DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dexter and Law & Order SVU do not belong to me, nor do the character contained herein, ‘cept for the original ones, like Jimmy, he’s all mine and no one else can have him. This is for fun, not money…suing is bad and provokes the wheel of Karma in a negative fashion…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: : I need to get this out of the way quickly. First of all, I try my best to backfill information from the previous two stories. I don’t think it’s wholly necessary that you read One Last Shot or Dark Passenger first, although it may help. Second, there’s a loose pattern to the scene shifts as they switch POV from character to character…I’ve been told that it can be a bit distracting, tough cookies on my end. There’s no way for me to go back and change it. If you pay attention and know the characters, it should click during or right after the first paragraph. The pattern goes BtVS character – SVU character – BtVS character. Third, thank you to my long suffering beta, Dirk. The poor bastard has to put up with my awful spelling. Last, read and enjoy, comments are unnecessary, but welcome if you feel so inclined.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Whedonist


Part I - Prologue

I've found that there are moments in one's life where if you look closely enough, if perhaps you are paying enough attention, the path that you must travel is laid out before you. It is clear and direct. There is very little second-guessing on what needs to be done.

As I stand here in the not-quite-chilly autumn night, the heat from the fire warms my skin. Careful not to get too close, the blaze holds poetry few masters of the pen have ever been able to capture. The flames lick the frame of the house, consuming it and the occupants inside.

There is orchestration to the blaze. The crunch, pop and sizzle are the allegro, the beginning of the piece. The screams of the victims begin as the fire takes shape. They act as the slow build. The minuet comes in the form of the sirens. They start in the distance, faint and indiscernible. It builds against the backdrop of the first two components. As the minuet melds into the rest of my masterpiece, the final portion of my beautiful symphony comes alive.

They gaze into the blaze and their cries of panic and grief create the rondo. My symphony devours and devastates. The wails of the dying and those left behind warm me; envelop me with a sense of accomplishment. The pain swells and crashes over me.

As the police and fire trucks grow near, I know it's time for me to leave. I mustn't be caught here. I gaze longingly at my tour de force and the living victims it has left. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I will see them again. They are only a start. I have others to consider and take under my wing. The ones remaining will receive my final message soon enough.

I turn away and slip into the night, allowing the darkness to wrap around me and conceal my departure.

Onward and upward as they say.


Ch. 1 – Lady Liberty

I think some days being in less demand would be good. I rush along the east corridor trying to get to one of the private exam rooms when a nurse calls my name from the station I just left.

Criminey woman!

Clenching my jaw, I spin around and head back the way I came. Plastering on the smile to end all plastic smiles, I chipper my way through the annoyance, "Yes, Nurse Johnson? What can I do to help you?"

"Doctor, you have a call on line three." She passes the phone to me and clicks the line over.

"This is Doctor Rosenberg," I respond.

"Will, It's me," Buffy's apologetic voice comes through the earpiece.

I keep my features schooled and reply, "What's wrong?"

I lean against the station and allow even her whiny, repentanty voice to soothe some of my frayed nerves. "I know I was supposed to stay here with the movers, but Jimmy called and we just caught a case. Any way you can find some coverage?"

Drawing in a deep breath, I exhale before answering. "I can't leave here for another...," I look down at my watch and cringe, "I was supposed to be home an hour ago wasn't I?"

I hear the way she stifles her giggle and it grates just a little too much, "You may have been, but I wouldn't have called unless there was another option."

"I'm sorry. What about James? Can he come over?" Oh please, oh please, oh please tell me he can. I know I was supposed to leave; I've had three residents call off today. Stupid flu.

"Are you really that swamped?" she asks. Granted the back-to-back eighteens I've just pulled are starting to catch up with me, but I just need another two hours here until my other rotation of doctors are due in.

Snapping, I answer, "I'm down three doctors, with only Padesh, Laevowitz and myself covering the flu season from hell. Yes, I'm really that swamped." I'm not the only doctor here that's exhausted.

She back peddles immediately, "Okay, okay. I'll figure it out. I'm gonna go. Love you."

"Lov…," I try to respond, but the line's dead before I can even respond. Clenching my eyes shut, I pass the phone back over to the nurse and regroup as I start back down towards exam two.

I rub at my burning eyes and mentally kick myself. I should have been nicer. Goddamnit. Way to go Willow, snap at the worried fiancé. I'm sure that instills all sortsa warm tinglies.

I can't help but feel like the big mean and grumpy. I've been working non-stop. I thought that taking the E.R. rotation would be a good thing until the medical examiners office called back. Instead of good, I find myself working back-to-back shifts six days a week.

I make it to the end of the hall and decide on a mental tidy before I enter the room. Sitting on one of the hard, orange plastic chairs, I rest my arms on my knees and cradle my head in my hands. With moving back to Manhattan and everything else, I know Buffy's at her wits end with me.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go.

The tears pool in my eyes and I brush them away. I can't do this now.

I shake off the urge to call her back and apologize before entering the room. I push open the heavy wooden door and reach for the chart on the side tray. There's an E.M.T. sitting next to the bed. The tech is whispering soothing words to a small form huddled there.

She looks up and meets my eyes and I give the woman a nod that she is free to leave. Instead, she leans over to the child on the bed, whispering, "Sweeetie, the doctor's here. I'm going to step outside with her and talk for a moment and then she's going to take over, okay?"

There's a slight nod from the little girl and the E.M.T. rises and walks out the door, motioning for me to follow her. Once the door shuts, she spins to me and starts filling me in on the chart, "We picked her up wandering around Riverside Park; the girl's lost a lot of blood. She can't remember a lot and we didn't pull enough info out of her to get much. We radioed for police to meet us here and they should be here soon. Be careful with her, doc." With that final warning, she takes off down the hallway.

I shake my head and begin to familiarize myself with my newest patient. Everything on the chart's consistent with what the E.M.T. shared. I scan the physical evaluation form and stop at the indicators on the neck.

I rush into the room and approach the bed cautiously. The girl is sunken into the mattress, clutching a small brown teddy bear. I smile my first genuine smile in nearly two days and try to soothe the scared little girl before me.

"Hello, I'm Willow." I look at the I.V. drips hanging, blood, saline and antibiotics flow into her left arm. "Can you sit up for me?" The girl complies as best she can.

Snapping on a pair of gloves from my pocket, I look at the bandages I'm most concerned about. Peeling back the tape, I expose the markings on her neck.

Shit! Damn! Piss!

My partner gives me the most imperceptible of nods as he pulls the latest piece of work out of the chair, escorting him from the room and back down to the holding cell. Tired, I pull in a deep lungful of air that causes my nostrils to flare. The scents, the perfume she wears mix with the smell of sweat, fear and misery, creating a barrage of images I'm barely successful at stopping.

Forgetting who's in the room with me, I clamp my eyes shut. I force away the memories of what seems like forever ago. As sick as it is, it's one of the most comforting things. It would be a lot better if I didn't hear the click of her heels against the cold, concrete floor. All it does is annoy me and solidify the memories that I thought I had let go of.

"Olivia?" her voice, double edged, brings a sense of happiness and regret all in one go.

I crack one eye open and turn my head to look at her.

I'm not really sure what you want, but whatever it is, good luck getting it from me, princess.

Instead, I respond, "What?" My tone harsher than intended. Guess that last cup of coffee didn't help after all.

"Can we talk somewhere?" She looks to the mirror then back at me.

My fingers drum across the metal of the tabletop and I'm really tempted to tell her to go to hell. I can't. I never could. Not really, at least not really mean it.


Grudgingly, I stand up and motion for her to follow me. I make my way back to the crib not even looking back to check to see if she is keeping up with me. I know where she's at and looking back just seems masochistic. I don't really want to put myself through that right now.

I push the door open and flick the light switch on. Motioning her through, I shut the door quietly. I study her for a moment; shoulders slightly slouched, not meeting my eyes. The crib's low lighting barely reaches the corners of the room, the linoleum floor shines dully where exposed; where it doesn't cots cover the space. El should be here if she's gonna try and explain why we've rated so damn low on her totem pole over the past three years.

The moment she looks up our eyes lock and her posture stiffens. She holds her hand up and starts to speak, "Before you start, there are some things I need to say to you. I know I need to talk to Elliot and I will, but for right now, I need it to just be you and me."

My jaw refuses to unclench so I release the breath through my nostrils, sighing. I only nod.

She sits further up and drops her hand. Standing, she begins a tight pace across the length of the crib. "You know, I've prepared for this conversation for five years. I had originally planned on having it three years ago, but things got in the way."

"Things?" The question's spat out before I even have the chance to censor myself. What's worse is that the rest just tumbles right along with it, "Enlighten me, Councelor. What possible 'things' could get in the way?"

"Yes, Olivia. Things. Please, just let me get this out and then…I don't know," her voice is quiet as she stops pacing and looks at me. Looking into the sapphire eyes that haunt my dreams I can only give her the time to speak her mind. She starts up again, this time more forceful, "I know what I should have done, but I didn't. Then more time passed and I just couldn't. It felt like every time I picked up the phone or drove past here that I was going to come in fighting against someone or thing that didn't exist anymore."

She stops and looks at me. Her gaze burns and cuts as I realize just how much her silence has hurt both of us. It feels like a band snapping in my chest and the regret I see almost makes me want to forgive her.

Maybe I can. Not tonight, but soon.

I think.

She moves and I blink. "Liv," her voice a whisper. She's standing right next to me invading every sense that I have and I remember the last night that she was this close. I push back those memories and swallow hard. "I need you, above anyone else, to…I just…I'm not proud of the way I've handled this. Not even close. There's nothing I can say that's going to make this right, at least not right away," she stops and moves back a bit making sure to catch my eyes, "but I'm going to try. You deserve better than what I've been."

She breaks eye contact first and starts pacing again. "The only thing I can ask of you and everyone here is your forgiveness. I'm sorry."

That's it? That's her closing argument? I'm sorry? Come on, Alex, I didn't think you were capable of such a lame ass argument. Scoffing, I start, "You're sorry?" I comb my fingers through my hair and gather my thoughts. "This is only going to be said once, so listen." I push off the wall I'd been leaning against and start a tight pace of my own.

"I won't sit here and pretend to know what you went through in WitSec. I can't know what it was like being back either, but of everyone you would think, hell you should know, that if anyone in this city could at least help, it would have been us." I stop moving and slump against the wall again. "I," stopping, I cough trying to gather the strength I need for this; "Instead, you cut off the only people that could have helped you. That was your decision, Alex. We tried to call you. I tried," my voice drops on the last bit and I finally look at her. "You may have 'died', but it wasn't you, here, that had to live with a ghost."

Emotions that would once have been hidden by the mask she used to wear are visible and my chest tightens in response. Fuck.

Damn you, Alex.

I refuse to let the tears fall. Biting the inside of my lip, I reach the only decision that's left. "I'm not sure how this is gonna work, for us, but with the squad, it's ground up. Show them."

"And us, Liv?" her voice hesitant as she asks.

"Honestly, I don't know." I look up at the ceiling deciding on how much I want her back in my life. The answer's easy. As much as she'll let me. Knowing I'm setting myself up for inevitable pain, I offer her the only thing I can right now, "I think maybe we can be friends again, Lex, but it's gonna take work."

A flicker of hope crosses her features as she stands. I blink and she's in my space again. Her hands rest over mine in a gesture more intimate than I should allow her. "I will, Detective." Her eyes catch mine and a moment, a feeling so fleeting that I barely notice passes between us. She drops my hands and I watch her move out of the crib, her footfalls growing fainter as I slump against the exposed, painted brick wall.

The door opens and El's head peeks through, "We gotta go, vic's waiting for us at Presby." I nod and push off the wall. And the cycle continues.

New York in the fucking winter's gettin' me to think retirement somewhere warm and sunny. Definitely not Florida. California's out for the obvious reasons. Texas? I stumble over a crop of rocks and curse my way through keeping my balance. Fuck Texas. Maybe North Carolina…nah, I'd end up shooting someone there too.

It don't matter how cold it gets, climbing down the side of an embankment to get to a scene in dress shoes will still make you break a sweat. Only now, the sweat just freezes on contact with the winter wind.

Some days I just love my job to pieces. And fuck me; I've been around Cupcake way too long. She's bad for my manly sensibilities. And thinking of…where the hell is she? I called her twenty minutes ago. Her ass was closer than me. She was at home with the movers. Wonder if Red didn't show. That wouldn't be a complete shock. Kid's been run ragged at the hospitals. It's a wonder she's upright.

I finally stumble my way down to the edge of the river where C.S.U.'s waiting on me. I fish my phone from my inside coat pocket and check the display. No missed calls. Raising my right pointer finger up at our new tech, I turn around and hit the button to dial my partner.

"Summers," her voice answers crisply on the other end.

I smile despite my better judgment and say, "So I've managed to make it down here from the two-four and stop for coffee along the way. You're ten blocks away and you still can't make it here before me. Cupcake, we've talked about this. We're right by the new place. Riverside Park and all."

I feel a tap on my shoulder and spin around. Her smiling face looks up at me. The glint in her eyes is way too 'I told you so-ish' for my liking. I roll my eyes and snap my phone shut. "Where'd you come from?"

I follow her line of sight about twenty yards from where we're standing; a set of steps and a hand rail make themselves clear. Sonuva…damn smartass.

"I jogged down Ninetieth," she smirks at me and I know she saw me stumbling down the embankment. The blush burns my cheeks as she continues, "and if you stopped for coffee, where's mine?"

"It's in the car," I huff. "So, lemme guess, Willow's still at the hospital?" Her jaw twitches just a little and the flash in her eyes tell me everything I need to know. Before she answers verbally, I step in and redirect, "Just so you know, we caught a floater. Runner called it in about forty-five minutes ago. You wanna go have a look?"

The tight smile answers my question again. Funny thing about being someone's partner, on some days, in a lot of ways, you get to know your partner more intimately than the person they've married. With Buffy, it's proven to be true, but then I've gotten to know Willow just as well.

We walk side by side as I slip my hands into a pair of gloves and snap them in place as we reach the body. I hunker down and take in the person at my feet.

No matter how many times I've tried to convince myself otherwise, regardless of the absence of life, this is still a person. It was someone's husband, father, son, uncle or someone. This body holds the key to why I do what I do.

"Old Man," Buffy's hiss of a whisper causes me to shake myself clear.

My eyes dart to her and then to her line of sight and I grumble right along with her, "Fuck me."

It's hidden by the jagged slash running along the curve of the dead man's neck, but she's shown me what to look for. The jagged marks are more pronounced where the jugular was exposed. Poor guy was bit first. I stand back up and remove my gloves. Dropping my voice to a stage whisper, I half joke, "So, Cupcake, I thought you put word out on the street that N.Y.C. was your turf. Didn't think that many vamps hunted here anymore, least not the ones that don't like to fill an ashtray. You're like the mafia, but worse."

She sighs and stands up. "I did. This one tried to cover it up." She scans the area and a cold, biting wind sends her scarf tales flying behind her. Some days it's so easy to see the hunter inside her. Today, you could mistake my partner for a small blonde kid playing dress up. And tonight, tonight I know she'll leave home and go hunting for the thing that did this.

I don't envy her in the least tonight. 'Course I don't envy me either. With Red being Hawkeye, I'll be heading out with her.

Gotta love it.

I flash her a winning smile and we head back to the squad car as she silently broods. We get in the car and I crank the heater. I watch her out of the corner of my eye as my hands warm up from the hot air blowing from the dash. She sips her coffee and stares down at the body.

"Hey, Buffy." The use of her name brings her back to me. I rest a supportive hand on her knee. "We'll find it, and you'll get to play at being Montana while in the process, screwing our close rate." My lopsided grin is the last thing I offer before pulling out into the flow of city traffic.


Ch. 2 – This Is How It Goes

Consistency. It's a way to cope. Like where my coffee cup is on my desk, to my left - handle to the left so that all I need to do is reach out, grab the handle and sip the sludge that's stained the inside of the mug.

Huang'd probably read some bullshit into why I like things a certain way, but the truth is…truth is, it's a comfort. So I reach for my mug of sludge, glance up from my current report and wonder, not for the first time today, what the hell crawled up Liv's ass and refused to leave.

Got in at the usual time. She was here. Not that that was a big shock to my daily routine. She's here before me most mornings. Maybe we should get her a life.

Fuck it…I know what crawled up there. Cabot. Whatever they talked about yesterday put her in the mood to end all moods. To be a fly on that wall.

Scratch that. I wouldn't have survived.

I wince from the hot liquid and maybe the taste too. Setting the mug down, I rap my pen on my write up of our visit yesterday. Poor kid. Nothing major. Doctor said she was bitten by a dog. We put Animal Control on it, but…there just – it was off. Didn't feel right.

I push yesterday's case from my mind as I feel someone enter the bullpen. Looking back, I offer a smile to our resurrected A.D.A. and say, "Cabot, two days in a row!"

Munch looks up from his desk and grins, "Counselor, I'm afraid to say that Stabler's right, what warrants such an auspicious occasion?"

She smiles, taking the ribbing lightly. The slight blush on her cheeks the only indication of her embarrassment. "I needed to meet with Don on a few cases and then all of you on a one on one basis. I need information on some of the open ones."

I look over at Olivia and she's barely acknowledged Alex's presence. I rub the back of my neck and nod my agreement for a meeting later in the day.

"Liv," Alex says, walking over and resting herself against Olivia's desk like she used to.

I watch my partner tense and look up. Her smile's tight. Her eyes haunted. My lips press together and I stand up, offering, "My stomach can't take whatever's passin' for coffee today. Who wants what?"

"Get our usual," Munch says as he waves a hand between Fin and himself.

"Am I going to catch any shit asking for tea?" Olivia asks the barest hint of a smile in her eyes. The first I've seen all day.

Grinning, I hold my hands up and say, "Today, I'll give you a pass. You ask for that shit on the way in tomorrow morning and only God knows what'll be waitin' for you in you're locker." I wink and turn my attention to Alex. "What about you, Councelor? My treat."

It used to be hard to read Alex. I'm not sure if it's just that I know her more now or something else, but I see her eyebrow raise and lower lightening quick in surprise. Her lips purse and she says, "I – uh…"

"Get her what I'm getting," Liv answers for Cabot and I lift my eyebrow.

Looking between the two I decide shrugging's the best response. "Fine. Two English Breakfasts English style with sugar, one Americano with soy and two regular coffees," I rattle off the order. "I miss anything?"

No one responds so I grab my coat and hat and make my way out of the one-six. It's colder today than yesterday and the wind-chill bites at the exposed skin of my face and neck. I'm halfway to the coffee shop down the block when my waist vibrates. I pull my phone free and check the display. It reads a County number and I answer, "Stabler."

"Detective Stabler," A soft female voice sounds into my ear, "I'm Crystal Frederickson with Children's Social Services."

My steps falter and I move off the sidewalk and rest my back against the cold brick of a building. "What can I assist you with Ms. Frederickson?"

"I was following up on a case that you and your partner, Detective Benson, took yesterday. Young girl was attacked and taken to the hospital. We've been trying to locate her parents, but we've just learned her father was found dead yesterday in Riverside Park." She takes a breath and I hear paper shuffling in the background. "It appears the case was picked up by two veteran detectives from the twenty-fourth precinct. I was hoping you two could coordinate and help a haggard social worker out by tracking down next of kin?"

Her tone's this side of pathetic and I roll my eyes. Like we ain't got enough shit to deal with lady. I bite my tongue as the vision of the small girl flashes in my mind and I hear myself say, "If you can get the file over to us, I'll see what we can do."

I look up at the clock, again. Its stupid face mocks me. The irrational urge to smash it makes me want to smile.

I sigh and run a hand through my hair. Yep, definitely irrational.

There needs to be a serious rethink on Will's part. I hate waiting in hospitals. Yet, here is where I've found myself more often than not. Waiting on her. She knows this. Jimmy knows this. Hell, I don't think there's anyone that knows me that doesn't know this.

A set of doors open to my right. Hoping it's my wife-to-be is an exercise in stupid as a gurney gets pushed through the doors. A young kid is tailed after a team of hospital workers and a frightened looking couple. I lean back in my chair and continue to wait.

I flip my wrist over, curl my fingers into my palm and gaze at the grime underneath them. I scrubbed for-like-ever, but the stupid things won't come clean. My patrol with Jimmy last night turned up squat in the way of stupid vampires. It did however turn up a squishy demon that I wasn't prepared to fight. Hence the grime.

I shudder as the feeling of its stinky, jell-o-y consistency ghosts over my hands and arms. I still can't believe I nearly dived into the stupid thing. On the plus side, ripping out its heart was a total cakewalk. And cakewalk? What the hell's a cakewalk? What kind of sense does that make?

A hand brushes over mine and I meet Willow's exhausted gaze. "Will, what's a cakewalk?"

She blinks and stares at me for a minute trying to catch up. "I…uh…" she stumbles and I grin.

Grabbing her hand, I stand and give her a peck on the lips before tugging her down the corridor. "Because I was sitting there thinking and that term just doesn't make sense. So 'spalin. Cake and walk, sense type thoughts?"

Finally, she catches up and laughs. "Buffy, have I ever told you that you have too many thoughts?"

I push the doors open and lead her out to the street. Turning back to look at her, I grin wider. "Nope." Winking, I wave down a taxi and give him our new address.

The ride's not too bad and during it Willow cuddles up to my left side. I wrap my arm around her shoulders and say, "We did good on the apartment, ya know?"

"Hmm-huh," she mumbles into my shirt.

"And this new living arrangement with Jimmy's working out better than I thought it would." I lift a piece of hair that fell over her eyes and tuck it behind her ear. She's nearly passed out. I sigh and decide to not have fun with her. She's been going non-stop for days now.

The cab pulls up in front of our new place. I look back down at Will softly snoring into my shoulder and I just can't muster up the heart to wake her up. Instead, I reach into my coat pocket and hand the driver a twenty. Pulling Willow into my lap, I cradle her and carry her out of the cab. I kick the door closed and walk towards the lobby. Our doorman's eyes grow large as I approach.

He opens the door for me and trails me inside, asking, "Is she okay? Do you need me to call an ambulance?"

I shake my head and say, "Nope, just tired. But can you help me up to our apartment?" I try to not glare and snap at him. He needs to stuff his eyes back in his eye sockets. This looks weird yes, but I'm not gonna wake a woman that's just spent four days straight at work.

Amazingly, he clues up and nods, waiting with me at the bank of elevators. Shifting a little, I reach in and grab my keys out of my jacket pocket and pass them over. The elevator dings and we're on our way up. The doorman, I really should learn his name, opens our door and allows me to get inside.

I hear Jimmy in the kitchen. "Cupcake? Red?" his voice calls out.

"Yeah. Hang on," I call out to him. Inside our bedroom, I lay Willow down and undress her to the best of my ability without waking her. I slide the comforter over her and kiss her forehead. Shutting the door, I make my way down the hall to the foyer where the doorman is still waiting. I give him a five-dollar bill and he hands me my keys. Seeing him out, I throw the deadbolt and head to the kitchen.

Jimmy's hunched over a frying pan as I lean against the wall and arch an eyebrow. He looks up and smiles. "Where's Red?"

I hook a thumb in the direction of our bedroom and shrug.

"She pass out in the cab?" He flips the burgers in the frying pan.

"Pretty much." I gaze at the frying meat and look at him skeptically. "Tell me that's not what you're cooking for dinner?"

He looks mildly offended as he says, "It's lean ground beef and there's a salad in there. I also got Mac 'n' Cheese in the oven. It's baked," he says that with a bit more pride and a wiggle of his eyebrows.

Lifting my eyebrow further, I shake my head. "Did you hit your head and regress in age after I left you at the precinct?"

"Nope, just got a craving." He takes a swig of his beer and I shrug. "Oh, speaking of work, I got a call after you left from a coupla D's over at the one-six. Seems our floater had a kid. We're meeting with both of them in the morning to discuss and share."

I grab a bottle of water for myself and take down two plates. "That should be fun."

He looks at me sideways as I smile curtly and let the sarcasm speak for itself.

I hover in the entrance to the bullpen just watching the detective at the desk. It's so…I grasp for the words, but they don't come to me in time. Olivia looks up from her desk and smiles as she sees me.

"Alex how's the evening?" she asks, reclining in her chair.

I gather my wits and finally walk into the room. Setting my bag down, I lean against her desk and answer, "Good. Tired. Greyleck left quite a few cases open."

She offers me a sympathetic smile and nods. "So what brings you down here at this time of night? I'd have thought you'd be at your office buried under mountains of paperwork."

I laugh and shake my head. She knows me entirely too well. "I would be; however, I needed to go over your upcoming appearance in the Mizakuri trial. I took a gamble and hoped you'd be around."

She pushes back from her desk and stands. My eyes travel over her erect form, trying to hide my appreciation for the way she fills out the light tan slacks and royal blue blouse. I apparently don't hide my appreciation for her very well as I notice the look she's giving me. I blush and reach down for my bag to hide the red staining my cheeks.

As I pull the strap of my bag higher on my shoulder, she grabs her jacket and asks, "Food?"

An eyebrow rises at the question so she supplies more, "I haven't eaten since this morning and I'm starved. If you don't mind, I'd like to go grab something to eat while we go over the trial prep."

"That actually sounds wonderful. The Snickers and Diet Coke from lunch quit being filling about four hours ago." I follow her out of the building and we make our way down the street and around the block.

She stops in front of an all night coffee shop and holds the door open, ushering me in. "They opened this up a few years ago and it's a solid place for decent coffee and light dinners."

I select a large table towards the back as she goes to the counter to order. Half watching her and half paying attention to the papers in my bag, I pull a few folders out and grab a pen. She comes back and places a cup of coffee in front of me. I smile up at her in appreciation and ask, "Food?"

Sitting opposite me, she says, "They'll bring it out when they're done with the sandwiches. You still like turkey and avocado?"

"I do." I smile genuinely for the first time tonight. "I'm surprised you remembered."

She smiles back, "There's not a lot I forget, Councelor."

Conceding, I wade through my files and find the one I'm looking for. Our food comes shortly after and it takes us another half hour to go through the standard questions that I had prepared. As she answers the last of my questions, I close the file in front of me and lean back against the hard plastic of the bench. I close my eyes and finally take a small break.

The soft timber of her voice brings me back to reality, "That's all?" she asks.

I suppose what most would consider a chuckle, or perhaps a chortle makes it way past my lips and I smile. "That's it for work tonight, Liv." I reach for my cold coffee and take a sip. The grimace is caught and she's up at the counter getting fresh refills for us both before I have time to protest.

"You want me up all night?" I ask as she sits the steaming beverage in front of me.

"No, I think you need sleep about as much as I do." She leans back, folding her arms across her chest and smirks. "But, I also know you won't sleep regardless of how much you drink so…"

"Sleep's for those who don't dream," I half joke back. Turning a bit more serious, I tilt my head to the side and study her for a moment before coming to a decision. Inhaling, I feel the metaphorical bullet I'm about to bite already burrowing its way through my chest. "Liv, since I've been back, I've taken up a few of my mother's charities for the family's foundation. There's an event for one of them coming up soon. I don't think it'll be horrendous, but would you care to save me and accompany me as my date?"

Her face registers shock and then I see the rejection creeping into her eyes. I resist the urge to sigh; instead, I prepare myself for the inevitable. I knew the invitation was a long shot, but I couldn't not try.

"I'd love to." I look up shocked at her answer. She didn't… "What day?"

My mouth opens and closes for a few seconds, struggling to find my voice. "I…It's this Thursday."

The right side of her mouth curls into a smile and she nods. "Good. I'm off that day and not on call. It'll leave me time to find something to wear."

I can feel the grin on my face. I wish with all that I have that I wouldn't look so damn stupid like I know I do, but…

Fuck it. She just said yes.

"It's a black and white theme. I'm sure you'll be able to find something appropriate." I take a drink of the coffee she brought me then say, "Are you still living in the same place?" Her nod is my answer. "I'll have a car pick you up at seven-thirty."

Stuffing the files back into my bag, I stand, put my coat on and pull my bag up my shoulder. She follows suit and we make our way out of the diner. We stand in the cold longer than we probably should. The air between us not quite comfortable, but not uncomfortable either. I bask in her presence. Cliché and utterly ridiculous, I feel better just being around her again.

I watch her waive down a taxi and open the door for me. Turning, I lean against the car and say, "Thank you," before ducking inside. The door slams shut and I give the driver my address.


Ch. 3 – Lead the Way

I juggle four cups of coffee and manage to shut the observation room door with my foot. Cupcake catches my eye and she grabs the two that are balancing on top of the two cups in my hand. I nod my thanks and set down Stabler and Benson's in front of them.

I sit down in my seat opposite Benson and rub my chin. We don't got a lot to go on, any of us. 'Least it's a bit better working with two D's who don't mind working with other cops.

Kinda a nice change of pace.

Taking the folder from the top of the stack, I open it and look down. The report on Alison McCannon doesn't provide much. A buncha B.S. given to Benson and Stabler about it being an animal attack. I wonder who the attending was. I flip the page and see a name I know my partner's not gonna be pleased with.


I'm not too pleased myself. Red should've called us. I don't give a shit how busy she was or is. My foot nudges Buffy's and I point to her lover's name on Benson's DD-5 as the attending physician. Her lips purse and she reaches for the cell phone in her pocket.

I watch as Cupcake waits on Willow to pick up. She's got the next three days off, Red should be home. Buffy gives a slight shake of her head and I mop my face with my hand.

"Will, call me when you get this. I need to ask you a few questions." Buffy snaps her phone shut and drops the chunk of plastic into her coat pocket. I offer a sympathetic smile and she shrugs it off.

Elliot Stabler looks at me and I point to the file. "The attending physician is…" I take a quick look at Cupcake to verify. Her eyebrow raises and then a small tug at the corner of her mouth gives me the permission I need. "Your attending is my partner's fiancé."

"She should call back as soon as she gets the message." Buffy's pen taps lazily against the folder on the table. Dunno what she's thinking, but I don't think I'm gonna like it.

The fact that Red didn't call and tell us. We'll also add insult to injury that we went out the other night to kill a vamp that Will already knew about.

Both of the one-six's detectives offer only a small "Oh," and then they look back down at the reports. I smile a little, happy that no hub-bub was made. It doesn't happen often if Buffy mentions Willow, but I've seen it happen one too many times. And I don't put up with that shit.

Olivia catches my eye and is reading the M.E.'s report on Theodore McCannon, our D.B. and the father of Alison. "It says here that the throat was slashed and C.O.D. was exsanguinat. You both reported no blood at the crime scene."

I nod, "'s 'cause there wasn't." I scratch the stubble at my jaw wishing I'd shaved this morning before answering, "The body was a floater. Washed up on shore and was found by a jogger."

"But the M.E. determined exsanguination?" Benson asks without looking up from the folder in her hands.

"Throat was slashed. The guy bled out and was thrown in the river as best as we can guess. Or he was cut and pitched all at once," Buffy fills in some of the ideas that we were practicing to throw these two off.

"But there's nothing here indicating that either of you are looking for a kill site." Her eyebrow rises questioningly and I shrug.

Buffy decides to fill in for me, "It's not something we're pursuing. Unless C.S.U. comes back with anything different. There wasn't much found on the body."

"You don't think it's worth pursuing?" Elliot asks incredulously.

"I think the dead body and the victimized child are plenty enough reason to pursue." I watch Detective Benson's hackles raise and suppress the smile.

Girl's got spunk.

I silently stamp her and her partner with my seal of approval and move on.

Holding my hand up, I silence the outburst on the tip of Benson's tongue, "We know that, Benson." I tap the second folder under the report by her elbow. "The little girl was brought in by bus to Presby. She was found wandering alone on West One-Sixty-First."

Buffy picks up, "The dad was found on the shore of Riverside Park near Ninetieth West." Cupcake glances my way and proceeds, "If you want, we can canvas the area around the park see if we find anything."

This seems to satisfy her a bit and she shuts the folder. She and her partner exchange looks and the wordless conversation they have amuses me. I wonder how long they've been working together.

"You two wanna head over and talk to the little girl. She's at a C.S.S. house up in Harlem." Elliot asks.

Buffy shrugs and the rest of us push back from the table. Grabbing our coats, we make our way outside. I pat down my pockets and can't find the keys to the department's sedan. Buffy smiles innocently at me and I glower.

"Cupcake…" I hold my hand out and she shakes her head. "Listen here Blondie, hand the keys over and I won't have to hurt you when we get home." I rest a hand on the butt of my gun while the other reaches for the keys that materialized in her hands.

She sticks her tongue out at me as I turn my back. Grumbling, I say, "I saw that." Hitting the button to unlock the car, I start to slide into the driver's seat. "Get your skinny ass into the car, Summers."

She slips into the passenger seat and smacks my arm as Benson and Stabler take the back seats.

I look over at Elliot and mouth the word 'cupcake'. His eyebrow lifts and he shrugs. I shake my head and sit back as the car Detective McAllister drives lurches through mid-morning traffic.

I'm not really unhappy about sharing the case with these two. They seem like a good team. I'm not sure about the "hurt you when we get home" bit. I mean the girl did say she was engaged. Of course, that really hasn't stopped people before.

Elliot and I spare each other a glance. Deciding to let it rest for now, I shrug and lean my head back against the seat. Closing my eyes, cerulean ones drift through my mind. I stifle the bitter laugh that bubbles forth and I shake it off.

I still can't believe I accepted the invitation. I shouldn't have…

I shouldn't encourage a damn thing besides a working relationship, but…

I'm really not that strong. It nearly killed me the first time she left six years ago. When she came back for Connors, I'd thought it couldn't get worse. Ya know, you see the one person that makes it all kinda click. Then she was gone again.

I thought I knew what broke meant after Connors, after the night we talked. We hadn't promised each other anything, but we'd cleared the air about a few things. I was expecting to be able to at least say goodbye, but they ferried her off.

We didn't get to say anything to each other after we left the hotel.

It wasn't like we promised to wait, but…

But, what?

That if there was ever a chance that we would try.

Another bitter laugh bubbles up and I can't seem to cap it.

"Liv?" Elliot's hand rests on my shoulder. I twist my head and crack an eye offering him a smile.

He raises an eyebrow and I tap my temple. He shrugs when he understands what I'm getting at. My eyes shut and I start kickin' myself again.

When she came back or I guess when we found out that she came back and everything that surrounded it…That did break me.

At least that's what it felt like. Maybe it didn't and maybe I don't know broke from my ass and a hole in the ground. I know it hurt and I haven't felt the same since. Except when I saw her on the street and she came back to S.V.U. Something I thought dead and buried resurrected itself inside me.

Again, I find myself cursing my A.D.A.

I wonder if accepting the invite to her thing makes me certifiable.

Huang'd have fun with it I'm sure.

I open my eyes and look out the window as we come to a stop and the engine shuts off. I unbuckle my seat belt and wait for Jimmy to open up the back door. I step out of the car, tug my jacket tighter around me and grab for the scarf I left on the back seat. The temperature is slightly below 'Freeze Your Ass Off' and I make a note to take some vacation during the winter next year. Maybe go to Florida.

At the end of the day, I don't think it matters. She's here. I'm here and this time, I'm hoping it will be different.

We step into the home's foyer and wait on the receptionist to get off the phone. As she cradles the receiver, I flash my badge and introduce everyone. Buffy steps up beside me and says, "Detective Benson and I would like to talk to Alison."

"Of course. If you would like, there's an interview room down the hall. Have a seat inside and I'll bring Alison in." The woman says. I follow her retreating backside up the steps to the rooms and I make a note to check on this place when we get back to the bullpen.

Buffy and I enter the room while El and McAllister wait out front. "Detective, why'd you want only you and me to talk to Alison?" Curiosity getting the best of me.

She pulls out a chair for me, takes the one to its right and sits down before answering. "Because she bonded with you at the hospital and I figured that it would be easier for me to ask some questions with you here." Buffy runs a hand through her hair and sighs. "I don't want to scare her more than she's already been."

I nod and take a seat. It's not more than five minutes before the woman from the front desk ushers a wary Alison McCannon into the room. I smile as she sees me and her eyes light up, "'Livia!" I get up and step around the table, drop to one knee and accept the warm hug the little girl gives.

"Hi, sweetie." I pull back and brush a lock of her hair from her forehead. I look her over and see that she seems okay physically, but her eyes tell me something a little different. "I wanted to know if you could help me and Detective Summers out and answer a few questions."

Alison looks away from me and glances nervously at Buffy. Trying to play buffer, I walk Alison around the table and Buffy slides to the open chair. Her eyes flick to me and then the table. I lift Alison up and set her down on top of the table while I take the freed up chair.

Buffy reaches under her blouse and pulls out an antique locket on a thin, silver chain. Smiling, she says, "Hi Alison. I'm Buffy."

The little girl's face scrunches and she giggles.

Almost as if she's expecting it, Buffy's smile widens. "I know a silly name, but I'm stuck with it." She opens the locket and allows Alison to look at it. The large gray eyes widen in recognition as she sees Dr. Rosenberg on the left side of the jewelry piece. Buffy points to the doc and says, "That's your doctor from the other day, right?"

The little girl nods and Buffy continues, "You know, she's my best friend in the whole world."

Alison nods, "She was nice and made my neck feel better." Her hand goes to the still bandaged area and she absently scratches at a piece of the tape that's come up. "I have a best friend. Her names Tena and she lives down the hall in my apartment building. When am I gonna go home to see her?"

Buffy's eye's cloud over for a brief second before a mask falls firmly into place. "I don't know," she answers as honestly as she can. "But we do need your help."

She looks to me. I pick up and start asking questions.

Stopping at a red light, I fiddle with the presets on the squad car radio and find a decent station. I'm not too thrilled with what Jimmy proposed. As we sit here, waiting on the damn light to change, I let him know it, "You really think this is the best idea?"

Gotta love telepathy. He's only recently learned to deal with Will and me invading his head. The only acknowledgement I get from my question is flared nostrils and a grump.

"I think," he says, his voice filling my head while the radio station plays some non-descript pop tune. "You and I need to come up with somethin' to tell these two. They ain't dumb and they won't drop it."

Slouching down in my seat, I rest my arm against the door and prop my head on my hand. "You know we're screwed right?"

His eyes drift over to me and I notice the twinkle.

Yep, totally screwed.

"Cupcake, we can only snow these two so much." I grip what Will's so lovingly nicknamed 'the oh-shit!' handle as Jimmy cuts across a lane of traffic to get off the parkway. After coming to a stop at the off-ramp, he picks right back up again, "Look we found the kill site. With the Uni's we left there, Andre, their guy, Ryan, and C.S.U. we can't be sure what exactly they're gonna turn up."

He taps his fingers against the steering wheel and chews his lower lip. "The truth ain't an option, but maybe we can use them to help track down the vamp." The light changes and he heads straight on to Ninety-Sixth towards Columbus.

I shrug and ask out loud, "Old Man, where're we going?"

"Figure go back to the apartment real quick and see if Red's around to talk to." He signals to turn into our parking garage and smiles.

Peachy, just fucking-peachy.

Parking the sedan, I lead the group up to the apartment. I hear Olivia and Elliot give a low whistle.

Ya know, Jimmy should have known that bringing them here was a bad idea. The apartment's a bit above the standard cops pay grade.

They say anything and I'm stapling mouths shut.

I wonder if I can use the cordless nail gun Jimmy's got stashed in the hallway closet?

Not saying I will. I've just been thinking of the practical applications. It could be interesting.

Stepping into the apartment, I shake off my violent fantasies and call out to Will, "Paging Dr. Rosenberg!"

Willow's head pops out of the bedroom. Her hair is mused and she's lookin' a little rough. Unable to resist, I jog down the hall and push her back in the room.

"Buff?" she asks, sleepily.

"We got a couple of other detectives working a case with us." I draw her into a hug and place a kiss on lips that haven't seen a toothbrush yet.

She smiles at me and pecks my cheek as she heads to the bathroom. Before shutting the door, she says, "I'll be out in a minute."

"'Kay." I turn and leave the room.

Jimmy's got Leonardo and Raphael in the living room. I step into the kitchen and hit the on button for the coffee pot. House Rule Number 3: If you make a pot of coffee, prep the maker for the next one. I sigh as it kicks on and I stick my head out of the kitchen and around the corner. "Anyone want anything to drink?"

I chuckle as three demands for coffee are made. Will shuffles into the kitchen and I prop myself against the sink. Folding my arms across my chest, I give her a minute to fill a cup full of coffee. "So, sweetie, is there anything you wanted to tell me?"

She cocks her head to the side and sips from the mug in her hands. Shaking her head, the corners of her mouth turn down.

"Nothing about a little girl that you may have seen in the E.R.?" I try again. She's not the sharpest in the morning.

Although it's nearly noon.

I should cut her some slack. She's put in sixty hours easy this week.

The light goes on and she chokes. Waving her hand in the air, she turns red and starts to apologize, "Awe, I'm sorry. There was a little girl with bite marks." I hand her a paper towel and she wipes the bit of coffee that drips from her lips. "I told the cops that it was a do…"

Quickly, I clamp a hand over her mouth. "The detectives you lied to are in the living room," I hiss.

She nods as her eyes go wide. Setting the coffee cup down, she pulls me to her and rests our foreheads together. "So they're here why?" her voice echoes in my head.

I lean into the embrace. It's been a little too long for my liking that we've just kinda been together. A few seconds of resting with her and I can almost forgive her endless hours at the hospital.


Sighing, I reply, "They're the ones that were called to the kid, while Jimmy and I caught the dad. The dad was vamp chow."

"The little girl was bit, but the blood loss wasn't bad," she replies, drawing lazy circles on the small of my back.

I step back and turn to grab a serving tray from under the counter. I put the coffee pot, cups, cream and sugar on the tray to carry out to the living room. She follows me out of the kitchen. I set the tray on the coffee table and begin fixing four cups.

"Hello detectives," my lover says brightly.

Elliot smiles and Olivia's eyebrow's lift.

"Small world, doc." Olivia takes the cup I'm offering.

Willow laughs nervously and shrugs. "That's what they say. Well actually it really isn't that big. I've seen most and after a while it all kinda looks the same. Doesn't sound the same though. Nope. Especially with all the languages."

Perching on the arm of the recliner that Jimmy's sitting in, I smirk and Willow burns red.

"Uh-huh," Elliot says.

I take a moment and eye both of them. Agreeing with my original assessment, Elliot tries to hide the amusement at my partner's nervous mouth. Raph, tries for amused, but she's way suspicious.

She's smart. She should be suspicious because I'm about to shovel a line of bull that any government agency would be proud of.


Ch. 4 – Who Would Have Thought

I stand in the dining room of my apartment and look at the bouquet lying on the table.

Do I take them or not?

On the one hand, they were bought for her, she's downstairs in the limo and they are pretty, if I do say so myself.

But…is it too much?

There's so much riding on tonight. At least for me.

Sighing, I grab the shawl from the back of the chair, my purse and coat. I head to the door and stop. The flowers rest on the table, mocking me. Rolling my eyes at my foolish behavior, I turn around and snatch the bouquet off the table.

She's either going to laugh in my face and tell me to get lost or maybe just maybe; Olivia Benson will allow me to redeem myself.

I make my way out to the limo, praying that she doesn't chew me up and spit me out.

She needs to know Alex Cabot is back.


And I hate referring to myself in the third person. I roll my eyes make my way to the lobby.

The doorman holds the entrance open for me and I pull my coat tighter while clutching the flowers. As the driver opens the door, my smile is brief as one last fervent prayer gets shot heavenward. I slide on the leather coming to a stop next to a smiling New York detective.

I start with the bottom noticing the black, 'fuck me' pumps first then allow my eyes to travel north, over silk clad curves that have always done odd things to me. I survey her chest briefly, knowing my cheeks are tinting red, moving further north I travel over soft full lips, and end at warm, brown eyes.

Swallowing, I smile and offer her the flowers. "They just seemed to remind me of you."

She accepts the bouquet and I hope that she doesn't know that a few of those flowers aren't in a standard bouquet. Let's be honest, I agonized at the flower shop for about an hour today trying to find the right mix.

She smiles, gladly accepting the gift. Internally I do my Cabot Victory Dance. If anyone were to see that in real life I'd die of embarrassment. It's a rough interpretation of a friend's happy dance, which consequently shouldn't be seen in public either.

Leaning in, I say, "You look fantastic." A slight blush tints her cheeks at the compliment.

Watching her eyes assess my own attire, she extends a similar compliment. Grinning, I settle in for the ride over to the university. Knowing what's to come, I position myself and look at her. I catch her admiring the flowers, internally; I heave a sigh of relief.

"Liv, did you tell anyone about tonight?" I ask gently.

"Nah, the guys don't need to know. Should I have?" Her head cocks to the side trying to read between the lines.

I reach for her hand and say, "There's going to be cameras, press, you know the usual. I just want to make sure you're ready for that."

She smirks; the right side of her mouth turning upward and I can't help but return the smile. "If you mean am I ready to be seen on your arm? Maybe."

"I really want you to have a good time. If you," a finger to my lips stops my words.

Olivia smiles warmly and shakes her head. "Look, Lex, I spent the better part of yesterday cursing your name. Not for the first time mind you, but then I realized that I haven't felt this right since..." She removes her finger and takes my hand. Closing her eyes, I watch her draw in a breath and sigh. "I think it has something to do with you, being back. I'm not sure what that means." She opens her eyes and looks directly at me, "But I'm willing to find out if you're willing to put up with me."

I can only nod my head. I'm about to do something totally foolish, but the driver's words through the intercom stop me, "Ms. Cabot, we're here."

Struggling for my voice, I finally manage, "Thank you."

I wait as the door to the car opens and I step out to the flash of cameras and shouted voices. I reach my hand in and without hesitation, Olivia takes hold. I help her from the car and we clasp hands as we make our way to the entrance. I stop at the front door and turn around to answer a few questions some of the reporters are asking.

"Ms. Cabot, what's tonight's function about?" A sandy haired young man asks in the front of the crowd. I stifle the laugh at his earnestness and wonder if I ever looked that green.


"We're here to raise money for the new children's oncology ward for the university."

Another reporter, female, leers and she coos, "Ms. Cabot, who's on your arm tonight and why didn't you bring your boyfriend?"

I roll my eyes and resist a scathing comment. I'm here to raise money and put on a nice face. Biting the inside of my cheek, I take a moment before answering, "This is Olivia Benson. Do you have something to ask about the event this evening?"

There are a few random questions thrown out, none that I care to answer. Turning, the doors open and I follow Olivia into the building my hand resting on the small of her back.

Despite the press, I think tonight's going to be one to remember.

I shift in my seat, not really a fidget but…

Okay so I'm nervous. There's a room full of people. I'm at the head table and it's a small head table.

How in the name of the goddess I was talked into this is a serious concern. I need to be less of a pushover when my boss asks me to do stuff.

Sure, there's the 'it's for a good cause' thing. And it really is…

But I'm going to have to speak publicly.

I suck in air to stave off the mild panic attack and manage to choke instead.


The coughing jag garners Buffy's attention and her gaze turns to me. "Will?"

I waive a hand to ward off the inquiry and squeak, "Fine."

"Uh-huh" Her eyebrow lifts as she takes my hand. "You know," she purrs, rubbing her thumb across my knuckles, "I'm not that blonde, honey."

Of course she's not.

"Will," her whisper continues as she leans in. I mirror her actions, letting her closeness affect me. It feels like ages since I've felt like this with her.

Maybe since Miami.

Her warm breath grazes my neck eliciting a shiver. "I just wanted to say," she pauses and her gaze shifts to something over my shoulder. "Son of a bitch!"

Uh? What?

"What the fuck is she doing here?" Her head snaps up and I crane my neck to look.

I don't have to do much craning before a bright, warm smile fills my line of sight. I look up into crystalline, blue pools to return Alex's smile.

Her hand's outstretched and I take it. "Willow, I'm so glad you are here."

I look at Alexandra Cabot and to her date trying to stop my mouth from falling.


Olivia Benson stands there with an eyebrow arched elegantly in question.

I shake off my surprise and say, "Well, you threatened me if I didn't show so…" I realize my hand is still gripping hers and I grin sheepishly, letting go.

She laughs and motions Olivia forward. Before she has a chance to make the introductions, Olivia snickers, "It really is a small world after all, eh Doctor Rosenberg." I'm not sure I like the near sneer on her face as she looks from me to Buffy. "Detective Summers."

Buffy tips her chin and offers a wave by means of hello. Her eyes are hard and I think that spells nothing but trouble.

Boy is tonight shaping up to be more fun than I know what to do with.

It's like riding the Thunderbolt. Sure it's all fun and stuff 'till they make the second lap.

Then it's just nasty nauseousness.

Alex looks between the three of us mildly lost. "Liv?" she questions.

Before Olivia answers, she pulls the chair out with Alex's name in front of it. I look at the place cards and see that Olivia's name isn't in front of the chair to Alex's right.

Maybe this was a last minute thing.

As they sit, Buffy takes it upon herself to make the introductions I failed to do. "Hi, I'm Buffy." She reaches across the table to meet Alex's hand.

"Alexandra Cabot." She smiles at my lover. She seems okay. As she's turning to Olivia I start to kinda feel bad for the other detective. Alex looks like she's going to eat her alive…in the not good way. "Don't you feel it would be prudent to tell me how you know Doctor Rosenberg and Buffy?"

Sympathy swells for Olivia as she withers slightly under Alex's intense stare.

"Uh," she nervously rubs the back of her neck and stammers, "that little girl we caught at the hospital…Willow was the attending." Olivia looks to Buffy and says, "Buffy and her partner are working the case with us. They're the detectives I was telling you about that caught the dead father."

I watch the interplay and smile. Glancing at Buffy, I take up her hand again and give it a squeeze. She returns my gesture with a smile all for me.

"So, Alex, how do you know Willow?" Olivia asks wearing a very similar look to the one Alex just gave her. The tables turned so easily.

Olivia's hands clasp in front of her and she leans forward a little waiting on Alex to answer. Looking at Buffy, I see that she's enjoying the show as much as I am.

Who knew watching a philanthropist and a detective could be so much fun?

Alex's smile is teasing as she answers, "Willow has been my liaison at the hospital. She's been a godsend in helping me setup the fund raiser tonight." She leans into Olivia's personal space, brushing a lock of mahogany colored hair off the detective's forehead.

A slight tint kisses Olivia's cheeks and suddenly, I feel mildly voyeuristic.

Another look in Buffy's direction and I see she's enjoying the subtext being played out in front of us.

Buffy's always been a hopeless romantic. Somethings don't change.

I smile wistfully. The last time Buffy's romantic streak hit? The night we got engaged.

Nearly six months ago.

My face falls.

Luckily, a small cough from Olivia brings me out of the decidedly depressing thoughts I was headed towards.

"So," Alex starts and raises a glass of water, "while not alcoholic, I feel a toast and a promise are in order for tonight." She waits as everyone takes up a glass. "To new friendships, new developments, clarity and absolutely no talk of work. Let's leave the crime for the bullpen and the courtroom."

"Here, here," Buffy and Olivia chorus.

I clink glasses and take a sip of water. Setting the glass down, I look at Alex.

Hang on, courtroom?

I thought she was just…

"Courtroom?" I ask.

She smiles and nods. "I'm the A.D.A. for Olivia's squad."


The surprise must show on my face because she smirks.

"And what is it that you thought I did?" she asks.

I blush not wanting to really answer.

She didn't seem as shallow as some of the New York socialites I've met. She always came off really nice, smart and funny.

Honestly, it was lots of fun to work with her.

Olivia's face cracks and she smiles half way. Buffy sits back, waiting on my answer. Both of them enjoying my discomfort far more than either of them should.

"Uh, hadn't really thought about it," I shrug and hope that vague will work.

Alex laughs lightly, breaking the tension. "I don't know whether to be upset or not," she teases. She opens her mouth to say something else, but stops as a woman with a clipboard and headset rush the table and whisper into Alex's ear. Nodding, she rises and says, "It looks like we're about to begin. If you'll excuse me."

And like that she's off, leaving us with only Olivia.

Oh, boy.

I sip at my glass of wine and lean back in my chair. So this night really wasn't what I was anticipating, for some reason I'm not too bummed out by the idea. I watch Willow and Alex on the dance floor smiling at each other.

A prick of jealously stings, but I shrug it off. I've nothing to be jealous of. A quick glance to my left and I see similar emotions flash across Buffy's face. I smirk. Glad I'm not the only one.

"Buffy," I say loud enough to get her attention.

Turning to me, she grins. "Yes, Detective Benson?"

I shake my head. The tone of her voice a little condescending. I think I deserved that. "Alex said no shop talk, but I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for busting you and your partner's balls yesterday."

Her eyebrow rises in surprise. Shrugging, she says, "It's alright. If I were you, I probably would have done the same thing."


She fidgets with the tablecloth for a second before saying, "I didn't expect you or Elliot to believe me. You don't know me, but with this case, I'm asking for your trust."

My eyebrow lifts in further surprise and I'm not sure what to make of it. "Why should we?"

She sips at the wine in front of her before answering, "We want the same things. We're on the same side."

"Maybe, but even if we are, you and McAllister are still holding back on us." My eyes narrow as I say, "If you two are worried about the collar, don't. I could give a rat's ass about it. I just want the perp found."

She nods and sighs. "You think I really care about that?"

She looks at me and I falter. Now not so sure. There's something that she won't say. Maybe she can't say. Taking a breath, I concede. "Right now, Buffy, I'm not sure." Her shoulders square and I put a hand up. "Look, let's drop it. We're getting together tomorrow. Let's leave it for then, but at some point, you and your partner are going to have to answer some questions."

I watch her study me. I'm not sure what it is. Yesterday while we were down by the river, I watched her with that stupid beanie she had on her head. It almost made her look twelve. Yet, I can't seem to shake this feeling. Sometimes she appears larger than she is, more imposing. It's almost something I could relate to and admire. But she's pissing me off too much for it to matter.

Alex and Willow decide to come back at that moment, causing my attention to shift. There's a light sheen covering Alex's body. Licking my lips, I smile at them. "You two have fun?"

Willow nods and Alex says, "The good doctor has some very nice moves."

Willow blushes at the compliment and lays a hand over Buffy's. "It's really all Buffy. She's a good teacher."

"Will," Buffy says turning to her lover, "you always were able to dance."

Shaking her head, Willow responds, "You're delusional. What part of spaz did you miss?"

Buffy laughs and explains a little, "We've been best friends since high school." She looks at Willow and smiles. "While you were a bit nerdy, sweetie, I wouldn't have called you a spaz. Besides, it was one of the things that attracted me to you to begin with."

"How long have you two been together?" I ask. Alex seems to be enjoying the grilling and she smiles at Willow slightly shaking her head.

"Thirteen years give or take, but we've been together-together for only four," Willow answers.

I look both of them over again and dig a bit more, "How old are you two?"

Buffy answers, "Twenty-eight."

Come again? How's a twenty-eight year old make detective?

Willow smiles and asks Alex, "And you were going to hide Detective Benson from me for how long?"

I take a drink of wine before responding, but Alex beats me to an answer.

"We're not together." She looks at them and winks. Turning to me, she says, "Not yet, anyhow."

I cough and nearly choke on the wine slipping down my throat.

Both of the other women at the table laugh as Alex's hand rests reassuringly on my thigh.

Well that answers a lot of my questions.

She and I really need to have a serious, private discussion.

Buffy plays with Willow's knuckles and asks, "Where did you two meet?"

"Work," I answer, "How long ago now, Alex?"

"Are we counting my time in the program or not?" She smiles a little as my hand covers hers; giving it a squeeze to let her know it's okay.

"In WitSec and out." I nod and she counts.

"Nine." Cocking her head to the side, she says, "God, it feels like a lifetime."

"That it does, Counselor. That it does." I shoot a smirk her way and tease, "Although, you've been gone longer than you've been around."

She blushes and I just continue to smirk until Buffy interrupts, "WitSec?" She looks at Alex and asks, "You were in Witness Protection?"

I raise an eyebrow. How can they not know? I shrug and waive a hand at Alex "This is your story to tell."

Alex nods and tucks a lose strand of hair behind her ear. I sit back and just let the sound of her voice comfort me. I know the story. I lived it.

Part 5

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