Author's Note's: Okay, I made some changes, along with adding a final part to this and posting the whole thing at once.

As far as my other stuff, Inside Out is still on going, but it's very tricky going. Also, Dea Ex Machina will be changed and... well, stuff's going on, what can I say?

Oh, and lyrics belong to Howie Day, Dido, and Bryan Adams. I don't own them.

Read, review, make my day...

Law and Order- S.V.U.: Life's Changes

Detective Cassandra (Cassie) Ross gripped her gun tightly as she went into the warehouse. She stopped when she saw an all-too-familiar sight. A young woman, a college student, was lying on the ground, slashed. Cassie carefully stepped closer. The woman seemed to be alone, but Cassie took no chances. The man who did this was probably still around. She knelt down beside the girl and felt for a pulse, all the while keeping her eyes and ears open for any sounds, whether good or bad. Finding a steady pulse, Cassie pulled her radio. "Surround Team Blue, victim is alive. Request immediate medical assistance. Suspect Adams Peters is still at large—"

"No, I'm not," said a voice behind her.

Cassie jumped up and whirled around, gun aimed at his heart. "Drop it, Peters. Drop the gun."

In Peters' hand was a 9mm, and it was pointed at her. Cassie tried to stay calm, but the hairs on the back of her neck were tingling. She didn't want to admit it, but she was scared. And looking in Peters' eyes, she knew that he knew that. "You know, Detective, I thought you'd be here later. Traffic's a bear this time of day."

"Put the gun down," Cassie repeated, trying to maintain control of the scene. "Backup's coming. There's nothing you can do."

Peters lowered his gun, but a smile remained on his face. He liked toying with this detective. She was calm, and he wanted to crack her cool exterior. Peters wanted to leave her something to remember him by. "Sure there is."

Cassie didn't see him pull the trigger, or hear the blast of the gun. Her mind was in tunnel-mode—nothing else mattered. All she knew was that one minute she was staring Peters in the face, and the next he was walking calmly away. Cassie tried to chase after him, but fell. As soon as her leg hit the cement floor and felt the piercing pain, she realized what had happened. "Oh, my God," she said, slowly. "I've been shot. Again."


Captain Jake Roberts of the Brooklyn, New York Police Department couldn't believe what he saw when his team burst into the empty warehouse. Cassie was lying on her back, looking… strangely relaxed, almost like she was… "Cassie. Cassie! Damnit, say something," he said, praying she wasn't dead.

"You know, bullets are kind of painful," Cassie said, still relaxed and calm, like getting shot was an everyday thing.

Roberts gave a relieved sigh that blended with a harsh laugh. "Yeah, they are." He grabbed his own radio and called for two ambulances. "Cassie, hold on, okay? Don't die on me."

"Sure. No problem," Cassie said, looking around at Roberts. "Only… may I pass out now? This is really hurting."

Roberts was checking on Peters' latest victim when Cassie said this. He turned to look at her, while still keeping his fingers on her pulse. "Uh… sure."

Cassie smiled. "Great. Thanks." Then her eyes rolled back as she lost consciousness.

"Captain Roberts!"

Roberts stood as the Special Victims Unit from Manhattan came in followed by EMTs. John Munch, another detective looked at Roberts. "What happened?"

"Ross got shot. Again." As one group of EMTs got Cassie stabilized, Roberts sighed. "Part of me is starting to think she likes being shot. She seemed a bit too relaxed."

"Ross is an odd duck, I gotta say that."

"Yeah," Roberts agreed as Cassie was taken away. "But she's a damn good cop, too. If she dies, I'm going to have a hell of a time replacing her."


When Cassie woke up, she saw that her leg was in a cast just past her knee. She also noticed the now familiar morphine drip hooked up to her arm. "Oh, wonderful," she said rather offhandedly.

"Hey, it could have been worse," said Detective John Munch. He smiled at Cassie, who smiled back.

"Hey, Munch. Little late, aren't ya? Usually you're there when I get caught."

"I just wanted to let you know that Peters got away."

Cassie sighed. "Yeah. I figured. Probably gone into hiding for a couple years."

"How's the leg?"

Cassie rolled her eyes. "How am I supposed to know? I've been unconscious, remember?" Seeing Munch's expression, she said, "It hurts. Muscle ache, no big."

"It's probably nothing. Damage from the bullet," Munch said, shrugging. "Come on, you've been shot how many times now?"

"4 times," Cassie said, thinking quickly.

"Are you sure you don't like getting shot?"

Cassie looked at him, shocked and bewildered. "Oh, sure, I love getting hit with small pieces of lead at high velocity. It's a thrill! You should try it."

"I'm serious. Cassie… Roberts is starting to worry that you're taking too many risks." Munch stopped as Cassie started tensing. "Hey, you okay?"

Cassie's breathing quickened. "I… I-I-I-I don't know." Then she relaxed. "It's okay. Muscle cramp, I guess. It's okay. I'm fine."

Munch watched her for a minute. "Want me to get the doctor?"

Cassie shook her head. "No. If it gets bad, I'll let you know."

"Sure. Hey, mind if the guys come in and visit?"

"Sure," Cassie said, sitting up a bit more as Olivia Benson, Finn Tutuola, Rochelle Davis, and Tim Hanson came in. Tutuola had just recently transferred to the SVU, but he'd already become quick friends with Ross.

Tim smirked when he saw Cassie. "Wow. What are you, a bullet magnet or something?"

"Can it, Detective. As I seem to remember, you let me get caught by the third bullet."

Tim laughed. "Okay, fair enough. So how are you doing, kid?"

Cassie sighed. "Okay. Broken bone…nothing to worry over."

Rochelle grinned. "That's good. If something were to happen to you… Well… that would be bad."

"Yeah. Plus you'd miss my sunny disposition," Cassie said, yawning.

Munch looked at Olivia. "Why don't you guys go fill everyone in? I'll stay here."

"Okay," Benson said, nodding. "Cassie, we'll see you later, okay?"

"Sure. Later."

After everyone filed out, Munch took a seat in one of the chairs in Cassie's room and kept an eye on her as she fell asleep.


4 days later

Cassie awoke in the middle of the night, gasping in pain. The muscle cramp from the first day was back, but this time, the pain was worse… much worse. Cassie threw a pillow at Munch who woke up from the chair he'd been stationed at since the shooting and looked at her. "Cassie? What is it? What's wrong?"

"M-my… leg. S-some…something's not… right." Munch got up and went to Cassie who was now clutching her leg and trying to curl up on her side. God, the pain! She'd never felt anything like it! She shouldn't be having this much pain now.

"Breathe, Cassie. Breathe. Try to focus."

"God, it hurts!" she cried, tears starting to stream. "John… help. Get a doctor."

Munch hurried out and came back in seconds with Dr. Mark Bailin. Dr. Bailin went to Cassie, and tried to get her to roll over on her back. "Come on now, Detective. It's okay. You're going to be fine."

"No, it's not okay," she breathed. "Something's wrong. This… isn't… normal."

"Let me just adjust your morphine." After a moment, Cassie uncurled her body. "Okay. Just rest, Detective. It's okay."

Cassie nodded and readjusted her cast. After a few minutes, Munch resettled into his chair, and Cassie fell asleep once more.


Cassie woke the next day to find a large floral bouquet and a stuffed raccoon on the table by her bed. Cassie sat up and reached for the card which read: 'To my daughter Sylvia's guardian angel. Best wishes and a speedy recovery' Cassie sighed. Sylvia Hall was the girl Cassie had been after when she was shot. So Sylvia's mother thought she was a guardian angel. Well, that was a change; the families of the other victims thought Cassie hadn't cared about the girls. That she was just after Peters. How wrong they were.


Cassie looked up to see Sylvia Hall in the doorway. She was in a wheelchair and bandaged heavily, especially her face. Olivia Benson was behind her. "Someone wanted to see you."

"Hi, Sylvia," Cassie said, managing a smile. "Thanks for the flowers and raccoon."

"You're welcome. My mom thought he was cute." Sylvia smiled as best she could with the bandages. "I just wanted to see you and say thanks for saving my life."

"You're welcome, Sylvia."

As Benson wheeled her away, Cassie smiled. She'd saved that girl. It felt good. And this morning her leg was fine except for the usual pain that followed a shooting. Not a great way to start a day but it could be worse.

"Hey, Ross." Cassie looked up and saw Elliot Stabler standing there. "Munch had to bail for a moment, so I thought I'd drop in. How are you?"

"Not bad."

Stabler sat down. "Munch said that you had a pain episode last night."

Cassie nodded. "Yeah, it was weird. It wasn't the usual pain. It was worse."

Stabler noticed the look on Cassie's face. "What is it?"

"I don't know. But… it didn't seem right. I think something's wrong."

Stabler stood. "Want me to get Dr. Bailin?"

Cassie shook her head. "No, I'm good. If it happens again, I'll deal with it then. Just let me know if anything happens with Peters."

"Right. Later, Cassie."


Munch walked into the Manhattan SVU department and sat down as their captain, Donald Cragen came out of his office. "No sightings of Peters. This case has got national attention, but not a peep from anyone."

"Well, that's good news. I mean in the sense that he's not active right now. Of course we do still need to find this guy," Munch said.

Cragen nodded. "I hate to say it, but you're right, John. How's Detective Ross?"

"Okay. Stabler's with her. I'm going to stay with her tonight."

"Good. I don't want her left alone right now. Peters may be hiding, but if he views Ross as a threat, he could be after her."

"Righty-o, Captain." It was then that Munch's cell pone rang. "Detective Munch. Elliot, what… Oh, God. How is she? I'll be right there."

"Munch?" Cragen asked, looking concerned. "What is it?"

Munch hung up and grabbed his coat. "Ross had another pain episode. Worse than last night."

"Is she okay?" Olivia Benson asked.

"Don't know. I'll call you when I know something."


Cassie was unconscious when Munch came into her room. Stabler was sitting in a chair next to her looking worried. "Elliot? What happened?"

"They had to sedate her. The pain got really bad. Her doctor thought maybe it was nerve damage." Stabler stood up. "Any luck finding Peters?"

"Nada. Cragen wants me to stay with Cassie for a while though."

Stabler looked at Cassie, then at Munch. "You like her, don't you?"

"Yeah. She's a good cop. Good friend."

"Yeah. And she told me she thinks of you as an older brother."

"I've known her since she was at the academy." Munch took Stabler's seat. "Well, I'll stay here. Why don't you go update the others?"

"Right. Okay." Stabler headed out of the room.


When Cassie woke up, her leg hurt worse than usual, but not as bad as before. Now she knew something was wrong. Even getting shot in the gut hadn't hurt like this. This was too much pain to be anything normal.



Munch studied her. "How bad is the pain?"

Cassie sighed. "Bad. Munch, what's wrong with me? I shouldn't feel like this."

"Your doctor said it was probably pain from the bullet."

Cassie shook her head, vehemently. "Crap. It hurts way worse than that."

"Could also be nerve damage."

Cassie closed her eyes. She hated this. There was something wrong with her, and she didn't know what it was. It bothered her that she didn't know what was going on.


That night, when Cassie fell asleep, Munch went in search of Dr. Bailin. "Dr., I need to talk to you about Detective Ross."

"Certainly. If there are no problems, then she'll be able to leave in a little over a week. I'm keeping her here because, as I understand, Peters may be after her."

"Problems? You don't consider an unusual amount of pain a problem? Look, what's wrong with Ross? You have to have an idea."

Bailin shrugged. "I don't know. Her file said she's been shot before but…"

"Yeah, three times. Once in the gut and once in each shoulder."

"And she's never had this kind of pain before?"

"No," Munch replied.

Bailin looked thoughtful. "It's probably nothing. Maybe some minor muscle or nerve damage. If it continues for another day, I'll adjust her morphine then we'll run some tests."

Munch nodded. "Okay. Hopefully she'll be okay."


But Munch's hopes were soon dashed. Benson and Stabler were visiting Cassie the next day when the pain started slicing through her leg. Benson tried to keep Cassie calm as Stabler went for Dr. Bailin. The doctor came in, but as he started to reach for the IV controls, Cassie grabbed him by the front of his lab coat and yanked him down. "Do an MRI, x-ray, or something to find out why my leg hurts so bad or I swear I'll shove your stethoscope right up your nose!" she screamed. Munch knew it wasn't the right time, but the whole thing was kind of funny.

Bailin stood up. "Okay, Detective, um… I'll schedule an MRI first thing in the morning."

Cassie fell back as the pain started to subside. "Great. Good. Now you can up the morphine."


The next morning, Cassie went in for the MRI. Bailin was in the tech room looking at the picture when something very bad showed up. "Oh, man. Oh, God."


Dr. Bailin went into Cassie's room with a grim look. Cassie saw and knew something was seriously wrong. "How bad is it?"

Bailin pulled out the MRI film and snapped it into the wall light as Munch came into the room. "Is that the MRI results?"

"Yes. And I am sorry to say that it showed a serious problem."

"How serious?" Cassie asked, suddenly worried. There was bad, and then there was bad. This sounded bad.

"There was an aneurysm in your leg that clotted. It's called an infarction. The pain you've been experiencing is muscle death. I can't tell you how sorry I am that this wasn't caught earlier."

Cassie sighed. "Can you fix it? Undo the damage?"

Bailin sighed. "We can remove the clot. However, I have to warn you that with the dead muscle, you'll have toxins being put back into your system. These toxins can cause organ failure or tachycardia. Plus, there would be immense post-operative pain. The best thing to do is to amputate."

Munch's face looked horrified. "Well, there's got to be something-"

"No." Cassie cut off Munch's comment. "You're not cutting off my leg. There's got to be something else."

"We can remove the clot… then remove the dead muscle. But there're risks involved there, too. It will most likely permanently limit your use of the leg."

"Do it," Cassie said, closing her eyes.

"Okay," Bailin said, pulling the film. "I'll schedule an OR."


The next morning, all the cops from Manhattan and Brooklyn SVU were milling around the surgical waiting room when Cassie went in. After a few minutes, Tim Hanson pulled a small tape player and started playing some of Cassie's favorite songs. When 'Pina Coladas' started playing, most of the cops started laughing, remembering Cassie's victory dance during the last Municipal Hockey League Championship.

Benson smiled as she sat next to Stabler and Captain Roberts. "Remember when we were celebrating with Cassie that night? That song came on, and she started singing."

Roberts laughed as well. "Ross is a damn good cop and crazy as hell, but she can't carry a tune 5mm."

"Can carry a load, though," said Munch as he came over. "That first girl who died…"

"Maggie Rittman," Benson said, the smile vanishing. "Cassie tried everything. We got there, and we find the two of them covered in blood. Cassie was so quiet it was scary."

Stabler shook his head. "No. No, that wasn't scary. You weren't in the next day, Olivia. Cassie came in to our department for a meeting, and halfway through she freaked out. Just broke down. Cassie likes to be in control. When she isn't…"


Munch saw the surgeon come out of the OR and watched as all talk ceased. "How's Ross?"

The surgeon looked grim, but satisfied. "We removed the clot, and the dead muscle. Barring any complications… she should be relatively fine."

Roberts stood up from his seat. "Relatively fine? What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that with as much muscle as we had to remove… she's going to have limited use of her leg. And she's also going to have chronic pain for the rest of her life."

"Because you guys screwed up," Stabler said, getting to his feet as well. "Because you didn't check it out when she first started having pain."

"Detective, it was unforeseeable."

"You could have done the MRI when she first started having pain," Benson said. "Spared her all of this."

The surgeon sighed. "It appeared to be pain resulting from the gunshot."

"She's been shot three times! She told you it didn't feel like normal pain. You should have trusted her judgment!" Benson said, her voice rising.

"Are you going to sue me?"

"You'd like that, wouldn't you, doc?" Stabler said. "Pay off Ross, and all this goes away. No. We're not going to sue. But you damn well better believe that we'll make your life and Dr. Bailin's miserable for what you did to Cassie."


While Benson and Stabler were dealing with the surgeon, Munch went in to see Cassie in recovery. He sat next to her bed and held her hand. For as young as she was, Cassie had tremendous potential and skill. Her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all been cops. And even though Cassie was an only child, she still decided to keep the tradition alive.


Cassie's voice was faint. Munch gave her hand a squeeze. "I'm right here, Cassie. Along with the Special Victims Units from Brooklyn and Manhattan."

"Thanks. Listen… I need you to do me a favor…"


Munch came out of Recovery and went up to Stabler and Benson who were still talking with the surgeon, Dr. Warren, and Dr. Bailin. "Dr. Bailin…" he said, as he pulled out his handcuffs. "You're under arrest for medical negligence."

He cuffed the doctor, as Stabler asked, "Munch, what's going on?"

"Cassie wants to sue Dr. Bailin here, and she also wants him arrested. Let's go, doc." Munch led the stunned doctor out, and the others looked on in amazement.


3 ½ Months Later

Munch pulled up in front of the hospital as a nurse wheeled Cassie out in a wheelchair. She had her old duffel bag on her lap and was holding her new cane. Once Cassie was in the car, Munch pulled out of the lot and headed to Cassie's apartment building. "How are you feeling?" Munch asked after a minute. "They give you something for the pain?"

"Vicodin. But I'm okay."

"You sure?"

Cassie leaned her head against the car window. "Doctors and nurses have been asking me day in and day out if I'm okay… I'm tired of it, John. I feel fine."

Munch didn't say anything the rest of the trip, but when he pulled up to Cassie's apartment building, she looked at him. "Thanks, Munch, for picking me up. You want to come in for a minute?"


Cassie got out slowly as Munch grabbed her bag. Once inside, they took the elevator up to Cassie's loft. Cassie opened the door and Munch let out a whistle. "Wow. This must have set you back."

"It was my aunt's. She was rich and when she died, she left it to my parents. I got it as a gift when I graduated the police academy." Cassie went to the couch and lay down. Munch grabbed a few pillows and helped Cassie put them under her leg. "Thanks, Munch."

"Need anything?"

Cassie closed her eyes. "I just need to rest. Thanks."

Munch watched her for a few minutes until her breathing slowed and leveled. He went to her refrigerator and cabinets to find something for a lunch and was amazed by how bare the shelves were. There had to be something… Did Cassie really have no food in this place? He continued to scrounge, eventually finding a box of crackers, a never-opened jar of green olives, a small unopened summer sausage, and all the way in the back of her fridge, a small block of unopened pesto jack cheese. That would be a start. Now he needed something to fill it out.


When Cassie woke up a few hours later, her leg was throbbing and she was hungry. She reached for the vicodin that Munch had put on the end table along with a still-cold bottle of water. She took a pill and tried to get more comfortable. Once she was sitting up more, Munch came out of the kitchen with two loaded plates. "Olives, cheese, sausage, crackers, sliced apple, and strawberries."

Cassie looked confused. "I had food?"

"You only had the first 4. I had to buy the fruit. And some other stuff. How do you live without food in your kitchen?"

"Take out. I can cook, I just don't feel like it a lot of the time." She started to nibble and found that that small plate was just what she needed. "Thanks, Munch."

"Don't mention it," he said, finishing up his own plate. When Munch set it aside, his face was serious. "Is there anyone you want me to call for you?"

Cassie shook her head. "No. Not really. Dad's out of town for a couple months so…"

"You know, you should work on socializing a bit more."

"That's why I played hockey. It's easier to socialize when you're beating the crap out of somebody," she said with a smile.

Munch grinned as well. "Well, it's good that the clot didn't cut off the flow of blood to your sense of humor. Especially since you've been out of whack lately. But there is one serious piece of business I wanted to let you in on."

"What's that?"

Munch paused for a moment as he thought of how to tell Cassie. "Captain Cragen told me that Captain Roberts is retiring soon. This year."

"What? He's only… what? 42?"

"Apparently his wife is pregnant again. She wants him to quit, so he's taking an early retirement."

Cassie leaned back. "Wow. I never thought he'd leave." She looked at Munch. "Who's taking over for him?"

Munch leaned forward. "Well, he and Cragen have been going over candidates for the past two weeks. Last week…Roberts told me… that he wants you to take his place."


"It's not official yet, but… Roberts has picked you to be captain."

Cassie closed her eyes and thought about it. She pictured herself standing in front of the New York police and being named captain. Then her leg gave a particularly painful twinge. She opened her eyes. "I can't do it. I mean, my leg…"

"Even with the leg."

Cassie got up carefully and grabbed her cane. She went to the wall of her loft where there was a picture of her when she first joined the SVU. She'd become a cop, not just because the past three generations of her family had been in law enforcement, but because she really did believe that she could make a difference. But she'd wanted to do that out on the streets. She was a street cop, born and bred. Deep down, she didn't want a desk position. She'd go nuts in a life like that. But without being a cop… well that would drive her crazier faster. It was between a desk and a hard place. She turned to look at Munch. "Okay. Okay. I'll take it."


3 Weeks Later

Cassie stood in the doorway of her new office. There were two sets of book cases on the back wall, and a couch on the right side and a couple chairs along the left as well as two wooden chairs in front of the desk. The small plaque on her desk: Cassandra Ross, Brooklyn Police Captain. Her hand gripped her cane as she limped in and went behind her desk. She pulled the chair out and sat down, leaning her cane against the desk.

"Captain Ross?"

Cassie looked up to see Sylvia Hall standing in the doorway. Her face was marred by stitches and scars, but she was smiling. "May I come in, Captain?"

Cassie stood, leaning against her desk. "Please. Sit down."

Sylvia came in, and pulled a box out from behind her back. "These are for you. I designed them myself."

Cassie took the box and sat down. Opening it, she found a pair of boots that looked like sneakers. "What…?"

Sylvia smiled broadly as she took the shoes. "They have extra cushioning and arch support on the bottoms, and textured pads for comfort. And they're calf-height, so they offer leg support as well. I figure since you got shot trying to save me… and then with your leg…"

Cassie smiled at the gift. "Thank you. Mind helping me try them on?"

"Sure," Sylvia said, her eyes twinkling.

10 minutes later, Cassie did a short walk around her office. Sylvia was very, very good. Even with her leg, these were the best… boots? Shoes?... she'd ever worn. "I love 'em," Cassie said.

"Great. If you ever need replacements, let me know. I saved the designs. My teachers thought they were a great invention."

Cassie grabbed her cane. "I'll certainly certainly let you know when I wear these guys down. Thanks again. You really don't know what it means to me that you and your mother don't hate me."

Sylvia smiled. "My mother knows that you guys did what you could. Misfortune happens. It's unfortunate, but it can't be changed. You saved my life, Captain. Thank you."

Cassie nodded. "You're welcome."


At the end of the day, Cassie was tired and her leg hurt. She wanted to stay a little longer, but decided to go home instead. Heading out to her car, the pain increased slightly, but with in tolerability. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to continue out to her car. But just as she saw her old Chevy convertible, her leg gave an overly bad throb, and she had to grab the nearest car to keep from falling down. She tried to move, but her leg wouldn't work. She just stood there, trying to make her leg move.


Cassie didn't notice the detective running up to her, or the person slowly lowering her to the ground and calling an ambulance. The pain was rapidly increasing…

"Captain! CAPTAIN ROSS!" Cassie finally focused on the paramedic looking at her. "Hey. How are you?"

"My leg won't work," she said, trying to breathe against the pain. Suddenly, her brain chemistry kicked in and she felt the endorphins rushing to alleviate the pain. 'Screw chemistry,' she thought. 'Biology works pretty damn well.'

"Yeah. It looks like your leg gave out," the paramedic said, checking her vitals. "We'll take you to the hospital just in case. I'm Matt, by the way."

"Nice to meet you, Matt."


"Captain Cassandra Ross, 34-years-old. Had an infarction just shy of 4 months ago; leg gave out in the precinct parking lot." Matt rattled off Cassie's stats as they rolled her into an exam room. "Vitals normal, except for a slightly elevated heart rate."

After getting Cassie on the exam bed, Matt gave her a smile. "Take care, Captain. Maybe next time I'll see you without loading you into an ambulance."

Cassie nodded as the doctor started to examine her leg. "Any new injury to the leg?" asked Dr. Jamie Langley. She'd become Cassie's doctor after Bailin had been arrested. Personally Langely thought Bailin was an idiot to miss the clot, but she never liked to speak negatively of her colleagues.

"Nope, no injury," Cassie said, shaking her head.

"Excessive pain?"

"Always, Dr. infarction, remember?"

Dr. Langley paused. "Have you been taking your pills?" She noticed that Cassie looked uncomfortable. "You haven't been taking them, have you?" She sat down. "Look, Captain, I can't even begin to imagine how hard this is for you, but you have to take the painkillers. Otherwise, this will keep happening and you won't be able to do your job."

Cassie sighed and closed her eyes. "I feel fine right now."

"Yeah, and that's because your brain chemistry is helping. Cassandra…" Cassie opened her eyes and looked at Dr. Langley. "You have to start taking the vicodin. If you're worried about dependency we can give you something else. A non-narcotic…"

"The dependency isn't an issue. I just… I have a high pain tolerance."

Langley sighed. "Even so… you need to start taking better care of yourself. Take the pills. I'm going to keep you here over night. And next week, I want you to make an appointment with a pain management counselor. Okay?"

"Yeah," Cassie said, nodding.

"Okay." Langley stood up. "Anyone you want me to call?"

Cassie thought for a moment. "Detective John Munch. Manhattan SVU."

"I'll go call him." Langley left the room, and Cassie pulled the vicodin out of her pocket. She popped the lid and dry-swallowed a pill.


Munch came, and he wasn't alone. Benson and Cragen were with him. "How are you feeling, Cass?"

"Okay," Cassie replied, sitting up. "I took a pill. I feel better."

Cragen looked at her and frowned. "Ross, is there a reason you let your leg give out?"

"It just hurt, and then… it wouldn't move."

"Ross, you're one of the best damn cops I've ever known. But you need to take care of yourself. Now, I don't want to, but if I have to, I'll have John move in with you to make sure you're okay. Do I have to?"

Cassie shook her head. "No. I'll, uh… I'll take care of myself. Promise."

"We'll hold you to that," Benson said, smiling. "And, uh… we heard about that paramedic."

"Matt," Cassie said, smiling.

"You going to ask him out?"

"No, I was hoping to ask her out," said Matt, standing in the doorway.

Cassie looked surprised. "What are you doing here? Aren't you on duty?"

"I just got off. Thought I'd make sure you were okay."

Cassie blushed. "I'm good."

Matt grinned. "Great. So I'll pick you up tomorrow around noon, and I'll take you to lunch. Tomorrow's my day off."

Cassie just watched him leave, and as giddy as she felt, she still felt a slight bit of unease. She never dated much as a cop and this would be her first date since the infarction. Matt liked her; that was obvious. And she liked him as well. But could he look past the leg?


When Cassie was released the next day, she flat out refused to use a wheelchair. Walking out, she found Matt was waiting for her in the lobby. "Shall we, milady?" he said, offering her his arm. Cassie took it, and the two went to his car. Once seated, Cassie asked, "Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise. I know this place. You'll like it. Trust me."

Matt got behind the wheel and started the car. He pulled out of the lot and headed down the street. "So what are you worried about, Cassandra?"

"I'm sorry?"

Matt smiled. "I've had you on edge since we met. Why is that?"

Cassie rubbed her face. "You're the first guy I've dated since the infarction."

"I don't care about that, Cassandra."

Cassie looked at him. "You don't? Really?"

"Really. I mean… some people would only date someone because they like fixing things. Leads them to choose someone who's… damaged. I'm not like that."

"You don't think I'm damaged?"

"You're not damaged, flawed, or disabled. Unless you choose to be. But, Cassandra… not taking your pills doesn't help. Take them more often, and you can be a little more normal."

"Yeah," Cassie said, nodding. "But I like the pain. I like having something to push against. It drives me."

Matt nodded. "I'm like that, too. But with me it's emotional pain. I mean, being a paramedic is no picnic. I see people I can help, people I can't. But I keep doing it, because even though I see people on the worst day of their lives, there's always that slight glimmer of hope when they see me. Like maybe… just maybe… I can make them better. We're her," Matt said as he pulled into the parking lot and parked.

Cassie looked astonished. "A karaoke bar. Are you serous?"

Matt got out and went to Cassie's door and opened it. "Absolutely. Plus their sandwiches are fabulous, and they have great cocktails. Now come on. You look hungry and way to thin."

Cassie got out slowly, and Matt offered his arm to her once more. They headed in and a waitress smiled at them. "Hey, Matt. Trish will be with you in a minute, honey."

"I guess you've been here before, then?"

"Yeah. Hey, Trish."

Trish was a heavy-set black woman who grinned at Cassie. "Hey, I know you. You're that Police Captain from Brooklyn. Heard about your shooting. How you doin', girl?"

"Not bad."

"Glad to hear it. Go sit down, kids, I'll get some menus."

Cassie and Matt sat down at a table and in a few moments, Trish reappeared with two menus. "I'll be back, later, darlin'," she said, giving a wink to Matt.

"So you know about me," Cassie said, perusing the menu. "What about you?"

Matt picked up his own menu and said, "I'm half Irish, a quarter Italian, one 16th Asian, and the rest is Australian. Dad's the Irish side, the rest is my mother. I'm a paramedic, and I have a degree teaching High School English. Days off, I like to read or watch movies, or take beautiful women out to eat."

"That wasn't very subtle," Cassie said with a grin. Matt grinned back as the first waitress, whose tag read 'Jazz', came over. "Drinks for you guys?"

Cassie took a quick look and said, "Fuzzy navel, please."

"Strawberry citrus daiquiri."

Jazz nodded. "Okay. Be back in a minute."

Once she left, Matt looked at the stage at the front. "Place isn't busy. You want to sing?"

"I can't sing. Last time was… well, it wasn't good. I sang 'Escape' by Rupert Holmes."


Cassie shrugged. "It was a hockey party—my team won. And I'd had a few too many."

Matt smiled. "I can picture it."


When Matt took her home, Cassie was quick to invite him in. "Are you sure?" He asked, pausing outside the apartment.

"Just come in and close the door." Matt did so, as Cassie went to her recliner. She sat down and sighed with relief as the weight was off her leg. Damn, she hated this…

"May I see?"

Cassie looked up sharply. "What?"

This time, Matt looked twitchy. "I… your leg. May I…?"

Cassie looked into his chocolate brown eyes. Then she reached down and pulled up her right pant leg. Matt stepped closer and looked at it. The shape was uneven and lopsided, crisscrossed with scars. Then he reached out a hand and touched her leg, his fingers grazing the skin ever so lightly. It wasn't clear who started it. All the two of them knew was that one minute Matt was running a hand over what was left of Cassie's leg, and the next, they were in her bedroom, undressed and under the blankets. Cassie sighed in bliss as Matt ran his fingers through her hair. It had been so long since she'd been loved. Matt was very careful of her leg, and his touches were gentle and smooth. "Are you okay?" He asked, pausing. "Need a pill or anything?"

"No, I'm fine. It's okay-" But as the words left her mouth, her leg gave a painful spasm.

Matt felt the twitch in her leg muscle and slid out of bed and grabbed her pills. He handed them to her, saying, "Take one. It'll help."

"No, I'm okay. It's fine. Really." Cassie set the bottle on her night stand, making Matt give her a look. "Look, I know pain. If it was something I couldn't handle, I'd take a pill. But I'm okay. Really."

Matt nodded. "Okay. Okay. Alright. I just care about you, you know?"

Cassie smiled. "Yeah. I know." Matt pulled her close, and kissed her lovingly.


The next morning, Cassie got to her office, and sat down. After a moment, Detective Davis came in. "Morning, Captain. How are you?"

"Good. I'm better. How's everything going?"

"It's quiet. Just finishing up cases. But, uh…" Rochelle ducked away for a moment then came back, holding a beautiful display of roses. A note was tucked in. "These came this morning."

Cassie took the flowers and laid them on the desk. Then she opened the card. 'Cassandra, we need to talk. Matt.'


Matthew Walters sighed as he walked around downtown Manhattan. He felt so bad about Cassie… He loved her. He really did. Even though he'd only just met her. But she was hurting herself, and that kind of person… he just couldn't be with. Not again. His last girlfriend had cut herself and had ended up accidentally killing herself. Cassie didn't seem that self-destructive, but who knew? If she wasn't taking painkillers regularly because it was part of her own personal pain management that was one thing. But Matt suspected that wasn't the case. It was more about pretending that nothing was wrong with her.


Matt looked up and found himself looking at Detective Elliot Stabler. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking. Sorry, Detective."

"No problem. Matt Walters, right?"

"Yeah. I was at one of the previous Slasher attacks."

"Yeah. You were treating Captain Ross for shock when she was with Maggie Rittman."

"Yeah. Hey, how well do you know Cassandra?"

"Well enough to know that if she lets you call her 'Cassandra' she must really like you."

Matt smiled. "Well, she hasn't complained yet. But, uh… I need to ask you something."

Stabler nodded. "Okay. What's up?"

"It's about Cassandra's… well, her leg."

"And the fact that she doesn't take her vicodin regularly?"

"I mean, she's only hurting herself. I don't understand why she'd do something like that."

"Well, there's a lot to understand about Cassie. That's just one thing."


When Cassie got out of the office that night, Matt was waiting in the near empty squad room. "Hey, Cassandra. How are you?"

"Good. Leg is… well, it hurts, but nothing I can't handle."

"How do you handle pain, Cassandra?"

"I work through it. I push myself past it," Cassie said, wondering where this was going.

Matt sat on one of the vacant desks. "How do you tell where your limits are?"

Cassie pondered the question. "I don't know. I guess, I've… never really been in a position to think about it. Until now anyway." As she said it, her leg began aching harder. She debated taking a pill or not and letting the pain go away on its own, but after a minute, the pain was still present. So she took out her pills and took one.

Matt smiled. "Found a limit?"

Cassie nodded. "Yeah. Shall we go?"

Matt stood up and again offered Cassie his arm. "Yep. I have a favorite Italian place I thought we'd go to."

"Sounds good," Cassie said as Matt led the way to his car.

"Oh, it's delicious. All the food is made in the kitchen. Just the desserts are made off location."

"Nice. What's the name of it?"


Cassie stopped and looked at him. "You're kidding."

Matt laughed. "Nope."


"—So the mother comes running out, wearing just a towel, hair dripping wet, screaming at me 'My son's not a rapist, you bitch!'"

Matt laughed. "That's a good one. Let's see… Oh, this was a good one. I had a couple who were… joined in the nether-regions," he finished with a smile.

Cassie laughed. "Oh, my God! How did that happen?"

"Their piercings got caught."

"'Piercings?'" Cassie asked, incredulous. "You mean they were both, uh…"


Cassie started laughing again. "Uh… wow. How do I compete with that?" Cassie started thinking about the cases she'd worked. Then it came to her. "Okay. I got one for you. Woman comes into the precinct, tells us she's been raped. When we look into it, we find the guy who assaulted her, and bring him in. He has no memory of the act. We get in his face, but he doesn't tell us anything. So we let him go. Then another woman gets raped. We bring in the guy again. This time, he doesn't even remember talking to us the first time."

Matt started laughing. "Let me guess: triplets?"

"Yep. We spent… God, two weeks on that case, and the whole time, we kept chasing the wrong triplet. Then we find out that another one of the triplets is engaged to the first girl who is a twin."

"Wait. So… the guy who's engaged to the girl—who's a twin—he… That must have been confusing."

"Yeah, no shit. Total waste of time and resources."

"It's like something out of a soap opera."

Cassie nodded as she twirled a forkful of linguine. "So… we've covered the funny. What case was the most heartbreaking?"

Matt took a bite of his lamb and sighed. "It was 6 years ago on Valentine's Day. We got called for a routine pregnancy. Woman was going to have twins. When we got there, she'd started having complications. She started to deliver, and we did what we could. When we got to the hospital, she was doing okay, but then she stroked. She ended up in a wheelchair 'cause she couldn't move her legs."

"What about the babies?" Cassie asked, sipping her wine.

"Two girls. One… ended up with a severe joint defect in her ankle—she wears a leg brace. The other got an eye infection that left her totally blind." Matt sighed and finished off his own glass of wine. "It was my cousin."

Cassie nodded sympathetically. "I had to solve my uncle's murder. This woman shot him because she thought he'd molested her son. The worst, though, was Adam Peters' second victim. Maggie Rittman. I found her in an abandoned building, still alive. I tried CPR, stopping the bleeding, but nothing worked. I held her in my arms, trying to comfort her." Cassie gave a grim smile. "The last thing she said to me was 'Tell my Mom I'm sorry I didn't listen to her. And tell my sister… she still can't borrow my shoes.'"

"I remember that one," Matt said, nodding. "I was there."

Cassie arched an eyebrow. "You were? I don't remember that."

"You were in shock. I treated you—sent you to the hospital."

Cassie blinked. "Yeah. I remember holding Maggie in my arms… the next thing I knew, I was waking up in an exam room."

"Yeah, you were pretty out of it. Listen… I know you've been through a lot. But I really, really like you. And I want to keep seeing you. I promise I won't hurt you, but… I need you to promise me you won't hurt yourself."

Cassie leaned back in her chair. "Matt…"

"I know. I know you don't mean to hurt yourself, but you are."

"I don't… need help. I just need to deal."

Matt leaned forward and took Cassie's hands. "Hey, I'm here. I'll help you in any way I can. But I need you to help yourself first. And you can do that by making sure you take your vicodin. Even if the pain is still manageable, do it. Please?"

Cassie looked into Matt's blue eyes. "Okay. I'll try."

'Free is all you gotta be

Dream dreams no one else can see

Sometimes you want to run away

But you never know what

Might be coming around your way

Yeah, yeah, yeah

'On a day like today

The whole world could change

The sun's gonna shine

Shine through the rain

On a day like today

You never want to see the sun go down

You never want to see the sun go down'


When Cassie walked into the precinct the next morning, everyone noticed something different about her. There was a smile on her face and a slight spring in her step. Cassie sat down in her office and pulled out at bottle of water and her vicodin. She took a pill and grabbed the newspaper out of her bag. She took a pen and started on the crossword puzzle. She'd loved puzzles before, and now she realized that doing the puzzle now made her feel like her old self. "Captain?"

Cassie looked up. "Hey, Rochelle. What do you have for me?"

Rochelle Davis held out a file. "Body dump in an alley. Showed up last night after you left. Parents want to talk to you."

Cassie stashed her pills and crossword. "Send them in."

Davis nodded and left, to return a short while later with a man and woman who looked to be in their mid-twenties. Cassie took a look at the file. The girl was pretty. Cassie looked up. "Mr. and Mrs. Kerns, I just want to say that I am so sorry for your loss. I know this is hard for you."

"Thank you, Captain Ross. I know that your detectives are doing what they can, but… well, they said she was slashed," said Mrs. Kerns, looking worried. "Please, just tell me if it was that man… Adam Peters. I know that they haven't caught him…."

Cassie sighed. "No. It wasn't Peters. From the pictures… Your daughter wasn't his type."

Mr. Kerns leaned forward. "Are you sure?"

Cassie nodded. "Yes. Don't worry. Peters is gone for now."

The Kerns nodded grimly as they stood and left.

Cassie leaned back, deep in thought. It seemed like the curse of Adams Peters would never leave her alone.


Meanwhile, back at the Manhattan precinct, Stabler and Munch were talking about Cassie and Matt. Munch was hesitant to believe that the two clicked so quickly. "Come on, Elliot. Cassie hasn't had a date in 3 years. Why do you think she's suddenly going to jump into a relationship with this paramedic?"

Stabler wasn't convinced. "Cassie didn't date because she was uncomfortable with telling guys what she does for a living. Then when she got out of the hospital, she still didn't want to date because of her leg. Matt likes her and isn't put off by her disability."

"Guys, since when is Cassie's personal life any business of ours?" Olivia Benson said as she walked up and sat at her desk. "Come on, she's happy. Leave her alone."

"Olivia, you know Cassie doesn't just jump into things," Munch said, still trying to find someone who supported his point.

"No, she doesn't," Benson agreed. "But, John… with her leg, she's certainly going to be hard pressed to find someone who can look past that. If she's found someone, all the best to her."

"What if he's only after her for sex?" Munch asked, leaning back in his chair.

Benson rolled her eyes. She couldn't believe that they could gossip this much over Cassie, the captain with no social life.


That night, when Cassie pulled up to her apartment building, she found she didn't want to just turn in. This thing with Matt seemed to revive her old energy. Still, her leg was aching, and she longed for a hot bath and bed. She got out and headed inside.

Once in her loft, she set her things on the counter and shed her jacket. She grabbed a few towels and her terrycloth bathrobe and headed into the bathroom, remembering to grab the cordless phone, and locked the door. She ran the hot water in her Jacuzzi tub and added some bubble bath. Carefully, she undressed and lowered herself into the tub, turning the water off and turning the jets on. After a minute, the jets started to relax Cassie's body, allowing her thoughts to wander.

She missed this. Lying in the tub, jets of water pulsating her muscles, taking away all the weariness that the day had accumulated. Even her right leg was relaxing. This was perfect.

After an hour, Cassie grabbed the tub rail and stood carefully. Ah, yes, she thought as she got out of the tub. This was why she didn't take baths as often. Her leg gave an annoying throb, and Cassie quickly took a pill. She donned her robe and wrapped up her wet hair before grabbing her cane and limping out of the bathroom.


Matt entered Cassie's loft quietly. He'd called twice, both times leaving messages. The third time, he'd just hung up, grabbed his coat and keys and drove to her building. When Matt closed the apartment door, he looked around. It was silent, and the only light came from the bedroom. "Cassandra?"

No answer. Matt went closer and called again. "Cassandra."

Still no answer. Matt went to the doorway. "Cass…"

He stopped as he looked in. Cassie apparently had been reading, but had fallen asleep. She was propped up, but had slumped slightly to the right. Her leg was up on a few pillows, and the leg of her pajama bottoms had pulled up enough that Matt saw the start of her scars. He walked in and picked up the book. James Patterson; more specifically the newest Alex Cross novel. He marked her place and set the book aside, before removing the pillows behind her and slowly lowering her head. Then he grabbed the quilt that was on the floor and draped it over her before turning off the light.

He'd let her sleep. The couch would suit him fine for the night


Cassie awoke to the smells of cinnamon rolls and sausage. She looked around and saw her pills sitting on the night stand. She grabbed the bottle took a pill before getting up and taking her cane which was also leaning against the night stand. Funny, but she seemed to remember leaving it leaning against the dresser. When she went into the kitchen, she was surprised to see Matt pulling cinnamon rolls out of the oven. "A man who cooks. I like it," she said, sitting at the table.

"Sausage patties, too. And orange juice."

"Thanks, Matt."

"You're welcome. I came by last night, but you were asleep. I didn't want to wake you, so I slept on the couch. Hope you don't mind."

"No," Cassie said, quickly. "No, not at all. And as much as I enjoy guys cooking for me, don't you have to work today? I don't want you to get fired because of me."

Matt nodded. "Hey, it's fine. I'm just going to run to my place and shower and change. No big deal. I'll be off late, but I'll come see you as soon as I can, okay?"

Cassie nodded. "No problem. I'll wait up."

Matt gave her one last kiss before leaving.


When Matt arrived at the station, he found his partner, Jaema Williams reading a romance novel in the back of their rig. "Hey, Walters. Finally decided to roll around, huh?" She asked, smirking.

"Jealous, Willy?"

"Nah. I don't run that road anymore, remember? So what's she like?"

Matt sat down on the foot of the gurney. "She's nice, charming, funny… She's a good woman. Even if she is a police captain."

Jenna lowered her novel, her face impassive, but her eyes showed surprise and amusement. "Police captain. Does this captain have a name?"

Matt turned to look at her. "Cassandra Ross."

"Oh, my God! A-Are you shittin' me? Captain Cassandra Freakin' Ross is the woman you've been snookering? DAMN, boy!"

"I take it that you approve?"

"Hell, yeah!" Jenna calmed down, and then asked, "But doesn't she have some sort of leg thing? How's that working?"

Matt shrugged. "She deals with it. It doesn't bother me."

"Well," Jenna said as she got up and closed her book. "I'm glad you're happy. After Fiona… I was worried about you, Matt. It's good that you're getting back to life. Now come on. I know the gangbangers miss us."

"Sure. Just like they miss bullets."

"Actually, I think they miss the bullets more."

"True. Hey who told you that you get to drive?"


With Peters behind her, Matt in her immediate future, and cases to delegate, Cassie felt pretty damned good as she got into the office. She read over the ongoing cases, assigned teams to investigate, and made necessary calls to help smooth the way. And even as good as things were going…Cassie didn't like her job. Well, she did… at least the part where she was still a cop. But, oh, how she missed the footwork. Trolling the streets… it was her life for 6 years. And she was good at it. A little reckless, but what good cop wasn't from time to time?

"Hey, Cassie."

She looked up to see Munch standing in the doorway. "Hey, Munch. What brings you to this neck of the woods? Manhattan getting too boring for you?"

"A rare day off. So I thought I'd stop in and see how you're doing. How are you doing?"

"Good. Great. So what are you really doing here?"

"You think I have ulterior motives?" Munch asked, feigning offense.

"I'm a fourth generation police officer. Yeah, I think you have ulterior motives."

"How well do you know this Matt guy?"

Cassie stood, her face an expression of annoyance, but her eyes were smiling. "That's it," she said grabbing her cane. "Out of here. Go on now."

"Or what?" Munch asked, amused. "You going to whack me with that thing?"

"Oh, you better damn well believe I will," Cassie said, raising her cane menacingly.

Munch got up and headed out, giving Cassie a smile. "Take care… Captain."

Cassie closed the door behind him and smiled. There were worse things in life, she decided, than what she had right now.


When Jaema and Matt arrived at the scene of the most recent gang-related shooting, Jaema pulled out a pair of bulletproof vests from behind the seats. She handed one to Matt who wordlessly strapped it on. He hated that the protection was necessary, but thinking of how Cassie would react if he were to get shot, he decided to suck it up.

Matt hopped out first, followed by Jaema. The young man bleeding on the ground was one of the regulars—a teenager known on the streets as Arana. Matt knelt down and ripped the kid's shirt open to assess the wound. "Damnit, Arana. You gotta quit catching bullets with your chest."

"Yeah, man? Tell it to those punks who fired at my ass!"

"Just shut up, you idiot," Jaema said, running the kid's vitals. She hated dealing with gangbangers. No matter how many times they patched these punks up, they never learned.

"Arana!" Matt looked up to see a well-dressed young man come running up—Arana's cousin, Joaquin. Joaquin had avoided the gangs, and was now a college student, though he always carried a licensed firearm. He also was on a constant mission to keep an eye on his reckless cousin. "Damnit, Man, you gotta learn to stay home. Bullets won't get you—Holy shit!"

Matt, Jaema, and Joaquin hit the ground as shots fired from across the street. Matt looked up carefully, scanning the street. "Damn, I hate these runs. Joaquin, can you give us some cover?"

"My pleasure, man. Just help the little spider." He pulled his gun, firing over the heads of the other gang who were apparently trying to finish off Arana.

When Matt and Jaema loaded up the young gangbangers, they were caught by surprise by a bullet hitting the ambulance door. "Damn, I hate these calls," Jaema said as she climbed into the back. Matt got behind the wheel and started to head out. Now they just had to get to the hospital. "Jeez!" He shouted as a bullet shattered the windshield. Matt felt the piercing pain in his shoulder, and in the second he lost control of the ambulance, a truck slammed straight into him.


Cassie was just finishing up another crossword puzzle when there was a knock at the door. After finishing the last clue, she looked up and saw Benson and Stabler outside. She waved them in and started to say hello when she noticed their grim expressions. "What's up? Something wrong?"

Stabler sighed. He hated doing this. And it was one thing to give bad news to a stranger, but giving it to a friend and colleague was even harder. "Cassie….There's something we need to tell you."

Cassie knew it was bad news. But what kind of news could it be? Could Peters have given them another victim? "Elliot, what's going on? What do you need to tell me?"

Benson could see her partner struggle with delivering the news. She understood. Cassie would be hurt, and there would be no easy way to soften the blow to come. Benson looked at Cassie. "It's Matt. He's been in an accident."

Cassie blinked. She couldn't have heard that right. "What?"

Stabler sighed. He knew he had to do this. He so didn't want to, but he had to. "He was on a run. He was shot, and then the ambulance was hit by a truck."

Cassie stood slowly. This was a bad dream. It had to be. This couldn't be happening. She grabbed her cane. "I need to see him." 'I need to see that this is really happening.'

Stabler tried to protest. "Cassie, I don't think-"

He was cut off by a warning look from Benson who said, "Sure, Cassie. Come on. We'll drive. Finn and Munch are there already." Benson put a hand on Cassie's shoulder and led her out of the office.


When Cassie, Benson and Stabler got to the hospital, Finn and Munch were talking with the e.r. doctor. Cassie hurried up to them as best she could. "Where is he? Where's Matt? What happened? Is he alright?" Cassie's voice was a touch higher than usual and tears were starting to prick her eyes.

The doctor looked grim. "Captain Ross, Matt came in with multiple fractures and internal bleeding. He also had a gunshot wound. We tried our best to stabilize him, but his heart stopped, and we couldn't get it beating again. He died. I'm very sorry for your loss, Captain."

Cassie just stood there in disbelief. This couldn't be happening. It couldn't be true. Matt couldn't be… He wasn't really… "I….I want to see him." 'I need to see him. I need to see that he's really…'

"Certainly. This way." The doctor led Cassie into the trauma room and grabbed a stool from the corner.

He set it next to the bed and Cassie sat down. Matt's face was so calm and tranquil. Cassie took Matt's hand and let the tears slip out of her eyes. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that she lost him so soon. "Oh, Matt," she whispered, her voice choking. 'Why did you have to leave me? I don't want to be here alone.' "I love you." She placed one last kiss on his pale lips and squeezed his hand one last time. Then she laid her head on his still, cold chest and started crying openly.

Olivia Benson, Elliot Stabler, Finn Tutuola, and John Munch stood on the other side of the glass doors watching their friend grieve for her lost love.


Two days later, and Cassie's detectives were already seriously worried about her behavior. She came into her office with an unusually easy air and settled down after locking the office door. Detectives Rochelle Davis and Timothy Hanson sat at their desks watching their boss do some paperwork. "She's hurting," Davis said as they watched her get up and file the papers.

Hanson nodded. "Not just the leg, either."

Rochelle sighed. "Matt. God, I can't even imagine what she's going through. God, if my husband or kids died…"

Hanson stood up and paced a moment before sitting down again. "Been trying to talk to her, but she just shuts herself in her office. Detective Munch's tried to talk to her at home…."

Rochelle reached for the phone. "I think this calls for backup."

Hanson looked at her. "Wait, wait, wait… you can't." Rochelle paused before dialing. "Rochelle… the guy's daughter's got cancer."

Rochelle's eyes clouded. "I know. But I don't know what else to do." She dialed and waited a moment before she got the other person. "Hey, Jesse. Need your help. Yeah… it's Cassie."


Cassie had been at her desk since 8 that morning but didn't want to leave. She didn't want to go. She wanted to hide in her office and try to not think that there wasn't anyone outside who wanted to whisk her away to dinner.

There was a knock at the door and Cassie flicked her gaze up briefly before turning back to her papers.

"Cassie! Cassie, let me in, we need to talk!"

"Jesse, go away! I don't want to see you right now," Cassie said, as she buried her face in her hands.

"Cassie," Jesse said, testing the door. "I don't want to, but if I have to, I will break your door down."

Cassie sighed and stood up and limped slowly to the door and unlocked it before making her way back to her desk. Jesse sighed as he came in and crossed his arms, leaning against the wall. "Cassie, what's going on with you?"

"Nothing. I'm fine."

"No," Jesse said, uncrossing his arms and walking towards her. "You're not. Cassie, it's only been two days, and you're a mess."

"I'm fine. Really."

Jesse leaned on the desk and stared his best friend in the eye. "You. Are. Not. Fine. Now I know how hard this is for you--"

"You know nothing," Cassie said, sighing.

"BECAUSE my wife was hit by a car." He sighed again and stood up. "It was 6 years ago."

"I'm sorry."

"Ever since then, only three things have taken priority for me. My daughter, you, and hockey. And even though Suz is sick, I had to come and help you."

Cassie stood up and Jesse went around the desk to her, pulling her into a hug. "Let go, Cassie."

Cassie shook her head. "I'm fine."

Jesse pulled back slightly, holding Cassie at arm's length. "You aren't fine."

Cassie ignored the comment and looked around. "Where's Suz?"

Jesse looked away. "Suz… was diagnosed with bone cancer." When Cassie looked up, startled, Jesse tried to face Cassie. "She's okay for now. Docs removed a tumor and she's doing fine. Jenna's staying with her."

Cassie pulled away and started for the door. "You should be with her, not me."

"Cassie, you're important to me, too. And you're refusing to deal with what happened. I mean, I heard from Davis that you're not even going to the funeral."

"Matt's dead. I can't change that. What would the point be?"

"To say good bye?"

"I barely knew him," Cassie protested.

"You loved him!" Jesse said, his voice raising. "And don't say you didn't, because I know better."

Cassie grabbed her bag and cane. "I… liked him."

"You loved him. He was the first man who—"

Cassie slammed the cane on the desk, upsetting her name plaque. "YES, I loved him! And it kills me that he's dead! That's what you want to hear?" Jesse started to say something, but Cassie was on a roll now. "You think it's easy for me to admit this? I hate being like this! I hate knowing that Matt is dead and he's not coming back! My life sucked already because of my leg, and then this happens!" Jesse watched her and noticed her breathing was becoming shallow. But he couldn't say anything as Cassie was till ranting. "And I don't want to go to the funeral because I can't face the reality that the only man I really loved is dead!"

She paused for a second, and in that pause, Cassie's face paled. "Oh, G-God. I-I-I can't… c-can't breathe…"

She fell to the floor and Jesse knelt down. "Cassie? Cassie! Damn it, wake up!" He looked out of the office. "Call an ambulance!"

Rochelle called as Hanson rushed in. "What happened?"

"She just collapsed," Jesse said, worried. "I don't know what happened."


"Cassie… Cassie, wake up…"

She heard faint voices talking to her, but couldn't reply.

"Come on back, Ross…"

She just wanted to sleep. Leave this world and be with Matt… "Ahhh!" Pain sliced through her leg, bringing her back into the world. Panting, she looked around, seeing Munch, Jesse, Laurie Hughes, and her father.

"Take is easy, Cassandra," Charles Ross said as he put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "You gave us a scare. How you feeling?"

Cassie sat up and groaned as her leg throbbed. "How long was I out?"

"Two days," Munch said from his chair in the corner. "You hyperventilated and passed out. Doctors called it a stress coma. Your friend, Jesse, rode with you in the ambulance."

"Scariest 8 minutes of my life," Jesse said, his face tight.

Cassie looked around at all the worried faces. "But I'm okay, right?"

"You can leave tomorrow," Charles said. "I'll pick you up and we can go to Matt Walters' funeral."

"I'm not going," Cassie said, lying back down.

Charles Ross looked at his daughter's friends and said, "Give us a minute, would you?" The other three guys left, Munch closing the door behind them. Charles sat next to his daughter's bed and studied her. "How are you, Casey-Bear?"

Cassie gave a very faint smile. "Okay."

"Wish I could believe you," he said. "I know how hard this is for you."

"Dad, Mom was different. She was in a plane crash."

"And Matt was in a car accident after being shot. You don't love easily, Cassie. That tells me that you were really serious about this guy. That also tells me that you need to put this behind you if you want to go on."

"I'm fine."

"You're not fine. You've never been fine. You lost your mother at too young an age. You picked the Special Victims Unit, the hardest department in police work. You had to have a severe surgery because of a doctor's mistake. You had to prove that you could be a great police captain even with the limp and cane. Now you lost the man you loved. You've been through a lot, and now you're doing what you always do: you're burying your pain."

"I just can't, Dad. I don't want to let go."

"Matt's gone, Cassie. You can't hold on."

Cassie was quiet for a moment, then said, "If I let go, what do I have to hold on to?"

Charles took his daughter's hand. "You've always got me. Then there're your friends, your fellow cops…. Now whether you want to or not, you're going to the funeral. You have to."

"I know," Cassie whispered. "I know I have to. I just don't want to."


Cassie slept badly that night. She couldn't stop thinking about Matt. It was almost a relief when her leg started aching again. That kind of pain she could deal with. After a few moments, the pain was worse. Cassie rolled over, her body curling against the gradually increasing pain. Soon… soon her brain would correct the problem…


Cassie started tearing up. "You're not real. Go away."

Matt sat next to Cassie and stroked her hair. "No, you're right. I'm not here. I'm a figment of your pain-ravaged brain."

Cassie focused on him. "You're what?"

"You're in pain, Cassandra, and you're hallucinating. It wasn't your fault. And I know you miss me, but the only way you can be with me would be if you died, and you are not allowed to do that."

"I hurt," Cassie said as Matt stroked her face.

"Yeah, I know. Just relax, Cassie. It'll be okay…"


Jesse stroked Cassie's hair as she breathed through the pain. Laurie was in New Jersey at the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital where Suz was getting treatment. Jesse hated being away from his daughter right now, but once Suz had heard about Cassie, she insisted that 'Aunt Cassie needs you more than I do, Daddy'. Suz loved Cassie. After Jesse's wife, Sasha, died, he'd found Cassie to be a great comfort to his daughter.

Now his daughter was sick with cancer, thankfully not terminal (he hoped, anyway), and his best friend was going through major grief.


He looked up as Cassie focused on him. "Hey, Cassie. How are you?"

"I don't know," she said, her body relaxing. She sat up a bit. "How long have you been here?"

"Few hours. Get some sleep. I'll be here."

Cassie lay down and closed her eyes, managing to fall into a restless sleep.


When Cassie woke up the next morning, she was alone in the room, but she didn't mind. Sitting up, Cassie saw her bottle of vicodin on the bedside table, a note tucked underneath. She picked up her bottle of pills and opened the note. 'Cassie, I'll be at the hospital to pick you up at noon. Dad.'

Cassie got up slowly and turned the room radio on while she showered and changed into the set of clothes her father laid out for her.

'The dawn is breaking
A light shining through
You're barely waking
And I'm tangled up in you

I'm open, you're closed
Where I follow, you'll go
I worry I won't see your face
Light up again'

Cassie looked out the window. It was barely cloudy, the sun shining into the room through the blinds. She shut them, not wanting to see the nice day. Matt picked her up from the hospital on a nice day like this. Then they'd gone to lunch where she hadn't wanted to sing because she was afraid he'd think her voice was terrible and ditch her. But looking back now, Cassie realized he'd probably just laugh with her and never think about it. She wished she had the chance to know for sure.

'Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills my mind
I somehow find
You and I collide'

When Cassie first started working in the Special Victims Unit, her fellow detectives warned her that the choice would impact her personal life. Of course, being the offspring of a cop and an EMS dispatcher, and having an uncle and grandfather who were also on the force limited her dating as well. It was strange, but after she met Matt, Cassie was afraid of being in a relationship. And not just because of the leg, but because no guy ever wanted to date her more than once. She was too much of a tomboy.

'I'm quiet you know
You make a first impression
I've found I'm scared to know I'm always on your mind

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the stars refuse to shine
Out of the back you fall in time
I somehow find
You and I collide

Don't stop here
I lost my place
I'm close behind

Even the best fall down sometimes
Even the wrong words seem to rhyme
Out of the doubt that fills your mind
You finally find
You and I collide'

Cassie looked at herself in the bathroom mirror as she ran her fingers through her hair. She sighed and grabbed a scrunchi and tied her hair up. She grabbed her cane and headed out of the bathroom just as her father was coming in, pushing a wheelchair. Cassie sighed resignedly and sat down, her father carefully easing her bad leg up onto the rest. Once Cassie was situated, her cane across her lap, Charles Ross pushed his daughter out of the room and to where a limo was waiting to take them to the funeral.

Once Cassie was seated in the back. Charles turned on the CD player, Bryan Adams, and watched as Cassie leaned back, not relaxing, but more reserving her inner energy for what would happen.

'I'm riding in the back seat—black limousine

Staring out the window at a funeral scene

Then I get to thinking—it don't seem right

I'm sitting here, safe and sound

And someone I love is gone tonight

'I want to know what they're not telling

I don't want to hear no lies

I just want something to believe in

And ahhhhhh

It's a lonely, lonely road we're on

This side of paradise'

When the procession finally arrived at the cemetery, Charles got out first and then held out his hand to Cassie. "Come on, honey. You can do this." Cassie silently took his hand and got out, groaning as her leg started throbbing. Once she was out of the limo, she saw her father's face and took a pill before limping to her seat.

Cassie sat next to Laurie and Jesse. Suz was there as well, and though she certainly looked sick, she gave Cassie a big smile and a hug. "You okay, Aunt Cassie?"

Cassie gave a weak smile. "No. But I will be. How about you, Suzy-Q?"

Suz gave her favorite 'aunt' another hug before sitting down. "Not okay, but I will be."

Cassie gave the little girl another hug. "Thanks for coming."

Suz just smiled again. "You needed me and Daddy here."

Laurie put an arm around Cassie's shoulder's as the minister came forward, standing in front of Matt's closed casket. Cassie didn't want to listen to someone going on about Matt and Heaven and Hell, and how he was in a better place… She wanted to hear about his life, and tell people how kind and wonderful he was…. Cassie wanted to make them all understand how he took her disability and made it seem just another part of life….

Laurie Hughes had seen Cassie slam full grown men into the walls when she played hockey. He'd seen her take hits that left the most god-awful bruises without flinching. And even when her grandfather died, she didn't even cry. But now Cassie's blue-gray eyes were filled with tears that silently slid down her cheeks. Laurie tried to give her a smile, but he couldn't. She seemed too far gone for any cheering up.

Cassie silently stood up and limped off, and though several people gave her disapproving looks, she didn't care. She couldn't sit there anymore. She didn't go far, just to a bench beneath a cluster of trees and sat down, watching the funeral from a distance. It wasn't fair… it wasn't fair that just as she found happiness that it was so cruelly snatched away. The worst was that she didn't know how she could ever let Matt go. How could she just move on after the one guy she loved… Standing up, she decided to walk home. Her leg would be killing her, but right now Cassie could care less.


When the funeral ended, Charles knew that Cassie wouldn't be waiting at the funeral home for the wake. He also knew that she'd probably walk home, which was about a mile from here. And as much as Charles wanted to find his daughter and drive her home, he knew she'd resent him for doing that. He'd have John Munch stop in on her later. Resignedly, Charles Ross followed the rest of the group to the wake.


As Cassie walked through the city, she couldn't help but feel a small sense of relief as the remaining muscle in her right leg started to ache fiercely. Somehow it was easier to continue to her loft if she focused on the physical pain instead of the emotional pain.

'Here I am still holding on

I can't accept that my world is gone'

When Cassie finally got to her building, she went up to her loft and lay down on the couch. Her leg was throbbing worse than ever, and though she could feel her bottle of vicodin in her pants pocket, she didn't want to take it. She wanted to drown in the pain and let it wash away any memory of the past week.

'I didn't hear you leave

I wonder how am I still here

'And I don't want to move a thing

It might change my memory

'Oh I am what I am

I do what I want

But I can't hide'

Cassie looked around the loft. It wasn't enormous, but it was a nice sized place. Perfect for a small family… maybe a cat… Thinking of the life she'd never have with Matt started the tears up again. She couldn't do it anymore. She couldn't deal with all these emotions running through her. It was too much for one person.

'And I won't go

I can't sleep

I can't breathe

Until you're resting here with me

And I won't leave

And I can't hide

'I cannot be

Until you're resting here with me'

Maybe she was still unconscious and this was all a bad dream, Cassie thought as she got up slowly and started pacing. Her leg was to the point where it was comfortably numb with pain. She knew that her father would send someone over later to check on her, but right now that didn't matter. Right now she didn't want anyone. She just wanted to be alone…

'I don't want to call my friends

For they might wake me from this dream'

Maybe she should leave New York… New Jersey and Pennsylvania weren't all that far. Maybe a new job in a new state… Where she'd find a new life and forget all about this one. But Cassie didn't want to forget. She gave a rueful smile. She didn't want to feel the pain anymore, but she didn't want to forget about Matt. It was ironic…

'And I can't leave this place

Lest forgetting all that's been'

Cassie went into her bedroom and stared at the bed. She couldn't deal with this… not right now anyway. Even though it was 4 in the afternoon, she decided to change into pajamas; she turned down the sheets and carefully climbed into bed, turning on her bedside radio. Maybe with sleep this would all smooth out…

'Oh I am what I am

I do what I want

But I can't hide'

'And I won't go

I can't sleep

I can't breathe

Until you're resting here with me

And I won't leave

And I can't hide

I cannot be

Until you're resting here with me'

'Music therapy,' Cassie thought as she got comfortable, sliding a pillow under her right leg. It would be a long time until she felt anything resembling normal again. But that was what time was for…


John Munch and Elliot Stabler got to Cassie's apartment around 10pm and weren't surprised when the found the door unlocked and the apartment dark. "Think she took the couch or the bed?" Munch asked, not turning on the lights. The last thing he wanted to do was wake Cassie up if she was asleep.

Stabler looked towards the living room couch and shook his head. "Not there. You want to stay here tonight? Keep an eye on things?"

Munch sat down on the empty couch and stretched out. "You read my mind."

Stabler nodded as he settled into the recliner. After a short amount of time, both detectives were sound asleep.


When Cassie woke up the next morning, her leg was back to its usual ache. She stood up and grabbed her cane, heading towards the kitchen, smirking as she saw Munch curled up on her sofa and Stabler sprawled in the chair. Going into the kitchen, she hollered, "You guys want coffee?" Both men jumped, making Cassie chuckle as she leaned her cane against the counter and set up her coffeemaker. "Breakfast?"

Stabler came in and watched her. "How are you doing this morning?"

"I'm… okay, I think," Cassie said, as she pulled out eggs and bacon.

"Let us do that, Cass," Munch said, coming in as well.

Under most circumstances, Cassie would have refused, but today she decided to give in. "Okay," She said, grabbing her cane. "I'll go get the paper."

30 minutes later, the three of them were seated at Cassie's table, eating and looking through the newspaper.

"You're really okay, Cassie?" Stabler asked, as he gathered up the dishes.

Cassie nodded slowly. "Yeah. I-I've got a lot of stuff to figure out, but I'm okay."

Munch and Stabler both studied her for a moment before they were satisfied. After cleaning up and saying good-bye, Cassie got dressed and ready to go into the precinct.


Heading into her office, Cassie noticed all the detectives watching her. "Ignore me," she said to Rochelle. "For once I'm actually not lying when I say I'm okay."

"Captain Ross?" Rochelle said, looking curious.


"You're okay?"

Cassie smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I'm good. I'll be in my office. Let me know if you have anything for me."


That night, when she left the precinct, Cassie stopped when she got to her car. She wanted to leave, but she didn't want to go home. After a moment's debate, she got in, tossing her cane and bag in the passenger seat and pulled out of the lot. She drove, not exactly knowing where she was going. She debated going to visit Suz and Jesse, but decided to save that for the weekend.

Stopped at a red light, Cassie suddenly turned her right turn signal. Once the light turned green she headed out to the cemetery. Once she parked, she sat for a moment before getting out. She headed down to Matt's headstone and stopped. "I'm sorry. I wanted to say good bye, but… I just couldn't deal with it. And to be honest I still can't. But I'll get through it." Cassie ran a hand over the headstone. "Thanks, Matt. Thanks for loving me…"

With that, Cassie walked out of the cemetery. Sitting in her car, she realized that as bad as all this was, it was one of life's great changes. Finally, she started her car and headed home.