DISCLAIMER: The characters and concepts herein contained are the property of people other than me. I just came up with the story.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Mel for editing. This is dedicated to someone I love.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Affinity

Chapter 1

"Mmm," she sighed, nuzzling closer to the warm body lying next to her. Snuggling deep into the silky comfort of her lover's neck, she inhaled deeply, savoring the scent. Lavender and vanilla. There was something so uniquely comforting and alluring about that smell.

She felt strong yet tender arms tighten around her. Peace and contentment threatened to overwhelm her to the point of tears. This was how life was meant to be lived. This was how it felt to be happy, to be loved, to be whole.

A sudden pop and her eyes were ripped open in shock. The darkness assailed her vision as she struggled to see. The squeal of tires and a series of additional pops brought all of her senses back into focus with astonishing clarity. She could taste the gunpowder in the air, smell the acrid odor of burning rubber as the tires spun on the hot street pavement. She could feel the sticky liquid pooling through her fingers. And most horrifically, through the pale light of the streetlamp, she could see the terrified eyes of the woman she loved as the life slowly ebbed from her body.

"Stay with me, Alex," she begged repeatedly, bearing down on the wound with a strength she hadn't know she had. "Stay with me."

But it was no use. She could not stop the blood flowing from her lover's body. She could only watch in horror as the one she loved slipped away.

The ringing of the telephone jolted her from her slumber. Still half asleep, Detected Olivia Benson reached for the phone. "Benson."

"Liv," the voice on the other end crackled. "We got a call from the two four in the Bronx." Benson's partner, Elliot Stabler was to the point and all business. "Cap'n wants us at the station in half an hour."

"I'll be right there," she murmured, staggering out of bed and replacing the receiver on its cradle. She rubbed her eyes and ran a hand through her tousled short hair, surveying the still warm bed with equal parts longing and loathing. Her sheets were matted, her comforter tangled, evidence of the restless night she had endured.

She hadn't had a good night's sleep in months. Maybe this new case would run long and she could catch some sleep in the crib tonight. She always slept better there. There were too many memories in her own bed. And yet she couldn't bring herself to replace it. There were just too many memories.

Shaking her head to clear out the clutter, she grabbed clean clothes from the pile on the chair and stumbled toward the shower. She couldn't afford to dwell in the past right now. She had to get to work. There was a case to be solved, suspects to track down, co-workers to fool into thinking that she was still okay...

Chapter 2

The rest of the squad was already assembled as Olivia strode into the bullpen. Captain Donald Cragen stood at the front of the room, pinning documents and photos to the corkboard. Even at this early hour, his suit jacket had been discarded and his shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal a great deal of his forearms. Cragen turned away from the board as Olivia seated herself at her desk and gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Elliot had waiting for her.

"This is what we know," Cragen began, his fatherly features wrinkling into the concerned expression that had been almost ever-present in his thirty years on the force. "Three murders on the south side of the Bronx. All within the last three days."

"Murder's not usually our cup o' tea, Cap," Odafin Tutuola pointed out, his words belying his jovial nature, even if his tone did not. "What makes these worthy of the sex crimes unit?"

Cragen folded his hands and gazed at his squad for a moment before answering. "All of the victims are suspected sex offenders or sexual predators. And all of them were suspects in cases we tried and lost."

"Someone's rubbing out our screw-ups?" Elliot asked, indignation obvious in his voice. "Finishing the job we couldn't do?" His blue eyes flashed with intensity.

"Let's not get carried away just yet, Elliot." Cragen held out one hand in a request for patience.

Elliot reclaimed his perch on the corner of Olivia's desk.

"You know, there are dozens of cases where perpetrators see themselves as vigilantes," John Munch pointed out, his eyes no doubt twinkling behind his dark sunglasses. "They think they are helping out the cops by doing something we can't. We're held to a code; they're not. We don't kill; they can. There was even this one case down in Dallas—."

"Thank you, John," Cragen interrupted. "We'll keep that in mind. What do you think, George?"

"It may very well be someone like that, but then again it could be something entirely different." George Huang crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair as he explained. "If the perp is killing his victims because you were unable to get them convicted, it may be a simple game of one-upmanship. He's doing something we couldn't, thus making him smarter than we are." He paused briefly. "On the other hand, it could be something even more sinister."

"What do you mean?" Cragen asked, his concerned expression growing deeper.

"It could be that he wants to cast doubt on our operation, to throw suspicion on one or all of us." George sat up a little straighter. "I mean, think about it. Every precinct in the state knows these were our cases, and that we were not happy about losing them." He gazed at each of them. "Think about it. Who has a better motive than one of us?"

"You can't seriously be thinking that we're all suspects!" Elliot huffed.

"Calm down, Elliot," Cragen intervened. "George isn't saying anything like that."

"Of course not," Huang affirmed. "I'm simply stating that the motive behind these killings may be the desire to discredit us, to cast doubt on the effectiveness of our unit, or to place suspicion on our motives."

"Wait, wait, wait a minute," Fin interjected. "Aren't we getting' a little ahead of ourselves here? We're already profiling this guy and we ain't even gone over the evidence yet."

"That's just the thing," Cragen said. "There is no evidence to speak of."

"No evidence?" Munch was shocked. "There's always evidence."

"Here's what we know." Cragen turned to the crime scene photos behind him. "Each victim was found in his home, a single gunshot wound to the head. Different rooms, different times of day, but always the same weapon, .38 caliber, police issue. No fingerprints, no carpet fibers, no footprints inside or outside." He turned to face his squad. "This isn't one for the CSU guys. This is something we're going to have to figure out ourselves, and we're going to have to do it fast, before someone else dies."

"Three vics in three days; I guess we can expect another one tonight," Munch surmised.

"Not if we have anything to say about it," Cragen barked. "Munch, Fin, get down to the two-four. The last two murders were in their jurisdiction. See if you can find out anything that we don't already know."

"You got it," Fin replied, snatching his leather jacket off the back of the chair and ushering his partner out the door.

"Olivia, Elliot," Cragen continued, "I want the two of you to start going through our case files from two years ago. See if you can find a pattern as to how these victims were chosen and try to figure out who might be next."

"Will do, Cap'n," Elliot agreed.

"And guys?"

Olivia and Elliot turned from the already opened files to face the captain.

"Let's get this one done in a hurry and let's get it done right." He frowned. "We can't afford any more bad press right now."

"We'll get it figured out, Captain," Elliot reassured as he settled back into his desk and began to pore over the files once again.

Part 3

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