DISCLAIMER: The characters of Kyle McKenna and her family are mine. They may not be used without permission. All other characters belong to Dick Wolf and NBC who also own the rights to Law and Order, Special Victims Unit. No money is being made from this story.
SPOILERS: Post "Loss" and "Ghost". References to other episodes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Star Struck
By Marymartin


Part One

Detective Olivia Benson hesitated outside the office door, familiar feelings of anxiety and disquiet washing over her. It had been like this ever since Alex Cabot returned to New York after several years in the federal Witness Protection program. She'd been back for only six weeks; working temporarily in the District Attorney's appellate division, but the two women had yet to recapture the comfortable friendship they once enjoyed. Olivia chalked it up to too much time apart. If she was really honest with herself however, she would admit that the toll of suppressing her attraction to Alex was partially responsible. During the time apart, Olivia had convinced herself that she was over the blonde ADA. Within a week of Alex's return that belief was exposed for the fallacy it was. It's much easier to get over someone if you can delude yourself into thinking you never really cared that much in the first place.

She could hear voices and laughter through the door. As she was debating whether or not to knock, it opened, revealing a smiling Alex Cabot. As always, the sight of the beautiful attorney quickened Olivia's pulse. Today she was wearing Armani, a dark gray suit, with periwinkle blouse. Olivia's eyes were drawn to Alex's blouse which had several buttons undone, revealing an abundance of ivory skin.

"Olivia." Alex blinked in surprise.

"Hi," she croaked, her voice cracking like an adolescent boy. She cleared her throat and began again. "I got a message that you needed to ask me some questions about the Prentiss case."

"Prentiss …" Alex frowned, a puzzled expression on her face. She seemed distracted.

"You remember. Matthew Prentiss. Sexual assault. He got twenty years," the brunette supplied, hoping to refresh Alex's memory. At Alex's dazed expression, Olivia waved her hand in front of the ADA's eyes.

"Earth to Alex. Prentiss was the Boy Scout leader/Sunday School Teacher, who sexually abused about two dozen kids over an eight year period." The normally razor-sharp attorney's apparent mental lapse was disconcerting. "Does any of this ring any bells with you?"

Alex closed her eyes momentarily. When she opened them again she was fully focused. "Sorry. An old friend of mine dropped in unexpectedly. We've been catching up." She opened the door wide and gestured for Olivia to come in.

Curious, Olivia looked beyond Alex to the visitor seated in one of the two 'client chairs' opposite the ADA's desk. A dark brown dress of some jersey material clung to a trim, toned body, and revealed shapely legs crossed at the ankles. Following the lines of the woman's body, Olivia swept her gaze upward. Thick sandy hair, clearly the work of an expensive stylist, fell to just below her shoulders, framing a heart-shaped face, and playing up high cheekbones. Amused azure blue eyes met brown ones and Olivia flushed, suddenly aware of how closely she had been scrutinizing Alex's friend.

"Olivia, I'd like you to meet …" Alex began.

Recognition hit the detective like a ton of bricks. "Kyle McKenna," she interrupted. Kyle McKenna. Famous actress, director, and producer, who had received two Academy Awards before her thirtieth birthday. Olivia swallowed convulsively.

Holy crap-- is she ever stunning.

"I can see that no introduction is needed as usual for Kyle." Alex commented wryly, shooting her friend a look of amused affection. She was familiar with the dazed, star struck expression on Olivia's face. She had seen it countless times when in Kyle's company. "Kyle, this is Detective Olivia Benson."

Olivia collected herself enough to cross the room and shake the actress' hand. "It's a real pleasure to meet you."

"You too, Detective." Kyle motioned to the chair beside her. "Please, have a seat". Her voice was husky, whiskey-soaked, and distinctive.

Out of the corner of her eye, the actress covertly studied the visitor. The detective was above average height with a toned muscled body that clearly was the result of frequent workouts, gorgeous brown eyes, and mid-length auburn hair in a windblown cut. She was dressed in dark jeans that hugged her body, a dark blue sweater over a white t-shirt and black leather jacket. Olivia bore her striking good looks with aggressive indifference, as if utterly unaware of their effect. Intrigued by the tension that had seemed to accompany the detective into the room, Kyle settled more comfortably in her chair and waited.

For a few moments no one spoke. Olivia racked her brain, trying to recall any details she knew about the actress. Thirty-four years old, reputed multi-millionaire, head of her own production company and the single parent of two children, a boy and a girl. Had Alex ever mentioned this woman?

Breaking the silence, Olivia nervously asked. "So how do you two know each other?"

"We met in college," the actress replied. "Slim here is the first real friend my own age I ever made."

Olivia's ears perked up. "Slim?" She regarded Alex who was blushing furiously.

"Old nickname," she explained, shooting a murderous glare at Kyle. "And for the record," she added, "I'm fourteen months younger than you are."

"Alex never seemed to slow down long enough to eat properly," Kyle said, as if that explained it. "You were always too thin, Slim. Still are, for that matter." The actress smiled at her affectionately and for a moment Olivia felt like she wasn't in the room, the intimacy between the two of them was so palpable. Hollywood had speculated for years whether Kyle McKenna was a lesbian and with that one look, Olivia thought she knew the answer. She tamped down on the green-eyed monster of jealousy and fought to keep her expression neutral.

Alex and Kyle, she learned, had begun their friendship as randomly assigned roommates when both were in college. Kyle, a child actress, who had been tutored her entire life, and Alex, the only child of privilege, had bonded instantly. During the next four years they were seldom apart, spending every vacation together. Law school for Alex, and Kyle's return to acting and later directing, kept them apart but did not lessen their bond. Even when time and distance meant long periods of not seeing one another, theirs was a rare friendship. No sooner were they together, than they immediately picked up right where they'd left off. Alex, Olivia learned, was godmother to Kyle's son, Alexander.

Olivia was dumbfounded. In all the time she'd known the ADA, she was positive that Alex had never mentioned Kyle's name. Alex, she knew, had great respect for people's privacy, and Kyle McKenna had the reputation for guarding hers with the ferocity of a Doberman. Still, Olivia found it hard to believe that the subject had never once come up. She certainly didn't remember the actress attending Alex's 'funeral'. Just one more detail of Alex Cabot's life that continued to remain an enigma.

"How do you two know each other?" Kyle asked, turning from Alex to the detective in one smooth motion, and bestowing a thousand watt smile on Olivia that nearly sent her reeling from its intensity.

"We worked together for a little over three years." Three years and thirteen days, but who's counting? "Alex was our primary ADA at special victims."

"What's special victims?" This time the question was directed at Alex.

"It's an elite division of the NYPD. The detectives there investigate sex crimes. Olivia is one of the best." She spoke of the unit and Olivia with obvious pride. "I worked with them until I had to leave New York. Now they have a different ADA."

Casey Novak. Try as she might, she couldn't warm up to the woman. They'd been forced to work more closely than the blonde would have liked since her return, a task made more difficult when Alex discovered that several of Casey's convictions were vulnerable to reversal on appeal. Alex's belief that Casey and Olivia were involved romantically also didn't help matters.

The three women continued to chat for another fifteen minutes before Olivia took her leave, promising to return at a later date to review the Prentiss file. As she left, she flashed a devilish grin at Alex. "See you later, Slim."

Despite herself Alex couldn't resist a small smile at Olivia's use of Kyle's nickname for her.

The minute the door closed behind the detective, an amused Kyle McKenna leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms, and scrutinized her friend. "Okay Cabot, what gives with you and that drop-dead gorgeous, special victims cop?"

Alex refused to meet her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Look, I may not have seen you in almost four years but I can still read you like a book. You hardly said a word the entire time she was here." The Alex Cabot she remembered commandeered a room by the shear force of her personality. She was not one to fade into the background, allowing others to converse without participating. "You were as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs."

Alex snorted. "Which particular character is responsible for that little idiom?"

"Don't try to deflect the question. I'm not playing." Kyle came around the other side of the desk until she was inches from the attorney. Reaching down, she pushed Alex's chin up, forcing her to look at her.

"What's going on, Slim?" Her voice was gentle, concern evident in her expression.

The attorney shrugged. "Nothing." Catching sight of Kyle's determined look, she capitulated. "Okay. We used to be very close friends. There were times I thought maybe it was heading towards something more before I had to go into Witness Protection. But ever since I've been back, whatever we had seems to have vanished. Just like everything else I remembered," she added so softly Kyle barely heard her. Alex sighed heavily. "Besides, she's not interested."

It hadn't appeared that way to Kyle, despite the brief amount of time she'd spent with Alex and Olivia. She'd seldom seen two people more determinedly trying to ignore an obvious attraction to one another.

Alex was once again on uneven emotional footing. She'd lost so much during her absence from New York – her mother; most of her friends; and an enormous part of herself. When fate, in the form of a major drug bust resulting in the capture and exportation of Caesar Velez, freed her from her exile, she'd returned. Lately she'd been second-guessing her decision.

Alex Cabot now divided her life into two parts. 'B.V.' – before Velez and 'A.V.' – after Velez. 'B.V" she was confident and self-assured. Truth be told, she had been rather arrogant. She'd meticulously mapped out her entire life and at twenty-nine, was well on the way to reaching most of her goals. She had been an expert at collecting acquaintances, making social small talk and witty casual conversation. 'A.V.' the confidence and self-assurance had slowly ebbed away with the passage of time. As day after endless day drifted by, Alex's goals became less and less attainable due to circumstances beyond her control. The first year and a half in the program, she'd been guarded in her dealings with other people, but had made a few friends, even allowed herself to get involved with a co-worker briefly out of shear loneliness. She had still held out hope that she might find her way home again. After the Connors' trial and the all too brief time as Alexandra Cabot again, her optimism evaporated. Every new day became a death by inches.

Tears threatened. Alex could almost hear her grandmother's voice admonishing her. 'Cabot's don't cry, Alexandra.' She choked them back.

Shaking away melancholy feelings, Alex shut down her computer and stood up. "Look, I don't want to talk about this anymore. Let's get out of here. You promised me the 'movie star treatment' for dinner, remember?" She reached for her coat.

Kyle studied her for a moment, noting the pain lurking in Alex's eyes. Her friend had always been a strikingly beautiful woman but her features now reflected fatigue and brittleness. Kyle suspected that Alex's experiences in the last four years were responsible for the changes and she was determined to learn more.

For the moment, she would let the subject of Detective Olivia Benson drop. Still, the possibilities intrigued her. Alex had spent most of her adult life denying her attraction to women. Kyle knew that she had been involved in a year long relationship with a female classmate in law school. Once Alex set her sights on the job of district attorney, however, she'd steered clear of situations that might mar her promising political career. If pressed, she might admit to being 'bi-sexual', but no more. Kyle would have bet the farm that the beautiful detective she'd just met was making Alex seriously rethink things. Getting her to admit it however, was going to be quite a challenge. She smiled to herself as she followed her friend out of the office. Kyle McKenna relished nothing more than a good challenge.

Alex's first coherent thought the following day was that a flock of woodpeckers had invaded her body, the pounding in her temples was so excruciating. When she made the mistake of opening her eyes, the room seemed to careen and spin a couple of times before righting itself again.

"Oh my God," she groaned, the events of her dinner with Kyle coming back to her with full force. Over the appetizers, asparagus and avocado wraps, served with a Pinot Gris, Kyle had pressed her for more information about Olivia and the other SVU detectives. During the second course, crab cakes with green onion sauce, accompanied by a Sauvignon Blanc, she'd convinced the counselor to share some of the triumphs and successes she'd enjoyed during her years prosecuting cases for 'the People'. By the third course -- Potato Soup and a Pinot Noir - Alex was describing the Zapata prosecution that had forever changed her life. The fourth and fifth courses – Chateaubriand and baby vegetables (wine – Cabernet Sauvignon) and chocolate mousse cake, with port – were a fuzzy blur, but she seemed to recall telling Kyle about the miserable purgatory she'd lived in for almost four years, something she had not shared with anyone. Had she really confessed that the two people she'd missed the most during that time had been her mother and Olivia?

Alex was appalled at her behavior. The last time she'd blindly consumed alcohol was the first Christmas she was in the program. She'd taken a 12-year old bottle of Dewar's to bed with her, drinking two-thirds of it before passing out. Today's throbbing head, cotton mouth, and queasy stomach were vivid reminders of every reason she'd carefully monitored her drinking since that time.

"Want some aspirin?" Kyle was in the doorway, a bottle in her hand.

Alex attempted to focus through bloodshot eyes and tangled hair. Her friend looked as fresh as a daisy in a slate gray shirt and black slacks. It was all coming back to her now. Although Kyle had made sure that Alex's glass was continually topped off throughout the evening, she'd carefully nursed her own drinks, consuming very little.

"You deliberately got me drunk," she accused.

"That wasn't my intention. I just wanted you to open up, Slim. I seem to remember that getting you mellow always helped loosen your tongue."

Alex attempted, without success, to sit up. Collapsing back into the down pillow she mumbled, "Just as soon as I can move again, I'm going to kill you. That's a promise."

Kyle laughed. "Here." A silk robe landed on Alex's face. "Put this on. Brush your teeth, and come have breakfast. I promise you'll feel better."

"I am never eating again," came the muffled reply. "Besides, I don't have a toothbrush."


Alex lifted the corner of the robe to see Kyle standing over her, a brand new Oral B toothbrush in her left hand, her right hand outstretched, palm up, invitingly. "Come on," she encouraged. "I'll help you up."

Alex's look was mutinous. "Not a chance, McKenna. I'm not moving from this bed." She held out her own hand. "What did you do with the aspirin?"

The toothbrush vanished into a pocket of Kyle's slacks and the bottle reappeared. "Here. Want a water chaser?"

Without waiting for a reply, she poured a glass of water from the tumbler sitting on the nightstand. Alex was struggling to open the childproof cap. Hiding a smile, Kyle accomplished this task as well, shaking the bottle so that two, no three, aspirin rested in the palm of her hand. She offered them to Alex with the water.

"Thank you." Alex's venomous tone belied her polite words. Placing both the toothbrush and aspirin bottle within easy reach, Kyle strategically retreated to the adjoining room.

Last night's dinner conversation was illuminating. Alex carried on a monologue for most of the evening, with Kyle skillfully drawing her out until the effects of the alcohol took over. In the entire time Kyle had known Alex, her friend habitually kept her emotions so tightly in check that Kyle speculated whether she might spontaneously combust. Now, it was as if that tight control had been ratcheted up several notches. It had almost slipped when Alex told her about the events leading up to her fake death and exile into the Witness Protection program, but she hadn't cracked.

Kyle was shocked to discover that two people initially knew Alex hadn't really died when she was shot by Caesar Velez's henchman. Her mother was not one of them. Neither was Kyle. This fact spoke volumes. Alex had chosen Olivia Benson and Elliott Stabler to trust with both her secret and her life.

Her friend Slim had never been one to make friends easily but when she did, it was usually for life. Alex, Kyle now realized, was more than attracted to Olivia Benson. She strongly suspected that Alex loved the detective when she went into Witness Protection; whatever her feelings might currently be, she'd bet they ran deep. But who was this Stabler guy and what was his relationship to Alex, she wondered.

The anguish she'd seen in Alex's face last night when she talked about coming out of hiding and returning to testify against the hit man who'd tried to kill her was still fresh in Kyle's mind. "I had no choice, really. Liam Connors destroyed my life. I refused to let him destroy Elliott and Olivia's." The vitriol in Alex's voice had shocked her.

She sighed. Hell, Slim, have you always been this complicated?

Of course the answer to that question, she knew was 'yes'. Alex was the only child of only children, born to a wealthy 42 year old father and a beautiful mother half his age. Following her father's death when Alex was six, she became the subject of a bitter custody battle between her mother and paternal grandmother. For the next 18 years, Alex was a pawn in the ongoing chess match between the two women, struggling valiantly to be the perfect granddaughter and daughter, an impossible task. Her mother was a young, vibrant, socialite; her grandmother, a blue-blooded aristocrat, who could give the Queen Mother a run for her money on the subject of 'duty to family'. She'd attended her father's schools, and ultimately chose his career. Her mother resented it. It wasn't enough to please her grandmother. Nothing Alex ever did seemed to satisfy the older woman. Alex, however, made a pleasant discovery along the way. She loved the law. She loved the district attorney's office. She was not just a good prosecutor, she was a brilliant one. She'd been on the fast track to achieving her goal of becoming the youngest District Attorney in New York City when what should have been a routine prosecution turned into an attempt on her life.

Kyle, the youngest of seven children, came from quite a different background than the blue-blooded Cabots. She'd grown up in a home filled with love, part of a noisy, Catholic family in the Midwest. Pat and Mary McKenna were partners in every sense of the word. They divided work, household chores, and parenting equally. Both were college professors. Kyle's childhood was full of intellectual stimulation and eclectic friends. Each child was encouraged from the cradle to pursue his or her interests fully. At an early age, Kyle's interest was acting.

At four, a very precocious Kyle was the unanimous choice for a series of McDonald's commercials. At seven, she made her big screen debut in a movie with the legendary Katharine Hepburn, stealing several of the scenes the two shared. From that point, she never looked back, making a film every year for the next decade. When others her age were finishing high school, Kyle was receiving her first Academy Award. At nineteen, Kyle made the decision to take a break from her career and attend college. Enter Alex Cabot stage right.

Kyle took a sip of the now lukewarm coffee she'd had ready for Alex, contemplating the last few years. She'd believed that Slim was dead; had mourned for her, this woman who was closer to her than her own two sisters. Her delight when she discovered the true facts knew no bounds. As soon as possible, she'd cleared her busy schedule and headed to New York. Now, after spending the better part of two days with her friend, she was positive of at least one thing. The woman she once knew like the back of her hand was a ghost of her former self. Slim was lost; adrift since returning to New York, and clearly emotionally fragile. She needed a friend. Kyle knew that she couldn't help her recapture the lost years, but she damn well could try and help her re-acclimate to the reality of being Alexandra Cabot again after a four year hiatus. She would begin by sticking around for a while.

Having made up her mind, Kyle picked up the phone and dialed. Her agent answered on the second ring.

"Max, hi. It's me. Listen, I've changed my mind. Call Rick Fox and tell him I'll do it." 'It' being a recurring guest role on the hit television drama, 'Badge and Bar'. Since this was a complete reversal of her earlier position only a week ago, ('Hell no. I don't do tv') he was somewhat taken aback.

"What changed your mind?"

"I guess you won't buy 'it's a woman's prerogative?'"

He laughed. "Not when it concerns you." Silence stretched between them while he waited for her to elaborate. Then, realizing that she had given him the only explanation he was likely to get, Max ended the call, promising to contact her with details after he spoke with Fox.

Her next call was to her assistant in Los Angeles, with instructions to close up the house and head to New York with the children and their nanny. They would stay in the apartment Kyle kept on the west side.

Max was as good as his word. He reported that Rick Fox was thrilled she had changed her mind. She would start work in about a month.

Kyle was only half listening, an idea taking shape as he talked. "Listen Max. Can you call him back and see if he can arrange for me to spend time with some real New York detectives to help prepare for the role?" She settled back in her chair. "I met a detective the other day. She works in something called Special Victims Unit …."

Part Two

Detective Olivia Benson leaned across the table, confronting the woman she'd been interrogating for over an hour. "Come on Marina, your boyfriend's admitted that he raped your daughter. He said you knew about it. Why don't you just level with me?"

She was met with a bored look. "Listen, you know what happened to my car? They impounded it when they picked me up. Some crap about unpaid parking tickets."

Even though Olivia's face remained neutral, Munch and Elliott, observing the exchange through the one-way glass, knew she was struggling to control her fury at the suspect's blasé attitude. This woman was a piece of work. She'd allowed her boyfriend to have sex with her six-year-old daughter but was more concerned about the welfare of her car.

"How do you do this every day?" a quiet voice asked. Kyle McKenna had joined them at the window to the observation room.


They'd forgotten she was there. It was extraordinary really. After barely three weeks, Kyle blended in so seamlessly it was almost as if she was a member of the squad. Originally resented for using her celebrity status to arrange to 'observe', it had taken her a mere 48 hours to charm them all, even Fin. She dressed in a non-descript fashion, usually jeans and a baseball cap pulled low on her forehead. Without make-up and in tennis shoes, she was not recognized. She watched, listened, and asked occasional questions, always low-key and respectful of the detectives at all times. If she spent more time with Olivia than the other three, no one thought it remarkable. Kyle, after all, was going to be playing the part of a female detective.

"This." She gestured at Olivia and the suspect. In the brief time she'd been at SVU, the detectives' cases had included pedophiles, rapes, incest, and torture. Each new one seemed more horrifying than its predecessor. "It's so dark; so depressing. I don't know how you do it day after day."

"Somebody has to," Munch said. "You get used to it."

"I don't think I'd ever get used to it. It takes somebody awfully special to do this. I think you all are quite extraordinary."

Both men looked pleased, but embarrassed by her comment. They were spared having to respond however, as Fin, wearing a look of revulsion, stepped from the interview room and joined them.

"Do you believe that bitch? She's pissed at us. Claims her daughter is her property. Her welfare, I quote, 'is my business not yours'." He shook his head in disgust. "Her excuse for giving the little girl to the boyfriend is that he wore her out and she didn't want to have any more sex with him right then."

Kyle's heart twisted at his words. She'd seen the child. A cute pixie with long brown hair and big eyes, the color of melted chocolate. A little girl whose childhood and innocence had been taken away from her because her mother was more concerned with her own comfort than her child's welfare.

Suddenly she wanted to be anywhere but where she was. She longed to see her own children; to hug them and spend time with them. Thankfully the shift was almost over.

Olivia had joined them. "Okay. Let's get her booked." She glanced at her oversized watch. "Looks like we'll get out of here on time for once. That's good. I need a drink."

A couple of hours of her children's exuberance had restored Kyle's equilibrium. It had taken very little persuading to convince Olivia to stay for dinner. She and Kyle had grown close in recent weeks and Olivia openly envied Kyle her family. Ever since meeting Katie and Alex she'd taken advantage of every opportunity presented to spend time with them. Her biological clock was ticking. Recently, she'd found herself longing for a child of her own.

Alex too, seemed drawn by the child magnet. Watching her now, on the floor wrestling with her laughing namesake, Kyle was amazed at how open and playful she was around them. It appeared to Kyle, that professionally, Alex had almost regained her former confidence and skills. Personally, it was another story. Alex kept to herself. She was reserved. She was living like a hermit, totally immersed in work. What there was of her social life consisted of a series of first dates (Kyle had jokingly accused her of 'serial dating') and spending time at Kyle's whenever she could.

"Anyone want some wine?" Kyle asked.

"I can wait," Olivia said, 'trotting' around the living room, Katie atop her shoulders, her small hands clutching the detective's auburn locks.

"Not for me." Alex shot her a meaningful look. "I'll stick to club soda." Ever since their memorable five course dinner, she'd limited herself to no more than one glass of wine around her friend.

Kyle hid a smile. "Dinner should be ready in about twenty minutes. Which," she said, lifting Katie down from her 'steed's' shoulders, "gives me just enough time to get these two monkeys to bed."

"Nooo," her daughter wailed, reaching for Olivia. "I want Wivvie."

Kyle shifted the toddler to her hip and kissed her under the chin. "Wivvie can help me tuck you in." She looked at the detective. "If that's okay with you?"

Olivia flashed her lopsided smile. "Sure."

Kyle tipped the child backwards, prompting a giggle from her daughter. "Let's tell Auntie Alex good-night." Alex struggled to her feet. Crossing the room, she kissed the little girl's soft cheek. "Night, precious. Sweet dreams."

"Slim, you mind getting Alex into his pjs while we put this one down?"

"Of course not." Reaching out, she captured the squirming five-year-old as he attempted to race by her. "Gotcha."

"I don't want to go to bed," he whined, digging in his heels.

"Come on. If you cooperate, I'll read you a story."

He pondered her offer, his brows furrowing. Then, looking at her beseechingly, wheedled, "Two."

Faced with pleading blue eyes, she capitulated. "Two."

Alex heard a soft chuckle from the detective who had been observing the exchange. "He's going to make one heck of a lawyer one of these days. He certainly seems to have gotten the upper hand with you."

"I'm a pushover for the right person," she responded, not stopping to consider how suggestive that might sound.

"I'll keep that in mind," Olivia replied, following Kyle and Katie down the hall.

As she helped with pajamas and teeth brushing, Alex reflected on how easy and natural her banter with Olivia had become with two children and Kyle acting as pseudo-chaperones. There were still awkward periods on the rare occasion it was just the two of them, but more often than not they were again comfortable around one another.

"Read." Her godson's voice recalled her to the task at hand. Smiling, she settled back against the pillows, little Alex resting contentedly against her chest, and began. "At school, Mrs. Dickens liked Paul's picture of the sailboat better than my picture of the invisible castle."1

Glancing through the open doorway a few minutes later, Olivia observed two blonde heads close together, absorbed in the story. Her heart contorted at the sight. The attorney looked so beautiful, so content reading to the little boy. She sighed. Who knew Alex Cabot would be such a natural with children? One more reason for her to fall more deeply in love with the attorney.

"Olivia, you ready for some wine yet?" Kyle seemed to materialize out of thin air at her side, wineglass in hand.

"Sure. Thanks."

After kissing her son good-night, Kyle returned to where Olivia waited in the hall. "Ten minutes," she called to the two Alex's, adding for her son's benefit, "Aunt Alex has to come to dinner, sport."

Deeply absorbed in the story, her son called out 'okay', and snuggled closer to Alex, who tightened her embrace. Olivia, battling an overwhelming desire to take the little boy's place, followed Kyle into the dining room.

For the hundredth time Olivia found herself wondering what happened during dinner to put such distance between her and Alex. They'd all been having a great time, enjoying good food and each other's company, talking about SVU when Casey Novak's name came up. In answer to Kyle's question as to why she hadn't yet met the ADA, Olivia explained that she was temporarily out on medical leave. Casey, it turned out, had a sprained knee, the result of a collision between her bicycle and a street cleaning machine while on the way to work. Olivia had teased the ADA for years about her 'eco-friendly transportation' which seemed to be jinxed. After losing two Treks to theft, Olivia had suggested she might find the subway or another form of public transportation more to her liking. Now, given the most recent mishap, she joked that a motorized cart might be a more safe form of travel for the redhead. She'd then launched into several amusing stories about Casey and her bicycle which had Kyle hooting with laughter.

Alex had grown quieter and quieter the longer Olivia talked. Pleading a headache, she'd left early.

"You think Alex is okay?" the detective asked Kyle as she helped her load the dishwasher.


"I'm sure she'll be fine."

"What do you think is wrong with her?"

I think she's wildly attracted to you, fighting it like crazy for some reason, and jealous of Casey Novak.

"Probably just working too hard. You know Alex."

Olivia sighed. "I used to. She's hard to figure these days."

Kyle nodded. Despite the rare occasions like tonight when Alex relaxed, more often than not, she was wound tight, keeping her emotions in check. "The time in Witness Protection really took its toll on her."

She's shared some of it; I know there's more she needs to share; I'm patient; I can wait.

Olivia nodded thoughtfully. The woman who had returned at times seemed to be a specter of her former self. She loaded the last dish and leaned back against the kitchen island. Pushing thoughts of Alex aside, she said, "Can I ask you a question?" Her voice was serious and low; her eyes downcast, looking at the tile floor.

"Sure." Sensing Olivia's mood, Kyle gently touched the detective's arm. "Is anything wrong?"

"No. It's just … …I was wondering…" She broke off nervously, wondering if this was a good idea. She focused on the rack above the island, studying the gleaming copper pots and pans intently, as if looking for clues. Kyle had never seen the confident detective so tentative.

"Olivia, you're starting to freak me out. What is it?"

"Have you ever regretted being a single mom?" It came out in a rush, the words almost running together.

Whatever she had expected it wasn't that. Kyle ran a hand through her hair, collecting her thoughts. "I think this is a discussion for somewhere more comfortable than the kitchen. Want to go in the living room?"

Seated at opposite ends of the sofa, Kyle leaned back and looked at Olivia. "I don't suppose this is just idle curiosity?"

The detective shook her head. "No. I've been thinking about it for a while. I'm not getting any younger." She sighed. "Lately, it seems to be all I think about."

That and Alex Cabot.

"Well, it's not easy. Whoever said parenting is 24/7 was right on target. Being a single parent means there's nobody to help you over the rough spots. No one to bounce ideas off; to step in when you are frustrated or floundering." She pondered for a moment, trying to decide how much of her personal history she wanted to share with the detective. "I didn't choose to be a single parent though."

Olivia's interest was peaked. Although both of Kyle's pregnancies had been reported with a great deal of fanfare, the paternity was a well-guarded secret and there had never been mention of any partner either time.

Kyle sat back against the sofa cushions and crossed her arms. "Olivia, you may have noticed that I'm very protective of my privacy."

No kidding.

In the brief time they'd known one another, she'd seen the lengths the actress took to protect her family's privacy. Olivia had jokingly remarked to Munch that Kyle should be giving advice to Homeland Security, she was so meticulous, always a step ahead of any threats to her family. She was an expert at misdirection. Although there had been a wave of publicity connected with her upcoming television role, the media had yet to sniff out her address or her daily visits to the precinct. In fact, the most recent reports had Kyle in Greece, 'resting up', before beginning the rigors of shooting a weekly television series.

"I've lived in the public eye for most of my life. It's not easy – keeping your life and your family private while attempting to provide some accessibility and information to fans. There are certain things that I'm not willing to share except with very close friends." She leaned forward, dropping her arms to her lap. "I like you. I think we have a lot in common. I enjoy spending time with you. I hope you feel the same way."

Olivia nodded in confirmation. If anyone had suggested to her a month ago that she and Kyle McKenna would even meet, let alone become friends, she would have suggested they talk to George Huang about their mental health. Now, she realized that it was true. She and the actress were friends.

Kyle hesitated momentarily and then continued. "I'm going to tell you something in strictest confidence. I know you will honor that."

Olivia nodded again. "You have my word on it."

"I had a partner for seven years – Lauren Masterson. She was a personal trainer. We met a couple of years after I graduated from college."

Kyle was watching Olivia's face, waiting for a reaction. The detective seemed to be taking her revelation in stride. Outwardly that was true; her game face was firmly in place. Inwardly, Olivia was incredulous.

Holy shit! Seven years with a female partner and no one, no one, knew this?

"Just a few weeks after we learned I was pregnant with Katie, she started having severe headaches. At first we thought it was stress. It turned out to be something called an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM for short." At Olivia's blank look, she explained further. "It's a congenital condition. For some reason the blood vessels in the brain don't work right." One tear had formed while Kyle was talking. It trickled down the side of her face and Kyle impatiently wiped it away.

"It killed her?" Olivia hazarded a guess.

Kyle swallowed hard. "Yes. She didn't survive the procedure the doctors used to repair it."

"Kyle, I'm so sorry." The detective looked down; away from the raw agony she'd seen in Kyle's face, suddenly wishing she had never broached the subject.

"Thanks. We lost her the year after I thought Slim died. It was a very rough time in my life." She wiped away a few more stray tears that had fallen during her narrative. "Olivia, there isn't a day that I don't thank God for my children. But it's not easy being their only parent. I'm not sure I would have voluntarily made such a choice."

Olivia focused on the hardwood floor, gathering her thoughts, before looking up again. "What if the choice is being a single parent or no parent?"

"I take it there's no one special in your life right now, or anyone waiting in the wings?"

Olivia shook her head 'no'. "One of the hazards of the job, I guess. I've always put work first. That, plus my history of relationships hasn't been the best."

Quite an understatement there, Olivia. Your attempts thus far have been a series of train wrecks.

Kyle smiled to herself. So much for Alex's dogged belief that Olivia was involved with ADA Novak outside of work.

"That's a decision only you can make. Kids require a lot of 'hands on', you know. Demanding careers tend to compete with that."

"But you do it."

Kyle laughed. "With the help of a full-time nanny, a personal assistant and a whole lot of guilt. The guilt part is a natural byproduct of motherhood. The rest may be a little hard to swing on a cop's salary."

At the detective's crestfallen expression, she smiled reassuringly. "I think you'd make a wonderful mother. But we are talking about major lifestyle changes here."

Olivia nodded in agreement. Kyle had given her a lot to think about.

The actress took a sip of her wine. "Can I ask you a question now?"

Olivia's guard went up at her tone. But, given their extraordinary exchange she could hardly refuse. "Okay."

"You didn't seem shocked when I told you I was a lesbian. Is that because we play for the same team?"

The detective laughed. "You sure don't pull any punches, do you? Yeah. Most of the time anyway, especially lately." She regarded Kyle warily, recalling her earlier remarks. "You're not hitting on me are you?"

Kyle laughed. "No. You're not my type. Besides I don't make a habit of hitting on someone my friend's interested in."

Olivia looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?"

"You're the detective. I'm sure you can figure it out."

Part Three

Alex looked up from the motion she was working on as her assistant knocked on the door. "Yes, Maggie?"

The petite brunette's brow was furrowed. She had the mail in her hand.

"The decision came back in the Shepard case."

Alex studied Maggie's body language for a moment. "I take it we lost?"

She nodded. "Unanimous decision for reversal. I'm sorry, Alex."

Hell I didn't try it. Novak did.

Still, Alex Cabot hated to lose. And losing this one was going to create major ramifications in the District Attorney's office. The proverbial shit was about to hit the proverbial fan. "Thanks." She held out her hand. "Let's have it."

An hour later after reviewing all her mail, completing her dictation, and reading the Shepard decision four times, she'd decided that she could not postpone the inevitable any longer. Stopping long enough to tell Maggie where she was going, she headed towards Casey Novak's office.

The redheaded ADA looked up from her legal pad at Alex's knock. Fixing a polite smile on her face, she said, "Alex, what brings you this way?"

Alex crossed the room and settled in one of the two chairs opposite Casey's desk before replying. "I wish it was good news. The Shepard decision came back."

Casey's face fell. She recognized the name. Mitchell Shepard was a wealthy pedophile whose last victims had been a pair of three-year-old twins he'd kidnapped, held, and molested for over a week, before killing. She'd convicted him during the first year she worked with SVU.

"They reversed?"

Alex nodded. "Yes. They held that the witnesses' testimony should have been suppressed." Handing her a copy of the opinion to review, Alex mulled the ramifications of the reversal.

Records found in Shepard's apartment and on his computer had been suppressed at trial, the court ruling that they were the result of an illegal search. Three witnesses had also testified. Unfortunately, except for the medical witnesses, every prosecution witness had been identified through the suppressed records. At trial each had testified to substantially the same information contained in those records. It was on this technicality, the appellate court had reversed.

When she reached the end of the opinion, Casey looked up at the woman sitting across from her. Alexandra Cabot appeared as unflappable as ever. Every blonde hair was in place. She wore a thousand dollar suit (which looked like it had been designed with her in mind) with the ease of a second skin. Intelligent blue eyes regarded her coolly behind black frames. "I guess you never would have used the witnesses," Casey challenged.

Alex shrugged. Then meeting Casey's look, she conceded, "Probably not. It was a big risk. Those witnesses were 'fruit of the poisonous tree'. This case was ripe for appeal the minute they testified. You had to know that going in."

She had known. But faced with the bereaved parents and the photographs of two beautiful little girls, she'd plunged forward, convinced that the court's ruling wouldn't be overturned on appeal. It had been a calculated risk and now it was going to be a political nightmare for the DA's office.

"Listen, Casey, I'll draw up the papers to release Shepard if you'd like," Alex offered. "Since I worked on the appeal, I'd be happy to help you prepare for the retrial. Maybe offer a fresh perspective."

"I don't need you to tell me how to do my job." Casey snapped.

Alex's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, Casey. That wasn't my intent."

They looked at each other suspiciously, their mutual antagonism apparent to them both. Alex sighed. "Look, we're both professionals. Surely we can find some way to work together. Neither of us wants Mitchell Shepard back on the streets."

"This isn't about Mitchell Shepard. You don't like me, do you?"

Alex's head snapped up. That comment had hit pretty close to home. "I don't dislike you," she responded cautiously, lying through her teeth. "It's just …" She struggled to voice some of the reasons for the antipathy she felt whenever she and Casey were in a room together, without stating the most obvious -- Olivia. "I resent the situation. Almost everything I had before I went into Witness Protection is yours now. My job, my old office, my squad, some of my friends, my cases. "

Mitchell Shepard would have been my case to prosecute. No way would I have let it get reversed on appeal.

Alex's chest hurt, the hollow, empty feeling that was her constant companion, asserting its presence. "I can't explain it. You can't know what it's like unless you've lived it." She shrugged helplessly. "I think you're just getting caught in the fallout."

The mask had slipped. Casey could see pain in Alex's face. The edge was gone from her voice when she replied.

"You're right. I don't know what it was like for you the past four years. But I do know what it's like to replace someone who most of One Hogan Plaza and all of SVU thinks of as a combination Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Eleanor Roosevelt and female Clarence Darrow. Since the day I took this job I've felt like everyone's measuring me against the 'Alex Cabot standard' of prosecution." She tossed her pen on the desk. "Following in your footsteps is just like being in school all over again."

"Excuse me?" Alex was clearly puzzled.

The redhead smiled grimly. "Calvin and Connie Novak's little sister." Then, quoting a series of teachers and coaches, all of whom had compared her to her siblings throughout school, she said, "'Your sister always made straight A's, why are you having such a difficult time dear?' 'Not the athlete your brother is, are you? You need to spend more time in the batting cages.' 'If you'd only apply yourself, you could reach your full potential.'"

"It's the same thing here. No matter what I do, you would have done it better."

Alex was stunned. She had no idea. Imagining herself in Casey's shoes, she almost resented herself.

"I think you may have blown things a bit out of proportion. Besides, it's easy for people to idealize someone who's dead."

"But you're not dead," Casey pointed out.

Alex spoke before she thought. "Sometimes it feels like I am." Startled at what she'd just revealed, she changed the subject. "So, where do you and I go from here?"

Casey was spared from answering by a voice on the intercom. "Arthur Branch on line one." Grimacing, she picked up the receiver. "Yes, Arthur. I just heard." This was followed by a period of silence while her boss spoke at length.

Alex shot her a sympathetic look. She'd been on the receiving end of several professional ass-reamings during her time as an ADA and from the expression on Casey's face she was getting an earful. Eventually the redhead spoke again. "She's here now. I'll let her know. Good-bye."

Casey struggled to her feet. "Time to face the music. He'd like to see you too. The media's already clamoring for a statement."

Elliott and Olivia returned from a late lunch to find their co-workers gathered around the small black and white TV in Cragen's office watching the press conference announcing Mitchell Shepard's release. Madeline Cooper, his attorney, was commenting on the overzealousness of the district attorney's office and the gross miscarriage of justice. Branch announced that the case would be retried, with ADA Alexandra Cabot, lead prosecutor.

Fin was disgusted. "Do you believe this shit? That piece of slime is getting off because of some lame-ass technicality?"

Elliott felt sick. He remembered all too well the broken bodies of the two little girls; the cockiness of the defendant. "He's fucking guilty. How can they overturn this?"

"A little thing called the Bill of Rights. Something about protecting asswipe citizens like Shepard against unlawful search and seizures," Munch said wryly.

Olivia shot him a glare. "Not now, John."

Cragen looked up from the screen. "Elliott. Olivia. You worked this case. You better get down to evidence storage. If Alex is prosecuting it won't be long before she wants the lowdown on exactly what we've got."

On cue, the clipped sounds of high heels could be heard approaching. Moments later, the blonde ADA was standing in the doorway. She gestured to the images on the screen. "I guess you've all heard the news. Casey is going to be second-chairing me on this. She's working on a motion to keep Shepard in jail pending retrial."

Despite the reason, Olivia couldn't help the thrill she felt at the thought of working closely with Alex again on a case. Even on one as full of problems as Mitchell Shepard's.

"I'd like to take a look at everything we've got. How soon can we get started?" Alex wanted to know.

"How's right now?" Elliott's face still wore a grim look. "Liv and I'll get the evidence boxes and meet you in your office."

Alex nodded, reaching for her briefcase which was resting on the floor against Cragen's desk. "Perfect. I'm due uptown. I have an oral argument at two. I should be back by three. Three-thirty at the latest."

Waving good-bye, the attorney turned and exited Cragen's office, once again the staccato of her heels beating a sharp rhythm on the worn linoleum.

Olivia couldn't stop herself. She was riveted. Her eyes, acting of their own accord, followed Alex's trim form, the movement of her hips, as she walked away. Flushing, she looked up to meet three sheepish pair of eyes, all of whom had been admiring the backside of the retreating ADA.

Just like old times.

Six hours later the three friends were sitting dejectedly in Alex's office. Although the crime scene photos were vivid reminders of the horror of the crime, the rest of the evidence, once the testimony of the witnesses was excluded, was sparse.

Alex spoke, putting into words what they'd all been thinking. "You've got to start from scratch. There's no way we can convict Shepard on what we've got. I don't even think it would survive a motion to dismiss."

Even though he knew she was right, Elliott's frustration couldn't be contained. He jumped to his feet and headed toward the door. "I need some air. I'll be back in a few minutes." Sometimes walking helped work off rage and right now he needed to walk.

Blue eyes met brown. "He's taking this personally, isn't he?"

Olivia grimaced. "Yes." Elliott, desperate to find the missing twins, had proceeded without waiting for the search warrant. Although the evidence they'd uncovered had led them to the girls' bodies, it was too late to save them; it had also been excluded at trial, the court finding that the search was outside the scope of the warrant.

Olivia leaned in, her voice intent. "Alex, you have to understand. They'd been missing for almost three days. We were sure Shepard was good for it but we were running out of time. Elliott did what he had to do. He thought he might be able to find them alive."

The ever present ache in Alex's chest twisted. "I know, Olivia. I haven't forgotten what it was like. I don't fault Elliott." She picked up a color photograph taken at the twins' third birthday party. Raven heads were touching as they blew out their candles. "It's ironic isn't it?"


"Everyone refers to the perp when they talk about this case, not the victims. No one talks about Madeline and Mallory Bradley. It's always Mitchell Shepard." The attorney closed her eyes and massaged her temples with both forefingers, hoping to lessen the pressure. She'd developed a pounding headache about two hours earlier, no doubt the result of skipping both lunch and dinner.

"Lean back," Olivia instructed. Strong hands began kneading her neck, releasing the tension. Olivia's touch was comforting and Alex relaxed, enjoying the sensations of her powerful fingers. Time seemed to stand still. The blonde's mind began to wander, imagining those gentle hands exploring downward, touching her neck, her breasts, and traveling further south. Recollecting herself, she stilled Olivia's hands with her own.

The throbbing in her head was gone, replaced by throbbing between her legs. Determined to ignore it, she turned and smiled at the detective. "Thanks. My head feels much better."

Olivia swallowed hard. What had begun as an innocent attempt to help rid Alex of her headache had become incredibly arousing. "You're welcome."

Get a grip Liv. It didn't mean anything to her.

They held each other's eyes for a long moment. The silence in the room was suddenly deafening. Fortunately, Elliott chose just that moment to come back and they returned to business.

Part Four

Kyle was disappointed to hear Olivia's canned voice on the first ring. She repeated the same message she'd left for Alex. "Olivia, it's Kyle. We finally got a break in the shooting schedule and I'm free this week-end. The kids and I really miss seeing you and I'm hoping we can get together. Please give me a call."

It had been almost two months since their dinner and their discussion about single parenting. Kyle's shooting schedule and the amount of time that Alex and Olivia were devoting to the Shepard case consumed most waking hours. Although she'd managed to talk to one or both of them nearly every day, she hadn't seen either of them in person for several weeks. She'd moved here to be available to Alex. Now it seemed like their jobs were conspiring to keep them apart.

"Mommy?" Her son patted her knee to get her attention.

"Yes sweetie?"

"Can we go to the park today?" His blue eyes were hopeful.

"I think that's possible. Why don't I mention it to Diane?"

His face fell. "Can't you take me?"

Familiar guilt feelings engulfed her. "I'm sorry, baby. Mommy has to work late tonight." She knelt down beside him until they were at eye level. "But, I promise you, very soon you're going to have me all to yourself for a few days."

His face brightened again. "Cool. Diane," he shouted for his nanny who was in the next room. "Mommy says we can go to the park today."

Shaking her head in amazement at her son's resiliency, she grabbed her coat. Giving Alex a quick hug and calling out to Diane to let her know she was leaving, she headed for the elevator.

"Any luck?" Olivia asked as Elliott opened the car door, slamming it forcefully behind him and plopping down in the passenger seat.

"I take it that's a no?" she said, noting the black scowl on his face.

He slammed a fist down on the dashboard. "I am so sick of chasing leads that lead nowhere. We're running out of time."

Olivia nodded. In addition to their regular assignments they'd been working and reworking the Shepard case, practically night and day with no breaks. Nerves were frayed and tempers raw. An hour earlier both detectives and ADA Cabot had vented their frustrations on each other, a simple disagreement escalating into a highly charged exchange. None of them wanted an animal like Mitchell Shepard back in circulation, yet it was looking more and more a certainty that was exactly what was going to happen.

Elliott's stomach growled loudly, signaling its emptiness. As if in sympathy, so did Olivia's. The two partners looked at each other and burst out laughing, relieving the tension in the car.

"Why don't we stop by New Peking and grab some takeout before we head back to meet with Alex?" he suggested. "With all the meals we've been missing, maybe some General Tso chicken will work better for an apology than flowers."

Several hours later Elliott sighed heavily and pushed back from the table where he'd been reviewing the contents of the evidence boxes for the umpteenth time. Alex looked up with a sympathetic smile from the psych report she was reading.

"Why don't we call it a night?" she offered.

"I thought Novak was supposed to be joining us?"

"Branch handed off an arraignment to her last minute; she needed to prepare for a hearing tomorrow with Donnelly. I told her to go home if it got too late." She glanced at her watch. "I think almost one a.m. qualifies, don't you?"

She gestured to Olivia who had fallen into an exhausted doze on the leather sofa. "All of us need to sleep. We've been burning the candle from both ends too long."

He rubbed his burning eyes. "Yeah. You're probably right." Standing and stretching, he crossed to her desk and sat down opposite her. "Why do I keep doing this?" he asked the room at large.

"No fair. That's my standard line."

"Do you ever regret coming back?" It was the first time since her return to the DA's office that he'd referred to her time in Witness Protection.

"I don't know Elliott. Sometimes I feel like I don't belong here anymore. I remember every reason I was so frustrated with the system before …." her voice trailed off. She could not make herself say the words, 'before I was shot'. Suddenly feeling cold, she wrapped her arms around herself, before continuing. "Cases like this one are exhausting. I want to be the one to put this bastard away again but it seems like everything is conspiring against us to prevent just that."

Elliott massaged his stiff neck. "This guy is cold, Alex. I don't think I've ever seen a perp like him. His whole demeanor reminds me of Ted Bundy."

"He reminds me of someone too." She tapped Huang's report. "Do you remember a case we had the first or second year we worked together involving a murdered animal rights officer?"

He racked his tired brain, but came up empty. "Sorry. Too much water under the bridge I guess. That or I'm brain dead at the moment."

She smiled, understanding. "The killer actually turned out to be a co-worker but you and Olivia thought someone else was good for it. A creepy little teenage sociopath by the name of …."

The light came on. "Harry Baker," he practically shouted.

Startled at his increase in volume, Alex shot a quick look at Olivia. The detective hadn't moved a muscle. She was still sprawled, face-down on the couch.

Elliott now had a broad smile on his face.

Alex looked at him in confusion. "Elliott, what's going on?"

He grabbed for his coat. "I'm not sure. But as soon as I figure it out, I'll let you know." In seconds he was out the door.

Although she was totally baffled by his behavior, Alex was also dead tired. They'd been running on adrenalin for days. Yawning hugely, she struggled to her feet.

Quietly, she crossed to the couch. Olivia was in deep sleep, her eyelids twitching rapidly, her face relaxed in repose. For long moments, the attorney just stared at the sleeping figure, transfixed. Then, gently brushing back a stray wisp of hair that had fallen across Olivia's face, she pressed her lips to the detective's forehead. "Sweet dreams," she whispered.

Olivia was dreaming. They were all in Petrovsky's courtroom. Mitchell Shepard and his lawyers were laughing delightedly and 'high fiving' one another. Petrovsky had just dismissed the case, after commenting that a 'baby killer was walking' because of incompetent detectives from the 16th Precinct. As Shepard exited the courtroom, he paused to look at Olivia and Elliott who were sitting in the gallery. "That's the way the cookie crumbles, folks," he smirked. "Better luck next time." "No," she screamed, racing after him.

"Liv… …Olivia… …Benson! Wake up," demanded an authoritative voice. Strong hands shook her shoulders.

Suddenly wide-awake, she sat up abruptly, narrowly missing contact with Elliott's chin as he backed away just in time.

"Bad dream?"

"Yeah," she replied, her voice heavy with sleep. Disoriented from her nightmare, she rubbed her eyes. Blinking, she looked around, surprised to find herself on the couch in Alex's office and still in the clothes she'd been wearing from the day before.

"What happened?"

"You fell asleep around midnight. Alex said she didn't have the heart to wake you."

Her groggy brain registered that he was freshly shaven and wearing a clean shirt. There was no sign of Alex. "Where is she?"

"She went home about an hour and a half ago to shower and change."

Alex stayed here all night? What did she do, sleep at her desk?

He handed her a small gym bag containing a change of clothing. "I stopped by the precinct on my way over here. Thought you might want this."

Still thinking about what he'd just told her, she reached distractedly for the bag. "Thanks. Where's my coffee?"

"Right here." Alex breezed through the door, carrying a cardboard tray containing three steaming cups of Starbucks. She handed one to each detective.

Olivia took a healthy swig, almost scalding herself in the process. Running her hand through her hair, she looked at her partner. He was wearing a broad smirk, suppressed excitement dancing in his blue eyes. "What's going on?" she demanded.

"As soon as you get changed, we have a warrant to serve." He looked at Alex for confirmation.

She nodded. "I had to do some fancy talking to get it but it should hold up if challenged." She'd gone to her former boss, Elizabeth Donnelly, now a judge, for the warrant. "Let's hope you're right," she said, handing the document to Elliott.

Olivia was having trouble following the conversation. "Will one of you please tell me what's going on?" she repeated, this time more forcefully.

"Get changed. I'll fill you in on the way."

In the car, Elliott explained. Alex's reference to Harry Baker the night before brought back a conversation he'd had with the teenager about serial killers. At a standstill in their investigation, the detectives had been unable to connect items found at the suspect's house with the murder. 'There's never just one stash,' was the teen's comment, referring to such killers' propensity for trophy collection. Just such a trophy, a dog shaped earring, had been found at a second cache. The earring led to conviction.

"Shepard had another hiding place?" she speculated, picking up on his growing excitement.

He grinned at her. "Sure looks like he might. Remember that interview he gave right after the conviction was overturned?"

Olivia wasn't likely to forget it. It had sickened her to watch the killer convey distress for the miscarriage of justice resulting in his wrongful conviction, and blithely charm interviewer and television audience at the same time.

"What about it?"

"He talked about his vintage car collection and how much he was looking forward to driving his Corvette again."


"Olivia. The guy lives in a loft. A loft with one parking space. Where do you suppose he keeps the rest of his car collection?"

He watched her out of his peripheral vision until her expression showed him that she'd caught his meaning.

"He's got a building someplace." She picked up on his earlier excitement. "One we didn't know about before."

"Give that lady a cigar."

Olivia's mind was now racing. The storage building was new evidence. No one had mentioned it at the prior trial and there was no reference to it anywhere in the file. Maybe, just maybe, if they caught a break, they'd find more than vintage cars inside.

The wheel well of Shepard's prize Corvette sealed his fate. Inside, the detectives found dozens of photos, hair ribbons, panties, a shoe, a necklace and other trophies from various victims. Elliott let out a long, low whistle as he scanned the photos. "Jesus. It looks like he's good for about four or five of our unsolved cases."

"Anything on the Bradley twins?"

He shook his head. "Not here. Maybe we'll find something else."

Hours later, after a detailed and thorough search, they'd found more than enough evidence to nail Shepard for multiple homicides. Unfortunately they had no more proof to convict him of the twins' deaths than they'd had when they started.

Elliott gave Alex the 'good news-bad news' on their drive back to the station.

"What'd she say?" Olivia wanted to know as he ended the call.

"Said she'd meet us at the precinct. Munch and Fin are on their way to arrest Shepard." He cleared his throat. "Lynda Bradley's there."

Olivia cringed. Lynda Bradley, the twins' mother and another of Mitchell Shepard's victims. Lynda and her husband Vincent, had tried for years to have a child, enduring almost a half dozen in vitro treatments before she became pregnant with Madeline and Mallory. Olivia had kept in touch with Lynda over the years. She and Vincent were divorced; she'd attempted suicide; her sole reason to live was to make sure Mitchell Shepard never got out of prison for what he'd done to her family.

"I can hardly wait," she said sarcastically. Olivia was pretty sure that Shepard's certain imprisonment and probable death sentence for the murder of five other children wasn't going to be enough to offset Lynda Bradley's reaction to the news that they didn't have the evidence to convict him at a retrial for her daughters' deaths.

Olivia had been right. Lynda Bradley was furious when she was told that the District Attorney's office was not going to retry Shepard for the twins' murders. She'd called Alex a 'fucking bitch' and lunged for her. Fortunately Fin was standing next to the ADA at the time and he was able to get between the two women before any harm could come to Alex. To everyone's amazement Alex had sat down with Mrs. Bradley in an interview room and talked to her for over an hour after the incident. No one knew what was said, but when they exited the room, an even more astonishing event occurred. The normally 'I-Don't-Like-To-Be-Touched Lawyer' not only received but returned a hug from the distraught mother before saying good-bye.

Olivia and Elliott exchanged looks. If Alex had come out of the interview room with a second head they couldn't have been more surprised than by what they'd just witnessed. Alex turned around to find all eyes on her.

"Everything okay?" Elliott asked.

"Yes. It's fine. She's not happy understandably, but I think she's going to be all right." Without thinking, Alex reverted to what had once been a habit, sitting on the corner of Olivia's desk, something she hadn't done since her return to New York. She crossed her legs, swinging one idly back and forth.

For a long moment no one spoke. Then Alex said, "Sometimes it's easier to connect with someone when you share a common experience. Lynda and I know what it's like to have something you have no control over change your life and be powerless to do anything about it." Having said all she intended to on the subject, she looked at Elliott. "We'll probably be arraigning Shepard on the new charges next week. I'll need to go over your testimony."

"I'll be ready when you are."

Olivia's cell phone rang. "Benson?" She smiled, and her voice took on a softer tone, indicating that the call was a personal one. "Hi. Yeah I got your message. I just haven't had a chance to call you back. You do? Where? Sounds good to me. I'd love to. And as luck would have it, I'm free."

Wanting to give the detective some privacy, Alex started to slide from the desk but Olivia's hand on her knee stopped her. The touch was electric; Alex swallowed, determined not to visibly react. Olivia's next words clued her into the identity of the caller. "She's right here. You can ask her yourself." Handing the phone to the blonde, Olivia said "It's Kyle. She wants us to come up to her country place for the week-end."

Part Five

Olivia sat back in the director's chair beside Kyle's and tried to relax. She checked her watch again and confirmed that it was four minutes later than the last time she'd looked. When Kyle had first suggested that the detective join her at an on-location shoot during her lunch break, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. However her initial excitement had quickly vanished when faced with the pull-your-hair out tedium that was the reality of a television series.

"Okay, people. Let's take our places," the director called out.


Kyle and an actor named David Quinn knelt down beside 'the body' and began reciting their lines. Approximately five minutes later, a young man streaked around the corner, running as if his life depended on it. He raced into the actors' path, skidded momentarily, and turned right. Close on his heels was a uniformed officer that Olivia recognized.

Mentally adding two and two, Olivia quickly realized that four, in this case, meant a real perp had just stumbled into the set. Jumping to her feet, she gave chase.

Racing up 59th, Olivia caught sight of the perp. She quickened her pace. "NYPD," she shouted. "Freeze." She had almost closed the distance between them when it happened. Seemingly out of nowhere, a red Jeep Liberty veered directly into her path. With no where to go, Olivia braced for the inevitable. The force of the impact sent her flying. Landing violently on the pavement she felt a sharp rush of pain in her left side. Then everything went black.

If Elliott was surprised to see Alex in the hospital waiting room he didn't show it. He'd rushed to the hospital as soon as he got Kyle's phone call. They took turns sitting with Olivia – first Elliott, then Alex, and finally Kyle. They'd shuffled through this rotation twice since she was admitted.

Olivia's doctor briefed them outside her room. "Grade 3 concussion, broken left wrist, shattered left ankle, and some cracked ribs. She's going to be very bruised and sore when she wakes up but it could have been much worse. The good news is that she has no internal bleeding. The bad news is that she hasn't regained consciousness."

"Is she going to be all right?" Alex was hugging herself, leaning against a wall for support.

He smiled reassuringly. "There's every reason to think so. We're going to keep a close eye on her for the next 24 hours. I set the wrist but she'll need surgery on her ankle. As soon as the swelling goes down and she regains consciousness we can take care of that too."

"Thank you Doctor." Kyle flashed him one of her patented smiles. Somewhat dazed, he bid them good-bye and moved on to his next patient.

A few minutes after six, Alex and Elliott swapped places. Returning to the waiting room where Kyle was seated he collapsed in one of the vinyl covered chairs.

"No change?" Kyle asked.

The detective shook his head. "Listen, I'm going to call the precinct and give them an update and then get some coffee. Want some?"

"No thank you." She flipped through several magazines, noting that one contained an interview she'd given several years ago, before checking her watch again. They'd been there over five hours and Olivia was still unconscious. Pulling her cell phone from her purse she checked messages and then made several calls of her own. After talking to both children, she ended the call and began leafing through magazines again.

"Any news?" Elliott had returned and he was not alone. Kyle automatically glanced in the direction of his voice. Standing beside the detective was a tall woman, easily five feet nine inches, with long strawberry blonde hair, holding a bicycle helmet in one hand.

"You must be Casey Novak," Kyle said.

Olivia blinked at what seemed like an incredibly bright light. Her body telegraphed pain from every direction. For the life of her she couldn't figure out why she was lying in bed. The last thing she remembered was Kyle's invitation to her location shoot.

Turning her head gingerly to the right, she spotted a familiar blonde sitting beside the bed. Alex was dozing. Looking down, Olivia spotted her own hand held securely in Alex's.

Jesus what happened? Did I die and go to heaven?

"Where am I?" she croaked.

Alex jerked, instantly alert. "Liv! You're awake."

"What happened?"

"Two teens knocked over a convenience store near Kyle's set. You were chasing one of them when a Jeep hit you."

Although she remembered none of it, getting hit by car certainly would explain why every single bone in her body seemed to hurt.

Alex was looking tenderly at her, still holding her hand. "You had us all pretty worried. You've been unconscious for quite a while."

"I guess this is one time it pays to have a hard head."

There was a knock at the door, followed by Kyle's entrance. Alex smiled at her. "She's awake."

After her release from the hospital, Olivia temporarily moved into Kyle's apartment. Her injuries were such that she would need weeks of care before she could be on her own again and Kyle, feeling responsible for the accident, insisted that she stay with her and the kids. Both Alex and Casey Novak were frequent visitors, though seldom at the same time, and for entirely different reasons.

In the month Olivia had been her guest, Kyle had ample opportunities to observe her interactions with both women. It was quickly obvious that Casey was a friend; nothing more. As for Slim, well, that was another story. Olivia's eyes had a special light in them whenever she was around and the body language the two of them exhibited spoke volumes to Kyle. She was positive that Slim returned Olivia's feelings and she couldn't understand what was stopping her normally proactive friend.

Tired of waiting for something to happen, Kyle made up her mind to confront Alex. Opportunity presented itself one Sunday when Olivia, Diana, and the children were at the park. At home and memorizing lines, Kyle welcomed the distraction of Alex's phone call.

They exchanged pleasantries, talked briefly about the children and work, before the conversation turned to other things.

"So how did it go?" Kyle wanted to know about her date the night before with a friend of Liz Donnelly's.

"Okay I guess. He's nice enough but no real sparks. I doubt if I'll see him again." This had been her pattern for months. A smattering of first dates with eminently eligible, attractive, male friends of friends. No sparks. No interest. "I can't seem to connect anymore." She laughed without humor. "Maybe I should look into joining a convent."

"That's because you're not connecting with the right person." Kyle knew that a coddling approach wouldn't work with Alex Cabot. She shot between the eyes. "Your problem, Slim, is that you aren't being honest with yourself. There is someone you connect with, if you'd just admit it. That someone is Olivia Benson."

The actress waited for the expected denial. It didn't come. Instead, she heard a heavy sigh, and then Alex's voice, filled with resignation, "It doesn't matter. There's been too much water under the bridge. Olivia wants a child. She deserves so much more than I can give her."

She terrifies me. I don't think I could stand loving her and then lose her. I'm not strong enough to go through it again. It's safer not to feel.

It was as if Kyle could hear Alex's thoughts. "Quit trying to play it safe, Slim. We both know that it's impossible to be totally safe and secure when love is involved. You have to take a risk."

Kyle again waited for a denial. It didn't come.

"Slim, what's happened to you? This isn't like you. You've always been a risk taker."

No answer. "It's tough watching someone you love die a little bit more every day," Kyle threw out.

"I'm not dead." Alex's voice was flat.

"Well you're sure as hell not living. I know you've been seeing a shrink for months but I can't see that it's helping you. I'm your best friend. Can't you tell me what's wrong?"

Silence stretched between them for a long time before Alex said, "Kyle, I'm not ready to talk about this. I know you care about me and I appreciate it, but I just can't. Not right now. Maybe never. Give the kids my love."

The dial tone replaced Alex's voice. Without thinking, Kyle slammed the receiver down in exasperation. Movement alerted her to the fact that Casey Novak, who had previously been napping on the opposite sofa, was now standing beside her.

"Sorry, Babe. I guess the phone woke you, huh?"

The relationship between Kyle and the ADA had taken them by surprise; both in its intensity and the speed with which it had progressed since their first meeting. Kyle had never believed in the adage 'love at first sight' until that moment. What little she knew about the woman was sparse. From Olivia's descriptions, she was probably a klutz. If she believed Slim, she was a barely competent attorney with atrocious taste in clothes. Kyle suspected that neither characterization was completely accurate. At their first meeting she had yet to learn the first thing about the ADA's character or her personality, but steamrolled by wide green eyes, a lightly freckled nose, flaming hair, and curious expression, immediately made up her mind to find out more.

With her typical stealth and using every privacy protection tactic available to her, Kyle had acted immediately. To her surprise and delight, Casey turned out to be just as crazy about Kyle. Attempting to deal with the power of their feelings, she and Casey were together at every available opportunity. Their covert behavior concerning the relationship was so effective however, that even family and close friends were unaware it existed.

Nudging Kyle's legs aside so she could join her, Casey settled back against the sofa cushion. "Which part – the ring, your conversation with Alex, or the way you hung up?"

Kyle draped her legs across her lover's lap, her mind still occupied with Slim. "She is so Goddamn obstinate," Kyle huffed, furious with her friend.

Casey chuckled. "I've got news for you, my dear. In case you haven't already figured it out, your friend 'Slim' is supremely well matched. Look in any Thesaurus and you'll find the words 'Olivia Benson' under obstinate, stubborn or pig-headed. I think they're perfect for each other."

She began rubbing Kyle's feet. "Are you sure you ought to meddle in this? They're both grown women. Match-making for good friends is always a risky proposition. Besides, Alex seems to be emotionally frail."

"Ummm." Kyle was enjoying the massage. Casey teasingly ran one finger down the center of her sole causing a tickling sensation. Kyle squirmed. "Hey, cut it out!"

"Now that I have your attention, do you really want to force the issue?"

"Yeah. Must be because I want my best friend to feel the way I do."

Casey ran her hands lightly up Kyle's legs. "And how's that?"

Kyle slid forward, stopping when she was sitting in Casey's lap. Gathering a handful of long hair, Kyle wound it around her fist and drew Casey closer until their faces were inches apart.

"Crazy…" She kissed her temple.

"Madly…" She kissed the corner of her mouth.

"In love." Leaning in, she settled her lips against the redhead's. Kyle's tongue stroked her lower lip; she raked it gently between her teeth. Mouths melded and tongues touched. They kissed long and deep, both reluctant to end the kiss. Eventually they did.

Casey spoke first. "I'd better go. It's getting late and everyone will be back from the park soon."

Kyle reluctantly got to her feet and walked her to the door.

"Will I see you later?" Casey asked.

Kyle looked up. The redhead easily had six inches on her, a most annoying reality when they were standing. Crooking a finger, she beckoned her to bend down for another kiss. When they parted, she said, "You'll see me later."

Casey rested her chin on Kyle's head. "If you insist on playing Cupid, you'll have a lot more luck if you can convince at least one of them to fight for whatever they feel for each other. Right now they're both concentrating their considerable willpower fighting against it."

Kyle smiled. And Slim thinks you're slow?

Maybe I'll have better success with Olivia.

1 "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day", by Judith Viorst

Part 6

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