Play to Win

Elizabeth Donnelly stepped off the elevator coming face to face with the new district attorney.

" 'Evening, Liz. Congratulations on the Brice case," Branch said as he rounded the corner, quickly grabbing the closing elevator door.

"I'd like to talk to you about that, Arthur," Donnelly said gravely.

".Don't see where there's much to talk about. Case is over. You and Cabot got a murderer off the street."

"Arthur, I did your dirty work." Donnelly sanpped. "The least you can do is give me five minutes."

Branch sighed. "I don't know how you did things when Adam Schiff was here, but on my watch, but we play to win." He paused seeing the guilt in her eyes. "Liz, you did your job. And you did it very well, I might add."

"He is twelve years old Arthur. Facing twenty five to life."

"You offered a deal," Branch asked as he entered the elevator.

"Mother wouldn't accept it. I made the kid cry on the stand. Then that anti -Christ incarnate, Zach Conner, took the stand. Mrs. Brice saw how the jury reacted to it all.. Conner was so vile, she was convinced they would find her son innocent. Even the PD tried to convince her.'

"Well, there you go. If the mother disregarded advise from the boy's attorney to take the deal, it's not up to this office -"

"Arthur the mother isn't an attorney. Twenty five to life may look good politcially, but. it's a travesty for that boy to face that kind of time."

Branch punched the button marked "L", his other hand holding the door. "Elizabeth, I really am running late. Mayor's waitin'. Listen. You need to let this one go. You did a good thing here. Maybe the next time a child is in over this head, he'll call the police or at least tell his parents instead of helping a bully kill somebody. Coming," he asked as the doors began to close.

She could see his mind was made up. "I'll take the next one," she said coolly.

Branch shrugged his shoulders as he disappeared behind the doors.

Donnelly turned, resting her body against the metal doors. She sighed heavily and closed her eyes, frustration and exhaustion getting the best of her.

She had known what was coming, as she had watched the jury file back in. None of them could look at the boy. They all knew. The jury, Cabot, the PD on the case Gina Bernardo, the judge. In a matter of minutes, the mother was sobbing, the boy stunned. Each juror declaring "guilty" as they complied with Bernardo's request that the jury be polled.

Thought I was so damn clever…having Alex question Zach Conner after I broke Jeremy Brice on the stand, she thought. …So sure could Alex undo the damage… Thought I'd have my cake and eat it too... Why didn't they take five years, when it was offered?… Why didn't I tell Arthur to go to hell and listen to Alex?… How could I have been so hell bent to win... so arrogant with a boy's life?

She opened her eyes and turned, feeling the doors begin to open.

"Liz," McCoy said taken off guard. "I just left Serena and Alex Cabot at Clancy's."

"I can't image Alex was celebrating," Donnelly said stepping toward the car.

McCoy's arm held the door, blocking her. "It felt more like a wake, than a celebration. Serena was still trying to cheer her up when I left. Kind of late for you to still be here?"

"I wanted to talk to Arthur."

"He say anything you didn't already know?"

She shook her head. "According to our new district attorney, I should be proud that I just sent a child to prison for the next twenty five years. A child who is terrified of bullies. Would you be kind enough to move your arm so I can go home and shoot myself."

McCoy left his arm were it was. "I still keep the Dewar's in the bottom drawer. Still have an extra glass."

"Jack, I just said I wanted to shoot myself. Hearing that from an ex wife, would be a dream come true, for most men."

"If you shot yourself, it would just be one more thing our daughter would find a way to blame me for. Besides," he added with a grin, "I'm not most men. I'm not paying alimony, I can afford to be generous."

"That's true. But, no. No, thanks, Jack-"

" Come on, Liz. We talked since you became SVU bureau chief. You can catch me up on Beth's first month at Stanford. Besides, talking to me beats wallowing in self pity."

" How can I turn down such a gracious offer," she sputtered. " If you're sure you have the time. Don't you have some A D A to seduce? It is Friday night."

He stuck his tongue out and took her arm. "That's more like it. Sarcasm. Much more you."

McCoy poured the scotch and handed her a glass. He removed his suit jacket. "You believe the murder wasn't the Brice boy's idea," he asked. He moved to the clothes rack, near the door, as he undid his belt.

She knew it was Jack's habit to change out of his suit and tie before going home. No matter who happened to be with him. The first time she'd seen him do it, was when she had been his assistant. Even then, she recognized the display for what it was: It was an extremely presumptuous way to bring intimacy into a professional relationship.

Donnelly had taken pride in remaining indifferent. Not letting McCoy see the discomfort, that soon became desire, she felt. This time, she sat back on the leather sofa and pulled off her black heels. She openly watched him. The door frame he was behind, not quite concealing him.

"I appreciate the lengths you'll go to distract me Jack. But, watching you do a striptease, isn't going to change the fact that boy doesn't stand a chance in prison. Although, I have always wondered…"

McCoy smiled as he zipped the jeans and removed the blue striped tie from his neck.

"What do you wonder," he asked as he moved towards her buttoning the blue denim shirt.

"How do you get those pants on and off so fast, without taking off your shoes?"

McCoy laughed as he picked up his glass and joined her on the sofa. "If that's what you think about when I undress, I guess the thrill is gone, Liz."

"Sorry to burst you bubble." As she raised her glass, McCoy could see her hand was shaking.

"This boy really got to you, didn't he?"

"Not until the cross. I didn't see it until I cross examined him," she said softly. "I had him Jack. He started to unravel. Right on cue. The confession. Then the tears," she paused, reliving the moment.

Jeremy Brice sobbing, hysterically apologizing for part he played in Susan O' Striker's death. The fear and remorse she saw. The way she pushed on...Were you scared or did you want to be cool? Donnelly felt ashamed remembering her words...

" Never make them cry. You taught me that, Jack. Makes the prosecutor the bad guy, instead of the defendant. I looked in those eyes. I suddenly realized who the bad guy really was."

"He made a choice, Liz. He had to own up to it."

"His 'friend' Zach Conner, was the mastermind. That little bastard is evil incarnate. Unfortunately, all the jury saw was that Jeremy is bigger and older. I made sure of that."

"Liz. You're being too hard on yourself," McCoy said genuinely concerned. "Alex said you offered the boy a deal. His mother should have listened to her attorney and taken it."

"The mother doesn't understand how a jury thinks. I do."

McCoy frowned as Donnelly filled her glass. "You've prosecuted juveniles before. It's never easy, but I can't remember seeing you hit this hard over it. There's something else."

She looked at her former husband carefully. "God, I hate to say it. Especially to you."

"Come on Liz, I've made my share of mistakes. What's bothering you?"

Discounting events in their marriage, she could count the mistakes Jack McCoy had made, on one hand. She had once been his assistant. As arrogant as McCoy could be, she couldn't image him disregarding an ADA's input. Not an ADA he respected as much as she respected a Alex Cabot. Not as smugly.

"I should have listened to Alex." Donnelly said at last. "She told me it was wrong to go after Jeremy Brice. I just bulldozed her. Took the lead and made her second chair on her own case. "

"She said you were wrong? To your face?" Donnelly could hear the awe in his voice. She nodded. "I knew Alex Cabot was tough. I never thought she had that in her. It takes a lot of guts to tell you, you're wrong. Guts..or a death wish," he said with amusement.

"Thanks, Jack. That makes me feel much better," she said reaching for the glass. "I'm also really good at making little kids cry on the stand. That image should send you into hysterics."

"Sorry. I meant, you stand by your convictions. Just like I do. If you believe the defendant is guilty, you keep pushing. Nothing anyone says or does can stop you. That's what makes you such a damn fine prosecutor, Liz."

Donnelly got up and walked to the window. The city lights shined brightly. The Empire state building visible.

When she spoke Jack barely heard her whisper, "My convictions had nothing to do with it."

McCoy stood beside her. He unexpectedly caught a siff of an framilar scent. She's still wears Channel… He instinctively put his arm around her. He had meant it has a means of comfort, to support a woman he had known almost half his life. He was surprised when she reached for his hand. Surprised at the sudden surge of desire he felt. He wondered if she felt it as well.

"Tell me" he asked quietly.

"Arthur made it clear he wanted a conviction. But, I can't put the all the blame on his shoulders. When I told her Arthur wanted a conviction, Alex fought me. I thought she too emotionally involved. I decided to show her how to do the job without letting your emotions get in the way." She looked up at him, her eyes shining. "I let winning come before justice Jack. What the hell was I thinking?"