Chapter 1

Six more days.

Not that I'm counting.

There's a Rangers game on tonight. The boys are on the road in New Jersey and are, so far, not doing much to make light of my Captain-mandated disability leave. As was the case too often in my life as of late, it seems to me, the Devil (or Devils, as the case may be) has the upper hand early on. It hasn't been a particularly dirty game—the only three penalties of the first two periods have belonged to my boys. I grin to myself as I remember what I learned from my days on the ice in high school: the dirty plays are half the fun. It's hockey, for fuck's sake. The sport of bodies slamming into Plexiglas, gloves hitting the ice and fists colliding with whichever body part happens to be the most convenient.

I'd been a pretty decent shot-maker, but had quickly learned that I did not like people messing with my teammates. That's an understatement. I fucking hated people messing with my teammates. Retaliating on their behalf tends to cramp the style of a center, however, and after more than my fair share of minutes in the penalty box, my coach put me on the "D", where it was practically expected that I protect my own. Eye for an eye. Hook for a hook. Fist to the jaw for a slash…all is fair in retaliatory defense. Play dirty with me, I'll show you how dirty I can play.

Into the third period, the Rangers take another trip to the box. It's not part of any vengeful strategy due to a missed call or a sneaky hit by the Devils. No, this is more a part of the strategy that dictates when you're going down in flames and said flame is far from being of a blaze of glory, you may as well burn some folks on the way down. The penalties have belonged to the Rangers, but the only goal to the Devils. Unfortunately, it looks like it's going to remain that way.

Leaving the last few minutes to tick away, I wander into the kitchen to rummage around for something to eat. I'm standing in front of the open refrigerator, blankly scanning the shelves and waiting for the inevitable sound of the horn that will put the last nail into the Rangers' coffin when my cell phone beats the horn to the punch. I push the refrigerator door closed and follow the ring back to the living room where I snag the phone from the coffee table. I flip it open and read the LCD screen, which simply states, "LIV." Pressing the answer button, I lift the phone to my ear and open with, "You close that case with Danforth?"

I knew as soon as Danforth's attorney took Casey's deal that Elliot would have to be the first person I called. After all, he was the one responsible for my ending up crouched on a toilet in the men's room of a corporation I desperately wanted to bring to its knees. I dial his number as I unlock my front door and he answers just as I close and lock it behind me, toeing off my work shoes in the process.

"You close that case with Danforth?" Just like him…getting right to the point.

"Yeah, we did," I respond. "Casey's office is drawing up the paperwork tomorrow." I bend down to swoop my shoes up off the floor and beeline for my bedroom, shoes in hand.

"We who?" he questions.

"Huh?"

"You said we. We who?"

"We – us. You and me." Who else would be part of a "we" with me, I wonder. My shoes make it to the closet. "El, I never would have gotten the information I needed if you weren't exactly the type of stubborn son of a bitch who would sneak into the station in the middle of the night to avoid having Cap catch him breaking disability leave." I'm in the bathroom now, using the hand not holding the phone to slip my pants over my hips and allow them to drop to the floor before stepping out of them.

His acknowledging chuckle is more of a snort. "I'll take that as a compliment, I think."

Despite the sarcastic nature of his laugh, I can almost hear the smile in his voice, which only naturally brings one to my own lips. "I wouldn't have meant it any other way. Anyway, that's kind of why I was calling."

"To call me names?" he jokingly asks.

"Well, that, and to see if you were at all hungry. I just got home from the station and I'm starving." Food, however, is not the only thing on my mind right now. The other one is a shower.

"I could eat; but what does that have to do with you calling me names?"

I roll my eyes. The consummate multitasker, I had used the time while he was responding to quickly wrestle my way out of my shirt without losing much contact with the phone. "Because, this one's on me. To thank you. For," I stop, searching for the words. How should I put this? "For teaching me how to fight dirty." There. I walk over to the shower stall, clad in no more than my underwear, and start the water running, closing the glass door to allow the water to warm up.

"Liv, I'm sure you already knew how. I just reminded you."

The unwavering nature of this man's confidence in my capabilities never ceases to astound me, even in this playful manner. I laugh lightly. "Well, then it's to thank you for refreshing my memory."

"You don't owe me for that, Liv. I'm your partner—advice is on the house. Especially when it's as entertaining as a dirty fight. That's as much fun for me as it is you."

Of course, the unwavering nature of this man's stubbornness never ceases to exasperate me. I sigh. "Seriously, El." It's not a question, but a statement. "You're actually turning down free food? Seriously." My voice is disbelieving, but apparently convincing, because he relents.

"Now, you know I'd never do that," he quickly states.

I smile, victorious. "That's what I thought. So, I'll meet you in thirty?"

"Where did you have in mind?"

"Your front steps."

"If you think I'm packing a picnic at ten o'clock at night, you're out of your mind."

That one gets a longer laugh. "No picnic. All you have to bring is the name of the place where you want to eat." I clap my phone shut, slide it onto the counter, and strip the rest of the way before stepping into the shower.

I find myself wondering just how in the world that woman manages to read my mind over a wireless telephone connection. I'm still standing in my kitchen, staring into the relatively pathetic contents of my refrigerator when she starts talking about food. I finally give up my search and close the door when she challenges my rejection of her offer with a skepticism born of eight years spent learning my appetite.

It's actually not until a few seconds after she hangs up that I realize I heard something akin to running water in the background. Well, not something akin to it. Actually it. Running water. As in a shower. A shower that my partner was most likely about to get into. People shower naked. My partner showers naked. Olivia, my partner, who I was just talking to on the phone, was running a shower while she was talking to me. Meaning there was a distinct possibility that she could have been naked or at least partially so while using one hand to hold her telephonic connection to me up to her ear.

Holy shit.

There is no reason that this information should cause a slight southern redirection of blood flow in my body. None.

Just as there was no reason to make me feel compelled to keep my bicep flexed even as that sadistic bastard of a doctor was sticking a needle into the gash on my arm as Olivia watched me with soft eyes and a worried brow.

And she shouldn't have been the reason I was drawn to the station in the middle of the night. But, she was. She'd been released from the hospital, but I still worried. God only knew what she'd been exposed to and I wasn't being allowed to help find out.

I visited her. In the hospital, I mean.

She doesn't know that. She was asleep. They had wanted to keep her overnight for observation, which I know must have pissed her off, but when Cragen told me what had gone down, their decision at least made me feel better. I could have probably managed to convince the doctors otherwise had I wanted to try. I just didn't really want to try. I wanted to be sure she was okay. But Olivia would have wanted me to try. She would have insisted that I try. So, it came down to this: either give in to her guilt trip and get her out of there or add fuel to her fire and refuse to do so. I made the safest choice in light of the situation.

I visited her in the middle of the night, when I was relatively sure she'd be sleeping.

After peering through the slats in the mini-blinds on her side of the window to confirm my suspicions, I slipped through the door and made my way to the far side of her bed. Another patient lie sleeping in the bed next to her own and I drew the curtain around Liv's space with my left hand (my right arm was going to be tethered to my body for another day still) to allow me some privacy. Me, not her. If Liv particularly cared about her privacy while sleeping in a hospital bed, she'd have closed the curtain herself. I, however, needed the privacy to hold my own silent vigil at her bedside. I didn't want my internal struggle to convince myself that she was alright to be interrupted. So, I settled into a horrendously uncomfortable chair for the next two and a half hours, not the least bit tired, and just watched.

Munch is so practiced in his conspiracy-theorizing about Big Brother that he's reliably very observant about what happens at the precinct. He's the one who told me about Cragen tearing into Olivia for her little appearance at Danforth.

I knew after they released her that Liv would be on a crusade to nail the sons of bitches responsible for the pesticide "study," so I wasn't a bit surprised she'd done what she'd done. I also knew that despite Cragen's warnings, she'd have herself holed up in the stationhouse around the clock. But I could only hope she would be the only one there the night I chose to drop by. Her eyes had been glued to her computer screen and I knew instantly that she probably hadn't slept much since her hospital stay. I had arrived prepared to do battle over asking her to ease up a bit, for her own sake. What I was in no way prepared for was hearing Liv refer to herself as a "victim." I remember having to make a conscious effort to keep my cool and not recoil at the term because it had certainly hit me with enough force to knock me over.

The last thing in the world I'd ever want Olivia Benson to be is a victim.

But she's okay. The doctors say she's okay.

And I now only have twenty minutes before she shows up at my building. I have no idea what to do with myself for the next twenty minutes. I've already showered. I'm halfway dressed. Got my jeans on, anyway. It's not as though throwing on a shirt and shoes will take longer than a couple minutes. I really have no idea why I'm obsessing over this anyway. I've been left to my own devices for the past eight days—what's another twenty minutes? Eighteen, actually. Well, two down.

SportsCenter. I'll watch SportsCenter. They'll have the hockey recap. Of course, I already know how it ended. There really wasn't any other way for it to go. Well, damn.

I'll just shower again.

Thirteen minutes later, I'm jogging down the stairs of my apartment building, shrugging on my leather jacket. My head is down when I open the door to the outside and, when I raise it, she's there. Leaning back against the cab parked alongside the curb, arms crossed over her chest, her hair falling onto her shoulders in loose waves, she's there. It occurs to me that I've never seen her hair like that and I wonder fleetingly if the wave is natural. If, for all these years, all her hairstyles, she's had to force the wave to flatten out. And, if that's the case, I wonder why she'd done that, because if this is what her hair looks like with minimal effort, she can save herself the extra time in the mornings and I would be perfectly happy. It looks liberated. It looks relaxed. Relieved. It looks like she just got out of bed after a night of ridiculously wild sex and it's fucking hot as the innermost circle of hell. Whoa. What? I pause on the front steps and narrow my eyes in her direction. "You're early," I tell her.

She regards me for a moment, untucks her left hand and looks down at her watch. She crosses her arms back and returns her gaze to me, her lips curling in a half-smile. "So are you," she counters.

I shrug, hands in my jacket pockets. Touche.

Suddenly, she's looking at me strangely. Her eyes have narrowed slightly, a bemused smirk on her lips. Then she looks down at herself. Her hands disappear into her jacket pockets as she brings her eyes back to mine. Her leather jacket pockets. Her smirk grows.

"What?" I ask.

"People are gonna think we planned this, Elliot." She sounds as amused as she appears.

"Planned what?"

"This." To clarify, she holds her hands out, still in the pockets, effectively opening the panels of her jacket.

It takes me a few seconds to realize she's talking about our choice of wardrobe. Both in dark-washed jeans, black leather jackets and rather fitted shirts—mine a gray T-shirt, hers a deep emerald cashmere sweater with a wide "V" for a collar. I grin at her. "Well, if you'd stop reading my mind, this wouldn't happen."

She smiles back. "Well, obviously my psychic abilities aren't that well-tuned, because I have no idea where you want to eat. Where's it gonna be?" She pushes her back away from the cab and goes to open the door.

I stop her by saying, "No cab. It's close. We can walk," as I descend the rest of the steps and move toward her.

She turns and eyes me for a moment, before leaning down to the open passenger window to pay and thank the cab driver, who quickly drives away. I've come to stand behind her and when she straightens and turns to face me, she looks momentarily surprised at my sudden proximity. I, for my part, am momentarily surprised by her stature, as she stands looking me nearly in the eye without so much as a tilt of her head. "You got taller," I comment.

She ducks her head almost guiltily. "I'm cheating," she admits. Her body weight shifts a bit to her left and I look down to see that she has bent her right knee, bringing her calf up. She's holding it out to the side a bit to display the four-inch heel on the black pumps on her feet for my benefit. Her brown eyes watch me until she's sure I've seen them before setting her foot back down.

I'm a stickler for personal space. How Elliot has managed to sneak into mine over the years, I'll probably never know. It's just always seemed…natural…for him to be there, for it to be his space, too. Lately, however, I've found myself increasingly aware of his presence. There has been a level of discomfort I'm not used to. I have assumed it's been due to the angry and scathing way we've treated each other for the past two years. Or due to the newfound awkwardness we've adopted since I got back from Oregon. Tonight, though…tonight it doesn't feel that way. Tonight my discomfort isn't manifesting itself as tension or defensiveness. Tonight, when I turn around to find him standing about two feet over the personal space line and about a foot away from me, it's showing up as a flurry of butterflies in my stomach. Honestly, you'd think I'd swallowed about a hundred cocoons and they'd all chosen this moment to crack open and release the fluttering insects inside.

Why? I have no fucking clue.

Perhaps it's the same thing that caused me to, at the last minute, grab my pair of red-soled black Christian Louboutin pumps from my closet as I reached for a pair of black boots. I mean, these are the shoes that a ridiculously wealthy friend of mine insisted that I needed and had subsequently bought me as a birthday gift last year. The shoes I'd heard her call "sex on stilettos." Shoes I'd insisted just as strongly that I did not need, as I certainly wouldn't have many occasions to wear them. She then told me that if they worked for me just one time it would be well worth it to her.

And here I stand, no more than twelve inches from my partner, in my several hundred dollar sex on stilettos that I was rather unapologetic about brandishing at him just now. Explain that one.

Elliot smiles triumphantly at me then, claiming "See? I told you that you knew how to fight dirty. Cheater." He turns to step away and I fall into pace with him.

"So, where are we going?" I ask.

He turns his head to the left to look at me when he asks if I've ever been to Pat O'Brien's. When I answer in the negative, he faces ahead. "It's a pub down the street Murph and I have been going to for years. More so now that I live so close."

I grimace. "Murphy?" I whine. "He's not gonna be there, is he?" Perhaps I should have tried to not sound so hopeful in my desire that Elliot's long-time friend not appear at the same place we're headed.

He chuckles. "Come on, Liv. He's not that bad. I wish I'd introduced you sooner."

I scoff, my eyes trained on the sidewalk in front of me, hands still in my jacket pockets, as Elliot's are in his.

"He likes you."

I roll my eyes. "He calls me 'Sin', Elliot."

"That's a compliment." He says it as though I should know that. I guess I do. I know the meaning behind the nickname—I was there when he gave it to me.

Elliot and I had met up with Aidan Murphy and his partner, a man named JP Wilson, for drinks one night after the pair had closed off a grueling homicide investigation. Elliot and Murphy made the cross-introductions and, upon shaking my hand, Murph had given me what he probably thought to be his best "eat you up alive" stare, blown a breath through his lips and said, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned." I slid my hand out of his, staring at him with wide eyes, before turning my stare to Elliot, seeking help. He didn't look at me, but rolled his eyes at Murphy, who continued "I have coveted another man's partner."

JP rescued me then, feigning insult, while I tried in vain to stop myself from blushing or anything of the sort. I was also valiantly trying to figure out what had just happened, because I'd been pretty sure that my partner's friend of twenty-something years had come on to me. In front of my partner. Who did nothing. What did that mean exactly? Had Elliot known this would happen? Had he wanted it to? Was this some kind of set up that I had no prior knowledge of? If so, why the hell would Elliot try to set me up with someone, much less a friend of his? He knew I'd kill him for trying. So he wouldn't try. That couldn't be it. So what? What the hell?

Of course, it had taken less than ten minutes of socializing with the two other men to realize that this was all just…Murphy. He was crass, sickeningly charming and arrogant. He knew all of this. He also knew that he was a good bit better than average-looking. All of this combined made him quite the regular son of a bitch.

I do like him, though. He's awfully fun to flirt with. Probably because there is entirely no danger in it. I rely on there being some unspoken rule that I am off-limits to Elliot's friends. After all, I consider myself off-limits to Elliot's friends. And, let's face it, most women enjoy having an attractive man flirt with them without an ulterior motive. It makes us feel good…special. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't one of those women. But, I still have to whine about the prospect of seeing him, because that's just the game we play. Murphy plays obnoxiously interested, I play annoyed and Elliot plays Elliot. Honestly, I think he enjoys watching the two of us duke it out. Probably because he knows neither of us means any harm and neither of us is being serious. So, he gets to enjoy his part as the neutral observant. He has, on occasion, intervened on my behalf for reasons I never really understood. It would be as though some invisible line of his had been crossed at some point and there he was, ready to defend it. I have yet to figure out what that line is.

My reverie is short-lived. Elliot, after assuring me the nickname was a complimentary one, goes on to say "Besides, in those shoes, I think the name fits." His head nods ever so slightly down toward my feet. I follow suit briefly, catching a glimpse of my merlot-laquered toenails through the peep-toes of my shoes.

Oh. So he did take notice of the shoes. I'm not sure if that qualifies as the shoes having "worked" for me; but, I do know that, for whatever reason, it makes me not want to walk in them anymore.

It makes me want to strut in them.

I also know that I need to say something before I start to blush. "So, why didn't you?"

He glances at me, brows furrowed. "Why didn't I what?"

"Introduce us sooner."

He shrugs nonchalantly.

After a few strides in silence, I look at him expectantly. "Well?"

"I dunno, Liv."

"Yeah, you do," I insist. "I can see it on your face."

He tries to joke his way out of it. "You mean you didn't fall for my stellar poker face?"

I shoot him a look that tells him he ought to know better. "I never fall for it, El." Then, I wait it out.

He thinks it over for a moment. "I guess it's just that Murphy is just…well…he's Murphy. You know how he is."

I nod. "Okay. And?"

"And, let's just say that based on his knowledge of you from word of mouth, I already took a lot of shit from him. Even when I was married. God only knows what he'd have escalated to if he'd actually met you. I don't know. I guess maybe I was afraid that he'd be too much of himself around you and I didn't want to push that on you. I didn't need him giving you shit, too."

"What'd he give you shit about? Having a female partner?" I ask before really thinking.

His answer comes faster than I'd anticipated. "Nope. Just about you."

I hesitate for a half-step and have to quickly compensate with a longer stride to come shoulder-to-shoulder with him again. We've already covered the three blocks to the pub and I can see the neon Guinness sign in the window. The entrance is on the corner closest to us, the heavy wooden doors elevated upon two small steps. As we reach the bottom of the steps, I manage to speak again. "Me? What about me?" I'm not sure I really want to know.

He climbs up the steps, standing on the landing, and pushes the door open with his right hand, bracing the door with his forearm to hold it open. He answers me while he's doing this. "About why I haven't slept with you yet." Only then does he look the short distance down at me, waiting for me to enter the restaurant.

Which is something I might do, if I weren't shocked motionless. All I can do is blink at him. Well, Casey would be pissed at me. Rule One of cross-examination: Never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. If you dare to venture into the unknown, you're stuck with whatever answer comes your way. If you're dumb enough to ask, you'd better be smart enough to recover.

"Oh." Good recovery. Just great. I drop my eyes from his and walk through the door, completely ignoring the whiff of cologne drifting off his body that I've somehow only now noticed, despite having just walked three blocks with the man. Noticed, and completely ignored. It's certainly not lingering in the air I'm breathing. Not at all.

I need a beer.

I need a beer.

I don't know what on earth possessed me to tell her what I just did. I figure since my mental-to-verbal filter isn't working, I may as well have a beer. Or two. As Olivia brushes by me into the pub, I catch a hint of her perfume and increase the number of necessary beers to at least three. Thanks to my lack of thinking before speaking, this may turn into a much longer night than I'd expected.

And I'm thinking of that as a bad thing why?

Probably because this is supposed to just be a quick dinner with my partner.

I follow her inside, letting the door swing closed behind me. It's a Tuesday night, so the place is anything but crowded. There are enough people milling around to make for a busy atmosphere, but not too many as to not allow us to seat ourselves in a booth along a side wall. She slides into the nearest side and I walk past to sit across from her. My eyes immediately flick longingly over my right shoulder to where the bar sits to the side and behind me. Then her calf brushes against the outside of my left leg and my gaze shoots back to her. She ducks her head slightly and mumbles a sheepish "Sorry."

"It's okay," I assure her. More than. But I don't say that. Now, if I could figure out why I'm thinking it, that would be a great help.

"If I cross my legs, I'll bang my knee on the table if I don't stretch them out a little," she offers as an explanation for her limbs' intrusion into my side of the leg room.

I can only feel our calves touching. What's this about crossing her…oh shit. There it is right there. She's apparently crossed her right leg over her left, because the toe of her shoe and top of her foot are now curled lightly around the outside of my own right leg. I think I just felt a toenail gently poke the back of my calf.

Four beers. I am definitely going to need four beers.

A server drops by our table bearing napkin-wrapped silverware and two glasses of ice water, and I'm ready in an instant to get the first beer headed my way. Only, Liv beats me to it. She glances up at the college-aged girl with the green apron tied around her waist and requests a Guinness. I'm again ready to order my own, when Liv motions across the table at me with a flick of her wrist. "I'm pretty sure he needs one, too." The girl spins on her heels and heads off toward the bar.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think that…no, I'm sure. My partner just ordered for me. Huh. I must look a bit surprised because the look on her face is rather amused. She watches me for a few seconds. "What? You did need a beer, didn't you?"

She has no idea.

"Come on. I saw you staring at the bar. Besides, I figure you must be going stir crazy having to sit around home all day, so a beer will do you good. Remember, it's on me." She's kind of smirking now.

And she really does have no idea, apparently. I have a sneaking suspicion that my craving for dark and foamy alcohol has very little to do with my DL and more to do with…holy shit, she just shifted her legs. That made her foot slide slightly up my calf as she withdrew her right leg and instead crossed her left over the right. She must have her legs tilted to the side now because I can feel her left knee bumping gently into mine. I never really realized how restless her legs can get until the day she showed up at my front steps before sunrise after the Sennet case. I remember this same feeling…her knee just lightly bumping against my own. It's a strange sort of restlessness, though. It doesn't seem jittery at all. More like a way to put a beat to things—a rhythm. A way to keep a steady undercurrent to whatever speed the rest of her is going at the time.

I suppose I should say something. "No, you're right. I need a beer. Of course, I'm pretty sure that won't be the only one I'm drinking, so why don't you let me get the bar tab? You can pick up dinner." There's no way I wouldn't feel guilty attacking the bar like I want to on her account.

"Uh-uh," she says with a shake of her head, waves of hair falling over her shoulders. "It's on me. All of it. I owe you." She narrows her brown eyes at me then. "Just how much are you planning to drink tonight, Stabler?"

No fucking clue. So I shrug.

She smothers a laugh and rolls her eyes before studying the menu. "Throw up on me and I'll kill you."

I go ahead and chuckle at her. "Don't worry, I'll keep you clean. My aim's pretty damn good."

"Yeah, but mine's better." She doesn't lift her eyes from the menu, but I can see her smile. "If you miss, I won't."

The first round of beer arrives and our server leaves with orders for two cheeseburgers—a bacon one for me, swiss and mushroom for her. I find myself relieved in a way when she orders her burger, making sure to clarify she'd like it medium-rare (like me), the way she always has. I'm smiling at her when she looks across the table. "What?"

My smile gets wider. "Just glad to see the eco-freaks didn't turn you into a vegetarian, too."

Her knee bumps mine. "Now you know that could never happen." She takes a sip of her beer and takes a few moments to really look around her at the interior of the pub. "This is a neat place. If the food's any good, I might be addicted."

"Admit it, you just want to hang out with Murphy more often." She rolls her eyes with a shake of her head as her gaze returns to mine. "So, what did you get out of Danforth?"

"They agreed to fully cover all lifetime medical expenses for the families that were exposed to the pesticide. That's what I'd wanted more than anything." She seems satisfied.

"What about you?" I ask.

Her forehead creases slightly as her brows furrow.

"You were exposed to it, too. Are they covering your medical expenses?"

She considers this in such a way that suggests the thought had never occurred to her. Her gaze is trained on her beer, the fingers of her left hand wrapped around it while she traces the rim of the glass with her right index finger. "You know, I never even thought about it that way."

Just like Liv. Even though she called herself a victim, when it came right down to it, she always put everyone else first.

"I mean, I wanted to know what I was exposed to and what the risks were. I just never stopped to think that there could possibly be any long-term effects." She looks a bit worried now, drawing her lower lip into her mouth. That wasn't my intention. After all, she's fine. The doctor's say she's fine.

"Liv, I'm sure you're not going to have any long-term issues because of it. The doctor's cleared you already. I just thought it might be nice to never have to pay any doctor's bills again. Fantastic though our health plan may be," I add sarcastically.

She nods slowly, lifting her finger from the rim of the glass and bringing it to her mouth. Her lips, which I swear I'm only noticing are glistening with a sheer wash of a wine color, briefly wrap around it to remove the foam it's collected. She follows it with a long, contemplative sip of her Guinness. I think she believes me.

I press her on the details of the Danforth case, wanting to know exactly what kind of dirty playing I had her doing by the time I left the station that night. She spends the next several minutes describing how she spent far too long crouched on top of a toilet in the men's room of the corporate headquarters, feet perched precariously on either side of the seat, where one wrong shift of weight would result in her having a foot in the water. She glares at me when I begin to laugh uncontrollably, but she's soon joining in. I'm unbelievably proud of her for pursuing this case until the end. It isn't as though I'd have expected anything less of her—after all these years, I know to never underestimate her or her determination to finish a job. When it's personal, however…when you're more wrapped up in a case than you want to be, it's always harder. But, then, she's Olivia. And she fought. She won.

It isn't long before two burgers and two more beers are laid in front of us. I immediately reach for the glass bottle of ketchup on the end of the table against the wall and she takes a drink from her second beer as she watches me pour a sizeable pool of it on the side of my plate. While I'm recapping the bottle, she grabs a French fry from her own plate, reaches across the table to mine and swipes it through the ketchup. As she leans forward, her knee presses into mine. She bites the fry in half, then looks at me with widened eyes. "What? Don't look at me like you didn't expect me to do that."

I twist my lips into a wry half-smirk as she pops the other half of the fry into her mouth. I'm not surprised, just amused. "I just still find it funny that, after all this time, you're still too lazy to pour your own ketchup."

She narrows her eyes, dragging another fry across my plate. "I'm not lazy. I just hate those goddamn bottles. I'm cursed with them. I either get nothing or half the damn bottle all over my plate. And, don't give me that 'hit it on the 57' line," she says accusingly, pointing the red fry at me. "That's bullshit."

I do know all of this, of course. She's been using my ketchup for almost eight years. I've learned in time to always pour enough for two people.

I ask her for more details as we start into the burgers. She gives them, and swaps her crossed legs again. I drain about a third of my beer when her foot finds its way around my calf again. She's beyond looking apologetic for it now—she's explained herself once, and for Olivia, that's enough. As far as I'm concerned, it's really nothing to be sorry about to begin with.

She asks me about the Rangers game because she now knows their schedule as well as I. After all these years, she converted into quite the satisfactory hockey fan. I don't think she'd ever given the sport the time of day when I'd first met her. She's nothing if not a fast learner, though. The first handful of years of our partnership, she learned by asking questions. If I were talking about a Rangers game, she'd ask questions. Later on, if I were talking about Dickie's pee-wee hockey league, she'd ask questions using her improved vernacular of the sport. Slowly, she began watching the occasional game, which I knew because she'd come to work the next day prepared to talk about it if I brought it up. She never broached the subject herself, but she was ready if it came her way.

I took her to a game a few years ago, before my marriage started falling apart. I dropped by her place to pick her up and informed her when she answered the door that her attire was entirely inadequate. I produced one of my Rangers jerseys from behind my back and yanked it over her head, covering her black sweater and essentially drowning her in the lightweight fabric. She'd scowled at me and run her hands through her hair where I'd just messed it up. She spent the first two periods studying, her eyes intent on the ice, following the puck, the players, all the action she could absorb. By the third period, she was on her feet calling the official a very unfriendly name for missing an obvious tripping call.

We should definitely do that again.

We're finishing dinner and round two of the Guinness when I hear him.