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.
SPOILERS: For 4.01 Chameleon.
The Sum of Contradictions: 33 Scylla and Charybdis
By beurre blanc
"Ooh, power suit this morning, huh?"
"Mmmm, yes. Thank you." Alex accepted the cup of tea and the kiss with equal grace. "Any idea where my shoes ended up last night?"
"Maybe you could look under the coffee table."
Olivia followed Alex to the living room, and leaned against the door frame, arms akimbo, as she watched Alex on hands and knees searching beneath the low-set table.
"I dunno if it's just the angle here, but "
"Bingo!" Alex stood again, and stepped into her heels. "But what?"
Olivia nodded and smiled, as if reaching a conclusion. "You know, in that outfit, you are the sexiest thing on two legs."
"I know you're biased."
"You know I'm right."
Alex flashed her a grin. "I love you too, sweetheart."
"So, who's the suit for? Petrovsky? Ridenour?"
"Capital Committee. We're putting our case for the death penalty for Maggie Peterson."
"Really? Black-on-white: that supposed to be a subtle message?"
"Every little bit helps."
"Better not forget these, then," said Olivia, as she reached forward and placed Alex's glasses carefully on her nose. "Power suit, power glasses. All set."
"Thank you." Alex set her half-empty mug down on the hall table, and turned to embrace Olivia, arms loosely wound around the detective's neck. Their kiss was gentle and unhurried, a smoldering echo of kisses shared not an hour before, and a promise of more to come.
"So, will I see you tonight?" Olivia was the first to recover her voice.
"Mmmm, don't know. We're meeting with the committee at three, and it might take an hour or more. Then I've got to prep for tomorrow, and my approach will depend directly on what their decision is."
Olivia reached up to tuck a lock of Alex's hair behind her ear, and kissed the tip of her nose. "Is that your way of saying you might be a little late?"
"Actually, Liv, I'm really not sure. If we successfully argue our case, Maggie Peterson will be the first woman to face the death penalty the State of New York. This will be big news it'll attract a lot of publicity, and a lot of criticism."
"All of which you'll love."
"All of which is part of my job," demurred Alex.
"Well, sweetie, I can wait," Olivia's tone was unapologetically suggestive, " I think."
"I can't believe we've just had this conversation!" Alex almost threw her purse onto the bar, and stood fuming beside the barstool. "Glenfiddich, rocks."
"Calm down, Alex. It's not such a big deal." Liz Donnelly slid onto the next stool, and ordered herself a glass of chilled viognier.
"What? Liz, I can't think of a more blatant example of sacrificing due legal process not to mention those victims' rights to natural justice for selfish political expediency! How can that not be a big deal?"
"No, Liz. This is not right! Lewin hasn't just crossed a line here, she's done it at a sprint, all the while thumbing her nose at the legal system and all it stands for! And as for our actions offending her 'female constituents', how the hell does dropping the death penalty on Maggie Peterson not offend them? Peterson is a cold, calculating serial killer, and I don't care what Nora says, she deserves to be tried on that basis alone, without reference to gender."
Liz sipped her wine expectantly she could see Alex was far from finished, and she waited for her young protégé to continue.
"Not prosecuting this case represents a far greater blow to the rights of those female constituents than would me a woman being the first prosecutor to seek the death penalty against a woman in this state. Damn it, Liz I'm not the enemy of feminism here! Think about it! If a capital case against a woman is ever to succeed in New York State then things couldn't be more stacked in our favor right now. From an evidentiary perspective it's a watertight case and with me, you and Nora, the prosecutorial hierarchy is all female. I don't see how we could be less open to criticism regarding gender bias."
Donnelly took a breath, then said calmly, "This isn't personal, Alex."
"Not personal? Not personal, my ass, Liz!"
"Alex, you know as well as I do that Lewin is right about this."
Alex opened her mouth to interject but Liz silenced her with a cautioning look.
"The decision to seek the death penalty will always be colored in shades of political gray, no matter how black-and-white the legal perspective is. And any suggestion that Maggie Peterson acted in self defense makes our chances of success immeasurably less. We opened the door on that one, Alex, and you and I both know that no judge and jury will find her guilty and sentence her to death with even this slightest element of doubt. So what we do now is accept that the death penalty is off the table, and seek to prosecute her successfully for the murders of those other men. She may not be put to death, Alex, but we will put her in jail, and it will be for a very long time."
Alex glowered, staring into her glass, until she felt Liz's hand rest lightly on her arm. She looked up to see Liz smiling at her.
"Nothing. You're one hell of a prosecutor, Alex. Don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise. This office is very lucky to have you."
Alex colored at this unexpected compliment from her boss. "Thank you."
"Just don't let yourself get personally involved. It's destructive, and moreover it will not help your cause."
"My cause?" Alex's tone was non-committal.
"Alexandra Cabot, don't kid a kidder. I know you have your sights on the DA's chair."
"There's a change coming, Alex. Nora's not going to win this election, and there will be some big changes in this office. Your style is far more Janet Reno than Nora will ever be, but once the administration changes you won't be able to count on the tacit support of those 'female constituents' shifting their allegiance to you. You'll have to earn your support base, Alex, and now, more than ever, your actions will determine your future successes."
Alex felt her pulse quicken. Reno? What exactly are you getting at Liz? She cleared her throat. "So, do you think it'll be Arthur, or will Tom Bryant get in? He's certainly got the sympathy vote, after Diane's death."
"Ahh, but that's a double-edged sword. Some will applaud his courage in continuing the campaign, but I think more will decide he cannot divide his attentions successfully between the rigors of the office, and the demands of his children. Besides, for all his affable southern charm, Arthur's a far more slick operator on every level, Alex. He's been formulating this for years, and you know how good he is in court his planning is meticulous. As is yours, which is why none of this it a surprise to you," Liz paused for effect, "is it?"
Alex turned to stare into her now empty glass, and nodded thoughtfully. Looking up again, she asked, "So what are you really trying to tell me, Liz?"
Liz pursed her lips and smiled wryly. "You've changed Alex." Her eyes narrowed briefly. "Since you arrived in this office, all brash and naïve, you have shown a remarkable capacity to learn, to adapt, and to succeed. However, this last six months you've become human, too."
Alex raised an eyebrow.
"You know what I mean. You're starting to get over-involved in your cases, Alex. You are letting things get personal, and you're far too close to your investigators."
"It's a team - we're a very strong, very effective team."
"No, Alex, they're a team. You're not one of them, and you're not there to be their buddy. You work for the DA's office, and they work for you. Lose that distinction and you risk losing a lot more than just your perspective. Your credibility will be on the line."
"Are you telling me how to do my job, Liz?"
"If I had to tell you how to do your job, Alexandra, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. You have a very bright future, but your actions now might have far-reaching repercussions. I want you to succeed, and I will not stand by while you allow your personal loyalties to sabotage your career."
"My loyalties?" Alex felt the slightest twinge of panic.
"Yes, Alex, your loyalties. You already have a suspension on your record, and you will not withstand another indiscretion. No matter who the new DA is, you'll have to chart your course carefully. It's a difficult thing to do, garnering the popular vote by demonstrating your passion and skill in the courtroom, yet showing the conservatives most of whom will be men still threatened by the idea of a woman making a success of a career in 'their domain' that you can make tough, dispassionate political decisions which can't be denounced as 'emotional' just because you're a woman. And just when you think you've managed to navigate your way through the political minefield, you will inevitably attract the career-woman-equals-lesbian slur that is the last resort of the morally-challenged. At least you have two distinct things in your favor there."
"And they are?"
"One: your not inconsiderable good looks," Liz briefly sharpened her focus on Alex's studied neutrality, before stating dismissively, "and two: the fact that you're not a lesbian Are you."
It was not a question.
Alex lowered herself wearily onto the couch, removed her glasses, and set them on the table before her. She placed her fingertips against her temples and began to rub slow circles, trying to ease the persistent ache behind her eyes.
She picked up her cell, and chewed her lower lip as she studied the display. Two missed calls. Both Olivia. Both because she'd deliberately chosen not to pick up.
The phone rang again in her hand, starling her. You can't keep avoiding this, Cabot.
"Hi, sweetie. Long day?"
"Have you eaten?"
"That depends whether you count the apple I ate on the way home."
"So, feel like company?"
"Actually, Liv, I'm really a little tired right now."
"I might just have a remedy for that "
Too close. "Look, I really am exhausted, and I don't think Maybe we could take a raincheck?"
"Open your door."
Alex placed two wine glasses on the coffee table, and sat at the opposite end of the couch. Olivia, engaged in scooping Thai takeout onto two china plates, stopped momentarily to direct a questioning glance at the attorney, puzzled by Alex's unexplained reticence.
"What was the committee's decision?"
Alex sighed sucked on her bottom lip, then said quietly, "Yes. It took some work, but we finally convinced them."
"Yes! Well done, sweetie. Now comes the job of prosecuting the case, securing a guilty verdict, and making sure you look beautiful and sexy for the jury and the adoring media pack outside."
"No." Alex's voice was so quiet, Olivia almost missed the statement.
"Did you say 'no'?"
"It's complicated, Liv."
Olivia's expression hardened a fraction at the patronizing tone. "Try me."
"Lewin's not going to back us, and no matter how well we argued before the committee, or what their recommendation is, it's nothing without her approval."
"Approval she won't give?"
"Well, why the hell not? Oh, come on, Alex, she knows the facts as well as I do Maggie Peterson sought out those men and killed them for their money!"
"Yes, she did. But she also killed men who were known felons."
"What, so that makes it OK? That's bullshit, Alex!"
"No, Liv, it doesn't make it OK. It just makes it hard to put the case convincingly to a judge and jury."
"Why? Alex, you are the best damned prosecutor this city has seen, and the evidence is overwhelming good solid forensic evidence. I don't see where the problem is."
"The problem is that the last man she killed was killed in self-defense."
"No he wasn't! Cut the crap, Alex!"
Don't speak to me like that Olivia. Alex glared at her. You don't know how to do my job.
Olivia closed her eyes, willing herself to calm down. "Sorry," she said quietly.
"Yes, Olivia, he was. That was the official finding mitigating circumstances - and the charges were dismissed, which, when the other murders are examined, is enough for reasonable doubt. The fact is that we that I recommended that the original charges be dropped. So we can't charge her with all four murders." "We know for a fact that Becker was a rapist and a killer, so, as far as we're concerned, killing him was a public service." "Damn it, Liv, I shouldn't have-," listened to you. Alex barely managed to swallow the accusation. God, I'm so tired. She leaned forward, head in hands, and sighed.
"Alex, this isn't your fault!"
"Yes it is. I should have foreseen this. Instead, I marched in there with Liz in tow, and argued a case which I should have known the DA would never accept."
"And you can't charge her with all four murders because ?"
" because double jeopardy comes into play. So, we can only charge her with three, even though we know all four were motivated by the same greed and a callous disregard for human life. It's already going to be damned hard to prove those remaining charges with the apparent mitigation of having dropped the original ones, and no judge and jury will sentence her to death with the slightest possibility she may have 'acted in self defense'."
"What, four times? That's ridiculous."
"I know, I know, but a good defense attorney will play the reasonable doubt card and with such a high profile case I have no doubt she'll attract a good defense attorney."
"Alex, baby, come here." Olivia reclined against the arm of the sofa, motioning for Alex to sit between her legs, ready to massage and soothe away the obvious tension. Alex hesitated, her mind churning again. Too close
"Thanks, Liv, but I think I just want to be alone with this for a while. There's a lot for me to process right now."
The new coldness in Alex's tone took Olivia by surprise, and she gave her a questioning look.
"I'm tired, and I really need some sleep tonight."
And you can't sleep with me around? Olivia left her question unsaid, but the implication stung. "Well, I'll uh I'll get going. See you tomorrow?"
"I think so "
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