A/N: The Law & Order SVU characters were created, and are owned by, Dick Wolf. I claim no ownership of these characters, nor am I making any money off of this story.

This story takes place one year after the events of Allegiance, during the seventh season,shortly before the events of the episode "Fault".

This story is not recommended to younger readers because of the harsh language.

"Wait a minute," Assistant District Attorney Casey Novak said, as she shook her head in disbelief, "please say that again!"

There was a pause on the other end of the phone as Captain Donald Cragen took a deep breath. "We suffered a fire in the evidence room," he said, with a heavy sigh. "We've had to evacuate the stationhouse for a while."

Casey immediately thought of Elliot. "Is he…um, are you guys all right?"

"Yeah, Casey, we're all fine, thanks. The fire was contained in the evidence room. The FDNY kept it from spreading to the rest of the building."

There was an uneasy silence as Cragen paused once again.

"That's great, Don. I'm really glad you guys are fine," Casey sincerely said, as she braced herself for the bad news to was to come. "Now, about the evidence room, what was damaged?"

"Everything," Cragen grimly told her.

That one word was like a slug to the stomach for Casey, who had to abruptly sit down as soon as she heard it. "Oh, Christ…."

"Yeah," Cragen glumly said, "that was pretty much our reaction, as well."

"Don, the Beauchamp tapes," Casey began, "were they--?"

"They're gone, as well, Casey. They've burnt to cinders."

'Oh shit, shit, shit…!' Casey thought, as she put her hand over her eyes in despair. Charles Beauchamp was a college professor who turned out to be a sadistic rapist of his female students. The arrogant bastard had actually recorded himself in the act of raping several of his victims. Regardless of his horrendous crimes, Beauchamp had kept slipping out of the grip of the Special Victim's Unit detectives, because he was too careful, and also because none of his victims would testify against him thanks to the fear he instilled in them. They didn't even know about the horrid tapes that he made until his stepdaughter, a brave little girl named Lilly, found them stashed away in a hidden spot in the attic of their home.

'Oh God, Lilly,' Casey thought, as she recalled that she was due to meet with the little girl and her mother today in court. "All right," she said into the phone, "Look, I gotta go. But I'll stop by later."

"Right, see you then," Cragen said, before he hung up.

Casey sat back down in the chair behind her desk and placed both hands over her eyes. The tapes were the best evidence they had against Charles Beauchamp, and with them gone, the case against him was now going to be a hell of a lot harder to try.

"SHIT!" Casey cursed in frustration.

She removed her hands from her eyes just in time to see Kelly Gaffney, a fellow ADA in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, stop short in her doorway. The blonde gave her a sheepish look as she asked, "Bad time?"

"Bad day is more like it," Casey muttered in disgust. "What can I do for you, Kelly?"

"I just ran into Arthur in the hallway," Kelly said. "And he wants to see you in his office, ASAP."

'Oh great…just wonderful!' Casey thought with renewed disgust. She had been hoping to avoid her boss until she could at least get a handle on the situation, but Branch wanted to see her right now. She wondered if he heard about the fire at the one six. "Ok, I'm on my way out, anyway. I can stop by his office." She frowned at Kelly, whose morose expression told Casey that she appeared to be having some problems of her own. "You all right?"

"Yeah," Kelly replied, with a slight smile that did not reach her eyes.

Casey collected her things and left the office, and as she walked out with Kelly, she did a double take: it appeared as though Kelly had been crying. "Are you sure you're all right, Kelly?"

"I said I'm fine!" Kelly snapped, as she took a defensive step backwards from Casey. Letting out an annoyed sigh, she threw her hands at Casey in annoyance as she stormed down the hallway.

"Well excuse me for caring," Casey whispered, baffled at the woman's behavior.

'The world is coming apart at the seams today,' Casey dolefully thought. 'And it'll only get even worse once Norton finds out about the fire.'

Yet thinking about Beauchamp's attorney had actually given Casey an idea--one that might not work, but she was wiling to give it a shot. When she arrived at the office of Arthur Branch, the District Attorney's secretary waved her right on past. "Mr. Branch is expecting you, Ms. Novak."

Arthur Branch was a tall gentleman with balding gray hair and good old boy mannerisms that seemed more fitting to the Deep South, rather than New York City. When he was first elected to the job, Casey wondered how this genteel country boy would ever survive the dog eat dog world of the New York courts and its insidious politics. Yet she soon realized that Branch was no country bumpkin; he had lived in the city for twenty years before seeking the job as its D.A. And despite his good-natured country boy ways, Branch was a shrewd politician who knew how to play the game as well as the best of them.

"Hello Casey," Branch said cheerily, as he glanced up at her from his desk. "I hear you've just been handed a real shit sandwich."

Another thing Casey learned about Branch was that he could be extremely blunt when he wanted to be. "Uh, yeah," Casey said, as she grimaced at the mental picture he just created for her. "I guess you heard about the fire at the one-six?"

"I wouldn't be much of a D.A. if I didn't hear about stuff like that," Branch said. He gestured for her to take a seat in front of his desk. "How are you situated in terms of evidence?"

"As far as the Beauchamp case goes, pretty badly," Casey replied as she sat down. "I'm told the videotapes are gone."

Branch nodded thoughtfully. "Did your entire case hinge on those tapes?"

"Pretty much," Casey said resignedly. "But I also have testimony from Beauchamp's ex-wife Linda. After Lilly, her daughter, found the box of tapes, Linda watched one of them. She could testify to the contents on the tape."

"Could she give details?" Branch asked. "For instance, did she know the woman who was being raped by Beauchamp on the tape?"
"Yes," Casey said, as she consulted her files. "Linda identified her as being Rachel Gibbons, one of Beauchamp's students."

Branch sat back in his seat and dismally shook his head. "We were prosecuting Beauchamp as a serial rapist, and now we'll be lucky if we can get him just on the Gibbons' assault. Are you sure none of his victims will testify against him?"

"All of his victims were students at his college, and most of them don't live in the tri-state area," Casey said. "And of the ones who do, the SVU detectives reached out to them, but with no avail. Beauchamp's got them all badly scared."

"You have to reach out to them again, Casey, even the victims who live out of state," Branch told her. "Charles Beauchamp is a monster. And we cannot afford to let him back out on the streets again."

"I'm not giving up so easily," Casey solemnly promised. "In fact, I've got an idea. The chances of it working are pretty slim, but I'm willing to give it a shot."

"Do tell," Branch said.

"What if I offered Beauchamp a deal right now?" Casey said. "He was looking at a multiple-charge indictment as a serial rapist, but what if I offered him to accept a plea on rape, assault and unlawful imprisonment for just the Gibbons' case instead? I know it sucks," she added, "but since my evidence is now gone, Beauchamp has a pretty good chance of beating it in court."

"Whereas, if he accepts the plea, we're guaranteed that he's off the streets for a few years," Branch said. "But, as you've stated, your main piece of evidence is up in smoke--so what's stopping Beauchamp and his attorney, Norton, from telling you to take a hike?"

"They probably would tell me to take a hike," Casey said, "if they already knew my main evidence was up in smoke."

Branch smiled at her. "Bluff them? Make the plea bargain before they find out you're holding a weak hand?"

Casey nodded. "Like I said, it's a long shot. But if I meet with them quickly enough, and make it a 'take it or leave it' offer, I might be able to pull it off. And if we manage to find more solid evidence of his other assaults down the road, we can pin them on Beauchamp while he's in jail."

Casey's cell phone rang just then, and when she excused herself to answer it, she was stunned to see the name of who was calling on the I.D. screen. "It's Norton."

"She already knows your evidence is toast," Branch told her with a shake of his head.

When Casey answered the call, Alexis Norton began speaking in that high-pitched, chatterbox manner of her. "Hello, Casey! My client and I would like to have a meeting with you at Rikers sometime this afternoon. Are you free?"

Although Casey knew full well who Norton spoke of, she decided not to reveal her hand just yet. "Which client would that be, Alexis?"

There was a pause on the other end of the line. And then Norton said, "Why Charles Beauchamp, of course."

Casey placed her hand over the cell phone and mouthed the words "she knows" to Branch. "Sure, I can be at Rikers within the hour. How does that sound?"

"Great, see you then." Norton hung up without saying goodbye. She was one of these high-powered, self-important egomaniacs who acted as if she had little time to indulge in the common courtesies of life.

"And so the battle begins," Casey grimly said, as she shut off her cell phone. "I'll get the SVU detectives to start contacting the Beauchamp victims. This case isn't dead yet."

"That's the spirit," Branch said. As she left his office, he called after her: "Good hunting!"

Casey grinned as she pressed the speed dial for Olivia on her cell phone. Every time Branch said that phrase to her, Casey thought she should be carrying a spear and a shield. But then again, maybe a spear and shield wouldn't be enough. 'If everyday starts getting to be as bad as today,' she wearily thought, 'then I should really think about investing in a suit of armor!'

Special Victim's Unit Squad Room

16 Precinct


"You guys are a bunch of pussies!" Detective Joe Harris exclaimed. "I never seen a group of people run so fast in my life!"

"Who are you kidding, Harris?" Detective Elliot Stabler retorted. "The fire alarm barely squeaked before you were the first one out the door!"

The assembled group of police officers and detectives all let out a collective "Ooooo!"

Harris shook his head and said, "There was a very good reason for that, Stabler."

"Oh yeah?" Elliot said. "Enlighten me."

"I had to make sure all the fire exits were unblocked," Harris told him with a straight face. When the whole room burst into laughter at his reply, he innocently added, "What?"

Elliot, grinning broadly, just waved his hand in mock-disgust at him.

Cragen came out of his office with a scowl on his face. "What's this? High school? Come on, folks, the excitement's over, so let's get back to work, shall we?"

As the captain left the squad room, the crowd quickly dispersed, and Elliot stared uneasily at the empty desk of his partner, Olivia Benson. He glanced around the squad room, but could not find her. He saw John Munch was seated at his desk, watching the goings-on in the squad room with a cool detachment behind his trademark tinted eyeglasses.

"You see Liv?" he asked.

Munch shook his head. "Haven't seen her since the evacuation. Now that you mention it, where the hell's Fin?"

"Right here," Detective Odafin Tutuola said as he strolled into the squad room. "What you whining about now?"

"Nothing," Munch said defensively. "Just wondering where you were, that's all. Didn't you get the all-clear?"

Fin took a seat at his desk. "Yeah, I heard it. What you riding me for?"

"I'm not riding you," Munch said. "You were a little late in coming back, and I was just wondering where you were! Is that too much to ask?"

"All right, look, I was late coming back because…I got a thing about fire, ok?" Fin said, looking uncomfortable. "It creeps me out, y'know? I just don't like fire is all."

"Who does?" Elliot asked sympathetically.

"Arsonists," Munch responded. "Did you know they've become the new breed of assassin these days? The CIA now has a covert operation in place where they recruit arsonists from--"

"Whoa, John, whoa!" Elliot said, waving his hands. "Just hold that thought for one second, ok?" Turning to Fin, he asked. "You see Liv around?"

"Yeah, she was downstairs, by the evidence room," Fin said, "or what's left of it, anyway!"

"Thanks, man. Ok, John, now tell us your latest theory," Elliot said, as he started walking away.

"But you won't be here to hear it," Munch called after him.

"Yeah," Elliot replied with a grin. "That was plan all along."

He headed downstairs, where there were firefighters lingering around, packing up their equipment. The smell of smoke still hung heavy in the air. He saw Cragen speaking intently with a fire captain. Olivia stood by the door that led into the evidence room, looking as if she had just lost her best friend.

Elliot came up alongside of her and stared into the evidence room. The walls, which were made of brick, were all blackened, and the large metal cage where the evidence was stored now looked like the inside of a well-used barbecue.

"Good God," Elliot muttered, as he surveyed the damage. "How bad?"

"It's bad," Olivia said, disgusted. "It's real bad, El. The Beauchamp tapes are gone. I was hoping to get at least some of them over to TARU for salvage, but they're all history. That son of a bitch is gonna walk."

"Never happen," Elliot assured her.

"I hope you're right." She shook her head. "You know, if Beauchamp wasn't in jail right now, I'd swear he was the one who set the fire."

"Speaking of which, do they know yet what caused it?" Elliot asked.

"Fire marshal said he thought it looked like an accident," Olivia said. "It started with a faulty outlet, the one that was in the evidence cage." Her cell phone rang just then, and she excused herself to answer it.

Cragen had finished his conversation with the FDNY captain and he came over and stood with Elliot by the doorway. "Well, at least it's not arson," Cragen said with a sigh. "It looks like bad wiring's the culprit."

"If nothing else, maybe this'll get John to cool it with the arsonist conspiracy theories," Elliot said hopefully.

Cragen looked doubtful. "This is John Munch we're talking about here. Since when has anything stopped him from ranting?"

"Yeah, you're right," Elliot admitted. "Wishful thinking on my part."


Both Elliot and Cragen turned to see Olivia shouting into her cell phone. "Listen to me, Casey! What…yeah, of course I'll meet with Lilly and her mom, but…Casey, wait, don't…damn it, she hung up on me!"

"What happened?" Cragen asked.

"Norton, Beauchamp's attorney, called her, and asked for a meeting at Rikers," Olivia angrily said. "It's just what I thought, that son of a bitch is going to plea bargain his way out of this!"

"Is that what Casey said she'd do?" Elliot asked. "Offer him a plea bargain?"

"No, but that's what's going to happen, isn't it?" Olivia said.

Elliot doubted Casey was going to let Beauchamp off the hook that easily, no matter how badly her case was damaged. Despite his feelings, Elliot hesitated to jump to Casey's defense, mainly because the ADA had been his lover for a year, now, and he was sensitive--perhaps overly so--that it would look like he was simply defending his girlfriend. It was an awkward moment, and not the first one that Elliot encountered since he and Casey began dating.

"Why don't we wait and see what unfolds before we start pointing fingers at each other," Cragen said, giving voice to Elliot's thoughts.

"I promised Lilly that I would put her stepfather away forever, that he would never harm her again," Olivia heatedly said. She glared at Elliot and added, "But now, thanks to your girlfriend, with good behavior, that rat bastard will probably be out in as little as five years to terrorize Lilly all over again."

With that she turned on her heel and left.

"Oh, come on, Liv," Elliot said with a shake of his head. Observing decorum was one thing, but there was only so much he could take. "Give me a break! Hey, Liv!"

Cragen grabbed his arm. "No, let her go, Elliot. Let her cool off. She's taking this case a little personal, isn't she?"

"She's really close with Lilly Beauchamp," Elliot said. Not that Elliot could blame Olivia for getting close with Lilly--that kid was a real sweetheart who had more backbone than some cops he knew. She stood up to her monster of a stepfather during one scary night by uncovering his hidden cache of videotapes, and then Lilly even had the presence of mind to call Olivia for help when things got too hairy between Beauchamp and her mother.

When Elliot glanced back at the destroyed evidence room, he shook his head with anger.

'That brave little girl risked her very life to uncover those tapes, and now they're nothing more than ashes,' he thought.

"You know, cap, sometimes life is really fucking unfair," Elliot said darkly.

"Since when has it ever been fair?" Cragen softly replied.

Manhattan Supreme Court

Lower Manhattan

Olivia let out a weary sigh as she glanced over at the empty space in the southern New York skyline. It had been almost five years since the terrible events of 9/11, and yet even now she still had trouble getting used to not seeing the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center looming over everything in downtown Manhattan.

Olivia grimly recalled that awful day, and the helplessness she'd felt. It was the same sort of helplessness she had felt earlier today at the one six, when she gazed into the scorched evidence room.

But the reminder of 9/11 made Olivia realize that some things were just out of her control. 'You just can't prevent certain bad things from happening,' she realized. 'Like a fire destroying all your evidence.'

As she briskly walked up the steps of the massive courthouse and presented her detective badge to the officer at the security checkpoint, Olivia inwardly cringed at the snide remark she made to Elliot; about how, thanks to his girlfriend, Beauchamp may be out of jail a lot sooner than any of them had planned.

'That was a real cheap shot,' Olivia chided herself. 'Casey's just scrambling to salvage what she can of a bad situation, just like the rest of us. I should apologize to Elliot later. I just hope he accepts my apology without getting frigging insufferable!'

Olivia paused to scan the crowds, and then burst into a grin when she saw a woman with a little girl standing meekly by the elevators.

Lily had seen Olivia first, and broke into a mad dash towards her. Her mother let out a startled shout--until she saw that her daughter was running towards Olivia and instantly relaxed.

Olivia bent down and tightly hugged Lily. "Hey, you!"

"Hey, you, too!" Lily replied with a shy giggle.

"How's my little buddy?" Olivia asked.

"Good," Lily said with a nod. "How's my big buddy?"

"Just great," Olivia said. "Listen, do me a favor: whenever you're in a crowded public place like this, don't ever run off like that from your mom, ok?"

"But I ran when saw you," Lily explained.

"I know, sweetie," Olivia said with a gentle shake of her head. "But even if you see somebody you know, you should never run away from mommy when you're in a crowded place, ok?"

"Ok," Lily solemnly promised.

"Hello Olivia," Linda said. Although she looked pleased to see her, there was some confusion on Linda's face. "I thought Casey was going to meet us today."

"She was, but she got called away at the last minute," Olivia replied. Casey had planned to give Lily a run-through of what testifying at the trial would be like in one of the empty courtrooms--which was something that Olivia could easily do in her place. "Come on, I'll take you guys upstairs."

"Is everything all right with the case?" Linda asked as they waited for the elevator.

"There's been a major development," Olivia said with a sigh. "I'll tell you upstairs, when we've got some more privacy."

Olivia decided that she would follow the pre-trial plan until she heard otherwise from Casey. She just hoped that when she did hear back from the ADA, Casey would have good news to tell.

Conference Room

Rikers Island

New York City

Casey smiled at the guard as he buzzed her through the gate. "How's it going, Neville?"

"Same old, same old," the guard replied. A twenty year veteran of Rikers, he was a burly African-American with a goatee and a completely bald head. "Yourself?"

"Pretty good," she said. Casey wasn't about to unload on him about what a crap fest her day had become. "In here to see Charles Beauchamp."

"Beauchamp's become a real belle of the ball today," Neville said. "He's got a lot of callers. First there was Childs, his good buddy, and now Ms. Norton and you."

Casey was about to walk on through until she abruptly stopped and ask, "Who's Childs?"

"Samuel Childs," Neville said. "That one's a regular visitor for Mr. Beauchamp. A real nasty dude. Doesn't say much to me."

"He's been here before?" Casey asked.

"Nearly everyday," Neville said. "I wish I had friends that were that faithful."

"Don't we all," Casey joked, as she walked through the doorway that he opened for her. She mentally tucked away the name Samuel Childs in a safe corner of her mind for now. A good prosecutor always kept all her options open.

When she arrived at the conference room, Casey found Alex Norton speaking with her client at the table. Charles Beauchamp was now clad in prison orange, yet almost a year behind bars could not wipe off that annoyingly smug look he always had.

Casey felt a chill when Beauchamp gave her an intense gaze, as if sizing her up as a future prey. He was so obvious that Norton actually noticed him staring and snapped him out of it by saying, "Charles!"

'You truly are a monster, you son of a bitch,' Casey thought, as she took a seat at the table opposite from them. Instead of scaring her, Beauchamp's actions only reaffirmed Casey's desire to keep him off the streets, no matter what it took.

"So, Alexis," Casey said. "What's on your mind?"

"Well, first off, let me just say how sorry I am about the fire at the one-six," Norton said, with her usual overwrought flair for dramatics. "Is everybody over there all right?"

'I'm not giving you a goddamn thing, you stinking bitch,' Casey thought. "There was a fire at the one-six?" she said, sounding stunned. "That's news to me. I should give them a call!"

For a brief moment, Norton's eyes narrowed into slits. "The fire was confined to the evidence room. I thought you might have heard about it by now."

'At least now I know how much she knows,' Casey thought with satisfaction. "I've been on the go all day, so this is the first time I've heard about it."

"I figured since your situation has now drastically changed," Norton said, "at least in in terms of your evidence, that you--"

"My situation hasn't changed at all, Alexis," Casey said firmly. "And unless your client wishes to confess to the rapes that he committed right here and now, then I expect to see the two of you in court next Monday morning."

"Oh, I'm looking forward to that," Norton said, with a broad grin. "It should be interesting to see you try a case with no evidence."

When she noticed Beauchamp leering at her once more, Casey said, "Careful, Mr. Beauchamp, or I'll tell your prison cellmate on you. Wouldn't want him to get jealous, now, do we?"

"You fucking bitch!" Beauchamp snarled at her.

"Charles! Shut up!" Norton cried.

Neville immediately appeared by the cell door, giving Beauchamp a hard look. "You all right, Ms. Novak?"

"We're fine!" Norton said frantically. "Nothing happened!"

"I'm ok, Neville, thanks," Casey said, as she got up from the table and calmly and casually collected her things. Before she stepped out of the conference cell, Casey glanced back at Beauchamp and Norton with a smug smile and said, "See you two in court."

As she strode down the hallway with Neville, Casey shook her head with disgust. 'This was just a fishing exhibition on Norton's part,' she realized. 'She heard about the fire at the one-six and was simply trying to get a read on how it affected my case.'

She just wished that her case against Charles Beauchamp was as solid as she pretended it to be. The thought of that monster once more stalking women sent a chill down Casey's spine.

When she entered the reception area, Casey was surprised to see Hector Salazar standing there, waiting for her. Hector used to be an NYPD detective until injuries he sustained when he got shot in the line of duty forced him to leave the force several years ago. He now worked as an investigator for the District Attorney's office. The NYPD's loss had been the D.A.'s Office gain, for Hector had proven to be one of the best investigators they ever hired.

"Casey," Hector said, walking up to her. His eyes kept darting at the people all around them.

"Hey, Hector," Casey said. She sensed something was wrong. "What is it?"

"The office said you'd be here," he told her. His eyes never stopped scanning the crowds. "I've got something important to tell you. But not here."

"All right, come with me," Casey replied. She immediately understood the need for privacy, and the reception area, which was filled with various people, was not a good place to share top secret information. Once they were outside, alone in the open air, Casey turned to him and asked, "What's up?"

"I just got a tip," Hector said. "Somebody put a contract out on one of your witnesses."

"Oh shit," Casey said. "It's Selma Romano, isn't it? Her husband just made bail the other day, and he swore that he would--"

But she stopped talking when Hector began to shake his head. "It's not Romano," he said. "It's someone else."

"Who is it?" Casey asked, her eyes wide.

"It's Lily Beauchamp," Hector whispered. "Someone put a contract out on Lily Beauchamp."

To be continued...