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She was always playing catch-up with Alex Cabot. There was no way to be perfect, no matter how bad you wanted it. But for some people, it came so easy. Of course, Casey hadn't expected to be off the ground and running the second she got back. She'd been hopefulbecause you know, why not be hopeful? Was it so unlikely that she'd go in kicking ass, delivering results, proving everyone wrong? Maybe. But she wasn't going to go through the same old crap again. No matter how much the perps rattled her. Straight and narrow, open and shut. At least, that's how she'd sold it when they allowed her back to try SVU cases again. On probation. Don't make a mess, Novak. Don't let us regret this, understood? You hear me?
It hadn't taken long for Olivia to lose her temper with this new, careful Casey. But why try a case she couldn't win? Olivia didn't have any idea what she'd gone through in the years of her suspension. Worse, she didn't seem to care.
'You're losing your nerve.'
And then Olivia had stormed off in a fit of indignation.
It wasn't Casey's fault Elliot had quit. It wasn't on Casey that Olivia Benson and whatever-his-name-was hadn't pulled together enough evidence for a credible case against Tripp Raines. God, nut up Olivia. Get a grip. Casey knew better than anyone that the minute you lost your shit, there wasn't anybody waiting in line to make it all better. It's on you.
She lived alone. Truly, she'd been alone long enough for it to seem strange when people other than herself touched things in her space, spoke aloud in it. Cooked on the stove. When was the last time somebody had been there, making coffee, smiling at her in the morning? No, it wasn't Olivia. She wasn't the last, but she was the last Casey had actually cared about. She still remembered the smell of alcohol on Olivia's breath the first time. The way she'd shoved Casey hard against the backboard of her bed. And afterwards? Olivia cried. Sobbed. The detective hunched forward in bed, wrapping the blanket around herself. And Casey had sat there, watching, wondering what she had done. Was she meant to go over there, maybe touch her shoulder? Tell her it was ok. She wondered if Olivia would allow that, even after they'd just slept together. Or would she be shrugged off, told to go to hell?
It was all Casey could say.
Olivia's voice was rough, muffled.
'No, it's it's ok.' She took a breath and tried to pull herself together. 'It's not your fault she's gone.'
It wasn't fair, but neither was life. Years of wondering if maybe, possibly, could there be something? And then it finally happens. This way. Olivia drunk and grieving. Yes, grieving. Casey may have had no idea how that woman's head worked, but she didn't have to be a genius. She knew when her perpetual shadow was the reasonshe had worked re-opened cases with Cabot's handwriting in the margins. She could sometimes feel her, breathing down her neck when a case went bad. And it was clear as day even then, in the dark of her bedroom. Alex Cabot may as well have shared the damn bed with them.
When people in the precinct said Cabot's name it was with a glance to the heavensOur Lady Of Perpetual Perfection, hallowed be her cases. And with Olivia she'd always suspected it. Olivia had taken Casey's assignment to Special Victims far too personally. At first she'd been convinced it was the dead ex thingreally the worst kind of ex because she's the kind who sticks around forever.
She was as surprised as anyone when the saint returned, hair glowing and blonde like some sort of perverse Botticelliwalking and talking and drawing Olivia away. A living saint is like being trapped with a smug miracle right there in your squad room, and this one was back to testify. That's when Casey knew for sure. She saw it in Olivia's face. She knew it when Olivia brushed her off and fought for protective detail. Spent the night in the same room. Put two and two together, Novak.
Two days later, Olivia was drunk and in her bed. Crying and sorry, because this was cheating. Even if Alex was off living another anonymous identity, which was close to being dead as far as Casey was concerned. But Olivia was sorry and she was angry.
'Is there anything I can do?'
Olivia had let out a breath through her nose.
'God. Can you bring people back from the dead?'
'She's not dead.'
'She's sure as shit gone, though, isn't she?'
'Hey, look. Calm the hell down. It's not my fault your precious Alex left the minute the case was over.'
The bed creaked as Olivia got up to leave. Casey stayed there under the covers, not knowing what to think. But this much was obvious. No matter what Olivia said, she still blamed Casey for being the one left behind.
If Casey had to describe the on and off sequence of sex that followed in the years before her suspension, it wouldn't have been any upbeat adjective. No, it hadn't been perfect. It hadn't even been a relationship, at least not in the sense where you knew the person was yours. Knew that they'd be there for you. Olivia always had an eye on the door or the clock or the silent cell phone on the nightstand, as if willing it to ring so she could finish up in bed and be out of there. When Casey had been censured, Olivia wasn't the firm shoulder to cry on. She wasn't there, knocking on her door. Saying, look, I'm not going anywhere. That wasn't what this was, this thing between them. Casey would have been stupid to expect otherwise. When it was on, it wasn't something you could set your clock to. And when it was over, it hurt like hell.
But nothing is over until you are dead and Casey had worked damn hard to get this second chance. This new beginninganother chance to kickstart the machinery of a career, of a life, and maybe screw it up all over again. But it was a shot all the same.
It didn't take long to see that she wasn't the only one. There were two new beginnings, hers and Alex's. It was always the same, the two paths intersecting. But they were never on an even playing field, not before and not now.
Casey hadn't seen them together. But it was something to expect, now that she had to share her caseload with a second ADA. Olivia may have been many things, but she was a professional. The job was her first love that was for sure. But there were signs, little things, things you had to be obsessive to notice. Flowers on Olivia's desk. Nights when she was unavailable. Phone callsOlivia leaning against the receiver and talking low to someone on the other end. Sweetheart. Darling. Beautiful. Names she'd never used for Casey.
And one night, there it wasOlivia, dressed to the nines when she'd been called into the precinct. A suspect had been dragged in and so had Olivia, from her expression. Casey had given her a knowing look, wondering if she was stepping over the line. But Olivia had sighed.
'You can never just have a nice dinner, hey?'
She pulled a jacket over her off-the-shoulder dress and went to get coffee. Alex had appeared shortly after. She seemed surprised to see Casey. Casey sure as hell weren't surprised to see her.
'Nice to see you, Counsellor,' Alex made an effort to be friendly. 'Having a good evening?'
Casey noticed the dress she was wearing, the attention she'd given her hair.
'This is my case,'
'I know,' she nodded. 'I was just in the neighbourhood.'
She didn't even seem apologetic. Casey wasn't sure what she was mad at, Alex showing an interest in a case that didn't belong to her or the way she'd managed to draw Olivia over to her without even having to try.
Alex stayed there with Casey, watching Olivia interrogate the suspect through the one-way glass. She smiled when Olivia cracked him, got him to confess.
Casey looked at her.
Something passed between them, then. Maybe Alex's look of surprise should have been some satisfaction. A small comfort, knowing that they would be arguing about it later. Arguing about her. Getting tangled up in Casey the same way she was tangled up in them. But a moment after she'd had that realization, Alex smiled. Her laugh was knowing, but it wasn't even bitter. It was the laugh of someone who had gotten the woman.
'Whatever you had,' Alex said, looking around for a second in case another detective was around. 'Whatever it was, it's long gone. I think you know that, don't you?'
Casey looked away, trying to settle her eyes on something, anything. Trying to come up with a response, but there wasn't one. She stared towards the interrogation room. Watched Olivia leave and come out the other side, flushed from the time it had taken to berate and cajole a confession. She took one look at them both and cocked her head to the side, her eyes settling on Alex.
'Sweetheart, you didn't have to stay.'
'I like watching you work. Besides,' she took hold of Olivia's arm. 'Novak has been keeping me company.'
Olivia gave Casey an appreciative nod, as if she'd done something for them.
'See you at the trial.'
Casey took a breath and nodded.
She watched them walk away and closed her eyes. When you spent as long as she had playing catch-up, there was always that moment. That inevitable final moment, when you were the one left behind. She smiled to herself, then, remembering why she was there. The suspect was still on the other side of the glass, cuffed to the table. In a moment he'd be taken into lock-up. She'd convict him soon enough.
She allowed another moment to feel sorry for herself. Then she went to grab her stack of files. Grab a coffee. She was ready to work through the night.
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