replied. "Detective Benson will fully recover."


She couldn't tell if he was disappointed or just digesting the information.

"I'm willing to reduce some of the charges if your client pleads to first-degree on Adrienne Kelso," she told defense counsel.

"You should have seen the look on her face when I shoved that knife into her," McLeod said casually. Alex knew he was talking about Olivia. "Almost like sex. It was fate, you know."

She ignored him. "Your client will need to allocute," she said to defense counsel, "including the location of the nine girls."

"I don't think so," McLeod said. "I'm guilty. I plead guilty to everything."

Alex looked from him to the unhappy expression of his attorney. "I have explained the option of an Alford plea to Mr. McLeod," he said, obviously uncomfortable with his role in this. As much as Alex wanted to blame him, though, she really couldn't. He was just doing his job, and she well knew how painful that was at times.

Olivia had even more reason to be frustrated. "What about taking the death penalty off the table?" she asked now.

"Branch won't consider it without a guarantee that McLeod will talk," Alex replied.

"What do you think?"

"SVU's been at him. Huang's been at him. Liz's been at him," Alex said. "Nothing."

"Are you telling me the bastard is going to die without telling us where those girls are?" Olivia said quietly.

Yes, you almost died for nothing. "I'm sorry."

Both were silent for a long moment. When Alex shifted her position to get more comfortable, Olivia looked over at her and wordlessly patted the bed. "Plenty of room," she said.

Whether or not the suggestion would normally have been deemed appropriate, it seemed perfectly natural at that moment. Slipping off her shoes, Alex padded over and lay down beside Olivia on top of the comforter. Together, they stared at the ceiling, lost in their own thoughts.

Alex had never been closer to telling Olivia how she felt. About everything: about Olivia, about needing to see deep brown eyes every day, even when they were scowling at her, about almost losing her. Somehow it was easier to take risks when they couldn't see each other, she realized. She reached over and laid her palm gently on Olivia's stomach. Almost instantly, Olivia covered it with hers.

"Olivia," she sighed.

"Yeah." Olivia twined their fingers together.

A thought struck her unexpectedly. The only sign of interest McLeod had shown in their entire meeting was when he questioned her about Olivia. "Do you want to meet with him?" Alex asked.



"Can I shoot him this time?"

Neither woman smiled.

Neither was smiling two days later when Olivia walked stiffly out of the interrogation room. She had managed to stride in there without giving away her still weakened condition, but now she was feeling the last hour. At her side, Alex placed a hand on her lower back as they moved toward Olivia's desk.

From the other side of the room where he'd been filling his coffee mug, Elliot quickly approached them. "You get anything?" he asked.

"Adrienne Kelso's body is under a concrete driveway in Brooklyn," Alex said. She handed him the pad with Olivia's notes.

"Her parents will be glad to know," he said. "What about the others?"

"That's all we got," Olivia snapped. Waving off her partner's assistance, she let Alex help her into the chair, on which her SVU colleagues had thoughtfully piled up some cushions.

"Why just her?" Munch asked.

Knowing how upset Olivia was, Alex explained, "McLeod has decided that he and Olivia were destined to meet." Or that Olivia was simply unforgettable, more likely. "He wants to maintain contact with her."

Elliot guessed where this was heading. "So . . . ."

"He'll give us one a year," Alex said. "To Olivia."

"Eight years?" he said. "He might not make it that long in prison. Child killers tend to get clumsy in the laundry room."

"He'll be kept out of general population." Alex turned her attention to Olivia. "We'll get it," she said. "And after we have it, we don't care if the guards take a little longer coffee break one day." She studied the detective's face. Her friend was tiring. "Come on, Olivia, let me take you home."

Surprisingly, there was no complaint.

"You sick of that bed yet, Benson?" Fin asked.

"These days it's not bothering me as much," Olivia replied.

Alex showed no reaction to the comment.

"You still have that mistress of mercy coming in?" Munch asked. "Because I've got a little pain . . . ." He squeezed his right shoulder.

"And I've got a big one," Fin replied, narrowing his eyes at his partner.

"Sorry, guys, Annise has moved on," Olivia said. "Alex has been helping with my exercises." Most of which will not be found in the medical dictionary, she left unspoken.

"You ready?" Alex asked.

"Aren't I always?"

Alex slipped her arm around Olivia. One nice thing about her lover being injured; it gave Alex an excuse to touch her in public. "That's one of the things I love about you," she whispered. "Come on. I'll show you some others . . . ."

The End

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