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

By D.S.

Why was she here? Alex was puzzled. There was no microphone aimed at an uncomfortable detective, no confusion about how far a search should go, no prickly case involving a city councilman's son – no case at all, in fact, just a tragic but irrelevant drug overdose by an 11-year-old boy.

It was an uncertainty she would never have faced early in her assignment with the Special Victims Unit. The last thing ADA Cabot would have done back then was to show up at a crime scene in the middle of the night without a damn good reason. The first time she had been rousted from her warm bed by one of her new detectives, she had been less than pleased.

Over time, Alex's attitude about crime scenes – and phone calls from Olivia Benson – had changed dramatically. And so tonight, when she was awakened with an "Alex, can you meet me down at Willows Green?" the response had been automatic: "I'll be right there."

For what purpose, though, remained to be seen, as did Olivia. The single ambulance in front of a rundown apartment building was a clue as to where the detective might be, but Alex had no idea which apartment was the sad recipient of its visit.

Running another visual sweep for the brunette, Alex spied two detectives she vaguely remembered from Narcotics sitting on a curbside, smoking. Great–was she stomping around in Brad Lowe's territory? As if she didn't have enough problems with that prick.

"Is Brad here?" Alex asked them.

One of the men exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke. "Not one of ours," he said, which apparently answered the question.

"Then why are you here?"

"You spend so much time at a place, it's like a second home," he said with a slight chuckle. He gave her the once over. "Who you with?"

"Special Victims," she said. "I'm their ADA."

The other man snorted. "No kidding. Hey, Slick," he called over to someone. "Your law degree's on the loose."

From behind Alex, a familiar voice replied, "At least I've got one."

"Ouch!" he laughed, taking another drag.

Introductions followed. "Terrell Brookman, Mike Kingston, Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot," Olivia said. "This is what a real ADA looks like, fellas."

"Don't rub it in," Kingston said.

Olivia hooked an arm through Alex's and walked the two of them toward the building. It was oddly casual, almost like a leisurely summer stroll, Alex mused. "What's going on, Liv?" she asked.

"OD," Olivia replied. "Carlos Ford, Jr."

"That's not a crime." The detective looked over at her, and Alex eased an arm around her waist to soften the words, something she would not ordinarily have done if it weren't so late. "You know what I mean," she said. "Why did you call me?"

Olivia gestured toward a thirty-something African American woman comforting a distraught parent who followed behind the stretcher. "Because she called me," she replied. The mother wailed into her friend's shoulder. "Her 8-year-old daughter was killed in a drive-by last week. Right there." She pointed to a spot about half a block down.

"That's Shawry Johnson's mother?"

"Yep," Olivia said. "That's Ilene Ford with her. Her only child died from an overdose tonight."

"You know I'm not unsympathetic, Liv, but what do you expect me to do about it?"

Olivia sighed. "I don't know," she admitted. "I just . . . I've been out here four times already this year."

As they drew near, the grieving parents noticed the outsiders.

"They don't care," Mrs. Ford moaned. "Nobody cares." She collapsed on the sidewalk, where Olivia knelt beside her.

"That's not true," Olivia said.

Tola Johnson just shook her head. "Yeah, I can see that from all the TV cameras out here," she said sarcastically.

It's just a drug overdose, Alex thought. Nothing newsworthy about that.

She watched as the boy's mother sobbed into Olivia's embrace. A long moment later, she looked back over her shoulder at the curb. Kingston was gone, but Brookman was still there, lighting up a fresh cigarette. Alex walked back to him and sat down. "Tell me more about this neighborhood . . . ."

She would recognize that arrogant stride anywhere. A so-so day was about to become a good day.

Alex laid something on her desk. "Sign this," she directed.

"OK." Olivia reached for a pen.

"Actually, I meant to read it first," Alex said with some humor. "But thanks for the vote of confidence."

Laughing, Olivia scanned the document, which set forth a series of numbered paragraphs about the detective's experiences in Willows Green. Reaching the end, she said, "'Further, affiant sayeth nought?' Sounds kinky." She signed in the space above her printed name. "What are you going to do with it?"

"I'll let you know when I get a judge to sign off on it." Alex smiled. "If I get a judge to sign off on it."

Olivia couldn't help but smile back at her. "You're not going to end up in jail again, are you?"

A wistful expression crossed Alex's face. "A couple of days all alone to get some work done? Sounds pretty good, actually," she said. "No defense attorneys whining,–"

"No detectives waking you up in the middle of the night," Olivia added, feeling slightly guilty.

"There are some detectives I wouldn't mind waking me in the middle of the night," Alex replied.

Another ambiguous comment. Sometimes when Alex said things like that, Olivia wondered if the ADA was flirting with her. If Alex were a man, she would have assumed it. But there were too many variables with Alex. Did she even realize how her words might sound to someone? Was she gay (or "flexible")? Had she figured out that Olivia was?

As usual, Olivia wrestled with a desire to respond with something blatant like, "And there are some ADAs who are worth waking," but, as usual, she kept her thoughts to herself.

After a brief silence, Alex dropped into a chair beside the detective's desk. "Did I catch you in the middle of something?"

A social call? Just what the doctor ordered. "Nah, just the regular crap," Olivia replied.

"So, how has your morning been . . . ?"

It was more than a week later before Olivia was able to return the visit. She'd volunteered to run a sticky warrant question by the ADA, and was now perched on the corner of Alex's desk chatting with the beautiful blonde, extending the visit long beyond its official purpose.

"I suppose I should get back," Olivia said reluctantly. "If you asked Elliot, I'm sure he's working his ass off while I'm sitting around on mine."

Alex laid a hand on her knee. "He won't begrudge you a few more minutes," she said.

No, he probably wouldn't. That was enough of an argument to persuade Olivia to hang around and enjoy the attorney's company a while longer. "You got lunch plans?" she asked, hoping that Alex wouldn't find it strange that she was asking to spend more time with her when they had just spent the past hour together.

"I could do a quick sandwich," Alex said. "I've got to meet Mitzi Hapner at 2 o'clock."

"Mitzi Hapner from Channel 4?"

"How many Mitzi Hapners do you think are running around out there?"

Before Olivia could respond, the door to Alex's office swung open, and the detective was surprised to see none other than District Attorney Arthur Branch himself, followed by Assistant District Attorney Brad Lowe. Olivia quickly scooted off the desk.

"What in God's name do you think you're doing?" Branch asked without sitting down.

"My job," Alex replied curtly. How the woman consistently got away with that tone amazed Olivia. If she spoke to Cragen like that on a regular basis, there would be a few (more) write-ups in her jacket.

Branch tossed a stack of tabloids onto the desk. When Alex didn't rise to the bait, Olivia reached down and picked them up. It didn't take long to spot the bur under Branch's saddle.

Below each headline was a stock (but sexy) photograph of New York County Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot with straight blonde hair about her shoulders and black-rim eyeglasses. Investigators from Cabot's office, the captions said, had recently served an Order to Show Cause asking that members of the local gang The Cuz be barred from crime-infested Willows Green between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

"Was it your intention to give the entire New York City Police Department a black eye, or did you just not give a damn?" Branch continued.

"There is nothing in my petition denigrating the NYPD," Alex said hotly.

"Bullshit," Lowe exploded.

Unconsciously, Olivia stepped closer to her friend.

"'Bullshit?'" Alex repeated. "Show me one thing in that petition that is inaccurate." She reached for an expanding file on the corner of her desk and thrust it toward him. "I have complaints. I have arrest records. I have case dispositions. I have anecdotal evidence. Ask your own men."

The last remark seemed to set Lowe off even more. "That's another thing," he said. "I will not have someone going behind my back to talk to my detectives."

"Behind your back?" Alex said, sounding incredulous. "We work for the same people, Brad."

"Well, I can tell you right now, they won't be signing any more of your fucking affidavits."

ADA Cabot shot to her feet. "I hope you're not suggesting that you would retaliate against a law enforcement officer for exercising his First Amendment rights," she said.

Branch cut short the argument. "Why didn't you tell me about this, Alexandra?" he asked.

"I wasn't seeking the death penalty," Alex replied. "I wasn't going beyond the prescribed range in a plea bargain. DA's Office policy states that– "

"Please don't insult my intelligence," he interrupted.

She didn't say anything.

His next question was deceptively calm. "Do you really believe for one moment that Judge Preston – or any judge in the twenty-first century, for that matter – is going to 'banish' someone from a neighborhood?"

Alex shrugged. "The California Supreme Court upheld a banishment order in '97 under a public nuisance theory," she said. "So yes, she might."

"Bullshit." That seemed to be Lowe's word of choice today, Olivia noted. "This is nothing but a publicity stunt."

"I'll defer to your expertise on that," Alex said.

If Branch hadn't been there, Olivia would have let herself smirk. She did love that woman.

"Look," Alex went on, "Brad's guys tried. They made arrests, but the suspects were back on the street before the gavel banged."

"Which is why we shifted our focus to the bigger fish," Lowe pointed out.

"That's fine," Alex said. "But when you pulled your guys out of the neighborhood, you left it defenseless. Three children have died in the past thirteen weeks. Why shouldn't we take action?"

"Because that is not how the New York County District Attorney's Office does business," Branch said. "We do not file patently frivolous petitions and damage our credibility with the judiciary in order to generate media attention."

As Branch continued to rail, Olivia wondered if she should say something. Alex was only in this predicament because Olivia had guilted her into taking on a problem that couldn't be solved, not by the DA's Office, anyway. It was probably best to keep quiet, she decided; Alex didn't seem too distressed. And so Olivia continued to watch in silence as Branch lectured his subordinate on office protocol, not personalizing issues, exercising professionalism, and several other pages from the D.A.'s Office handbook.

Watching the two men storm out the door long minutes later, Olivia was a little surprised when Alex reached for her purse and asked rather cheerily, "Should we go?"

"Alex, I'm sorry," Olivia said.

"Don't be." Blue eyes flashed. "If I had any doubts about filing that petition before, they're gone now."

Another wave of affection washed over Olivia. As Alex shut the door behind them, she asked, "Do you really think Preston's going to banish the Cuz from Willows Green?"

"I didn't actually use the b-word in my petition, you know," Alex said. "I just asked that they be prohibited from appearing publicly in the neighborhood during certain hours."

"Yeah, that's totally different."

With an innocent expression that Olivia had seen before – most recently when she told Judge Lawson that Detective Tutuola's threat to 'squash a suspect like the maggot he is' had been taken out of context – the ADA said, "You're not suggesting that I filed something with no chance of being granted just to put a media spotlight on the Willows Green problem, are you?"

"Of course not." Olivia smiled at her. "But thanks."

For the second time in a week, Alex slipped an arm around her. "If you're happy, I'm happy," she said. While Olivia reveled in the closeness, the ADA switched subjects. "Listen, Mitzi would probably like an NYPD face for her piece. Can you join us this afternoon?"

Making nice to the camera wasn't Olivia's favorite thing, but she could hardly refuse when Alex had taken such a big professional risk. "I'll try," she said. "Elliot and I have to run out to Queens for an interview, but if I'm back in time, sure."

As it turned out, she was running a little late. By the time she got to the DA's office, it would be nearly 3 o'clock, Olivia realized with regret. Hapner would probably be gone already. As tempting as it was to stop by anyway, she decided to do the responsible thing and check first. There was no answer on Alex's cell phone (must have turned it off for the filming, Olivia assumed), so she called her assistant. "Connie, this is Olivia Benson. Alex wanted me to meet with her and Mitzi Hapner; do you know if I'm too late?"

"No, I think they're still down there," the secretary replied.

"Down where?"

"At Willows Green."

They were meeting at Willows Green? In the heart of Cuz territory the same morning that Alex's photograph had been plastered all over the papers? "Did she take anyone with her?" Olivia asked.

"Not that I know of," Connie reported. "She was meeting that reporter down there."

Half frustrated with the witless attorney and half worried about her friend, Olivia called her partner. "Elliot, I'm heading down to Willows Green," she said. "Alex went down there by herself."

"You're kidding."

"Do attorneys have any common sense?" she said, exasperated. As soon as the light changed, she ran toward the subway entrance.

She hoped she was being paranoid, but her gut said otherwise. That was Alex's problem, Olivia decided: The attorney's instincts ran the other way. In Alex's mind, disagreements were resolved in court. Voices might be raised, but people wouldn't just take matters into their own hands. Surely she would be safe venturing into gang territory in the middle of the day.

At the Willows Green stop, Olivia forced her way through the passengers and took off to find her ADA. If Mitzi was filming, Alex probably took them to the location of the recent deaths. She turned a corner and started toward Ilene Ford's apartment building.

A crowd in the middle of the street up ahead did not bode well. In the midst of it, the detective caught a glimpse of blonde hair. She reached for her cell phone. "Dispatch, this is Olivia Benson with the 1-6," she reported. "I need immediate backup at 88th and Harpring in Willows Green." Clicking shut the phone, she jogged toward the group, holding out her badge in front of her. "Step aside," she began ordering. "Move aside."

When she broke through the circle, Olivia saw Alex surrounded by a band of young males. One of them was looming just inches from the attorney's face, yelling so loud that Olivia had no trouble hearing him. "You come down here and tell us our business, Cunt, you gonna pay," he spat.

Alex wasn't flinching, but Olivia could tell that she was nervous. From the rows of apartment buildings that lined the street, a dozen or so women had stepped out on the sidewalk to watch the confrontation, including Ilene Ford and Tola Johnson, Olivia noticed.

The detective quickly inserted herself between the ADA and the men who were menacing her. "You wanna back off, Pal?" she said.

"You want some of this?"

"There's not going to be 'some of this,'" Olivia said calmly. "You're going to go on about your business, and she's going to go on about hers."

"Then keep her out of our business," he replied.

"You stop killing the kids in this neighborhood and we won't have to make it our business," she countered.

Where's backup? Come on . . . .

"Bitch ain't gonna tell us we can't be here," he said, extending a palm to Alex's shoulder and shoving her off balance.

Olivia grabbed his arm. "Hands off," she growled. "She's an officer of the court. You're looking at a felony."

He reached under his shirt and pulled out a gun. "And you're looking at a .45."

Reacting instinctively, Olivia let the badge fall from her hand and reached for his wrist, twisting it hard until the gun clattered to the ground. "Alex, get out of here!" she yelled.

A blow to the mouth disoriented the detective momentarily, but before he could swing again, she recovered and jammed her fist into his stomach, then dropped him with a hard right. In a flash, Olivia dropped her full weight onto his chest, knee first. His "oof!" was cut short by a hand clamped angrily around his neck. With the other, Olivia drew her .38 from the back of her belt and jammed it into his mouth.

"Anyone moves and I pull the trigger," she declared. "He drew on a law enforcement officer; I have a green light."

No one moved.

As she caught her breath, Olivia thought through their situation. As beaten down as the residents of this neighborhood were, this guy's buddies could pop both of them right now and none of the two dozen people on the sidewalk would see a damn thing.

"All of you: clear out in 15 seconds, or he eats one," she announced. The look on her face must have lent force to the threat, and to Olivia's relief, most of the bunch retreated. Some loitered on the sidewalk, others vanished completely.

The on/off of a siren announced the arrival of a squad car behind her. In less than a minute, uniformed officers dispersed the remaining gang members, all but the jail bait on whom Detective Benson was currently sitting.

"My ribs," he complained.

"Hmm?" Olivia replied, shifting her weight just enough to–


Yeah, that was better. As she made herself comfortable, a manicured fingernail pressed gently against her lip. "We should get you some ice," Alex said.

Olivia looked up at the ADA. "I told you to get out of here," she said.

"And leave you?"

"That was the point," Olivia explained patiently.

More noises came from beneath her. "Get off me, Bitch!"

"Just a sec, Alex." Olivia squeezed her fingers around the perp's throat. "Did you say something, Asswipe?"

He shook his head.

The detective returned her attention to more important subjects. "What the hell were you thinking, coming down here?" she said.

"It never occurred to me that they would do something like this," Alex replied. "I'm an assistant district attorney!"

How could Alex be so sophisticated in some ways and so naive in others? Maybe that was one of the things that made her so attractive. As if there weren't enough of those.

"I don't see suspects in their natural environment that often," Alex admitted. In amazement, she assessed their surroundings. "How bad is this place?"

Shortly after eleven o'clock that night, a reporter on Channel 4 posed the same question. Mitzi Hapner, whom Olivia had assumed was sensible enough to run when the trouble started, had not in fact. Neither had her videographer, whose hidden camera went unnoticed as he wandered amid the crowd.

"Willows Green has more children die from non-accidental means than anywhere else in the county," Hapner began her story. Those and other dubious distinctions appeared in a novel petition filed the day before by Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot asking that a local street gang be banned from the area at night, she reported. Although legal analysts said the petition had virtually no chance of succeeding in court, it had brought attention to the neighborhood's unique problems.

"Just how bad is Willows Green?" One indication, Hapner said, could be seen in exclusive footage taken that very afternoon in which members of the Cuz assaulted Cabot and a New York City Police detective in broad daylight.

With morbid fascination, Olivia watched the whole scene. Alex hadn't filled her in on what took place before the detective got there. Her fury built as she saw one gangster yank Alex's head back, causing her glasses to slip. That's why she wasn't wearing them. Another snatched the attorney's cell phone from her belt and hurled it into the gutter. More of them bumped and jostled Alex as they encircled her, cutting off her avenue of escape. Poor Alex; she must have been terrified.

On impulse, Olivia picked up the phone.


"I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No," Alex said. "I'm glad you called."

Olivia settled back into her pillow. "I was watching Channel 4," she said.

"You're not the only one. This is my fourth phone call in ten minutes."

"Is that good or bad?"

"Depends on the call," Alex replied. She sounded relaxed. "Branch called to ask me to stop drawing negative publicity to the D.A.'s Office."


"Liz called to ask if I was all right. And Brad Lowe called to apologize for his boorish behavior this morning."

"He did?"

"No, of course not." Olivia could picture the smirk on Alex's face. "But Councilman Burton's aide called to ask me to present a list of suggestions to the Council next week for cleaning up Willows Green."

"Alex, that's fantastic!"

"Well, it's something, anyway." In spite of the neutral words, Olivia could tell that Alex was pleased. "That neighborhood has a long way to go."

Yes, it did. "Which is why I don't want to see you down there again without backup," Olivia said. When the attorney didn't immediately offer the appropriate assurances, she added sternly, "I mean it, Alex."

"I do solemnly swear that I will not go to Willows Green–"

"Or any other dangerous neighborhood."

"–or any other dangerous neighborhood without backup from now on."

"OK," Olivia said, mollified. "And, you know, I don't mind being that backup. Just call me."

"I will."

"Goodnight, Counselor. You done good," Olivia praised her. "And if it means anything, Brad Lowe's detectives don't love him." She wondered if Alex would decipher the poorly worded declaration.

"He doesn't love them, either."

Olivia hung up with a smile.

Every once in a while, Alex compiled a mental list of ten things that would make her job (and thus her life) better. Most of them she couldn't do anything about, which rendered the exercise pointless, she acknowledged, but she liked the feeling that there were only ten things making life difficult instead of a hundred.

Near the top of her list was for Brad Lowe to move to Tibet, or, as Olivia put it, for Branch to stop sucking Lowe's dick and let Alex do her job (half-hearted attempts to chastize Olivia for such language having proved unsuccessful).

Alex resisted the temptation to call her detective now, just because she was having a bad day and wanted to hear a friendly voice. Olivia would hardly consider that a legitimate reason to call. She would be sitting next to her at a banquet in just a few hours, anyway.

She was still leafing through Judge Preston's ruling – judicial spanking, more like it – on Willows Green when word had come down from Branch's secretary: Her boss and Lowe needed a word with her. They were on their way to Alex's office.

". . . fundamental misunderstanding of the role of this court in addressing criminal activity as a civil matter . . . . extraordinary and completely unprecedented . . . . not a prudent or proper use of the court's equity powers . . . ."

Ouch. The rebuke might have worried Alex more but for a salty "Nice try" from Preston in the hallway the day after the evidentiary hearing. Still, this ruling wouldn't be one for Alex's resume.

For the most part, ADA Lowe had made himself scarce in the months that the petition was pending, probably on the off chance that it might be granted and Alex would look like some kind of genius. The reprieve was now over, apparently.

Yes, she understood completely, she informed the two men in her office twenty minutes later. "A nice neat pile of cocaine is more photogenic than anonymous women gang raped and beaten nearly to death. Would it help if I asked them to smile for the camera?"

"Alexandra," Branch cautioned her.

Addressing Lowe directly, Alex continued, "I've always wondered; just how long does it take to stack bindles into a pyramid, or does it depend on the size of the camera lens?"

"This is the kind of cooperation I've come to expect from SVU," Lowe told Branch angrily.

"That's because your definition of 'cooperation' is 'Narcotics gets its way and to hell with Special Victims,'" Alex said.

"No, it's because whatever SVU detectives want, Alex Cabot does," he countered. "We've had an eye on Gillmore and Schultz since last year."

"Are you surveilling them?"

"No, but they're part of a bigger plan. Why don't you go piss in your own sandbox?"

"Why don't you go read a fax?" she snapped.

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Lowe said. "Is that what this is all about?"

Alex regretted letting him goad her into the juvenile taunt. "That has nothing to do with this," she said. Not overtly, anyway.

Although SVU hadn't given up on nailing Keller, they were still stinging from the setback. But there was nothing to be gained from bringing up Lowe's idiocy again. "I don't blame you for Keller," Alex lied. "I just see no reason why your relatively low-level dealers should take a walk on my two rapes."

"You see no reason, all right."

Branch had reached his limit. "I have had enough of this kindergarten bickering," he said. "Alexandra, tell your detectives to pull back on the Gillmore investigation."


"Just do it," he said. "I am tired of these disputes."

That made two of them.

"You're both passionate about your jobs, and I appreciate that," Branch went on. "But you both work for the people of New York, and you're both professionals. I expect joint cooperation from now on."

Yet SVU was having to hold back on its rape investigation, Alex noted. What was Narcotics' contribution to this "joint cooperation" supposed to be?

A telltale ping on Alex's computer alerted her that the Payton hearing in Pew was on in 35 minutes. "I've got to go," she said. She should offer some conciliatory language to her boss, she knew, and she might have been able to muster something if Lowe hadn't been there. Instead, she snatched up her briefcase, into which she had already tucked her argument outline and case file before this irritating visit commenced, and wordlessly strode out of her office.

Even with the extra five minutes that she had allotted herself, Alex found herself growing nervous as the big hand on the courthouse clock crept toward the twelve. Oh, come on.

"Sorry, Miss Cabot," the security officer apologized again, as if it was his fault that the outdated and probably cheap-to-begin-with metal detector had malfunctioned just after the attorney placed her briefcase on the conveyor belt. Hell, maybe it was. At this point, Alex didn't much care. "Second time this week it's done this."

From inside the dark recesses of the machine, Alex's cell phone rang again. "Tommy . . . ," she pleaded.

He knew what she was asking, and shook his head apologetically. "Can't do it, Miss Cabot," he said. "Everything has to be x-rayed. With that deal in Seattle last month . . . ."

Throwing pride to the wind, Alex made her best pitch. "Tommy, please; I don't have time to go to the north entrance," she said. "I am three minutes from making Warshowsky's shit list. Once you're on it, you never get off."

He cringed. "Warshowsky, huh?"

She nodded.

Wavering briefly, the deputy reached into the screening compartment of the machine and pulled out her briefcase and purse. "I was able to check these before it went down," he announced for the benefit of those in line behind her.

"I owe you one," she thanked him as she hurried past. "Hold the elevator!" she called, reaching for her phone just as it rang again.

"Alex," Olivia's excited voice reached her. "I've been trying to reach you."

"My purse has been in purgatory," she said. "What's up? I've got Warshowsky in one minute."

"We just ID'd one of Schultz's customers as Hal Robey, a two-time felon," the detective reported. "Slam dunk parole violation. Can you get us a warrant?"

Schultz – damn. "I can't, Olivia. Listen–" With a whispered "thanks," she scooted past a woman holding open the courtroom door for her and began making her way toward the prosecutor's table.

"I think we have enough anyway," Olivia said, "but that nails probable cause, doesn't it?"

"It would, but–"

"Miss Cabot, if you don't mind, could you spare us some of your valuable time?" Judge Warshowsky intoned.

"I'm sorry, Your Honor. Schultz is complicated, Olivia," she said quickly into the phone. "Don't do anything–I'll call you later. I've gotta go."

On the other end of the line, a disappointed detective hung up.

"Cabot going for the warrant?" Elliot asked.

"No," Olivia replied. "It sounds like she's tied up."


Yeah. Here they were, certain for once that Schultz was in there, and fairly certain that he was alone. The sleaze's indiscriminate shackup and her little boy were down at the park. If the takedown got ugly, the fallout would be contained.

At the sound of footsteps clunking down the hall, Olivia crossed over to the door of their borrowed apartment and peeked through the eyehole. Just another junkie. She knew what would happen now: The man would knock three times, and Schultz would let him in. After a few minutes, the visitor would shuffle back out again. Schultz rarely came out himself.

If they could just sweat this dealer a while, SVU detectives were convinced, they could smoke out who his supplier was–a newcomer whose payment demands included the brutalization of young prostitutes who believed they were being hired for a routine service.

Right on schedule, the satisfied customer exited Schultz's apartment, stuffing something into his pocket. Olivia noted the relevant information in her log, then advised Munch and Fin by walkie talkie of the man's description, from blue baseball cap to worn brown boots. "Left front pocket," she added. This one was pretty far gone; there was a good chance he might not make it to the street before he had to make use of his purchase.

An idea occurred to her. "Hey, Elliot," she said. "Alex says we have probable cause. So we only need a warrant if we go inside his place, right?"

"Yeah," he agreed. "What are you thinking . . . ?"

The next time Schultz answered his door, an attractive but strung out brunette stood outside. "Mike?" she mumbled. "Tony said . . . ." She seemed to lose her train of thought. "Tony said . . . ."

"You coastin', girl?"

The woman gave up trying to complete her sentence. "I need a dime," she said. Had this been a buy and bust, she would not have specified the nature of their transaction so early, but that wasn't where Detective Benson's interests lay today.

Running his eye down her body, he offered, "You can suck me off; that'll get you a nickel."

She shook her head lazily at him. "Naw, man, I got money." Fishing around in her jacket, Olivia's brow furrowed when her hand came up empty. "I thought . . . ." Trying her other pocket, she beamed when her efforts produced a wad of loose bills. "See?" she said happily. "I got . . . ." She considered the cash, trying to do the math. A twenty dropped from her hand to the floor, and then another, and she looked at them as if they had sprouted wings and flown away. "Fuck," she mumbled.

Reaching for the errant bills, she lost her balance and plopped down on her ass. Once there, she sighed deeply at the prospect of getting up again. As her eyelids began to droop, she slumped against the wall, crumpled bills still clutched loosely in her left palm.

"Fuck it," Olivia said. Her eyes drifted shut.

The suspect studied her still form, zeroing in on the stash of green that was ripe for the taking. Human nature finally won out. Schultz stepped into the hall and bent over to swipe the cash from her hand, but before he could straighten up, Olivia grabbed his wrist and slapped on a pair of handcuffs from her jacket pocket.

"You're under arrest," she said.

He yanked on the cuff, but a second detective was now behind him. "I wouldn't do that," Elliot said. "You run, we get to chase you."

Brushing dust and whatever else might be on the floor off of her hands, Olivia thrust the collective cash holdings of four SVU detectives back into her pocket. "Let's go, Mikey," she said. "On the way, I'll treat you to my rendition of the Asswipe Bill of Rights."

Alex held off from taking a sip of her coffee in order to answer the phone. "Cabot," she said.

"My office," Branch's voice ordered. "Now."

What now? She headed upstairs.

Occupying one of the chairs in Branch's office was Lowe. Great. Alex decided to remain on her feet for whatever this was, the better to stomp out when she'd had enough.

"You are hereby relieved of your duties with the Special Victims Unit," Branch announced.

Alex was stunned. "What?"

"I will not tolerate disobedience of a direct order by one of my subordinates," he said.


"Like you don't know," Lowe spat.

"No, I don't know," Alex said, utterly bewildered. "I haven't disobeyed any orders." Recently.

"Then can you tell me why Detectives Benson and Stabler arrested Michael Schultz after you were specifically ordered to withdraw from that investigation?" Branch asked.

Too shocked to respond, Alex lowered herself into one of the client chairs.

The angry D.A. didn't seem to notice her silence. "Either you disobeyed my instructions, or your detectives disobeyed yours," he said. "Either way, it confirms what has already become clear: it is no longer in the office's best interests for you to be assigned to SVU."

"Of course it is," she argued. "Look at our closure rate."

"That is only one measure of an effective unit," he replied. "Objectivity is another. An understanding of an assistant district attorney's obligation to control the detectives who work under her, not the other way around."

For one of the few times in her career, ADA Cabot had no idea what to say. "I'm sure– I . . . ." She needed to talk to her detectives. Alex ignored the derisive snort from the corner of the room. "Please do not make any decisions until I have more information," she begged. Not assigned to SVU? The prospect was unthinkable.

"Did you tell your detectives not to arrest Schultz?" Branch questioned her.

"I–" She flashed back to her conversation with Olivia. "I'll find out what happened."

Lowe spoke up. "You don't know what your own detectives have been doing?" he asked.

"I've been in court all afternoon," she snapped.

Her boss leaned back in his chair, preparing to share one of his country western philosophies, Alex assumed. Instead, he said, "I should have dealt with this after that Willows Green fiasco."

"Fiasco?" Alex repeated. "That was–"

He raised a palm to her, obviously not interested in a debate. "I've made my decision, Alexandra."

Her head was spinning. Not working with Olivia, with a group of men whom she considered good friends, not experiencing Olivia's passion for the job almost every day? She couldn't let this happen. "All right," she said quietly.

Branch seemed to sense a change in her tone.

"I guess tonight is as good a time as any to announce it."

That gave him pause. "That would not be appropriate," he warned.

"It seems appropriate to me," she countered. "When I pick up my Child Advocate of the Year award, I can announce that I have been relieved of my duties as a child advocate." She held his gaze. The threat was a bit dangerous, Alex knew, but it didn't matter.

Branch blinked first. "We'll discuss this when I return from my conference," he finally said.

"Is that the one in Hawaii?" she couldn't resist asking. The 'Maui Owie for Taxpayers,' as the Post editorial labeled it?

"Don't test me, Alexandra."

She had probably crossed a line, the ADA recognized. "Am I still with SVU?" she asked a bit more respectfully.

"For the time being."

That was all Alex needed. She could make this right. By the time Branch got back from his boondoggle, she could work something out. Some kind of assurance that would keep her with this unit. Maybe Liz could help. She jumped to her feet and strode toward the door, relieved when he did not call her back in.

Undignified as it was, she was practically running by the time she approached the squad room.

"Hey, Counselor," Olivia said warmly. "You ready for your big evening?"

"Did you arrest Michael Schultz?"

The detective held out her hands reassuringly. "Outside his apartment," she said, favoring Alex with a Benson grin. "One hundred percent by the book."

Oh, no. "I told you to wait."

Olivia seemed confused by the reaction. "To wait on the warrant," she said.

"No, to wait on everything."

"Oh, well, I didn't understand that, Alex. What's the problem?"

Alex dropped into a chair beside Olivia's desk. Damn. This wasn't the best time to give her detectives the news that Lowe had trumped their gang rape. "It's complicated," she equivocated. Would she have to go kiss Lowe's ass to stay with SVU? If that was the price, she would pay it, as painful as it was.

"Did we screw up?" Olivia asked when the ADA did not elaborate. "Schultz was in the hallway, so we didn't need a warrant, right?"

Alex mustered up a smile. "Right."

"Cabot," Munch called out as he walked in from the hallway. "Shouldn't you be slipping into something more photogenic?" He draped his jacket over his chair before dropping into it.

Elliot pointed at the attorney's flattering Navy blue jacket and skirt. "Can you get more photogenic than that?" he asked.

"Hey, guys," Olivia greeted her colleagues. "Back just in time."

"Of course," Munch declared. "We didn't want to be late for the one evening that SVU isn't a four-letter word."

"You have any luck?" Olivia asked.

Her partner pulled out a crude drawing of a street and various buildings. "How about a rooftop with an unobstructed sight line to Gillmore's place?" he offered. He pointed to two locations marked with an X.


Munch added, "We got an OK from the owner. I think he'd forgotten that he owns that particular shithole."

Wait a minute . . . . "Did you say Gillmore?" Alex asked. Her thoughts had been elsewhere.

"With Schultz in on a parole violation, someone'll have to take over with the supplier," Olivia said. "So they'll go to him or he'll go to them. Either way, we've got it covered."

"No." Alex shook her head. This was the last thing she needed right now.

Olivia seemed confused by the word. "No?"

"We need to hold off on Gillmore."


Guess this was the time, after all. "Branch's orders." If SVU went after Gillmore now, she might as well start packing up her office right now.

Amid general expressions of dismay by the detectives, Olivia's voice emerged. "We don't take orders from Branch."

"I do," Alex pointed out.

With a laugh, Olivia asked, "Since when?"

The joke hit a little too close to home. "Since I was assigned by the District Attorney's Office to fix this unit," Alex snapped.

Olivia stared at her. "Fix?" she repeated.

The timer on Alex's watch began a steady beeping. "Look, I don't have time for this," she said. "Just leave Gillmore alone."

"OK," Olivia said, more than a little irritated now. "We'll just keep an eye on him. We won't bust him."

Why was this concept so hard to grasp? "No, you won't watch him, Detective," Alex said. "SVU will stay a hundred miles away from him." Frustrated, she jabbed too hard at the beeper to shut it off, causing it to jam.

"Fine. But what we choose to do in our spare time is none of Branch's business."

"Goddamn it, Olivia!" Alex shouted. "For once, why can't you just do what you're told?"

Silence descended on the room.

Seriously considering tearing the damn thing off her wrist and tossing it in the trash, Alex reached again for the small alarm button. "I've got to go," she muttered.

No one said goodbye.

Do what you're told. Just when Olivia thought she had put the words behind her, they ran through her brain again.

Why should they back off Gillmore? He and/or his buddies had gang-raped and beaten two women. Two that they knew of, anyway. How many women, having heard from cops that rape of a prostitute was just a bit of "shoplifting," might not have even bothered to report it?

Without acknowledging what she was doing, Detective Benson ended up standing in front of a decrepit multi-story building that, like its neighbors in what used to be a commercial district, had seen better days decades earlier, if then. Half the buildings now appeared to be unoccupied. A few had been converted into inexpensive housing, one- or two-bedroom apartments, most likely.

The workday was barely over but, except for an occasional passerby, the streets were nearly empty. That would make it a little more difficult for SVU detectives to remain unobserved, but otherwise the guys were right; this building was perfect. It was far enough back from the road to accommodate a small parking lot in front, but tall enough to see over other buildings in the sight line. A couple of zoom lenses and a commandeered parking space, and they'd have both street and overhead coverage. This could work. She peered up at the roof.

A few minutes later, she chided herself as she dusted off her dress again. The front entrance was locked, of course, just as she had expected. All the doors would be locked, or rusted shut, or both, which was why this was silly. Another gust of wind, rushing through every few minutes as a storm of some sort rolled in, nearly sent her into the side of the building.

Swiping at a new smudge, she grumbled to herself, "Damn it." This expensive-as-hell thing would look like a gunny sack by the time she made it to the hotel. Olivia tried to maneuver her hair back into some semblance of a style. Not to mention that she would look like Don King.

Even before she reached the heavy metallic door on the back of the building, Olivia could see that it was not closed all the way. The door had served as a delivery entrance back when bread was a quarter a loaf, she guessed. Pulling it open, she tiptoed through debris in her high-heeled shoes until she found a stairwell that spiraled up to yet another door. This one was propped open by some kind of car part, affording Olivia a clear view of the rooftop.

Oh, hell–she hadn't imagined it. Out on the ledge, a young woman stared down at the street, seemingly on the verge of a fatal decision.

Olivia stepped onto the roof. If her jumper remained distracted, she might be able to make it all the way to the ledge without being detected, she hoped.

No such luck. The wind unexpectedly receded in one of its calm periods, and the crunch of a heel on gravel was painfully loud.

The woman whirled around. "Who's there?" she cried.

Time for Plan B. "Sorry," Olivia said soothingly. "Just me. I came up here to clear my head. Mind if I join you?"

This girl was much younger than the detective had initially thought, maybe even still in high school. As Olivia watched, the girl resumed her contemplation of the street.

Oh, no, you don't. "My name's Olivia," she said. "It's just been one of those days, you know?" She continued moving toward her.

The girl looked back over her shoulder again. "Don't come any closer," she warned.

Olivia held up her hands to show her acquiescence. "No problem," she said. "I didn't mean to scare you." She sat down on the ledge about ten feet away and began swinging her legs slowly back and forth.

"You didn't scare me. I'm . . . ."

She didn't finish her sentence, and she didn't need to. Olivia knew what she was doing. What she didn't know was why. "Did you have a tough day, too?" she asked.

"I'm sorry," the girl said, "I don't mean to sound rude, but I don't really want to talk."

"OK, sorry," Olivia apologized again. "It's just that talking to you was making me feel better, but that's just selfish, I suppose."

She could see the young redhead wrestling with her response. Natural compassion won out over despondency, and she eventually replied, "No, I don't mind." Reluctantly, she lowered herself to sit on the ledge, too far away for the detective to get hold of her.

From first impressions, this kid seemed kind-hearted. A nurturer. Her own problems might seem insurmountable to her, but someone else's might not . . . .

"I had a fight with someone today," Olivia began before the ringing of her cell phone startled them both. The girl scrambled to her feet, but Olivia hastily assured her, "I'm turning it off. It's off." Hazarding a guess, she lied, "It's just my mother. I can talk to her later."

A tightening around the girl's mouth told Olivia not to pursue that line. Okay . . . .

Two SVU detectives gathered in the corner of an ornate banquet room, where Elliot pressed the End button on his cell.

"No answer?" Munch asked.


Returning from a trip to the men's room, Fin muttered disgustedly, "Grow up, Benson."

Elliot checked his watch again. "If she doesn't show, you're gonna have to do this," he said to Munch. On the phone again, he raised a finger for quiet. "Patty, any luck?"

"Patty Siegler's rifling through Liv's desk for a copy of her speech or the nomination form," Munch informed his partner.

"Shit," Elliot said at the clerk's response. "What about her hard drive? OK, thanks anyway." He hit another speed dial number. "Dickie? Hey, Pal, Dad needs a big favor. Can you get on the internet? I need some information on Alex Cabot. Alexandra. Stuff like . . . ." He looked to the others for suggestions. "Where she went to law school. Committees, awards, stuff like that. She wrote that Rebecca's Law that the legislature put through last year–"

"–and testified," Fin said.

"And testified at the hearings," Elliot added. "See what you can dig up."

Fin turned to his partner. "I can't believe Benson would bail on this," he said.

"You missed the fireworks," Munch replied. "Cabot basically told Liv that she was her bitch."

"So she was out of line," Fin said. "Call her on it tomorrow. This shit's a big deal." He motioned toward the dais where Alex was to accept her award.

Munch nodded.

"See this?" Indicating her dress, a shimmering knee-length, Olivia laughed. "I bought this for a dinner honoring a woman who just told me to shut up and do what I'm told."

The girl winced. "I'm sure she didn't mean it," she said.

"Yeah," Olivia replied. "Sometimes people say things they don't really mean."

She eyed the girl, whose name she now knew to be Krysta. The girl wasn't ready for the big question yet, she perceived.

"I still love her," Olivia went on. That was true. "She's like a sister to me." That wasn't. "Do you have any sisters?"

Bingo. The first smile of the evening. "Brenda," the girl replied.

This wonderful relative, Olivia gradually learned, was nine years older and had her own place and her own job and her own life. They didn't have much in common, except, apparently, for a mutual hatred of their parents. She could work with that.

Belatedly, one of Olivia's earlier comments seemed to sink in. "You were supposed to be somewhere tonight?" Krysta asked.

"Nah," the detective replied. "It got postponed. Power went out. This wind, you know?"

As if on cue, another blast drowned out her last two words. At the same time, she heard the scraping of metal on gravel, and the door behind them slammed shut. Olivia felt as though she were in a wind tunnel up this high, but as far as she could tell, Krysta was somewhat insulated. The wind direction, maybe, or the configuration of the lot. Whatever. At least she didn't have to worry about talking Krysta out of doing anything rash, only to have the girl sail off the roof in a freak microburst. Olivia would be happy when they were both back on solid ground.

"I was going to give my friend's introduction," she said when the teen would be able to hear her again. "I don't know how good it would have been, though."

"I'm sure it would have been great."

Olivia smiled to herself. Did they really make kids this sweet any more? "She's a lawyer," she found herself saying. She really hadn't planned on going on about this. "All her friends are lawyers. And there would have been judges there." She chuckled self-consciously. "I don't do that much public speaking. She probably should have picked someone else."

"She didn't want someone else," the girl pointed out. "She wanted you."

As much as she longed to talk about Alex with someone, even a seventeen year old stranger, Olivia was a professional. It was time to shift the focus gently back to what had brought the girl to the verge of launching herself off the roof of this shitty building. But the girl's next question caught her off guard.

"Are you two . . . ?" It wouldn't have surprised her if the girl was blushing. "You know, you and her?"

Olivia weighed her answer.

"It doesn't matter," Krysta added quickly. "I had a good friend in school. He was . . . you know."

"I am," Olivia confided. "I don't know if she is."

"I wish I was," Krysta said. "Then maybe I wouldn't be stupid and pregnant."

"You might still be stupid," Olivia joked. "I speak from experience."

With his fork, Elliot unenthusiastically rearranged the configuration of his entree. He jabbed one unidentified object, a potato of some sort, apparently, and brought it to his nose for a sniff.

"You never did like French food," Kathy said in his ear.

The amused observation warmed him. Elliot didn't know how much longer Kath would be willing to keep up appearances by attending shindigs like this with him, but he was grateful for the chance to spend time with her. He hadn't seen his wife and children in nearly three weeks.

His contentment, unfortunately, was tempered by the accusingly empty chair on the other side of Alex Cabot. They were all guilty of making poor decisions at times, but this one by his partner was a whopper.

Was that his phone? Subtly, he pulled it off his belt and checked the display. No new messages. No missed calls.

"She's not going to call," Alex pronounced from his right, surprising him. The attorney had said very little tonight. "I think that's clear enough."

Elliot couldn't really deny it.

"I regret what I said to her," Alex went on. "It's no excuse, but . . . Branch told me today that I'm being transferred out of SVU."


"We were ordered to drop the Schultz investigation," Alex sighed. "I didn't make that clear enough to Olivia."

"So . . . ."

"So, obviously I don't exercise proper control over my detectives."

The afternoon's events had just become clearer to Detective Stabler.

"I guess it doesn't matter any more," Alex said, glancing again at the vacant seat beside her.

"How would you feel if Brenda killed herself?"

The girl's horrified expression answered Olivia's carefully timed question.

"Let me call her, Krysta," Olivia pressed. "Talk to her for a minute, OK?" While the girl debated it, Olivia reached for her cell phone and turned the power on. "4 MISSED MESSAGES," the screen announced. "What's her number?" Olivia typed the seven digits into the keypad. "Brenda Watters?" she said when a female voice answered. The sounds of a party filtered through the earpiece. "My name is Olivia Benson. I'm calling about your sister."

"Krysta? What about her?" In the background, the woman shushed her guests.

"She needs to talk to you for a minute." Olivia held out the phone. Come on . . . . She preferred not to, but she would not hesitate to grab the girl, throw her over her shoulder, and carry her down five flights of stairs if she could get close enough.

"No!" Krysta suddenly blurted out. "She said Todd was no good. She'll think I'm so stupid!"


"What's going on?" the voice on the other end of the line demanded. "Who is this?"

Olivia eased her fingers apart and spoke a little louder. "Krysta, your sister's getting worried," she said. "I can tell that she loves you. Let me tell her that you're up on this roof with me. Let me tell her what you were thinking about doing."

"What . . . ?" The woman on the other end of the line suddenly understood what she was hearing. "Oh, my God! Krysta! Let me talk to her!"

"She wants to talk to you, Krysta." Olivia held out the phone. "Just talk to her for a minute, Sweetie. Make her feel better, OK?"

The redhead reluctantly nodded, but still seemed wary of Olivia's intentions. Damn the girl's intuition. "Pass it over here," she said.

"How about you go on the other side of the ledge before I throw it?" Olivia asked. At the teen's hesitation, she added, "I'll stay right here. I just don't want to take any chances with this wind." Her brain was churning out some basic calculations: number of seconds it would take Detective Benson to leap to her feet and grab the girl versus number of seconds it would take the girl to hop over the barrier and off the roof if this thing went south.

Krysta rose and stepped over the two-foot concrete berm that was supposed to prevent anyone from stumbling accidently over the edge. So far so good. Carefully, Olivia pitched her phone into Krysta's cupped hands, then checked her watch. She envisioned herself hurrying into a ballroom late – really late – but maybe before Alex finished her speech. She could think of few things in life more wonderful than staring with impunity at the beautiful attorney.

Munch was a natural emcee, Elliot thought admiringly. His improvised introduction of Alex Cabot sounded as though he had spent hours on it instead of fifteen minutes. Just the right mix of praise and humor, and not a word about covert government operations.

As the honoree walked toward the podium, Chief Deputy DA Elizabeth Donnelly leaned across the table. "Maybe she's made it off Preston's crap list," she said to Elliot, pointing to the crusty judge seated a few tables away. "Did Alex talk to her?"

"I think so," he replied.

Then came a more pointed inquiry. "Where's Benson?"

"Something came up."

Liz eyed him skeptically. "Uh huh."

Krysta nodded at whatever her sister was saying. "OK," she replied. "OK. Me, too." To Olivia, she said, "Can you tell Brenda where we are? I wasn't paying a lot of attention earlier, when . . . ."

When, distraught after being kicked out of her parents' house as a shameless little whore, she chose a random subway exit and began wandering the street, checking each abandoned edifice until she found one with an unlocked door.

Relieved that the crisis seemed to be over, Olivia put a hand out on each side to get to her feet. In the same instant, she saw Krysta swinging her arm upward.

"No!" Olivia shouted, but it was too late–caught up in the wind, the cell phone sailed over her head and down to the street below, smashing into tiny fragments.

Krysta clamped both hands across her mouth. "Oh my God, I'm sorry!" she squeaked.

Stay cool, Liv. You did a lot dumber things at seventeen. "Not a problem," Olivia said.

Wrong. The reason that the door to the roof of this building had been propped open in the first place, Olivia deduced a few minutes later, was that it was locked. A built-to-last, rusty, unyielding fucking lock. "Damn it!" she growled, giving up after half a dozen attempts to budge it.

"I can't believe this," Krysta said. "I could barely move that door earlier."

"You moved the door?"

"I tried," Krysta said. "I didn't get very far. The thing holding it was pretty heavy."

Which explained how a door that had been propped open for years suddenly felt the need to slam itself shut in a windstorm.

"What are we going to do?" Krysta asked. "Do you think anyone would hear us if we hollered?"

Hear them? Maybe. Pay any attention to them? Doubtful.

While Krysta gave it a try, Olivia started an inspection of the rooftop. On a building of this vintage, there ought to be . . . . and there it was: a metal fire escape, which descended to a point about five feet above street level. Having chased more than one perp off a roof, Olivia was a little dismayed. She wasn't a fan of the straight-down variety.

Reaching down to give it a yank, she decided that it seemed sturdy enough. These things were built to hold at least four times her weight. Maybe more back then. They don't make things the way they used to, Munch was always complaining.

"Stay here," she ordered, confident now that the girl could be trusted on her own.

Swinging herself over the edge, Olivia began to climb down, pausing as a gust of wind threatened to dislodge her. Midway down, she stopped--that didn't sound like the wind. She looked back at where she had just been and, to her horror, saw the top of the fire escape detaching itself from the side of the building.

"Oh, shit!" She scrambled down the rungs, but the ladder pulled completely away and Olivia found herself poised, for a single moment, straight up in the air. But just for a moment.

"Thank you," Alex said to another wellwisher. She would rather have been conversing with the keynote speaker – his notions about the origins of poverty begged to be challenged – but apparently the butt-kissing hour wasn't over yet.

"Cabot." The salutation was unenthusiastic.

No one was near them; why was he even bothering to talk to her? "Brad," she responded with the same indifference.

"The committee doesn't have the balls to give this thing to a man," he said.

"Well, if the committee has no balls, that should give you a leg up," Alex replied. Forgetting momentarily why she wasn't there, Alex wished that Olivia were by her side. The attorney would have enjoyed a vicarious "Fuck you, Asswipe" right now.

"Alex. Lowe." The Chief Deputy DA's greeting was a welcome diversion.

"Brad here was just offering me a few words," Alex said. She let him stew for a bit, wondering whether she was going to rat him out to someone who liked him about as much as Alex did, but decided to call a truce. "Very gracious."

"Hm." Donnelly's response was noncommittal. "Some of the less pompous members of our judiciary are buying a round in the bar," she said. "Any takers?"

She came to slowly, and immediately wished that she hadn't. Damn, she hurt.

"Can you stay awake, Detective?" an unknown male asked her.

Easier said than done.


Cracking open one eye, Olivia was eventually able to focus it on a redheaded teenager who stood near an older version of herself. "What happened?" she muttered.

"The fire escape broke off," Krysta said.

She already knew that.

"You fell."

And that.

"And then it fell on you."

That explained a lot.

"It was really loud, so people called the cops. I mean the police," she amended quickly. "Why didn't you tell me you were a police officer?"

And freak you out? "It didn't matter," Olivia replied. She tried to check her watch, but the place it was normally located was presently wrapped in a thick layer of bandage. Curious, she tried rotating her wrist. Ow! Fuck that.

"Do me a favor and don't do that, Detective," the medic said, snipping off a piece of tape.

No problem. "What time is it?" she asked.

"Twenty-two sixteen."

A quarter after ten? How long had she been out? With some difficulty, Olivia sat up.

"Don't do that, either," the tech requested.

"I've got to be somewhere," Olivia said. "Am I mobile?"

"Theoretically," he conceded. "But you've gotta go to General. Department policy. Otherwise, brain injury goes undetected, you flip out at work, that sort of thing."

"I might anyway," she said.

He tapped her wrist. "And you're gonna need that x-rayed."

"Listen . . . ." She lowered her voice so that Krysta wouldn't hear. "See this dress?"

He nodded.

"I was supposed to be somewhere tonight," she continued. "If I don't make this right, I'll never need to wear this dress again. You understand?"

Evidently he did. "I can give you twenty-four hours," he replied. "But if you don't turn in a medical certificate by then, you'll be stuck on desk duty."

"I owe you . . . ." She searched for the name tag that would normally be pinned above his left breast pocket.


She wasn't sure she had heard him right.

"As in Studs Terkel, my mother's favorite author," he said. "I used to wear it, but last year a woman thought it was some kind of club. She wouldn't let me work on her."

Even in her woozy condition, Olivia didn't think she'd have trouble remembering that name. Two Knicks tickets were coming the next time Elliot's contact came up with an extra pair. She exchanged goodbyes and a painful embrace with the tearful Watters sisters, and walked, stiffly, toward the subway entrance.

Those award things always lasted forever, she figured. At least it always seemed like it. If not, she would just have to flash her badge at security and knock on a certain ADA's door at an inappropriate hour. Olivia didn't care; she couldn't let Alex think whatever she had to be thinking about her all night.

For the first time today, luck was with her. Half a block from the row of international flags that fronted the Westin, she saw a blonde woman emerge from the lobby with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a plaque of some kind in the other. The woman turned right at the sidewalk, heading for her car, Olivia presumed.

Her left hip hurt (and her back, and her ass, and her shoulder, and her wrist), but Olivia ignored the discomfort as she picked up her pace. "Alex!" she called out.

The blonde stopped in her tracks.

"Alex," she said again, catching up to her friend. "I am so sorry. I couldn't help it."

The attorney turned around. Whatever she was expecting, it wasn't Detective Benson in her current state, apparently. Her expression immediately transformed from cool acknowledgment to concern. "What happened to you?" she asked.

"Bit of bad luck."

Blue eyes shifted to the bandage that extended halfway up Olivia's forearm. "Work-related?"

"Yeah," Olivia replied. "I would never have missed this otherwise. I was on my way here–see?" She pointed to her overpriced dress and the gaping tear down one side of it.

"What happened?" Alex repeated. "Are you all right?"

"Jumper on 59th. It took a while to get her down." Please don't ask why I was on 59th.

"Did she land on you?"

"No," Olivia grinned. "But are there any penal code provisions for unsafe fire escapes?"

"I'll find one."

Alex reached for the detective's good hand and tugged her under the glow of a nearby street light, where she examined Olivia's face, wrist, and the rest of her body. "Are you hurt anywhere else?" she asked.

"Just every muscle in my body and most of my vital organs," Olivia quipped.

"Is there anything I can do?"

Olivia didn't touch that one. "I just wanted you to know that I would have been here tonight if I could," she said.

"That doesn't matter," Alex said. "Why don't you make it up to me now by buying me a drink?"

A little one-on-one time with the guest of honor, who had already forgiven her? Olivia quickly accepted.

"Wait–are you on painkillers?"

Olivia remembered the medic's parting gift. "Yeah," she replied. "Mine'll have to be Diet Coke."

"Are you all right alone tonight?" Alex asked. "Do you want to stay with me?"

There was nothing she wanted more, but it wasn't advisable, Olivia knew. For some reason, her feelings about Alex were dangerously close to the surface tonight. She changed the subject. "So, how did it go?" she asked.

Alex drew a videotape part way out of her purse. "Soon to be number one on Amazon.com," she said sarcastically, tucking it back in.

"I want to see it," Olivia said, and she did. "What did they do for an intro?"

"Munch filled in," Alex said. "He did a good job."

"Probably better than I would have done," Olivia said.

"I don't think so."

Unable to stop herself, Olivia raised her uninjured hand and brushed a lock of blonde hair away from Alex's face, then let her palm rest on a soft cheek. Wordlessly, they wrapped their arms around each other. Olivia detected the faint aroma of roses.

"Liv, I'm sorry–"

"There's nothing to be sorry for," she whispered.

The two women remained locked in their embrace. I want to kiss her.

"Miss Cabot?"

Even posed quietly as it was, the question broke them apart. The woman addressing them was not that much older than Krysta, Olivia judged. Early twenties, at most. "My name is Kesha Telford," she said. "Ilene Ford said I should come see you."

Politely, Alex asked, "What can I do for you?"

"I heard about this thing," the young woman said, indicating the hotel. "I thought this might be a good place to talk."

"You could come by my office if you'd like." Olivia wasn't sure whether Alex's words were an offer or an expression of preference.

Kesha shook her head. "No, ma'am, I couldn't," she insisted. "There's . . . ." She glanced nervously at the third woman in the group. "You the one that was with her down to Willows Green?"

Olivia nodded.

Following another brief silence, Kesha seemed to make a decision. "There's this cop," she said. "He . . . ."

The detective felt her stomach turn over. Please do not let it be a dirty cop, she prayed.

"He has a deal with the Cuz."

Fuck. Talk about a mood killer.

"He keeps y'all off their asses, he gets a cut," she continued. "And more."

The ADA switched into investigative gear. "How do you know this?" she asked.

"I was the more."

Oh, God.

"Ilene said you might give a shit."

"What's the police officer's name?" Alex asked.

"He never said," Kesha replied. "The guys just call him Onk."

Olivia had never been one for incriminating conversations out in the open. "Did you come here straight from Willows Green?" she asked. At the girl's nod, she jerked her head toward the hotel. "Any cops still in there?"

"Not that I saw," Alex replied. "Just a few drunk attorneys sucking up to Petrovsky."

"Was it working?"

Alex smiled at the question. "I'm not the right one to ask about that," she reminded her.

"True. Come on." Olivia directed Kesha toward the lobby. "Can I borrow your cell, Alex?"

The ADA reached for the phone clipped to her skirt. "What happened to yours?"

"Don't ask."

Just as Alex opened her mouth to ask anyway, the large rectangle of glass that comprised one half of the Westin's grand entrance exploded. Kesha flew back into Alex as a bullet struck her in the shoulder. Alex dropped to the floor, dragging Kesha with her behind a chair.

With her back pressed against a marble pillar, Olivia held herself motionless, counting as bullets whizzed by on either side of her. It sounded like a .45; that meant . . . eight, nine, ten . . . . a full clip if it was legal, a couple more if it wasn't. She waited to find out. Instead, she heard a scream from outside the hotel. Her perp was making a run for it, waving people out of his way. Olivia took off after him, catching a glimpse of light-colored shirt moving at light speed through the parking lot. Maneuvering between cars, she forced him back into the main driveway. "Freeze, Motherfucker!" she warned. "You are not getting out of here."

He must have believed her–spinning around, he aimed his pistol directly at the woman chasing him. Olivia raised her own gun, and in the amount of time it took her to pull the trigger, the would-be assassin lay dead on the pavement.

If ever she was involved in an officer-involved shooting again, Olivia decided a short while later, she hoped it was witnessed by three supreme court judges who, after nearly taking stray bullets themselves from the decedent, assumed a personal interest in the well being of the prosecutor and detective who were with the intended target. Could Detective Benson leave to take Miss Cabot home? Why, certainly, Your Honor. Of course tomorrow would be fine for the interview, Your Honor, if that was convenient for Detective Benson.

"We've got bigger problems than this anyway, fellas," Olivia said tiredly to the investigator. "Bring an extra tape."

By then, Olivia hoped, they would have a name for their crooked cop. The last thing they needed was an "unknown officer" designation that would wind up with half of Vice and Narcotics (the two most likely suspects, in Olivia's view) hauled in one at a time for interrogation while Dirty Cop, not oblivious to what was happening, started covering his trail.

Meanwhile, Kesha would pull through just fine, the professionals working on her announced. Although Olivia wasn't sure how many gunshot wounds the Westin medical staff had actually treated, they seemed confident enough in their assessment to ease her mind. It was just a matter, then, of when the woman would be lucid enough to leaf through the NYPD mug book that the Department used for civilian complaints. Olivia refused to consider the possibility that their star witness – their only witness – might become an amnesiac now that an attempt had been made on her life. Detective Benson would just have to make sure that didn't happen. Meanwhile, John Munch, whom she had persuaded to make a U-turn just as he pulled into his own parking lot, agreed to ride security at County General.

"And Munch?" Olivia added. "Don't let anyone alone with her. Including cops, OK?"

His silence told her that he understood.

Her next call was for a couple of uniformed officers to stand guard outside ADA Cabot's place for the rest of the night.

Alex gave her a strange look. "You don't seriously think . . . ."

"Humor me, OK?" Olivia replied. "I'm not taking any chances." Fussing around the apartment, she checked the deadbolt and lowered the blinds and buzzed security and dragged a couple of chairs outside from Alex's dining room when Detectives Brinton and Feinman rang the bell to announce their arrival for duty.

"You're spoiling us," Brinton joked, fingering the thick cushions.

"I could bring in a dumpster."

He chuckled. "We'll struggle through it." The men waved as she withdrew back inside the apartment.

"Did you get anything to eat?" Alex asked.

No, she hadn't, and she was damn hungry, now that she had time to think about it. Olivia gratefully accepted the frozen dinner that Alex popped into her microwave with a diet coke chaser. Yeah, that hit the spot.

Alex followed her when Olivia walked over to the couch cushion for the cell phone to dial her partner's number. Not home. Damn. Better let him know that the Mount Rushmore of shit is about to hit the fan. Maybe she'd have him call her here at Alex's. Yeah, maybe she'd crash here tonight.

"Elliot, we have a situation," Olivia began. She was just getting to the size of the manure pile when she paused–gun fire! Before she could react, a shotgun blast blew out the lock on Alex's door. Olivia dropped the phone and shoved Alex to the floor behind the couch just as the door flew open, kicked in by someone who proceeded to spray the apartment with automatic weapon fire. Out of habit, Olivia reached for her cell, but – fuck! – the damn thing was somewhere over on 59th Street.

Lying almost on top of Alex, Olivia listened for signs that the shots were getting closer. Not yet; he must be firing from the doorway. Ingrams, the submachine gun of choice for discerning gang members these days, weren't very accurate, but they didn't need to be at this range, not at eleven hundred rounds per minute.

Tufts of stuffing from the couch floated by. Alex's reading lamp shattered into a hundred pieces. Glass flew from her television set and fireplace cover. The noise was deafening.

Olivia eyed her purse, which sat on the back of the couch where she had tossed it when they first walked in. She'd have to go for it. There was a pretty good chance that her hand might be blown off, but she had no choice. Might as well be the one that already hurts. Reaching up with her injured left hand, she was saved the trouble: a Mac 10 shell struck the small leather bag and sent it flying. Olivia scampered out to grab it and drew out her gun. Six shots – make that five; one was in a body last seen beneath a table cloth embroidered with a Hotel Westin logo – against an SMG, and who knew how many of those. Not good.

Crawling over to the side of the sofa, Olivia peered around the edge, just enough to spot the man – a kid, practically – who had them pinned down. Earning his stripes on what was supposed to be an easy kill, was he? The prosecutor would be lounging on her designer sofa listening to Mozart, he had probably been told.

He would learn a lesson today about sure things. It didn't take long to use up a 30-round clip when firing a Mac 10 randomly, Olivia knew. She waited. When the fatal "click" sounded, the youth looked down at his gun in surprise.

From beside the couch, Olivia popped up and pulled the trigger, nailing him squarely in the chest. Another surprised look crossed his face, and he dropped to the floor.

"What the fuck?" a male voice in the hall exclaimed.

That's right, Olivia thought. You don't know what's in here. But then, she didn't know what was out there, either.

Two pairs of arms reached through the doorway and grabbed the shooter's ankles, dragging his body outside. It wouldn't take much of an examination to figure out that he was dead or dying. Come on, guys, rethink this.

"You're gonna pay for this, Bitch!" an angry voice yelled.

Olivia suspected it was true.

Elliot wondered if his wife had enjoyed the evening as much as he had. At Kath's suggestion, the dinner that he had not eaten had been followed by a side trip for a sandwich that he did eat. The conversation at the all-night deli, while awkward a couple of times, had been fun.

They were a little later than they had originally estimated when they picked up the twins at a friend's house, but no one seemed to mind. The teens ran into the house as if they had never been gone, happy when their mother said they could stay for the weekend. Elliot would have liked for Kath to stay, too – he could bunk on the couch, if she wanted – but he wouldn't risk a sour end to the evening by suggesting it.

Smiling at the music of sibling rivalry again, Elliot placed his gun in the upper drawer of the night stand on his side of the bed.

"You've kept the place up pretty well," Kathy said, resting against the doorway as she watched the familiar actions.

"I haven't been home much," he replied truthfully. No reason to come home any more.

"Dad!" At Lizzie's panicked cry, the two adults returned to the living room, where their daughter stood beside an answering machine with a blinking red light. "It says this was four minutes ago." She pressed the Play button.

Olivia's voice followed the obligatory beep. "Elliot, we've got a situation," she said. "The Cuz tried to take out a witness tonight who says she can i.d. a dirty cop in Willows Green. They shot her while she was with Alex at the hotel. I brought Alex back to her place, but I'm–"

The monolog ended mid-sentence. The next sound was–what the hell was that? A scream–Alex? Gunfire. Automatic weapons. Glass breaking.

Forty-eight seconds later, the message ended. By then, the detective was back in his bedroom, grimly taking out his Smith & Wesson and shoving a spare clip in his pocket.

"I'll be here with the kids," Kathy said.

Elliot nodded his thanks.

As he walked by, his wife reached out and clasped his arm. When Elliot turned to see what she wanted, Kathy raised herself up for a kiss. "Be careful."

"I don't suppose there's a fire escape out that balcony?" Olivia whispered.

Of course not; nothing so outmoded in today's modern high rises.

"I liked your old place better," she joked feebly. "Do you have any guns here?"


"Is there a lock on your bedroom door?"


"OK." Olivia tried to sound calm. Alex's best bet was if she could hold them off until some anxious neighbor's 911 call was finally answered. "I'm going to try to draw their fire. You get to the bedroom. Close the door and shove whatever you've got in there against it. Dresser, bed, whatever."

"Not without you."

"Don't argue with me," Olivia said.

"Not without you," the attorney repeated. "It's off the table."

Damn it. Olivia had heard the expression often enough to know that, once uttered, Alex Cabot never yielded. Stubborn woman. "OK," she acceded. "I'll be right behind you." She touched Alex's face to make sure she had her full attention. "If I don't make it, you shut the door. OK?"

Alex nodded.

"Ready? Go!" Ordinarily, Olivia would not have considered it lucky to have a man with an SMG present himself in Alex Cabot's doorway. On this occasion, however, he did so in the same instant that Detective Benson leapt up from behind the couch with her handgun extended. The 38-caliber slug knocked him off his feet, and she tore out after Alex, firing on the run at the man who took the dead man's place and let loose another round of Mac 10 fire at her.

Moving with the efficiency of people whose lives depended on it, the women shouldered Alex's double dresser and trunk against the bedroom door. While Olivia piled a nightstand and television atop the dresser, the attorney hurriedly stuffed books into the drawers.

Gun shots splintered the wood. If the bastards confined their efforts to shooting through the door, she and Alex might be all right, Olivia figured. Mac 10 slugs wouldn't penetrate two feet of furniture. And eventually the–

Her thoughts were interrupted by a thud on the other side of the bedroom door. Shit. The fuckers had figured it out, too, and were now trying to batter down the door.

Persistent bastards, Olivia cursed them. That was the problem with young guys; someone more experienced would have backed off and looked for another opportunity. These guys were just getting madder.

Alex stopped searching her closet for heavy objects and crawled over beside Olivia, adding her weight to the pressure against the door. "Will this hold?" she asked.

No, Olivia didn't say. Her mind raced. Was there anything in here that might serve as a wedge? Alex had already stuffed socks under the door.

Another thud, more bodies behind it this time, nearly knocked the women over. They were in trouble.

One, two, three, thump.

The impetuousness of youth . Maybe . . . .

She turned to Alex. "I love you," she said. If they didn't make it, at least that was off her chest.

Alex stared into her eyes. "I hoped you did." She reached out and grasped the back of Olivia's neck, pulling her close for a kiss.

It was everything she had ever dreamed of, Olivia thought when it ended. "I'm gonna try something," she said. "Get in the closet. If they get past me, I'll try to lead them over there." She pointed at the corner behind the bed. "You make a run for it."

She waited until Alex offered an insincere, "OK." They both knew she wouldn't. They were in this together.

"Go on," Olivia motioned.

One, two, three, thump.

Jumping to her feet, Olivia pushed the television off the dresser, then the night stand, then positioned herself just inside the doorway. Motion outside ceased as their assailants – four of them, from the sound of it – tried to figure out what the racket meant. Assessing it as a non-threat, they soon started in again. This time, with the resistance lightened, the door shot forward about eight inches.

Skel number one, his adrenalin surging at unexpectedly making some headway, did exactly what the woman inside hoped: He tried to squeeze in through the narrow margin. Olivia flung her weight against the door, and for a few seconds, half his body – including the arm holding an Ingram Mac 10 – was pinned. It was all she needed. Pressing her .38 against his forehead, Detective Benson used her last bullet.

Wrenching the automatic from his lifeless grip, Olivia swung around into the gap. She hadn't handled an SMG since Koppell showed one off at the range last year, but except for the recoil, it wasn't rocket science. She pulled the trigger.

Gangsters scattered at the hail of bullets. To conserve ammunition, Olivia pivoted again and crouched behind the dresser. The next one who tried to come in here would have something to think about.

The ensuing silence was almost as unnerving as the constant bombardment had been. At least she knew what they were up to when bullets were hurtling in their general direction. Were they still out there? If they were, she and Alex were still in danger. Give it up, asswipes.

There were enough holes in Alex's formerly pristine white door to allow some sound in, and Olivia strained to hear without placing her head in harm's way. At the sound of movement, she tensed, and then she got her wish: weapons fire, but not at the bedroom this time.

From the hallway, a bullhorn announced, "You are surrounded."

The cavalry.

"Put down your guns and come out with your hands up," the SWAT commander ordered.

Hoping the men on the other side were sufficiently distracted not to notice, Olivia placed an ear to one of the larger openings in Alex's door.

"They know we did two of 'em," a panicked voice said. "They're gonna cap us, man!"

It was a distinct possibility, Olivia agreed.

Another shouted, "We got a cop in here–and the lawyer! You come in here, they're dead!"

"Negative!" Olivia countered, although she doubted the SWAT guys could hear her. "You have a go!"

"Shut up, Bitch!" Another barrage showered Olivia with splinters. Ducking behind the dresser, she kept a firm grip on her confiscated weapon. Movement, repeat fire, shouts, more gunshots . . . .

Through the bedroom door, a voice ordered, "New York City Police Department–put down your weapons and raise your hands!"

"Identify yourself," Olivia demanded.

"Sergeant Phil Montgomery, 22nd precinct, badge number 8449."

Olivia closed her eyes. "Christ, Monty, when did you start sounding so macho?" she said.

"You've rubbed off on me, Olivia."

Laughing with relief, she tugged the trunk to one side, then put a shoulder to the much larger dresser. "Just rearranging the furniture," she advised Montgomery, in case the noises concerned him. "Alex, we're good."

There was no reply.


Foregoing her present task, Olivia walked over to the closet. The ADA was there, her back against the wall, her face partially obscured by a row of skirts on hangers. She was drenched in sweat, but so was Olivia. Adrenalin could be quite a workout.

"You OK?" Olivia said. Alex's pale complexion worried her.


"Come on out."

The blonde shook her head. "I can't," she said.

Olivia dropped to a knee beside her. "It's OK," she said gently. "You should have seen me the first time someone took a shot at me. Do you need something to change into?"

Alex understood what she was asking. "No, I . . . I just can't move." Her hands trembled. "I heard them come in here," she said. "I thought . . . ."

"I know," Olivia murmured. "I'm sorry."

Apparently tired of waiting for someone to open the door for them, half the SWAT team chose that moment to barge in, toppling the dresser onto its side.

"Just our guys," Olivia assured Alex quickly. Shielding her shaken friend from their view, she said over her shoulder, "Give us a minute?"

"Understood." The male voices retreated.

Alex chided herself, "This is ridiculous. I'm a grown woman."

"No, it isn't," Olivia said. "There's no hurry. Can I sit with you?"

"In this closet?"

"Why not?"

When no further objection came, the detective crawled into the narrow space beside her friend. Alex lay her head on Olivia's shoulder. Neither spoke.

The next time SWAT ventured into the bedroom, they knocked first. "Everything all right, Olivia?" Monty asked from the doorway.

"Yeah," she called out.

From beside her, Alex asked, "Do they want us out of here?"

"Nah," Olivia said. "They're plenty busy." At least she hoped they were. Covered bodies, please.

"Let's go, anyway," Alex said. "I'm OK."

They emerged from the closet, and before Olivia thought to prevent it, the attorney's gaze drifted to the mess on the floor of her bedroom. And the wall.

"Come on," Olivia said. "The living room's better." Well, not much better, probably, but less in-her-face, maybe.

As Alex gaped in horrified wonder at the wreckage that had been her apartment, a sudden discharge of gunfire from the street below reached them through the balcony's sliding glass door. Olivia drew the ADA protectively against her.

SWAT sergeant Montgomery whipped out his walkie talkie. "Report," he barked.

Seconds went by with no response.

"Stabler with the 1-6," the device crackled. "Final suspect minus head, DSNY dumpster in east alley."

Waiting for Alex, the bastard.

"East perimeter clear."

Olivia had never been so happy to hear her partner's voice. "Get your ass up here," she yelled.

"Roger that, Stabler," Montgomery said. "Your presence is requested on scene."

Gently removing Alex's fingers from her arm, Olivia said quietly, "I'll be right back, OK? I just need to do something." At the threshold of the apartment, she braced herself, then stepped around the corner. Two detectives with whom she had exchanged quips less than an hour ago lay dead on the carpet.

"Two of ours," Montgomery confirmed. "And a security guard downstairs. What the hell's going on, Benson?"

As if she knew.

When Elliot walked in a few minutes later, Olivia hugged him gratefully. His presence was comforting, and, perhaps more important, it allowed her to concentrate on other things. Such as Alex. Her eyes tracked the blonde as she moved around her apartment with Elliot by her side. In one of the woman's hands was a broken decorative frame. Olivia remembered examining it on her first visit. It held – used to hold – a picture of Alex and her mother, smiling, arms draped around each other's shoulders, from the younger woman's last visit upstate.

How could she have been so careless as to lead them to Alex?

Random noises circulated around her as she reclined against the back of the ADA's ventilated sofa. "Unit 4, all clear . . . Please remain inside your apartment, Sir. You're in no danger. . . . M.E. en route . . . ."

She had not. She had not led them here.

Now Elliot was urging Alex to be careful. Had she cut herself?

They hadn't been followed. There had been no one tailing Alex's car as she drove them here. Olivia had gone to ridiculous lengths to ensure that, eventually prompting a little teasing from her passenger. ("Are you taking the New Jersey shortcut to my place?")

Olivia's stomach began to churn. A cop who could arrange to keep the Department off the Cuz's back . . . .


Her partner was standing in front of her, trying to get her attention.

"Hm? Sorry."

"I said we should get her to a hotel," Elliot suggested, and Olivia nodded.

While Elliot steered Alex toward her bedroom, glass crunching with each step as they gathered essentials for the next few days, Olivia dialed Munch. The fortunate Miss Telford was out of surgery and in stable condition, he reported. The docs said she would probably awaken in a couple of hours.

"If you can move her, do it," Olivia said. "And get reinforcements over there. They just shot the hell out of Alex's place."

"Is she all right?"

"Yeah." Olivia paused while Munch relayed the information to his partner. When she hung up, she raised her voice. "Alex, was Brad Lowe at your thing tonight?"

"Of course," the attorney replied from her bedroom. "Sitting on Branch's lap."

Olivia couldn't bring herself to offer her usual public speculation about sexual activities in which the two men were likely engaged. She had no sense of humor right now. "Was he in the lobby when you left?"

"I think he dove behind Petrovsky when the shooting started," Alex replied. "Why?"

Just curious, Olivia began to say, but she wouldn't lie to Alex. The only time SVU detectives lied to their ADA was when it was for her own good. Instead, she ignored the question. "Did your computer make it through this?" she asked.

"In here."

Olivia hadn't noticed it earlier, or it would have ended up on the dresser, too. As she hoped, the internet address she wanted was already bookmarked. "Alex, what's your password for the D.A.'s Office website?"

"The office website?" Alex asked, confused.

"For personnel. My NYPD password's not working."

"It won't," Alex confirmed. "You don't think we want mere mortals to have access to our office photos, do you? Do you remember the time someone put Charlie Phillips' head on the back of a donkey?"

The detective did not remember it. But she did remember a time, one of many when SVU was "between ADAs," that she tried to get Jack McCoy's address after striking out with every other ADA she knew. It was as if she had requested the secret formula to Coca-Cola. A dirty cop could not have gotten Alex's home address, not in an hour.

"Actually, it wasn't much worse than his actual photo," Alex went on. "I think they borrow DMV cameras for those things." She recited an alphanumeric code, then walked over and peered down at the screen. "What are you doing?"

From a table next to the computer, the laser printer activated.

Eventually realizing what – who – her detective was looking at, Alex shook her head. "What . . . ?"

Olivia picked up Alex's cell phone again and hit redial. "How do I send a website to your PDA, GeekBoy?" she asked. "I need you to run it by Kesha when she wakes up."

As Olivia followed Munch's directions, Alex said, "Not a good idea. I have enough problems with Branch right now."

"Think about it, Alex." Olivia continued to type in Munch's address. "Who better to keep the cops off someone's back? An ADA tells his guys to back off and it's done."

"That never works for me."

Olivia ignored the weak attempt at humor. "An ADA sets the priorities for his unit. He decides when there's enough for a warrant, what charges to file, what deals to cut." The more Olivia made her case to Alex, the more she convinced herself. "Who pulled his guys out of Willows Green? Who saw you tonight with Kesha?"

"It's not possible," Alex insisted.

"I hope you're right."

She really did.

Eventually, they could not avoid the gauntlet any longer. It was time to go. Even with Elliot running interference – no one could put more authority behind a "Back off!" than an ex-Marine – glaring lights and reporters shouting questions at ADA Cabot lined the stairs as they exited the building.

"I thought they'd be gone," Alex said disappointedly. She clung to Olivia's arm as they made their way to the street.

"They're waiting for the money shot," Olivia replied. Nine zippered body bags, specifically.

Microphones were thrust in the ADA's face. "Miss Cabot, why were you targeted? . . . Does this have anything to do with the charges filed last week in the Sunnyside case? . . . Did you shoot anyone?"

"Not yet," Alex muttered.

"I take requests," Olivia offered. "Where do they come up with this shit?" Her phone – Alex's, actually, still on loan – rang, and she reached for it.

"Your witness came around," Munch reported.


"Positive ID on your perp."

So much for Alex's faith in a fellow attorney.

"We're moving her to Mercy," Munch added. "The page you sent had Lowe's address on it, so Fin's on his way over with some uniforms to pick him up."

Olivia's next call, though, was with disappointing information from Fin: Lowe wasn't home. He had stopped at his apartment earlier that night, the doorman said, but then high-tailed it out again about an hour ago, suitcase in hand.

That snake. A little insurance in case his other arrangements didn't resolve the problem.

The usuals, air, bus, train, had been alerted, Munch said. If Lowe tried to leave town, they'd get him. If he got lost in the City, it would take a while longer.

Olivia watched as two technicians from the Medical Examiner's office carefully transferred the body of a fellow peace officer into an ambulance that could do nothing for him. While camera men recorded the sad image, she noticed a particular face among those lurking beside a news van. "Hey, Mitzi!" she beckoned.

Hapner strolled over to the two women. "You got something?" she asked.

"Hot tip on a fugitive," Olivia replied. "The guy who did this" – she gestured toward the ambulance – "and tried to kill Alex."

"He's on the run?"

"Yeah," Olivia said. "He's an Assistant District Attorney."

"No shit?" the normally unflappable reporter exclaimed. She looked at Alex, and apparently read confirmation on her face. "Give me two minutes."

When she was gone, Alex asked, "What are you doing?"

"Nothing Lowe wouldn't do."

"I am so fired if you're wrong," Alex said, but the protest was mild. She had accepted the stark truth, Olivia knew.

A short flurry of primping and hurried phone calls later, Hapner held up a microphone beside a portable barrier her crew had unfolded to keep out the wind. "Going live," she warned before launching into her station's breaking news.

On cue, Olivia spoke into the camera. "We need the community's help finding this man," she said, holding up a high-resolution 8 ½ by 11 of Lowe from Alex's expensive color printer. "He is responsible for the deaths of two New York City police officers and a security guard earlier this evening, along with the attempted murders of a material witness and Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot."

The camera panned from the photograph to Alex's somber expression as she drew a sweater tighter around her shoulders in the night air.

"His name is Brad Lowe," Olivia enunciated carefully. "He is an Assistant District Attorney for the County of New York. He has been working with the Cuz street gang in Willows Green and other areas. In addition to charging Mr. Lowe, we expect him to provide enough information to bring down the Cuz and one or two other street gangs."

When the spotlight extinguished, Alex arched an eyebrow. "One or two other gangs?"

"There might be," the detective shrugged. "ADAs get around."

"You know what you just did."

She knew, but didn't care. "He either comes in voluntarily, or he's out of the picture," Olivia said. "Sixes to me." This man had tried to kill Alex. If she couldn't shoot him herself, it wouldn't bother her if someone else did.

The hotel suite was a little nicer than she usually stayed in – a lot nicer – but somehow Olivia didn't think the D. A.'s Office would scrimp on this particular reimbursement. She toured the four-room layout: Two beds, a comfortable sofa if one of the four officers standing guard (two inside, two in the hall) needed a break, a nifty kitchenette.

"If this thing had a jacuzzi, we'd be set," Olivia said, depositing her overnight bag on one of the beds.

"A soak would probably make you feel better," Alex said. "How are the painkillers holding up?"

"Wearing off," she replied, "but I'm so whacked, I'll probably just crash anyway."

"It has been a long day."

Olivia laughed at the understatement. From her bed, she watched Alex unpack and bend over to place her clothes in various drawers, then walk over to the bathroom with a button-up shirt in hand. She allowed herself to relax as the shower ran. Shower . . . that sounded nice . . . .

She awakened to the sound of curtains being drawn.

"Sorry," Alex said. "I was trying to be quiet." She looked sexy even in an oversized hotel robe, Olivia noticed.

"'s all right," she replied.

Alex had been busy while she napped, she noticed. Olivia's bag had been unpacked. Her night shirt was laid out at the foot of her bed, and Olivia suspected that her toothbrush was lying next to Alex's beside the sink.

She pried herself up from the comfortable bed and headed into the restroom. The warm water (and another half-Lortab, thank you, Studs), eased the detective's aching muscles a bit, and she let herself luxuriate under the mist.

One thing Olivia appreciated about short hair was that it took very little management. She ran her fingers through it a few times, then loosely tied the belt on her robe and strolled into the bedroom.

A beautiful blonde woman in dark reading glasses lay on the bed beside the window in her button-up shirt, head and shoulders propped up against a couple of pillows, her legs crossed leisurely at the ankles, scanning the complimentary newspaper they had been handed at the front desk.

"You are beautiful," Olivia uttered.

She felt the intensity of blue eyes. "So are you,"Alex replied.

All of a sudden, Olivia didn't feel so tired. "Are you sleepy?" she asked.


The tension between them continued to mount, until finally Olivia forced herself to move. Crossing over to the bedroom door, she stepped through and closed it behind her. "Hey, guys?" she said casually to the two uniformed officers seated in the living room.


Ma'am? Damn rookies.

"You know what the assistant district attorney went through tonight," she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then you know she's going to be a little spooked," Olivia went on. "We both are. So anyone who tries to get in there" – she pointed toward the bedroom – "without a big, cheery 'Come in' will be looking at my police special. You understand?"

"Yes, ma'am."

That taken care of, Olivia walked back into the bedroom, where Alex stood waiting for her. "They won't bother us," she said.

"We'll just have to be quiet."

It was the first overt acknowledgment of what they both wanted to do. Olivia felt as though she had been waiting for this all her life. "Unbutton your shirt," she said.

Alex unlooped the first button, then the next.

Olivia could barely suppress a groan as Alex's body emerged. Eventually, the shirt fell open, and she feasted her eyes on small, firm breasts, light skin, soft, golden down . . . . Oh, God.

"Let me see," Alex said.

Olivia reached for the bottom of her t-shirt and drew it over her head, her excitement growing as the other woman appraised her body.

"Let's go to bed," Alex said. She slipped beneath the sheets and held them open in invitation.

Olivia crawled on top of her, propping herself up on her forearms as she lowered her face for a kiss. "Ow!" she said when she inadvertently shifted her weight onto her injured limb.

"What did you do?"

"Just this stupid wrist." Stupid wrist.

"Maybe we should have it looked at," Alex suggested. "What if–"

"Not now," Olivia interrupted. She leaned down to press her lips against Alex's. "Not now." Not after all these years.

"Not now," Alex agreed when the kiss ended. "We just need to adapt." She rolled the brunette onto her back. The next hour was the happiest of Olivia's life, as Alex's mouth slowly explored her body . . . enveloping her breasts . . . nipping her side . . . and, eventually, drifting down between Olivia's thighs. With her right hand buried in blonde hair, Olivia arched her back, struggling to keep quiet as Alex's tongue worked its magic.

"Oh, God . . . yes . . . yes . . . ." Olivia hovered at the edge, then exploded in waves of pleasure. "Ohhh, God . . . ," she moaned as the last ripples washed over her.

With a hum of contentment, Alex planted a kiss on dark curls.

"You're incredible," Olivia said when she was able.

Raising herself up to straddle Olivia, Alex replied, "Incredibly turned on." Closing her eyes, she began rocking slowly, then with increasing urgency. The image stirred Olivia's excitement again, and when Alex came, gasping, on her stomach a minute later, she nearly joined her.

The blonde let her head fall back, exposing her sensuous throat to ravenous brown eyes.

"You're going to kill me," Olivia groaned. She might not make it through this night after all.

The following morning, the bathroom door rattled on its hinges with each thump of Alex's ass against the panels. Olivia pressed the blonde harder against the door, swallowing her moans as her fingers slammed into her.

Alex tore her mouth away to breathe. A moment later, she bit into Olivia's shoulder to stifle a scream. Murmuring "I love you" over and over into tanned skin, she let out a long, low moan.

"Detective Benson?"

"Oh, shit!" Alex whispered.

"Don't worry," Olivia said. "He's at the other door." She conjured up her all-business voice. "Yeah?"

"The District Attorney is on the phone for Miss Cabot," the voice informed them.

"It's 4:30 in the morning in Hawaii," Alex said. "He must have had a fun wake-up call."

"Mmm, not as fun as mine," Olivia said lovingly. Calling out to the officer, she said, "Thanks, Shane, she'll be out in a sec; she's just helping with my wrist."

"OK, Ma'am, I'll tell him."

Ma'am again. Was he trying to make her feel old?

"I'd be happy to help you with your wrist any time, if that's the kind of help you need," Alex said.

Olivia rewarded the blonde with a peck on the lips. "Go see what your boss has to say."

"I think he's more interested in what I have to say," Alex said. "He's probably envisioning a press conference by ADA Cabot to discuss her longstanding concerns with ADA Lowe while DA Branch is lounging on the beach five thousand miles away."

Sounded good to Olivia. "You gonna do it?" she asked.

"Depends on what he has to offer," Alex replied. "Starting with rescinding a certain decision he made yesterday . . . ."


Shortly before six o'clock, Olivia straightened up her desk and picked up her purse.

"Hot date?" Elliot asked.

Sort of. "We're going apartment shopping," she replied.

"About time," he said. "I'm surprised she lasted that long in Benson's Bachelorette Pad. The woman does have some class."

This was the time, Olivia decided. She wanted him to be the first to know, anyway. "Actually, . . . we're going apartment shopping," she said.

She could tell when the meaning of her statement sank in. Elliot dropped back into his chair, forgetting that he had been on his way over to the coffee machine for a refill. Letting him absorb the news, Olivia reached for his cup and filled it herself, adding the single packet each of cream and sugar that he liked.

"You and Alex?" he said.

She was too damn happy to stop herself from grinning as she handed him the mug.

"How long have you two been a 'we'?"

Since the day we met, as far as Olivia was concerned. "Getting shot at kind of puts things in perspective," she said.


"Yeah." That was how Olivia had been feeling for the past two weeks, too. The grin was still on her face when the woman of her dreams walked into the squad room a few minutes later.

"Ready to drive around and follow my directions?"

Always. Seeing that no one was paying attention, Olivia bestowed a quick kiss upon her lover.

"Told Elliot, did we?" Alex smiled down at the other SVU detective. "That would explain the dazed look on his face."

"Nah, that was already there." Olivia reached for the real estate guide. "But now would probably be a good time to ask him to help us move. What do you say, Elliot?"

"Huh? Sure."

"I'll spring it on Munch and Fin next," Olivia said. "We'll need more hands for the heavy stuff . . . ."

The End

Return to Law & Order: SVU Fiction

Return to Main Page