Epilogue: One Week Later

Epilogue I

Casey Novak

Casey Novak went to the hospital room with some trepidation. When she called Elliot and told him that she would stop by today, he told her that she might run into Kathy and the kids, who would also be there.

At first, Casey was tempted to call off her visit, stating she had business to attend to at work—and that wouldn't be a lie, for since she returned to her job at the D.A.'s office, Casey had been confronted by a mountain of paperwork. But she realized that the real, deeper reason would be she wanted to avoid seeing Kathy. She had met Kathy before, but this would be the first time Casey had seen Elliot's ex-wife as his lover. And Casey realized she was being foolish. She didn't do anything wrong, and neither did Elliot. But she still felt a sense of apprehension at the thought of meeting Kathy today.

When she arrived at the doorway to Elliot's room, Casey's worse fears were confirmed when she saw Elliot, who sat up in his hospital bed, speaking with Kathy, who sat in a chair by the window. It was in this instant that Casey realized the root of her fear; it wasn't so much from guilt, but from the deeply imbedded fear that Elliot might leave Casey and get back together with his wife. Casey noted that—just before they took note of her arrival—Elliot and Kathy spoke in the hushed, casual tone of a couple that had been together for a very long time. And the hard look that Kathy gave Casey also didn't help matters, as well.

"Hey!" Elliot said to her with a wave.

Casey put on her best smile; trying to avoid the dagger-like stare that Kathy threw at her. "Hi, how are you feeling?"

"Much better," he told her. "I'm being released tomorrow."

"That's great."

After an uneasy pause, Maureen, Elliot's eldest daughter, strode into the room, shaking her head in weariness. "Mom, Dickie still wants something from the vending machine, and I'm all out of quarters."

"What?" Kathy said with a frown. "The food in the cafeteria isn't good enough for him?"

"Apparently not," Maureen replied. "Would anybody really mind if I slapped him silly?"

"Hey, watch it, kid!" Elliot said in jest. "There's an ADA present!"

In sharp contrast to her mother, when Maureen saw Casey, she burst into a warm smile. "Oh, no, I'm busted! Hi, Casey."

"Hey, Maureen, how are you?"

"Dealing with my little brother," Maureen said, "which means I'm extremely aggravated, as usual."

"C'mon, Maureen," Kathy said, as she got up from the chair with a heavy sigh. "I could use something to eat, anyway."

"See you later, daddy," Maureen said, as she left with her mother. "Take care, Casey."

"You too, Maureen," Casey said. And then, deciding to go out on a limb, she added, "Bye, Kathy."

Kathy abruptly left without saying another word, or so much as a glance over her shoulder at Casey. As if to make up for this, Maureen gave Casey one last little wave before she left the room.

'What a sweet kid,' Casey thought with a smile. Then her smile faded when she realized that Maureen was actually in her early twenties; no more than a few years younger she was.

"Something wrong?" Elliot asked.

She turned to face him and said, "I just realized that I'm only a fewyears older than the eldest daughter of the man I love."

Elliot rolled his yes skyward at that. "Oh yeah, thanks, Case. Now I feel really old…"

Casey burst into laughter as she came over and patted his arm. "Sorry. Look, I can't stay long; I'm meeting with the judge in his chambers regarding the Beauchamp case. Norton has filed a motion to throw out the videotapes. Don't worry," she quickly added, "She hasn't a snowball's chance in hell. Besides, I know the judge, and he loves me."

"You got right back on the horse again, didn't you?" Elliot said with a satisfied grin.

"Yeah, Branch asked if I needed some more time off, but I really didn't want to sit out the Beauchamp case. I've had the pleasure of arraigning him this morning."

"Did you send him our love?"

Casey smiled. "Somebody was giving Beauchamp some love at Riker's. He showed up in court with a black eye. Norton was doing her best to raise holy hell about it. She claimed that her poor client was the victim of a brutal, oppressive police state, and so on."

"Jeez," Elliot said with a shake of his head. "Maybe you should have taken a few extra days off after all."

"No, I've tangled with Norton twice before. And I've beaten her both times. I'm looking forward to beating her again." Something occurred to Casey, and she grinned broadly. "You know, it just hit me: it wasn't so long ago that I was the one in the hospital bed and you came to see me. And now everything's been reversed. You're the one in bed this time."

Elliot smiled as he reached out and grasped Casey's hand. "I'm looking forward to the time when we can both be in bed together again."

"Me too," Casey said, as she smiled at that thought. But then her smile faded slightly when she thought of Kathy once more. Yet this didn't feel like the right time to bring up that sort of thing. "Well, I guess I'll get going. I'll call you later?"

But Elliot would not let go of her hand. "You all right?" he asked with concern.

"Yeah," she lied. "I'm ok."

"No you're not," he softly told her. "There's something bothering you, Casey. What is it?"

"You can always see right through me," Casey whispered as she glanced at the floor momentarily. She met his eyes again. "It's just that, seeing you with Kathy like this…I feel like…."

She shook her head at the frustration at not being able to find the right words. 'I'm so damned eloquent in court,' she bitterly thought, 'but when it comes to my personal life, I'm always tongue-tied.'

"I just need to know something, Elliot," she finally said. "Is there anything left between you and Kathy? Because if there is, if there's a chance of you getting back to together with her, then I don't want to be the one who comes between you two. I won't do that, all right?"

"I understand perfectly. And it is over," he solemnly told her. "It's been over long before you and I got together. You're not coming in-between anything, Casey." To emphasize his point, he kissed her hand. "I've moved on, and I'd like for you to be with me. And speaking of which." He reached over to the table and handed her a plastic bag. "Consider that my anniversary gift to you."

Casey stared at him. "Our anniversary?"

"Yeah, well, it's been over a full week since we first got together," he said with smile.

When Casey opened the bag, she burst into giggles when she saw a DVD of Dracula II: The Ascension inside. It was the movie she had been watching while she was in protective custody. She never got a chance to finish it. "You remembered!"

Elliot shrugged. "I recall you were pretty annoyed when you realized you never saw the end of that. So I asked Maureen to get a copy for me. Happy One Week Anniversary, Case."

"Happy One Week Anniversary. Thanks, El," Casey said, as they kissed passionately. "That's really sweet."

"Dickie, our resident family film critic, tells me that's only the first half of the story," Elliot told her. "Maureen couldn't find the other half yet."

"Oh, no, this is great," Casey said. She held up the DVD. "We've got something to do when you get out of here tomorrow."

"Among other things," Elliot said, now grinning broadly.

"Sounds like a plan," Casey said as she leaned over the bed and shared another passionate kiss with Elliot. She then paused and gave him a thoughtful look. "You know, Elliot, there's one more thing I need to know before this relationship goes any further."

"Name it."

"You don't have anybody else in your past with a grudge that I should know about, do you?" she jokingly asked.

Elliot's expression grew very solemn as he said, "Well, there's Mad Dog Meridian."

"Mad Dog Meridian?" Casey said uneasily.

"Yeah, he was also in the Marines with me. And I uh, accidentally shot off his hand during a training exercise," Elliot whispered. "He's been in a mental institution for the criminally insane ever since. He's being released for good behavior. And he's moving into my neighborhood. The doctors assure me that he'll behave himself, he won't fly into a psychotic rage…just so long as you don't mention the hook."

"The hook?" Casey asked, leaning forward. "What hook?"

"The hook they replaced his hand with," Elliot told her. "He's still kind of sensitive about it."

"Oh my God," Casey murmured, as she buried her face in her hands in disgust.

"Although they tell me that Mad Dog plays a great Captain Hook in the mental institute's annual production of Peter Pan," Elliot said, as he roared with laughter. "You should have seen your face for a split second there, Casey! Oh man, I can't wait to tell this to Liv!"

"You had me," Casey admitted, "right up until the hook for a hand part." She then glanced at her watch. "You're damned lucky that I've really got to get going! But this isn't over, El. I will get you back for that."

"You mean I'm not off the hook?" Elliot said, deadpan.

Casey let out a groan as she collected her things. "Jeez, you're really asking for it now, Stabler. I don't know how, but I will get back at you, soon." She blew him a kiss as she walked towards the door. "I'll talk to you later."

"Go and rip Beauchamp a new one for us," Elliot called after her.

"Interesting legal parlance, Detective Stabler," Casey replied with a smile. "I'll keep that tactic in mind."

Epilogue II

John Munch. One Day Later.

It was the end of a long day at the One Six. But for John Munch, there existed the rare possibility of a new beginning. He stood in the men's room staring at his reflection in the mirror above the sink. He didn't really know why he bothered to check himself, since he looked the same as always. He took off his shades, and seriously thought about leaving them off.

'I'm nervous,' he realized, as he put his glasses back on again. 'Mother of God, I am actually freaking out over this!'

It had been a normal day—at least as normal as it possibly could be for an SVU detective—until Munch heard from Cragen that Casey would be stopping by the squad room later. This was the first time Munch had seen her in several days; the last time he laid eyes on Casey was the rail yard, where she looked gorgeous even after having been put through the wringer and while wearing Elliot's jacket. Munch had been a little jealous of Elliot for turning out to be her knight in shining armor, but he couldn't really fault the guy. If it weren't for Elliot, they never would have found the rail yard in the first place. After facing the horrifying prospect of losing Casey, as well as Olivia, Munch was just grateful to Elliot for his Herculean efforts at finding them in the nick of time.

Munch wondered what he would say to Casey when he saw her. It had been so long since he asked a woman out that he felt pretty rusty. Then he realized that he was simply putting too much pressure on himself; Casey was a friend—true, Munch wanted their relationship to be much more than that, but it occurred to him that the best approach to this situation would be to simply walk up to her and ask if she'd like to go out for coffee.

'We'd be going out just like friends,' Munch thought with a nod of his head. 'And if, over the course of the evening, it should grow into something much more than friendship, then so much the better.'

With his plan of approach set, Munch steeled himself as he went back out to the squad room. He found Casey consulting with Cragen over some files. And he was surprised to see Elliot chatting with Olivia.

"Hey, look whom they finally let out," Munch said, as he clapped a hand on Elliot's shoulder in greeting.

"Yeah, I was released today," Elliot told him. "I'm just picking up my paycheck and some mail. I've still got the rest of the week off, so I'm taking it."

"Good idea. Have you heard about Lister? Or, I should say, Lister's body?"

"No, what happened?"

"It's still at the morgue," Munch said.

"After all this time?" Elliot asked.

"Nobody will claim it," Munch replied. "Certainly not the NSA. If they did, then they'd be admitting to the existence of the Spec-Op-For program. Do you know if Lister had any family?"

Elliot shook his head. "No, he was raised in orphanages all his life. And he was an only child."

"Warner told me that if nobody claims the body, then it'll be sent for burial on Hart Island," Olivia said.

"A pauper's grave," Elliot said, with a nod of contentment. "That's just what that bastard deserves."

Munch perked up when he saw Casey and Cragen were finished with their consultation. Just as Casey bid the Captain farewell and came over to the group, Munch braced himself, mentally reciting the obviously simple lines of asking her out for a cup of coffee in his head. Never had a plain question been so hard for him to ask.

"Yo, John," Fin said. He stood by his desk. "I gotta talk to you about something."

"Yeah, what is it?" Munch said absently.

"C'mon over here," Fin said with a wave of his hand. "It's personal, man."

Munch, who was eager to speak with Casey, very reluctantly went over to Fin. "What is it?" he asked, annoyed.

Fin glanced at the others, and then said in a whisper, "Why don't we go over by the windows for a little more privacy?"

"What is it with you?" Munch asked. "I'm the one who supposed to be paranoid, remember?"

Munch glanced back at Casey just then.

And got the shock of his life.

Casey walked up to Elliot, and whispered something to him that made Elliot laugh.

And then she very gently rubbed his stomach.

It was a very discreet gesture, and it lasted within the blink of an eye. But Munch had been a detective, a trained observer of human behavior, for far too long to realize that that gesture between Casey and Elliot was anything but an intimate one.

'I'm too late,' Munch thought, as his hopes sank within his chest. 'I'm too damned late…or maybe I never really had a chance to begin with….'

Fin leaned in close and whispered, "I'm sorry man."

"That's what you were going to tell me?" Munch asked.

Fin sheepishly nodded.

Munch affectionately grabbed him by the shoulder. "Thanks."

"For what?" Fin said. "I didn't do anything."

"You were still looking out for me," Munch told him. "I appreciate it."

Munch crossed the squad room to Cragen's office, where he informed the Captain that he was going home. Then he grabbed his coat and quickly bid everyone else good night.

He stood by the elevator, hoping it would come up quickly before Elliot and Casey left, so he wouldn't have to ride down with them. Fin came over, clad in his coat. He leaned up against the wall with his arms crossed and said, "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"Home," Munch replied with a heavy sigh. "I figure I'll watch a little History Channel before I cry myself to sleep."

Fin chuckled. "I don't think so, John. You and me are going out tonight, and we're gonna get stone-cold drunk."

Munch nodded. "Sad to say, that's the best offer I've had all week. Where are we going, Mulligan's?"

"Nah," Fin said with a shake of his head. "I've got another place in mind. It's a little off the beaten track, if you know what I mean."

"This evening you've got planned," Munch said, "it wouldn't include any debasing and debauchery, would it?"

"Depends on your definition of debasing and debauchery," Fin coolly replied.

"I'm intrigued," Munch said with a nod.

Just then the elevator doors opened, and Munch found himself staring into the smiling face of Alex Eames. She stood in the elevator holding a bunch of folders that threatened to slip out of her grasp at any moment.

"Oh, thanks," she said, as Munch and Fin quickly relieved her of the folders. "I was just on my way home, and with the Lister case now closed, I'd thought I'd stop by and bring these files back to you guys."

"I got 'em, I got 'em, don't worry," Fin said, as he grabbed all the files from both Eames and Munch's hands. "Let me take them off your hands."

As Fin eagerly ran down the hallway with the files, Munch stared after his partner with a puzzled look before he diverted his attention back to Eames.

"He's got a lot of energy for the end of the day," Eames remarked as she stepped out of the elevator. "Or is he just starting the night shift?"

"No, he's been working the day shift with me," Munch said. "We were just about to go out for a drink, in fact."

Eames appeared disconcerted. "Oh. I see."

"Something wrong?" Munch asked.

"No, well…actually, I was going to ask if you were busy tonight," Eames replied, a little shyly. "It's just that I've been aching to hear the details about your meeting with the Lone Gunmen. But since you already have plans…then never mind."

"You're more than welcome to join us," Munch offered.

"Oh no, I don't want to impose."

"Nonsense, it's no imposition."

"You sure?" Eames asked hopefully.

"Of course," Munch said. He glanced down the hall and wondered what was keeping Fin. Just before he was about to go and check, Fin appeared, without his jacket. Munch turned to Eames and said, "Would you excuse me for just a sec?"

"Sure," she said.

When Munch met Fin halfway down the hallway—out of Eames' earshot—he asked, "Where's your coat?"

"Uh, I'm gonna stay and put the files back," Fin told him. "You go ahead."

"What? Did Cragen order you to do that?"

"Yeah, he did." Fin slipped him a note written on a torn sheet of paper. "Remember the place I mentioned, the one that's off the beaten track? That's the address. Take Eames there. The two of you should really enjoy it."

Munch glared suspiciously at his partner. "Fin, what the hell are you doing?"

"What?" Fin said innocently. "I ain't doing nothing, man. Just because I got stuck with paperwork doesn't mean you have to suffer, too, right? Go on, John. Have a good time. Tell me all about it tomorrow."

Munch nodded. "Look, Eames is very nice."

"Oh, she is indeed," Fin agreed.

"But this isn't a date," Munch said. "Just so you know—and believe me, Fin, I know what you're trying to do here—but Eames and I, we're just a couple of off-duty cops going out for a drink, that's all."

"Of course, of course," Fin said, grinning. "Whatever, man. See you tomorrow."

"Yeah, see ya." Munch turned around and walked back to Eames, who stood pressing the elevator button. "Fin can't make it, so it'll be just the two of us."

"Just the two of us, huh?" Eames said with a nod. Then she burst into a broad smile. "Cool."

Munch found himself mesmerized by her smile. 'Alex,' he told himself. 'Her name is Alex. Stop calling her Eames!' As they stepped onto the elevator, Munch thought, 'And we're still just friends going out for a drink, that's it.'

Yet as Alex Eames shyly glanced up at him, and gave him another beguiling smile, Munch discovered that his fondness for this woman grew by the second.

'We're just friends, that's all,' Munch thought, as the elevator doors closed shut, 'but then again, if one thing should lead to another….'

Epilogue III

Olivia Benson

Olivia Benson smiled as she and Fin watched Munch and Eames as they boarded the elevator down the hall.

Fin grinned at her and said, "Do they make a great couple, or what?"

Olivia could not help but laugh. "Who'd ever think that you, of all people, would be a regular yenta, Fin?"

He stared at her blankly. "A what-a?"

"A yenta, a matchmaker," Olivia told him.

"Aw, no," Fin said sheepishly, as they both walked back into the squad room. "I'm just looking out for my boy Johnny Munch is all. Speaking of matchmaking, how's it going with you and Eric?"

"I'm seeing him tonight," Olivia said, being careful not to let her feelings of dread show. She stared at Elliot and Casey, who stood murmuring lovey-dovey comments to each other, as they got ready to leave. "Oh sweet Jesus guys," she said jokingly, "get a room, huh?"

"For your information, we're about to," Elliot shot back, as he got his jacket.

"Good night, Liv, Fin," Casey said, as she and Elliot walked out the squad room.

"'Night, Case, El."

"Wait, I'll ride down with you guys," Fin said. "Liv, you coming?"

Before she could answer, Cragen came out of his office just then with a slender package. "Oh, good, you're still here. This came for you, Olivia."

When he handed it to her, Olivia placed it down on her desk. It was a small manila envelope, sealed with clear tape. Her name and address were typewritten on a label. There was no return address. There wasn't even a postmark on the envelope.

She quickly glanced up at Fin and the others, who were still waiting on her answer, and said, "You guys go ahead. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll see you next week, Liv," Elliot told her. He paused and added, "You're seeing lover boy tonight, aren't you?"

"His name is Eric," Olivia said patiently. "And yes, I'm seeing him tonight."

Elliot gave her the thumbs up sign. "Good luck."

Olivia smiled at him. She didn't have the heart to tell them that she had already decided to break it off with Eric. That was actually the main reason she was seeing him tonight, to gently break the news to him. "Thanks."

After they left, Olivia intently regarded the envelope. "Cap, did this even come through the mail?" she asked.

Cragen shook his head as he stopped at the doorway to his office. "Apparently not. I think it was hand-delivered."

Intrigued, Olivia pulled out her pocketknife and slit the envelope open on one end. A folded-up note slid out onto the desk. She held her breath, not wanting to inhale anything nasty that might have been placed inside the envelope. Since the anthrax attacks, which struck the mail shortly after 9/11 Olivia was usually very wary of strange packages that were sent to her. Yet once she unfolded the note by prying it open with the tip of her knife, Olivia let out her breath in a sharp rush of air when she saw whom it was from.

She read the note, and then read it over again. Olivia then sat down at her desk and read the note slowly once more, losing all track of time until she noted that Cragen stood over her.

The captain, who wore his coat and hat, regarded her with concern. "Everything ok, Olivia?"

"Everything's fine, Cap," Olivia said, as she quickly scooped the note back into the envelope. Cragen hesitated, looking as if he were about to pry further. But instead he nodded and bid her goodnight. Olivia let out a sigh of relief. She was grateful that she didn't have to lie to Don Cragen; that man was the closest thing to a real father that she ever had in her life.

As much as she wanted to reread the note once more, a glance at her watch told Olivia that she was going to be late for her meeting with Eric if she did not get going right away. She got her personal things together, put her coat on, and left the One Six.

For once, she arrived at Eric's apartment on time. He lived on the third floor of a converted brownstone, and he was waiting for her in the hallway when Olivia stepped out of the elevator.

"Hey, babe," Eric said, giving her a hug.

"Hey," Olivia replied, feeling unsteady. She wasn't sure what was the best way to break the news to him.

When they broke their embrace, she was about to tell him right then and there, but Eric abruptly grabbed her hand and practically pulled her inside his apartment. She smelled the delicious aroma of pasta and Italian sauce cooking on the stove in the kitchen, and Olivia felt like an absolute troll for what she was about to do to this poor man.

Eric glanced at her foot with approval. "Your ankle looks like it healed up nicely."

"Yeah, I didn't break it after all," she replied. "I only sprained it."

He gazed solemnly at her, making Olivia wonder if Eric sensed she had bad news for him. "You doing ok otherwise?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. Thanks."

"I saw you on the news," he said. "Well, they talked about you and Casey. They showed an old photo of you. Your hair was darker, and a lot shorter. I thought they used the wrong picture until I saw it really was you. You looked so different, then. Your hair was really short, Liv."

Olivia absently ran her hand through her shoulder-length hair. 'Alex always did like my hair short,' she thought. Then Olivia shook her head. 'Oh Christ, what are you doing? Put an end to this, now.'

"Listen, Eric," she said softly. "I have to talk to you about something…."

He nodded. "Yeah, I know."

Olivia stared at him, stunned. "You know?"

"Yeah, I've been teasing you for the longest time about how I have something that I want to show you," he said. "And now that you're here, you just want to cut right to the chase, right? I can't say that I blame you. Come on."

The fact of the matter was, in light of the events that had occurred over the last week, Olivia had quite honestly forgotten all about the little surprise that Eric had wanted to show her. And as much as a part of her thought it was wrong to go through with it, Olivia still found herself far too curious to see just what the hell he was going to show her.

Eric led her through the house into his den, which contained an intimidating-looking computer set up in an area that was his primary workspace. Olivia gave him a strange look as she pointed at the computer. "Is this what you wanted to show me?"

"No," Eric said. He gestured at the wall that was directly behind her. It was covered with assorted plaques and various awards. When Olivia got a closer look, she saw they were all citations and commendations from the Pennsylvania State Police to Trooper David Anders. She then saw a photograph of a smiling PSP Trooper standing with a young boy—a boy who looked very much like Eric when he was a child.

Olivia glanced at Eric and asked, "Your dad?"

"Yes. He was with the Pennsylvania State Police. He retired last year. When I was a kid, he missed my eleventh birthday party. He was supposed to be off duty that day, but he wound up working overtime from the night before. I remembered I hated him so intensely! When he finally came home, I refused to talk to him for an entire day, until my mother took me aside and told me why he couldn't attend my birthday party."

Eric shook his head. "You know what my dad was doing? Just before his shift was about to end, he gets a report of a little boy who was reported lost in the woods. And so he and the other troopers from his barracks spent the entire night searching for him in the woods. It's not until well into the next day that they finally find the kid, alive and well. While I sulked at home, hating my dad's guts because he missed my birthday party, he was out saving somebody's life. I realized then how shallow I had acted, and I just felt horrible about it."

"You were just a kid, Eric," Olivia said with a shake of her head. "You shouldn't blame yourself for missing your dad."

"But I never realized the scope of the job that he did until that day," Eric said. "I vowed to myself that I would never act that selfish about it ever again. And so whenever you have to miss one of our dates because of your job, and I tell you that I understand…believe me, Olivia, I really do understand."

Olivia stood there, astonished. It struck her that, all along, she had been the one who did not understand. She had completely misread Eric. She thought he was a somewhat decent fellow who had always been so understandingbecause he was over-eager to start a relationship with her. And perhaps that was still the case, yet his understanding of the demands of her job ran far deeper than she originally had thought. He was truly a decent man, and would make a wonderful companion for a very lucky woman.

Some other woman.

Olivia still could not bring herself to love him, not like he wanted. Not only wasn't she not ready, but Olivia wasn't sure if she ever would be. She could not surrender her love of Alex so easily, so soon. Nor could she shake the brutal feeling of betraying a lover whom she been separated from against her will.

And so she told him. Olivia explained the situation as best she could to Eric.

He listened intently to every word she said. And when she was finished, he leaned back against the desk and thoughtfully stared at the floor.

"I'm so sorry," Olivia told him.

"You have nothing to apologize for," he said. He glanced up at her. "You still love her very much don't you?"

"Yes. I swear to you, I really thought I was ready to move on. But when Alex recently came back…" She shook her head in despair. "Listen, maybe I should leave now."

"What?" Eric said. "And let all that pasta go to waste?"

She stared at him in bewilderment. "You still want me to stay?"

"You're a really special person, Liv," Eric said as he came over to her. "And I would love to still have you in my life. I realize you don't want a boyfriend. But would you like a friend instead?"

"Yeah." Tearing up, she gave him a hug in response. "Oh God, yeah. I'd really like that, Eric."

"You still up for dinner and a movie, Liv?" he asked her.

"Sure," she replied, wiping her eyes. "I'm starved."

They went out to the kitchen, where the pasta had been cooking all the while they had their discussion in the den. "It's a little soggy," Eric said, as he stirred it with a critical eye. "In fact it's very soggy."

"I like soggy pasta," Olivia said. She picked up a DVD that was on the kitchen counter. It was a movie called Lake Placid. "Is this what we're watching later?"

"Yeah, have you seen it?"

"No," Olivia said. She held up the DVD cover and asked, "Um, is this an alligator?"

"Yep, it's a big alligator movie. It's very good," he insisted, when Olivia made a face. "Trust me. It's very funny. It's got Bridget Fonda, and Bill Pullman, and that other actress—I forget her name, but she played Dr. Greene's girlfriend on ER. She's on that cop show now, Prince Street. You ever see it?"

"I don't watch cop shows," Olivia said with distain. "After working as a cop all day, the last thing I want to do is watch The Job on TV at night."

"What about a big alligator movie? Would you watch that?"

"Sure," Olivia said with a shrug. "First time for everything."

The rest of the evening went by very smoothly. At first Olivia wasn't sure if it had been a good idea for her to stay. Yet she was soon glad that she did. As they both sat and laughed their way through the movie, Olivia was grateful to still be with Eric, even as a friend. She cherished his company, now even more so. If her fearful encounter with the late Edward Lister had taught Olivia anything, it was that you must treasure every happy moment of life you have, for it can all be taken away from you in a blink of an eye.

Olivia was still in a reflective mood even after she left Eric's home. She had promised him that she would host the next movie night, with her selection of a movie. The problem was she would have to come up with dinner, as well. And Olivia never had been much of a cook. She wondered if Eric would accept take-out Chinese food as a proper dinner.

'Alex always loved Chinese food,' she thought wistfully. Olivia smiled when she recalled how Alex had complained about the lack of decent Chinese restaurants in Wisconsin when she returned to New York recently.

She wondered where the US Marshals had put Alex after she reentered the witness protection program. It wouldn't be Wisconsin again, that was for sure. Wherever Alex wound up this time, Olivia hoped she now had access to a decent Chinese place.

When Olivia came to a corner, she chose that moment to pull the letter from her jacket pocket. She opened it and read it once more under the illumination of a streetlight.

'Saw you on the news,' the letter read, 'and I'm extremely relieved to see that you're all right. I'm fine. I've been resettled, and doing as well as I can be. Give my best to Elliot, Casey and the others. And take care of yourself, Liv. Stay well and healthy. And remember that no matter where I am, no matter where I go, you are always in my thoughts. I hope to see you soon. Your Alex.'

"My Alex," Olivia whispered, as she held the letter close to her chest, to her heart. "I will wait for you."

Olivia smiled as she thought of George Huang, her friend and sometime shrink, who had advised her to move on with her love life. 'George probably wouldn't approve of my decision,' she thought. 'But I've never sought approval from anybody regarding how I live my life, and I'm not about to start now.'

Still smiling, Olivia tucked the letter back into her jacket pocket and strode down the street, towards her home.

The End