DISCLAIMER: All main, recognized characters belong to Dick Wolf, NBC and Universal.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I took some dramatic license with the divorce issue (that comes under the 'fiction' heading of Fan Fiction).
SPOILERS: Post Loss, Lowdown, pre Ghost. This one's for Angie.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
PAIRING: Olivia Benson/Melinda Warner.
Scents And Sensibility
Temptation seldom breaks your door down; it quietly and cunningly enters the open portals of your mind.
Olivia Benson never remembered taking a breath from the minute she left her desk until she arrived at the morgue. She couldn't have been that far behind Melinda, who had exited the precinct house just moments before the detective was served with the papers advising her that the medical examiner's husband had filed for divorce and had named Olivia as the party responsible for alienating the affections of his wife.
This can't be happening, Detective Benson kept repeating to herself. She had thought they had been so careful, so discreet. The man barely paid attention to his wife on his best day, Olivia thought, how could he have discovered this? Well, the only way she was going to get any answers was talk to Melinda herself.
Approaching the closed office door marked Dr. Melinda Warner, Olivia was about to knock when she heard her lover's raised voice in a one-sided conversation, obviously taking place over the telephone. Hearing the device being slammed down on its base, Olivia opened the door a crack to make sure Melinda was alone. She observed the M.E. sitting at her desk, her head resting between her hands. Stepping inside, Olivia closed the door, a noise which caused Melinda to look up.
Holding the papers out to the medical examiner, all the detective could say was, "What the hell happened?" Even though her tone was muted, it was not without it's desperation.
"I wish I knew. I just got served myself." Accepting the papers from Olivia, Melinda looked just as shell-shocked. Briefly scanning the legal document, the M.E. dropped the paperwork on her desk, leaned back in her chair, shaking her head, negatively. "I Olivia, I didn't have a clue that he even knew, much less had this all planned out."
"He never said anything to you yesterday when you got home?" Olivia took a seat opposite Melinda.
"He wasn't there when I got home. He left me a note that he'd gone hunting with his brother at his brother's camp up in Hudson and wouldn't be home until late today. It made sense so I never gave it a second thought."
"Melinda," Olivia thrust her arm out toward the papers on her desk, "you just can't put all this shit together in a couple of days he had to have been planning this for a while. He gave you no indication that he was going to do something like this?"
"I didn't even know he was suspicious of anything."
Suspicion is a mental picture seen through an imaginary keyhole.
It had started out to be a horrible, emotionally brutal day and as time moved on, it wasn't getting much better. Melinda had no answers for Olivia and Olivia had no solutions, either. The M.E.'s husband gave her no hint of what drove him to this decision, and he was not exactly feeling charitable about supplying reasons for his sudden action. The couple left Melinda's office for a more private venue, choosing a café with an atmosphere as eclectic as its menu not that either one of them could even think about eating. They found a table on the second level, away from most of the other patrons.
"So he's not telling you how he knew? How much more careful could we have been?" Olivia wondered, exasperated.
"The only thing I can think of that maybe could have set the gears in motion were the hickeys you left on me the last time." Her tone was flat but blameless. If that was the trigger, she was as responsible as Olivia was.
"Melinda they weren't that pronounced. You knew they were there and how they got there but you said he rarely even looks at that area of your body." Olivia almost blushed at the memory of bestowing those marks during a most heavenly ravishing of the medical examiner.
The waiter brought both women the coffee they had ordered on their way in and Melinda politely waved him away when he asked if they were ready to order.
"Did anyone know about you going to the convention instead of Elliot? I mean before you got there? Because his name was on the program, not yours, so that would not have raised my husband's suspicion."
"Just Elliot and the Captain," Olivia sighed. "But he had to have known before that, he had to put this ball in motion before this weekend."
"Well the times before that were at your place "
"Could he have followed you?"
"At lunch time? I highly doubt it. He'd never get to the city and then back to his job in time. And it's not like we had a routine, Olivia, so he would not have known in advance which days to take off work or take an extended lunch to spy on me."
"What about a private investigator? Could he have hired one to follow you?"
"It's possible. But since I control the checkbook and the bank accounts, I think I would notice an expense like that. We know better than anyone that PI's aren't cheap."
"Divorce attorneys aren't cheap, either, and you didn't notice that expense."
"That is more easily explained. His cousin is a lawyer. By definition, anyway. We've helped him out so much, he's forever indebted." Melinda took a sip of coffee and shook her head. "What are we not seeing?"
Raking her fingers through her hair, Olivia stared out the window by their table. Suddenly her eyes narrowed and she reached over and touched Melinda's hand. "Oh my God I just when you and I attended the mass fatality seminar in Boston, was Will Tashjian there?"
"Will Tashjian, he's with Queens CSU. You know Ralph Malph?"
"You mean the guy who always sounds like he's out hunting wabbits?"
"That's him. Was he there?"
"I " Melinda shrugged, sincerely perplexed. "I have no idea."
"I think he was, Melinda."
"So what if he was? What would he have to do with this?"
"He may have seen us go into your hotel room and me not come out."
"Why would he care, Olivia?" The medical examiner was beginning to sound irritated. She needed the detective to get to the point because what she was saying did not make sense and the last thing she needed today was more surprises.
"I don't know why he would care. But if he saw us together in Boston, he probably saw us together at the haz-mat symposium in Philly because I know he attended that, I remember him there." Olivia went on to explain to Melinda the accusation Elliot had tossed her way earlier that morning. "So who knows where else he's happened to see us without you or I even thinking twice about his presence. He's a self-righteous little puke. I would bet anything he's the connection."
"Why, though? Why would he tell my husband? What would he have to gain from that?"
"I don't know but you can bet your sweet little ass I'm going to find out."
The detective and the medical examiner spent at least another hour at the bistro discussing their situation in hushed tones. The commiserating lasted maybe five minutes, the strategizing occupied the rest of the time. The lovers were not conspiring against the attack as much as they were talking damage control.
The slanderer differs from the assassin only in that he murders the reputation instead of the body
She had barely walked back into the bullpen when Cragen was out of his office. "Olivia my office now!"
The detective looked for Elliot, who wasn't at his desk. She then glanced over at John Munch, who peered up from pouring his coffee, at the captain and then back at Olivia. Shrugging, baffled at Cragen's pitch and request, Munch's eyes followed Olivia to the captain's office.
"Come in and shut the door," Cragen ordered. Olivia did as she was told. "Did you go to the Criminal Justice convention this weekend instead of Elliot?"
Olivia looked a bit bewildered. "You know I did. I cleared it with you. Why?"
"Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't get involved in one of my detective's personal life. But when that detective's personal life may possibly contribute to a scandal that could reflect on this entire unit, I need to step in."
Suddenly Olivia felt as though she was a teenager about to be chewed out and grounded by her father. Her expression was a mixture of surprise, embarrassment, and indignation. "You want to clue me in here, Cap?" she asked, her voice low but controlled.
"You want to clue me in, Detective? I've got some brass breathing down my neck because the infamous anonymous source has advised them that some colossal crap is about to hit the fan regarding you and Melinda Warner. So if it can be fixed, fix it. If not, you better batten down the hatches because you're in for a major shit storm."
Olivia exhaled angrily and folded her arms, defensively. "This is insane, Don. This is a personal thing that nobody here at work should be involved in."
"I agree, Olivia. But when you and the good Dr. Warner began to use work-related events to get together, so to speak, you both opened yourself up. What you do when you leave at the end of the day is your business what you do on company time is mine." Donald Cragen pulled out a chair and sat behind his desk. Olivia slumped down in a seat opposite him.
"God this is just so unbelievably mortifying." The thought that all of her co-workers and colleagues, who knew her and Melinda, would be picturing the two of them having sex was more traumatic for the extremely private detective than just about anything else. She wanted to be known and remembered for her ability and contribution as a police officer, not for her talent and status in the sack. And if this did hit the fan as Cragen predicted it would, her sexual prowess would be all she'd be remembered for. That's how it was in the world of the good ol' boys in blue club.
"I certainly can't argue with your taste in women," Cragen began, "but I can dispute your judgment in this matter. What were you thinking? If you were a man, it would certainly be obvious to me what you were thinking with but you are normally one of my most levelheaded detectives, Olivia. If I told you I wasn't even a little shocked by all this, I'd be lying."
"Honestly? It was a one-time thing that mushroomed out of control. It never should have happened. It never should have continued. We both knew that. Some might say it was fate. But don't think I am not angry as hell at myself and this 'anonymous source' - having to sit here and discuss this with you."
"And I would not want to be having another conversation like this with you or any of my other detectives. I do believe in fate, Olivia, but I also believe in free will. You made choices that resulted in this situation. I don't want the consequences of your choices to affect the reputation of my most elite squad. So deal with it today or I will."
If fate throws a knife at you, there are two ways of catching it - by the blade or by the handle.
At the same time Melinda Warner was arranging a meeting with her husband, Olivia was entering the Queens CSU offices in search of Will Tashjian. Thankfully, if the little weasel shot his mouth off to his co-workers, they might recognize her or Melinda's name but they wouldn't know what she looked like.
Spotting Tashjian at the same time he noticed her, Olivia increased her pace, maneuvering around the maze of tables, desks and equipment to try to get to him before he bolted in another direction.
The detective reached the crime scene technician before he could move, politely but firmly took his arm and ushered him out the back door before he could protest. Once outside, Tashjian avoided Olivia's glare and laughed nervously.
"Detective Benson what can I do for you?"
"What can you do for me? How about what can you do to me?"
Shuffling his feet, he shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Be a man, Tashjian. If you're going to start rumors and innuendo that result in ruining a marriage and possibly two careers, at least admit you've done it, for Christ's sake. Take responsibility for your actions."
"My actions? What about yours?" Tashjian countered, defensively. "I'm not the one who broke up Warner's marriage, Detective, you are. It wasn't me spending the nights in her hotel room at all these conventions, you were. It wasn't me having all these romantic dinners in these secluded places when she was away from her husband, it was you. So if there's any responsibility to be had here, Benson, it's yours, not mine."
Folding her arms across her chest, Olivia studied this nerdy little man, a smirk suddenly forming on her face. "No but you would have liked it to have been you, wouldn't you? That's what this is really all about, isn't it? You're jealous of me because you think I'm with Melinda Warner and you're not."
"That's absurd," he stated, guiltily. "And I don't think you're with Warner, I know you're with her."
"How do you know? What proof do you have that we are more than just good friends?"
"Oh, please, Benson, don't insult my intelligence. I've attended the same out of town seminars. You go into her room at the end of the day and you don't leave until morning, where you've obviously just had a shower. You both shun the catering provided with the cost of the conventions to either order room service or find the most impractically isolated, quixotic setting to share your meals. I've seen the way you two gaze longingly at each other, so don't try to make me think it's all in my head."
"What proof do you have, Tashjian, other than your overactive, envious imagination?" Olivia pressed.
"You know I don't have any actual proof," he spit out.
"Then why would you go to her husband and tell him something based on what you think may or may not be going on?"
"Why do you think he was so ready to believe me, Detective? You think a husband doesn't know when his wife is cheating on him?"
Olivia nodded. She was backing him into a proverbial corner and she knew it. "You don't know that when I go into Warner's room what she and I are doing in there. You just suspect that something sexual is going on. Did it ever occur to you that we just like each other's company but because of our impossible work schedules that these out of town meetings are the only time we can spend quality time together? That if I go into her room and don't come out until morning it just may be because we ordered a couple of movies and I fell asleep? We were playing cards or board games and I didn't feel like going back to my room? Or we just talked like women usually do when they get together? There are two queen-sized beds in those hotel rooms. That what you see as a romantic dinner are just two friends immensely enjoying each other's company?" She moved in for the kill but spoke very calmly, although there was no mistaking her intent. "You know, Will, I could just as easily go to Warner's husband and tell him the same things about you that you told him about me. You attended all the same functions. You knew exactly what she was doing and when she was doing it. In fact, in order for you to know as much as you tell me you do, you've basically been stalking her. I think it's you who is dangerously and hopelessly in love with this woman and I think her husband needs to know that."
"You're insane, Benson. How could I possibly benefit by doing that?"
"Benefit? The same way you would by what you did. You'd break up her marriage while at the same time breaking up our alleged relationship and then you could start coming around to pick up the pieces."
"That's crazy. You're twisting everything around," he told her, nervously.
"Am I? I have the same amount of proof of your behavior as you do of mine." She was greeted with silence as he absorbed her words. "Now how long have you been feeding this bullshit to Mr. Warner?"
He looked down at his feet. "Two months. About. He started using me as his spy at these conventions."
"So all he has is your word?"
"Yeah," Tashjian mumbled. He had been positive the woman he was frantically and secretly in love with was cheating on her husband and, unfortunately, it was not with him. But he had no actual facts to back up those suspicions, regardless of what his gut instinct told him and Olivia had cast doubt in what he felt were obvious indicators.
"And he went ahead with it anyway, just on your word?"
"He had no reason not to believe me. He said the signs were all there and I provided him with what I thought were compelling details and indiscretions."
"He never thought of confronting her first?"
Tashjian leaned back against the wall. "No. I got him so fired up, I convinced him that he needed to be just as sneaky about this as she was. He agreed. He thought it would have more of an impact."
"Did he give you any hint at all that he felt his marriage could be saved?"
"Well, he loves her very much I mean, who wouldn't?" he searched Olivia's soulful brown eyes for any trace of complicity. Even though she concurred, her eyes reflected nothing. "Yes," he admitted quietly, "he already had the paperwork drawn up after the haz-mat convention in Philly but he was hanging on to everything. When I called him yesterday about you two being together this weekend, he cried like a baby. I guess he decided to have the papers served then."
"So as I said originally you ruined a marriage and maybe two careers because of not what you knew to be true but instead by circumstances enhanced by your overzealous albeit resentful imagination."
"Yes," he admitted, barely audible.
"Yes," Olivia repeated. She suddenly wished Alex Cabot had been here to witness the entire exchange. She would have been proud that Olivia had obviously paid attention to her cross-examinations. "So this is what you're going to do. You are going to contact Mr. Warner and you are going to profusely apologize for turning his life inside out and contributing to breaking up his marriage. You are going to tell him you made a mistake and you misconstrued what you thought were facts, that you assumed things that never were. You are going to beg his forgiveness and hope to God he doesn't punch you senseless."
"What happens if I don't?" Tashjian wondered, his voice laced with fear.
"Then I will pay him a visit and tell him exactly what I told you, pointing out to him in the process that the only way you could possibly know every breath his wife took was if you had been stalking her. And then I am going to encourage them both to press charges against you. Understand?"
Tashjian, embarrassed, nodded imperceptibly. "Yes. I understand. When would you like me to do this?"
Between tomorrow's dream and yesterday's regret is today's opportunity.
Olivia had been back in the SVU bullpen for approximately forty-five minutes, working diligently on inputting data from her written notes to her computer files when Elliot finally had the chance to talk with her. His morning had been kept occupied with field interviews and canvassing, something Olivia should have been accompanying him on.
After briefing Cragen regarding the results of his early daylight activities, Elliot returned to his desk and observed Olivia concentrating on the paperwork before her. "So Liv I'm guessing you had an interesting morning."
Speaking as she typed, she did not visually acknowledge her partner. "Elliot, if you want to know something, ask me."
Looking around at the proximity of others, Elliot lowered his voice. "Is it true about you and Warner?"
"What about me and Warner?"
"That you're you know having an affair?" He waited until she looked up at him. "Because if it's true, I gotta say you really hid it well."
"No. It's not true. We are not having an affair," she told him. Technically it wasn't a lie. Sadly, as of today, she and the medical examiner would no longer be involved in a physically intimate fashion. Olivia had not spoken with Melinda yet following the meeting with her husband but she was positive if there were anything to salvage in the M.E.'s marriage, Melinda would do it, if for nothing else, the sake of their daughter.
"Well, then, what's going on? I saw that document this morning, Liv, I saw what it said."
Clicking on the print option, Olivia stood up to head toward the printer. "Ask Will Tashjian, Elliot. He started it. He should be able to provide you with the 'whys' and 'hows'." It's not that she didn't trust her partner. She trusted him with her life, that wasn't the point. Until she met with Melinda and they discussed their future expectations of each other and where they would go from here, she thought it best to stick to the same story she manipulated Tashjian with. Maybe, somewhere along the way, she would come clean with her partner regarding her involvement with the medical examiner. Now was not the time. There was just too much uncertainty and confusion in her life right now. She needed to regroup and, unfortunately, Elliot couldn't help her.
Returning to her desk, she saw the hurt expression on her partner's face that said she was not only not confiding in him, she was shutting him out. "Look, El, please don't take this personally. It's been a God-awful day so far. I have spent the entire first half of this day defending myself and my reputation. I'm tired of talking about this mess. I'm done." Her eyes met Elliot's and they softened. "At least for right now."
"You know I'm here for you, Liv," he offered, sincerely.
She smiled and nodded. "You always are, Elliot, and I appreciate it." She was about to walk over to the nearly empty coffee pot to pour what was left when her cell phone rang. The preprogrammed caller ID registered Melinda. Sucking in a deep breath, Olivia put the phone to her ear, "Benson." Listening intently to the M.E., the detective nodded. "Okay. Yeah, that's fine," Olivia glanced at her watch, "an hour is good. Sure. See you then." Disconnecting the call, she stared at the floor in deep thought. Olivia then looked up to find Elliot staring at her, concerned.
"Guess I'm going to be flying solo this afternoon, too, huh?"
"Elliot," she exhaled, patiently, "I need to make this right. I have been stupidly selfish and taken advantage of a situation that never should have happened."
"With the woman you're not having an affair with," Elliot mused.
"Yeah." That was the only response Olivia needed to give him. He knew her all too well and regardless of what she admitted or what she denied, Elliot could usually get inside her head. But it was difficult to make her partner understand the dynamics of her relationship with the brilliant and lovely Dr. Warner, when Olivia, herself, didn't fully comprehend the significance of having allowed her libido take over her common sense, even if she was now dealing with what the driving force of her lust had cost her and Melinda Warner. She would never regret her dangerous liaisons with the medical examiner but if she could do it all over again, she would have never taken advantage of Melinda's loneliness and vulnerability or the M.E's confusing attraction toward her. But, as her mother used to say, nobody is ever rich enough to buy back the past.
Elliot studied his partner and instinctively knew that regardless of what she allowed to show on her face, her heart was breaking. "You want my advice, Liv?" he asked, gently.
Shaking her head, Olivia smiled, poignantly. "Giving me advice won't help me unless you also give me the wisdom to profit by it, Elliot."
There are many tears in the heart that never reach the eye.
They met out in the open and sat on a bench in Riverside Park, not so much as a defense mechanism as not to be seen in a secluded area together but as a source of protection toward each other and the powerfully magnetic force that had drawn them into this mess, in the first place.
"So ? What's the prognosis, Doc?" Olivia asked, deciding to get right to the point.
"I chose to be brutally honest with him," Melinda replied, then looked directly into the detective's stirringly soulful brown eyes. "Excuses fool no one, Olivia, except the person who makes them."
"What did you say to him?" She could already feel the lump forming in her throat and a throbbing in her heart. Her feelings for this woman were obviously deeper than even she was willing to admit.
"I told him that I didn't want a divorce, that I didn't want him to leave me. But I also told him that I was not willing to continue the marriage with things the way they were. We agreed that there were issues that drove this wedge between us, that led him to be so indifferent and me to stray. We further agreed that somehow the problems had escalated to a point where, instead of the honest communication we'd always shared, we retreated to opposite corners. It's not going to be easy but we are going to get into counseling and see where it goes from there."
Olivia nodded. "So that's it, huh? Between you and me?"
"Nothing is a guarantee, Liv." Melinda reached over and gently took the detective's hand in her own. "You will never know how much you changed me. The past few months have been some of the most exciting of my life. You made me feel alive and desirable again. You gave to me unconditionally. If I didn't still love my husband so much and have so much at stake, I'd snap you up in less that a half-heartbeat. I don't think you have a clue as to what a treasure you really are and that is half of your appeal right there. The other half? Well," she smiled fondly and gave Olivia's hand a squeeze, "I'm not sure I want to get into that. Words would turn into emotion which would then turn into passion and then we'd be right back to square one. In case no one has told you which I can't imagine you're pretty hard to resist." Releasing the detective's hand, Melinda patted it before folding her arms. "I had to make a choice, Olivia, and I can't go anywhere while I'm straddling both sides of the fence."
"Unfortunately," Olivia acquiesced.
"How did you make out this morning with Tashjian?"
"He'll be visiting your husband, taking back his story and making his apologies."
"Taking back his story?" Melinda asked, puzzled. "That's not necessary now."
"Well, yeah, it is." Olivia turned her body toward the M.E.'s. "Tashjian is a vicious little gossip who, on top of that, feels somewhat jilted."
"Jilted? I don't even know the guy. Not really."
"Let's just say he has worshipped you from afar. But that's a whole other water cooler conversation. I convinced him that what he did see and told your husband was all circumstantial. Persuaded him that everything he did see could be explained away and what he didn't see was perpetuated by insane jealousy and an overactive imagination.
"Olivia," Melinda laughed, "there aren't enough crutches in the world for that lame explanation."
"Doesn't matter. He bought it. And that will keep him humble and questioning himself for a long time. In the meantime, you and your husband can work on your issues without having to worry about all the rumors and innuendo."
"I don't know if I should hate the little prick for trashing what I had with you or forgive him for involuntarily saving my marriage."
"Take it from me, Melinda, it's much easier to forgive someone after you get even with them." Sighing, Olivia rested her arm on the back of the park bench. "So where do we go from here, Dr. Warner?"
Shrugging, the medical examiner said, "We were friends before we were lovers, Liv. I'm hoping we can recapture that. I guess only time will tell that. However, I have some vacation days coming to me and I'm going to put in for some time off. My husband and I decided that we should go away together, get away from the situation, go somewhere neutral and get reacquainted. It won't be easy, I'm not saying it will, and I don't expect miracles to happen in a couple weeks when it has taken more than a couple years to get to this point. But he and I owe it to each other and to our daughter to give our marriage a second chance. And not being around you, as a constant reminder of my infidelity, should help steel my resolve and put things in perspective."
"It hurts, Melinda, I'm not going to pretend it doesn't. I got a little more involved with you than I ever intended to. But I knew what we had was not going to be permanent, regardless of what I was feeling. I don't want to destroy your marriage. I don't want to be the cause of your divorce. And I don't want to lose you as a friend and colleague. In theory, all this graciousness is great and noble. Whether or not reality will even come close to us retaining our individual dignity through all this remains to be seen."
"We're adults, Olivia. And we're professionals. If it gets too difficult, I'm sure we can come to some compromise."
"I just don't want us to become daylight strangers, Melinda. I don't want us to fade into obscurity with each other or be made to feel shameful. I don't want us to fall into the habit of avoiding each other because it's too awkward. If that's starts happening, promise me you will work with me to fight that."
"I promise I will try. My husband, however, won't be so forgiving."
"All due respect, Doc, I don't have to work with him every day."
Standing up, Melinda smiled. "I guess we'll have to take it a step at a time." She watched Olivia rise, capturing the detective's eyes with her own. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Eventually," Olivia responded. "You?"
"Eventually," Melinda agreed. "I'm going to miss kissing you, though."
"Don't start," Olivia smirked, wanting to take the medical examiner in her arms and kiss her until they both passed out. This was going to be hard.
"Walk me back to my office?"
Nodding, Olivia grinned. "I guess that would be harmless enough."
"Well, it's a start," Melinda Warner stated, as they started to stroll south.
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