DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and its characters are the property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Chapter 1: Not Again
Donald Cragen let out a weary sigh as he glanced down at his watch before looking through his open office door at the detectives in his direct line of sight. He bobbed his head briefly before pushing the chair backwards and rising to his feet. He walked slowly towards the door, sliding his hands into his trouser pockets as he stepped into the squad room.
Olivia Benson snorted lightly at her partner's comment and shook her head with mock disapproval, catching the watching eyes of her Captain as she did so.
"Benson, Stabler," the veteran officer summoned with his usual authoritative flair.
Elliot Stabler automatically turned in his seat at the sound of his name being called and nodded as Cragen disappeared back inside his office. He shifted his gaze to his partner, "We in trouble?" he asked.
Olivia shrugged, "I hope not, I was going to ask for some vacation time," she replied, easing out of her chair.
Elliot shook his head, "Good luck with that one," he uttered quietly.
Olivia rolled her eyes as she strode purposefully past him, heading for the Captain's office.
"Close the door," Cragen instructed Elliot as he entered behind Olivia. Once the door was closed he motioned for both detectives to take a seat and waited until they were settled before glancing at the surface of his desk and lifting his eyes in a familiar gesture.
Elliot shook his head, "What is it Cap?" he asked, studying the man seated across from him.
Cragen looked between them and sighed, "Jo Marlowe resigned. Effective immediately," he stated simply.
Olivia and Elliot shared a confused look, "Why?" Olivia asked, shaking her head, thinking of their outstanding cases and the mountain of notes they would have to take Marlowe's replacement through.
"Personal reasons," Cragen replied.
Elliot instantly thought of the conversation he had overheard between Jo and Sophie Gerard as he hid in the ventilation shaft of the morgue, "Is it her health?" he asked quietly, ignoring the questioning look from his partner.
Cragen shrugged, "McCoy didn't say," he replied.
Olivia sighed with frustration, "Who's the temp? Please tell me it's not Garrett, anybody but him," she said, remembering the EADA's previous reluctance to issue warrants and take cases to trial.
Elliot clenched his jaw at his partner's lack of regard for Jo's well being and swallowed the reply that leapt to his lips. He tilted his head at the Captain, "We're gonna need a warrant once we've interviewed Hodges, we're just waiting for Munch and Fin to come back from his work place," he added.
Cragen nodded, "Blaine's in charge until Jo's replacement starts back," he answered, noticing the disdainful look that crossed Olivia's face.
"What d'you mean, starts back?" Elliot asked.
The comment had been lost on Olivia until Elliot asked his question. She frowned and stared at Cragen intently, "Who is it?" she asked tentatively, feeling a familiar knot tighten in her stomach.
Olivia stared at the door, listening to the soft strains of music that floated through the heavy wood. She swallowed nervously and raised her hand, rapping her knuckles lightly against the solid surface. She blew out a steadying breath as muffled footsteps approached the door and released the locks.
Elliot sat outside the Brownstone, looking absently through the windshield at the late evening traffic of Manhattan's Upper East Side. He blinked a few times as he became aware of a familiar sound and blindly reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve his cellphone.
"Stabler," he announced without checking the caller ID.
There was a short pause and then a female voice spoke quietly into his ear, "Are you planning on sitting out there all night or were you actually going to come up?"
Elliot turned his head to the building on his left and scanned the windows, spotting a familiar blonde haired figure peering down at him. Before he could answer, the caller hung up. He removed the keys from the ignition and took a deep breath as he stepped into the cool evening air.
Olivia stood motionless in the doorway looking at the blonde haired ADA.
"Are you coming in detective or are we going to have this discussion on the doorstep?" Jo Marlowe asked dryly.
Olivia smiled as she shook her head and entered the apartment. She moved into the open plan living space and looked around, taking note of the expensive décor and subtle tones.
"Come on in. Drink?" Jo asked, touching her lightly on the arm as she headed for the kitchen.
Olivia followed her, "Sure," she replied, admiring the older woman's casual attire of jeans and a sweater.
Jo turned and faced her, "You know Liv, I thought the strong and stoic routine was only for work, I didn't realize it was a permanent part of your persona," she mocked, holding up a bottle of wine and tilting her head in question.
Olivia smiled and nodded, "Sorry, I just don't know what to say. I thought about it ever since I left the precinct, but all I can think of is, why?" she asked, accepting the offered glass and following Jo into the living area.
Jo ran her hand through her hair and sat down on the corner sofa, indicating for Olivia to do the same, "A lot of reasons, I just need to get away," she replied, taking a small sip from the glass in her hand.
"Is it Elliot?" Olivia asked, shifting slightly to look directly at her.
Jo shook her head, "No," she answered.
"Is it me?" Olivia asked hesitantly.
Jo shook her head again and sighed, "It's not anyone, Liv," she said, holding her gaze and looking into concerned brown eyes.
"Then what? You were making a difference, you were the final link in the chain and " she ran her free hand through her hair, " Dammit Jo, you get it," she finished, sighing with frustration.
Jo smiled at her and nodded, "Coming from you, that's probably the biggest compliment I've received in a long time," she replied sincerely.
Olivia returned the smile before biting her lower lip, "Does this have anything to do with Sophie Gerard?"
Jo shrugged and shook her head, "No, that was over a month ago it's still pretty raw, but that's not the reason though," she replied.
Olivia stared at her, "Then what is?" she asked again in a softer tone.
"I need to do something different something less involved," Jo answered.
Olivia understood that sentiment, she thought the same thing herself every week, but every week a new victim would need someone to be their voice, their advocate and she knew she had to be that someone. She dipped her head, "I can understand that," she said before adding, "Are you staying in New York?"
Jo studied the bowed head, "I'm not sure, I've got a few things to sort out and then I'll decide where I'm going," she answered quietly.
Olivia lifted her head and met the pale gaze, "Don't leave without saying goodbye, okay?"
Jo smiled and nodded, "Okay," she agreed.
Elliot sat at the kitchen table studying the woman making the pot of coffee, "How did you know I was out there?" he asked.
"You were loitering outside an apartment on the Upper East Side, people are paid to notice these things," the blonde haired attorney drolled.
He nodded absently, "How long have you been back?" he asked.
"Almost two weeks."
Elliot blinked in disbelief, "Jesus Christ Alex and you didn't think to call?" he blurted.
Alex Cabot turned away from the coffee she was stirring and arched a well defined eyebrow at him, "Don't start Elliot," she warned.
"Don't start? Are you kidding me? You were out of witness protection for three years before you turned up out of the blue the last time and now you're doing the same again?" he asked incredulously.
Alex stared at him coolly, "That was different," she stated flatly before turning back to the coffee.
Elliot shook his head, "You can't keep doing this to us," he said evenly.
"You mean to Liv?" she asked without turning round.
Elliot didn't reply, choosing to wait until he could see her face as he answered her question. After another minute of strained silence Alex turned and placed both cups on the table before lowering herself into the chair opposite.
"Well?" she prompted.
Elliot turned the handle of the cup towards him and lifted it to his mouth, taking a long swallow of the hot liquid, "Yes," he replied, looking over the brim into her watching blue eyes.
Alex played with the rim of her own cup and sighed, "I've only been away for three months, it's not the same," she said quietly.
Elliot nodded his head, "But you've been home for two weeks and haven't called her," he answered delicately.
Alex studied him, searching his penetrative stare and shook her head, "Things are different between us, it's not been the same since I came back," she said, reaching up and adjusting her dark frames absently.
"You've only been back two we-"
The younger woman cut him off with a shake of her long blonde hair, "I meant since Witsec," she clarified.
Elliot stared at her in confusion, "You're friends aren't you?"
Alex shrugged her shoulders and sighed heavily, "I think we're more colleagues than friends now before Zapata, we were friends close friends since I came back " she shook her head, " it's just not the same," she finished quietly.
"You probably shouldn't have left it three years," he replied sarcastically.
Alex nodded her head in response, "I deserved that," she agreed, lifting her cup to her lips.
"Alex, she doesn't have anybody the job is the only stable part of her life, it's the only thing she has. Kathy invites her for dinner, but she always makes excuses. Every ADA that's come along, after you, she's tried to be friends with, but it's not the same they aren't you. You get her," he finished sincerely.
Alex ran her thumb absently over the edge of the cup, "I've tried too, I've asked her for drinks or out to dinner she never accepts," she replied, smiling sadly.
"She doesn't wanna get hurt again and finding out from Cragen that you're back as our ADA is exactly what you're doing to her," he said flatly.
Alex looked at him, "I thought she would have called once she found out," she commented.
"She never said anything, we had to go to Blaine for a warrant and she took off once we got what we needed," he replied.
Disappointment seeped from Alex's pores as she realized her gut had been right, Olivia had no intention of calling her. She shifted her gaze to the cup in her hand , "Should I call her?" she asked quietly.
Elliot shrugged, "I dunno," he answered honestly. He saw the cool façade slip for a second and sighed, "You probably should," he added softly, giving her a warm smile as she lifted her eyes.
Alex sat on top of her bed and stared at the phone in her hand. Olivia had been the first person she wanted to call as soon as she had returned to the city, eager to tell her about the changes she had helped enforce in the Congo, but a hectic schedule of endless meetings had prevented her. She had called the precinct a few times, but each time she dialed she had been diverted to Olivia's voicemail.
She glanced sideways at the bedside clock, noting the late hour and wondering if she should wait until morning. She closed her eyes and smiled as a vision of the dark haired woman appeared before her and blindly hit the speed dial, gently clearing her throat as the call connected.
Blue eyes snapped open as she lowered the phone and pressed the release button. She stared blankly at the phone in her hand and frowned, 'Who the Hell was he?' she thought to herself, feeling the knot in her stomach tighten.
Chapter 2: Timing
Olivia emerged from her bedroom, towel drying her shoulder length hair as she looked around her apartment until she spotted the figure standing in front of the open refrigerator. She stopped behind him and lowered the towel around her neck, "What are you doing?" she asked, leaning casually against the pillar.
"Why do you never have any food in here?"
Olivia pushed off the column and closed the fridge door, pointing at the take out menus attached to the front and waggling her eyebrows.
Simon Marsden shook his head at his half sister disdainfully, "No wonder you can't get a man," he replied.
"You're the one that needed to crash in the city overnight, don't blame me if you arrived on my doorstep empty handed," she retorted, moving to one of the cupboards and retrieving a box of cereal. She shook it in front of him, "Twenty four hour food," she said smiling.
He rolled is eyes as he turned and headed back into the living room, shifting the pillow as he sat down in the corner of the sofa. He watched Olivia move over to the chair by the window, "Your cell rang," he commented, suddenly remembering the earlier hang up.
"When?" she asked, looking at the cellphone on the table as she sat down.
Simon shrugged, "I dunno, twenty minutes ago," he answered, lifting the TV guide magazine and the remote control.
Olivia reached for her phone and scrolled through the call list. Alex Home, the display screamed at her as she fought the initial urge to call the ADA back straight away, realizing that it was already well after midnight.
"Who's Alex? Anyone important?" Simon asked casually, settling into the back of the couch as he found the channel he wanted.
Olivia lowered her eyes and shook her head, "Not anymore," she replied quietly, rising to her feet. She looked over at the reclining figure, "I'm gonna dry my hair and get some sleep. What time's your meeting?"
"Nine thirty," he answered, smiling up at her, "I'll buy you breakfast," he added.
Olivia moved past the side of the sofa and snorted lightly, "You'd better, g'night," she said smiling as she headed into her bedroom.
"Night Liv," he replied, reaching over and switching off the table lamp.
Elliot exited the interrogation room and met familiar blue eyes. He closed the door behind him and looked at her, "What are you doing here? I thought you were coming back on Monday?" he asked, stopping in front of her and folding his arms.
Alex smiled, "I thought I'd better get started, Marlowe's case load was huge. McCoy's passed the easier ones around the bureau, but I wanted to see this one for myself," she answered, pointing through the window.
Elliot bit his lower lip, "Did you call her?" he asked tentatively.
Alex nodded as she unfolded her arms and leaned her hands on the window ledge.
Alex shook her head, "And nothing," she replied quietly.
Elliot frowned, "But you talked to her, right?"
"No. She didn't answer her cell," Alex replied, fixing her eyes on the figure sitting across the table from Kyle Hodges.
Elliot glanced to his right and looked at his partner through the one way mirror, "Maybe she was asleep," he suggested.
"Or maybe you don't know her as well as you think you do," she retorted coolly.
Elliot shifted his gaze to the cold stare being cast through the window, "Alex?"
"Someone else answered her cellphone," she replied before turning her attention away from the dark haired woman, "I'll be in my office if you need anything," she said, giving him a weak smile as she pushed off the ledge and strode past him.
Elliot finished signing the last of the paperwork on his desk and placed his pen wearily on the top sheet before flexing his right hand and stretching out the kinks in his neck.
"You should go home," Olivia commented, glancing up from the file she was writing on.
Elliot looked at his watch, "I need to take these over to Cabot," he answered absently.
The dark head opposite snapped up and looked questioningly at him, "I thought she wasn't back until Monday?"
Elliot shook his head, "So did she, she stopped by to see Hodges," he replied.
Olivia shifted her gaze back down to the paper in front of her, "You talked to her?" she asked casually.
"Briefly, when I came out the box," he answered, lifting the file he had just completed and adding it to a pile on his right, "I said I'd take these over, she's trying to get up to speed on Jo's cases," he lied, applauding his own creativity for trying to get the two women together.
Olivia didn't lift her head as she signed her name and badge number on another piece of paper, "I'll drop them off," she offered.
Olivia looked up and smiled, "Sure, go on go win points with Kathy."
Elliot nodded and returned her smile, "I could use them after that last case," he replied, lifting his jacket from the back of his chair as he stood up. He pointed to the papers on his desk, "How much longer you gonna be?"
"Ten minutes, go on. I'll see you in the morning," she replied, smiling up at him.
Elliot settled the jacket around his shoulders, "Any plans for tonight?" he asked conversationally, hoping his probing wasn't too obvious.
The dark head shook slightly, "No. I'll drop these off and head home," she said, glancing at her watch.
"Okay, night Liv," he replied, waving at her as he headed for the elevators.
Olivia watched him leave and placed the pen on her desk, methodically gathering the paperwork she needed to take to the ADA's office. She reached for her leather coat and slung it over her arm, before lifting Elliot's paperwork and switching off both their desk lamps. She gave both desks a cursory nod before heading for the underground garage.
Alex sighed as she lifted a sheet of paper from the stack on her left and quickly skimmed over the details before placing it on a smaller pile in front of her and reaching for another one. She glanced at her watch and groaned before blinking a few times to clear her blurring vision and focusing on the details on the page.
She looked up as a figure passed by the window of her office, clearly heading for her closed door. She held the pen in mid air as the door was gently knocked, frowning at the unrecognizable voice seeking permission to enter, "Come in," she shouted.
The door opened and a colored woman entered, looking behind her nervously.
"Please, come in," Alex prompted, rising to her feet and moving towards the woman.
The woman reflexively took a step backwards, her eyes widening in terror as she clutched a package closely to her heaving bosom.
"It's alright, you're safe here," Alex encouraged, nodding her head at the frightened woman.
The woman looked behind her again before closing the door, "Are you Miss Cabot?" she asked anxiously.
Alex bobbed her head and pointed to the name plate on her desk, "Yes. What's your name?" she asked carefully.
"Florence. Florence Ugbalue, I am a friend of Nardalee's," she replied as she moved closer to the desk and the standing blonde.
Alex indicated the visitor's chair, "Please, won't you sit down?" she asked, glancing at the box file the woman held tightly against her chest. She noticed the woman lick her lips, "Can I get you some water?"
"Please," the woman replied as she lowered herself into the chair, her eyes following Alex as she moved over to a small water dispenser in the corner of the room. She nodded her head as she accepted the glass of cool liquid and took a healthy swallow before speaking, "I am so sorry to arrive unannounced, but I did not know what to do," she said.
Alex sat down in the chair beside her and smiled, "You did the right thing coming here, are you hurt?"
"No, but I know someone who will be," she replied.
Alex frowned and shook her head, "Is Nardalee alright?" she asked, knowing the woman who had initially helped her was still in the Congo. She had seen her once or twice, but was so busy with prosecutions and meetings with representatives from different countries that she had lost contact with the woman.
"Yes, she is fine. She sent this to me," she said, placing the file on the desk. She turned back to Alex, "Miss Cabot, you are in grave danger. People are not happy with what you have done back in my homeland, Nardalee trusts you and values your friendship which is why she asked me to bring this to you as soon as I received it," she added, motioning towards the package with her free hand.
Alex shook her head, "Why didn't she give it to me herself back in the Congo?" she asked.
"It was too dangerous for her and for you " she paused, swallowing nervously, " Miss Cabot these men want to show the Western world that a woman, a white woman, cannot dictate their way of life. These men have contacts here, men who will not kill you, but will brutalize you and use you until you bleed and scream for more and when you do they will start again," she finished solemnly.
Alex felt a shiver run up her spine having spent the last three months knowing exactly what these men did to women, she smiled weakly at Florence, "It's alright, they can't get me here," she reassured the fidgeting woman. She glanced at the box on her desk, "What's in there?" she asked.
"Names and notes from Nardalee of the men who are here, in New York and all across this country. Men who are finding those who have escaped and returning them to the Congo," she replied, finishing the last of the water.
Alex looked at the glass as the woman sat it on her desk, "Would you like some more?"
"No. I have stayed longer than I intended too they may be watching," she replied, snapping her head to the door as it was lightly knocked. She gasped as her eyes darted around the room, looking for somewhere to hide.
Alex placed a gentle hand on her forearm, "It's okay," she said, trying to calm the agitated woman before turning to the door, "Who is it?" she asked loudly.
Alex smiled with relief as she looked into terrified eyes, "It's alright, she's a police officer. We couldn't be in safer hands," she assured Florence.
"Can I come in?" Olivia asked from the other side of the door.
Alex shifted her eyes back to the door, "Of course," she shouted and watched as Olivia hesitantly entered the office.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt, I just wanted to drop these off," she said, holding the files up as she walked towards the cluttered desk.
Alex felt a jolt of relief as she watched Olivia scan the three stacks of paper in front of her, "One on your left," she offered, smiling up at her.
Olivia nodded as she sat the papers down and looked between the two women, sticking out her hand, "Olivia Benson," she announced to the watching woman.
"Florence Ugbalue," the African woman replied, holding her hand out nervously. She turned to Alex, "I must go, be careful Miss Cabot," she advised quietly.
Olivia frowned and narrowed her eyes, "Is everything okay here?" she asked, looking to the blonde woman for a response.
Alex nodded, "Yes," she confirmed quietly.
Florence rose form her seat and placed her hand on Alex's shoulder, "Take great care Miss Cabot," she warned again as she nodded politely at Olivia.
Alex glanced at Olivia and shrugged her shoulders.
"Can I offer you a ride somewhere?" Olivia asked the standing woman.
Florence shook her head, "It is better if I do not. Goodbye," she said, nodding curtly at both women before hurrying through the open door.
Olivia followed her out the door and watched her move quickly along the hallway before entering the office again and partially closing the door behind her. She moved to the seat beside Alex and dropped into it, "What was that all about?" she asked, studying the blonde.
Alex smiled at her, "Nice to see you too Liv," she quipped.
Olivia snorted lightly and nodded her head, "Sorry. Yeah, good to have you back " she paused, " how long you staying this time?" she asked coolly.
Alex clenched her jaw, "Li-"
The sound of gunfire and a muffled scream floated in through the open door, effectively halting Alex's reply.
Olivia instantly reached for her weapon and bolted form her seat, simultaneously turning to Alex and pointing at the corner of the room, "Over there," she instructed with quiet urgency.
Alex scrambled out of the chair and moved over to the leather couch in the corner of the room, ducking behind the arm rest.
Olivia stepped cautiously into the hallway as she retrieved her cellphone from her coat pocket and dialed 911, she lifted the handset to her ear and quietly gave her name, badge number and location before ending the call. She crept closer to the corner and blew out a steadying breath as she tightened the grip on her gun. As she peered round the corner, something struck her on the head sending her crashing to the floor and into darkness.
Chapter 3: Ties That Bind
The elevator door slid slowly open, revealing a bustling hive of activity in the hallway of the DA's building. Captain Donald Cragen quickly scanned the immediate area and headed for the crouching figure of Melinda Warner. He knelt down beside her and looked at the dead woman on the floor, "What have we got Melinda?"
Medical Examiner Warner looked up at him and smiled in greeting, "Hi Don Female, late forties, no ID. Gunshot wounds to the head and chest," she replied, rising to her feet and pointing towards the stairwell exit and the crime scene technician scrutinizing the area for trace evidence, "Shots were fired from over there," she added.
Cragen looked at the lifeless body on the floor and shook his head as he stood up, "Sounds like an execution What brings you out here? This isn't a sex crime," he commented, shifting his eyes to the standing woman.
Melinda turned her head to two waiting figures and nodded before stepping aside, "When the call came in that it was the DA's building and Olivia had requested assistance, I wanted to help so I called in a favor," she replied, watching as the dead woman was lifted into the body bag and onto the gurney.
Cragen moved in front of her, "I appreciate that Melinda, anything else here?" he asked.
Warner shook her head, "Some blood in the office, but nothing significant to indicate either of them is seriously hurt," she answered, knowing exactly what he was asking as she studied the pensive expression on his face.
Cragen nodded his head, "Thanks Melinda," he said, turning and heading down the hallway towards Alex's office.
John Munch squinted his eyes as he peered at the screen, trying to focus on the black and white images before him.
"These guys knew what they were doin'," Fin Tutuola commented as he stared at the surveillance footage from the low level garage.
Munch nodded his head, "Three men, smartly dressed in business suits looking ordinary, except for the rubber masks over their heads, exit a Ford Taurus at precisely 7:10pm and smash every surveillance camera between their car and Alex's office," he replied as the security operator ran the footage again.
"What time did Liv get there?" Fin asked.
The man seated at the keyboard brought up a screen with multiple windows showing the garage from four different camera angles. Munch and Fin stood on either side of him, peering intently at the screen, searching for Olivia's beloved Mustang.
"There!" Munch said, pointing his finger at a window in the top left hand corner of the screen.
The operator zoomed in and blew the frame up as they watched Olivia exit her car and head for the elevator.
"7pm" Fin noted as he looked at the digital time stamp at the bottom of the screen.
Munch shook his head as he stepped back, "She was only here fifteen minutes," he reasoned.
"Five minutes to get to Cabot's office what time did she make the 911 call?" Fin asked.
Munch looked at his partner, "7:15pm."
"So she was only with Cabot for ten minutes before it went down," Fin replied.
Munch shook his head again, "Think this has anything to do with Zapata?"
"Nah, that was over three years ago," Fin dismissed before adding, "Maybe Elliot found something upstairs," he said, retrieving his cellphone from his pocket.
Cragen brushed past the officer outside Alex Cabot's door and surveyed the busy interior.
Crime scene technicians were busy dusting for prints and swabbing surfaces while Elliot stood beside the window looking through a large box file, precariously balanced on the narrow ledge while he spoke on the cellphone perched between his shoulder and his ear.
Cragen looked over at the sofa, instantly spotting the congealed pool of blood, clearly marked by a bright yellow marker and hoped it was neither Alex's nor Olivia's. He stepped carefully around the upturned coffee table and stopped in front of Elliot, "What you got?" he asked, looking expectantly at the detective as he ended the call and put the cellphone in his pocket.
"That was Fin, surveillance gave us nothing. Three men in masks arrived at 7:10pm in a Taurus, smashed all the cameras between here and the garage, took the stairs and shot the woman waiting for the elevator. Liv got here at 7pm, made the 911 call at 7:15 " he paused as he thought of his partner before adding, " blood on the floor and a broken crystal decanter by the sofa, my guess? Liv told Alex to stay put while she went to investigate the gunshots she reported hearing looking at the table and smashed crystal Cabot didn't go easily," he finished.
Cragen turned and looked at the area beside the sofa and then at the ADA's desk, "Are we assuming the dead woman came to see Cabot?"
Elliot shook his head, "How many times you been here and got your water served in a crystal glass?" he replied, indicating the empty glass on the table.
Cragen nodded as he shifted his gaze back to Elliot and the box file he was holding, "What's that?"
"It was on the desk, beside the glass. I think the woman brought this for Alex," he replied.
Cragen frowned, "You sure?"
Elliot lifted out a piece of paper and showed it to the Captain, "It's a letter from Nardalee Ulah, the woman that led to Cabot's leave of absence," he supplied.
"The Congo?" Cragen asked incredulously.
Elliot nodded as Cragen pulled out his cellphone, "Did we get a plate for the Taurus?" he asked urgently.
Elliot nodded again, "Yeah, Fin's already got Transport looking for it on their cameras who you calling?"
"The FAA, I want to make sure the airports are covered," he replied.
Elliot's eyes widened, "You think they'll try and get them out the country?"
Cragen shrugged in response as he identified himself to the caller at the other end of the line before covering the mouth piece with his hand, "I'd rather not take any chances," he clarified.
Olivia groaned as the blanket of fog clouding her senses lifted and realized she was lying on her side and couldn't move her arms or legs.
She blinked a few times in an attempt to clear her vision, but met nothing but darkness. Her arms ached from the awkward angle and her head throbbed where she had been hit, but her senses were sharpening with each passing, conscious second. Instinct told her she was moving and most likely in the trunk of a car. As she strained her ears to listen for anything that would identify her current location, the car hit a bump in the road.
She groaned as the jolt caused something to roll into her, knocking her backwards and onto her bound wrists. She heard angry, muffled voices, talking in a language she didn't recognize as she desperately tried to right her position, but the body that had rolled with her was preventing her from doing so, 'Alex,' she thought before remembering the colored woman back at the DA's office.
Soft strands tickled the side of her face and she inhaled the fresh scent of strawberry shampoo and knew the limp form lying motionless against her was the blonde haired ADA.
"Alex," she whispered.
She waited a few seconds before lifting her head closer and repeating her name. When she was met with more silence she began to panic and lifted her head, nudging Alex gently as she anxiously called her name again.
The body lying against her moaned slightly and Olivia sighed with relief as she reflexively kissed the soft tresses, 'Thank You,' she offered up silently as Alex began to stir.
"Liv?" Alex groaned out hesitantly.
Olivia smiled into the darkness, "Yeah," she whispered quietly before nudging the tall frame with her own body. Pain shot through her arms as the car hit another bump and she winced loudly, "Alex, I need you to roll backwards on to your side," she said in a hushed tone.
Alex blinked, trying to adjust to the blackness as she followed Olivia's instructions. The numbness in her arms making her realize she must have been unconscious for some time as she tried moving her feet and encountered the same tightness in her ankles. She felt Olivia struggle on to her side and wished she could see her face, "Are you okay?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah, someone knocked me out back at your office. I woke up a few minutes ago we're in the trunk of a car, I heard at least two male voices speaking in a foreign language," she replied softly.
Alex remembered the gunshots in the hallway, "Do you think Florence was shot?"
"Yeah," she replied somberly before adding, "Are you okay?"
Alex felt the distant ache in her skull return and remembered the struggle in her office, "A man wearing a suit and a rubber mask came into my office, he had a gun and told me not to make a sound. I stayed behind the sofa and when he came towards me, I threw the decanter at his head. It bounced off him and smashed against the table he grabbed me, I kicked him between the legs and he dropped to his knees, landing on the broken glass. I remember him hitting me on the head with the gun when he saw the blood," she answered in a hushed tone.
Olivia longed for a chink of light, just to make sure the blonde haired woman was okay. She scooted closer until their body fronts touched, "Why did Florence come to see you?"
"Nardalee had given her evidence that there were men in New York eager to exact revenge for the work I'd done in the Congo," she answered.
Olivia blanched at the thought, having remembered just what sort of revenge these people carried out, "We'll be okay," she whispered.
Olivia swallowed before answering, "Yeah, I won' let anyone hurt you."
Alex leaned into her and felt hot breath blow across her face, she rested her forehead against Olivia's and sighed, "I'm so sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" Olivia asked, realizing Alex wasn't wearing her glasses.
Alex moved her head slightly, "For getting you involved," she replied.
"I'd rather be here with you, than back at the station wondering what's happening," she said, thinking of her partner.
Alex sighed, "How long do you think we've been in here?"
"Can't tell, I dunno how long I was out of it we're not in the city though, it's too quiet," she replied, noting the lack of traffic above the hum of the engine.
They lay in silence for a long time, listening for sounds, but heard nothing. The car turned sharply and the road became increasingly bumpy, causing both women to jostle against the other as they fought to remain on their sides. After a few minutes the car stopped and Olivia counted three doors opening and closing before footsteps scuffled across loose dirt and approached the trunk. She leaned forward and kissed Alex lightly on the cheek, "We'll be okay," she confirmed quietly.
Alex shifted her head and kissed Olivia's lips for a lingering few seconds before easing back.
Alex cut her off with a soft kiss on her cheek, "Don't. I just had to," she whispered before easing back as the trunk was slowly opened.
Chapter 4: Friends
"Anything?" Cragen asked loudly as he emerged from his office.
Elliot turned round, phone pressed to his left ear and shook his head negatively. Cragen shifted his gaze to Munch and Fin, arching his eyebrows expectantly.
"Nothing," Munch supplied, looking hopefully across at his partner.
Fin shook his head as he turned in his chair and watched the Captain approach, "Transport lost visual on the Taurus somewhere along Central Park West. They're searching all available camera's, hoping for a hit."
Cragen slid his hands deeply into his pockets as he waited for Elliot to finish his phonecall, sighing quietly at their lack of progress.
Elliot hung up the phone and threw his pencil angrily on the desk, "This is crap. No DNA matches from the blood found in Cabot's office and the vic's prints aren't in the system," he said, rubbing a hand across his jaw, "Liv and Alex are out there and we don't have anything," he added, unable to hide his rising frustration.
"Maybe I can help"
Four heads shifted at the sound of the voice and watched as Jo Marlowe strode purposefully into the squad room.
"What are you doing here?" Cragen asked, tilting his head in question.
Jo perched on the edge of Elliot's desk and smiled, "I heard the call go out on the police scanner, I called McCoy and he's lost my paperwork until Cabot and Olivia are back," she replied, glancing down and catching the weary expression on Elliot's face.
"I appreciate the offer Jo, but we've got everything covered," Cragen said, smiling at her sincerely.
Jo snorted softly and folded her arms, "Really? So " she glanced at the clock on the wall beside the stairs, " it's almost midnight, have you had any luck identifying the dead woman or the owner of the blood yet?" she asked knowingly.
"We talked to Blaine about a warrant for immigration records, but he stonewalled us until the morning needs a better reason to wake up a judge than two missing members of law enforcement and a dead African woman," Elliot growled out.
Jo looked down and met his tired eyes, "I've already sent her picture and prints to a friend."
"Which friend? And how did you get her picture and prints?" Munch asked dubiously, tapping the end of his pen against his chin as he studied the ADA carefully.
Jo met his challenging gaze, "I told you, I heard it on the scanner and called McCoy I made some calls before I came here " she paused and tilted her head at the cynical detective, " did you really think I'd turn up empty handed John?" she asked dryly.
Munch looked at her and dipped his head apologetically.
Jo smiled at him, "I'm expecting his call any time now, I told him he could reach me here," she replied before turning her attention to the Captain, "Can I see the footage from the DA's building?"
Fin eased out of his chair and motioned with his head, "C'mon, I'll show you what we got," he offered.
Alex and Olivia sat side by side on a wooden bench in front of a table. The kitchen was large and spacious, spotlights in the ceiling casting a soft glow around the room. Both visible doors were guarded by men bearing assault rifles. Olivia had asked several times to speak to someone in charge and been ignored, resulting in their current state of uneasy anticipation.
Alex turned to Olivia, "Do you think they speak English?" she asked quietly.
Olivia tilted her head and arched an eyebrow, "I think that was a yes," she deadpanned.
"Do not speak again!" the man warned.
Alex gave Olivia an apologetic smile and shrugged her shoulders, wondering how long they would be made to sit here in the constrictive confines of their restraints and who they were apparently waiting for.
A few minutes later, the door on Alex's right was tapped quietly and the guard stood back allowing a black man in a cream suit and panama hat to enter.
Olivia studied the heavy set man closely, noting the slight limp in his left leg and the black, polished cane he appeared to rely on for support.
He lowered himself onto the bench opposite and removed his hat, placing it carefully on the table before settling the cane between his legs and placing both hands over the silver handle. He glanced between both women and smiled, "Would you like some water?" he asked in a thick accent.
Olivia glanced briefly at Alex, "Yes," she replied coolly.
He nodded his head and shifted his eyes to one of the guards, "Three bottles of water," he instructed.
"Who are you?" Alex asked.
The man met her curious blue gaze before reaching into his pocket and retrieving something black.
Olivia instantly tensed, sensing danger and shuffled closer in her seat to the blonde. Relief washed over her as she recognized the dark frames in his hand and watched as he removed a dark handkerchief from his breast pocket and began to clean the lenses.
"If you had obeyed instructions back at your office, you would not have lost these," he said smiling as he stood up.
Olivia watched as he leaned across the table and gently settled Alex's glasses on her nose.
"Thank you" Alex said, blinking a few times as she took in the room with freshly focused eyes.
The heavy set man lowered himself back onto the bench and wiped his brow with the piece of cloth, "You are most welcome, Miss Cabot..it wouldn't do if your attire was not complete," he replied cryptically as three bottles of water were placed on the table. He reached for one and unscrewed the cap, "Please drink," he said, motioning to the bottles in front of them.
Olivia glared at him, "Kinda hard when your hands are tied behind your back."
The colored man snorted as he placed the bottle back on the table and wiped his mouth with the black handkerchief, "That was funny. You are sharp witted Detective Benson my people will enjoy your company a great deal," he said as he motioned for one of the guards to approach. He looked between the two women, "I ask that you do as I say and make no sudden movements, I have my instructions, but I am not afraid to take matters into my own hands, if provoked, so please no heroics," he advised, shaking his head and smiling.
Alex glanced at Olivia before addressing the man opposite, "Your business is with me, not with Detective Benson let her go," she requested confidently, ignoring the protests from the woman on her left.
The man laughed softly as he nodded his head, "Your reputation precedes you Miss Cabot, I am pleased to see it is not just in the Congo that you think you can order people about," he replied, narrowing his eyes. He rested his elbows on the kitchen table and pointed a finger at Olivia without breaking Alex's cool gaze, "She " he started, shifting his dark gaze towards the detective, " will be a small piece of the compensation you owe my people," he stated flatly as he nodded to the hovering guard to release their bonds.
"Oh, come on Hal I need more than that yeah, I know what time it is " Jo trailed off as she held the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes at the watching figures before lowering her voice, "Hal does your wife know where you are at one o'clock in the morning on a week night?" she asked pointedly, smiling at the response on the other end of the line. She nodded her head in victory and smiled, "Thanks Hal," she said, replacing the receiver in the cradle.
Elliot's pensive expression remained unchanged as he looked expectantly at her, "Well?"
"They got hits on the DNA from Cabot's office and the prints from the dead woman, file's being sent over as we speak," she replied, looking between Cragen and Elliot.
Cragen shook his head slightly, "Elliot's gone through the box file the woman brought Alex we already know it's related to the Congo," he said somberly.
Jo slipped down from her perch on the edge of his desk and frowned, "Christ Don, I thought that was obvious," she replied flatly before continuing, "NSA's been observing events in the Congo well before the task force ever got there."
"And?" Elliot asked impatiently.
Jo shifted her gaze to her old partner, "And the kingpins have sent people here to retrieve their property " she paused and ran a hand through her hair in a familiar gesture of frustration, " or destroy it," she added in a hushed tone.
Elliot unfolded his arms and took a step closer, "The file had names and cities..you're telling me there are people being sent here to retrieve the women who escaped these animals in the jungle?"
Jo nodded, "And those who helped them We'll know more once we get the NSA surveillance files," she replied.
"Surveillance?" Cragen asked.
Jo looked at him, "They've had Alex under surveillance since she returned to New York two weeks ago they believed her to be a target," she said, looking up as Fin knocked on the door frame.
"Jo, we just got files emailed to us from the NSA addressed to you," he announced.
The kitchen was quiet as the two women drank thirstily from their bottles of water. Olivia cast a concerned glance at Alex's exposed wrists and winced inwardly at the angry, red marks biting into the fair skin. She shifted her eyes to her own and saw similar indentations beginning to purple.
"You should not have interfered Miss Cabot."
Alex placed her water on the table and looked directly at him, "I regret nothing. Something had to be done to help the thousands of women and children being brutalized every day by your people," she replied coldly.
"And who will help you?" he asked, indicating for the guards to approach the table.
Alex refused to drop her gaze and clenched her jaw defiantly, "You don't scare me. You have orders, I know you won't disobey them," she answered evenly, despite the twisting knot in her stomach.
He snorted in agreement, "This is true " he paused and studied her pale blue eyes, " but only for you," he added, shifting his gaze and smiling.
Before Olivia could react, both guards grabbed her and hauled her from the bench.
"NO!" Alex screamed, scrambling to her feet.
Chapter 5: Eye for an Eye
Elliot rubbed his tired eyes as the images on the large display monitors began to blur, he scanned all three screens and chewed his lip thoughtfully, "If the NSA's been tailing Cabot, how come they don't have anything on our Taurus?"
Fin nodded in agreement, "We got the DA's security coverage from inside the underground garage, but nothing outside seems kinda weird NSA didn't have something set up, especially if they knew Cabot was in the building," he added, looking over at Cragen.
Cragen turned to Jo, "How reliable is your contact at the NSA?"
The blonde haired attorney smirked confidently, "He wouldn't dare let me down, but you're right," she said, nodding at Elliot, "We've got footage of Cabot coming and going, at home and work, but nothing from the DA's building tonight," she added, unfolding her arms as she moved over to Olivia's desk. She lowered herself into the leather seat and lifted the receiver, dialing a number from memory.
Cragen followed her retreating form with anxious eyes, "Lean on him Jo, we need something to go on," he said before turning his attention to the trio of detectives in front of the monitors, "Go through everything we've got, there's something here, we just need to find it," he added as he walked purposefully towards his office.
Munch shook his head, "NSA has the footage, they just don't want us to see it," he commented.
Elliot nodded as he moved over to the touch screen keyboard and brought up an image of Florence Ugbalue, "We know who our vic is and what her connection is to Alex.." he paused as he brought up another image on the same screen, revealing Nardalee Ulah's face, " and DNA from the blood found in the office belongs to this guy Moko Nassiwa," he supplied as a picture of a dark skinned man in military fatigues filled the adjacent screen.
"That's some serious hardware," Fin commented.
Munch stepped forward and peered closely at the image, "He's part of Natoomby's militia," he offered, using the on screen functions to blow up the insignia on the man's left arm.
"How d'you know that?" his partner asked incredulously.
Munch turned to his left and shook his head, "Natoomby is the most powerful man in the Congo," he replied before motioning for Elliot to step aside. His bony fingers danced quickly across the keyboard, bringing up images of the tyrannical leader, "His militia once took down a dozen CIA black ops agents, sent in to destroy his cocaine reserves they were never seen or heard from again," he said solemnly.
"Doesn't mean they were killed. If it was black ops, nobody ever really knows what the outcomes are," Elliot argued, remembering similar missions from his time in the marines.
Munch shook his head, "Four days after they went missing, a dozen different eyeballs were delivered to Langley," he added.
Elliot glanced at Fin, "And?"
"They belonged to the missing agents " he paused as his fingers flew over the keyboard once more, bringing up various images of brutality and degradation in the Congo, " the optic nerves were still attached, forensic pathologists identified that the eyeballs had been ripped, by hand, from the eye sockets " he turned and faced his colleagues, " while they were still alive," he finished gravely.
Elliot felt his gut tighten, "If the eyeballs had been torn out while they were still alive, how did they know they were dead, why didn't they send a team in to get them?" he asked angrily.
"A videotape was inside the box, it showed the live execution of all twelve men," he said and swallowed as he remembered the sickening footage.
Fin shook his head, "I'm proud of my roots, proud of my people, but this " he paused, lifting his hand and pointing at the screen, " this is barbaric," he said as his eyes absorbed the disturbing images of slain women and children. He tilted his head at a man in the picture, "Look how disrespectful he is, walking through the bloodshed as if it wasn't there."
Elliot sighed as he looked at the screen, studying the image of a heavy set man in a cream suit and panama hat, carrying a cane.
"Where have they taken her?"
The large man reached across the table for his hat and smiled, "Do not concern yourself with Detective Benson, Miss Cabot. She is in good hands literally," he sneered, placing the panama carefully on his head.
Alex glared at him, "Who are you?" she demanded.
He leaned on his cane and rose from the wooden bench, smoothing out his jacket as he stood, "My name is Kenanga."
Alex couldn't recall ever hearing his name during any of the trials in the Congo, "I've never heard of you," she replied coolly.
Kenanga shook his head, "Of course you haven't, but I believe you know my superior," he replied, enjoying the look of expectation in the cerulean blue eyes watching him.
Alex frowned, "Who?" she finally asked.
"Natoomby. General Natoomby," he responded, indicating for her to stand.
Olivia winced as the grip on her arms tightened. She was being dragged along a hallway towards a set of stairs, her mind already deciding that if they led anywhere but up, she was going to start fighting. The last thing she needed was another Sealview situation, especially with two armed captors to contend with.
They passed two closed doors on her left and she noticed another one on her right. Her senses were now on high alert and her muscles tense with anticipation. She was ready to fight, but needed to pick her moment carefully for fear of endangering Alex.
They approached the staircase and Olivia blanched, 'A basement,' she thought, forcing her racing heart to calm. She swallowed anxiously and flexed her fists discretely as they reached the top step.
"Stop!" the guard on her left announced.
Olivia's steps faltered as she was brought to a halt. She looked down the dimly lit, narrow stairwell and swallowed again, forcing aside painful memories as she focussed on what she had to do.
The guard who had spoken descended first, while the one behind prodded the small of her back with the long barrel of his gun. She moved down slowly, eyes fixed on the stone steps and waited until they were almost at the bottom.
In a flurry of motion, she feigned a slip on the stairs and tumbled into the guard below, rolling with him as they bounced off the cold, hard steps, making sure she cracked his skull off the concrete floor as she landed heavily on top of him.
Olivia ignored the searing pain in her back and reached below him for his fallen weapon, gripping it tightly by the barrel as she tried to appear motionless in the semi darkness. She listened intently as footsteps raced towards her.
The guard stood over their unmoving bodies, breathing hard, "Yeboah!" he panted urgently, falling to his knees and grabbing Olivia roughly by her leather clad shoulders.
As she was pulled, Olivia swung her arm and smashed the butt of the gun into the side of his head, knocking him backwards. She flipped the gun round as she scrambled to her feet and kicked his fallen rifle out of reach, "Not a word," she ordered sharply.
The guard clutched his bleeding head and nodded frantically, "Please don't kill me," he begged.
Olivia aimed the barrel at his chest, "I wanna know where we are and what's going on," she demanded with quiet urgency.
The man's eyes widened with fear, "They will kill me," he replied, unable to hide the terror in his tone.
"Only if I don't do it first," she retorted, moving her aim to his throat.
He raised his hands, "Wait wait I can get you out of here!" he pleaded.
She looked at him for a few seconds and thought of the blonde upstairs, "I'm listening," she advised, lowering her aim.
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