For all the grumbling New Yorkers, myself included, do about the snow, I secretly love when a blizzard blankets the city. Not the snow itself, not the car accidents and stranded travelers and mass transit that alternates between non – functional and overcrowded, but the peace it brings. Most people don't see it in the hustle of people putting in supplies like six inches of snow will be the end of civilization, but for me, it means the perps stay in and behave themselves. At least to the extent that they stop roaming the parks and streets for victims. Must be too difficult to get it up when the cold makes their balls crawl back into their bodies. Crude I know, but in this job I welcome any breaks, and so when it begins to snow I sigh in relief.
Of course, the lack of calls to go out on means we're all stuck here catching up on paperwork. Seems like we never get caught up; there is just too much to do. Too many victims who need me, need us, to hold their hand, talk them through the process of putting the man who grabbed them away, or convincing the little ones that what their father did is not their fault. I can't just walk away from them, even as Casey rides my ass about why the paperwork is important. She needs that to get the convictions, and she talks about justice being the complete process. Sometimes I just want to shake her until she understands that convictions don't mean justice; that what we do is just a stop gate most of the time.
I turn away from the snow when my fingers start to ache from the cold of the windowpane. Tucking my hands inside the sleeves of my sweater I watch my co-workers, my guys, for a moment. For now all three are buried in their work, hunched over those damn forms and cooling coffee, but I can feel that it won't take much to derail them. They're trying, but they don't want to be at the station house anymore than I do, and any little distraction will set them off. A detail from a file might set off a debate, or open us up to the kind of confessional discussion we usually can't start without a few rounds. Or a crumpled form missing the rim of the waste basket could send us in a whole new direction, until the Cap gets sick of the silliness and sends us out into the snow just to be rid of us. With the snow casting the city into an early twilight, it could go either way.
I shiver as the wind whistles through a crack in the frame, running up my spine, and head back to my desk for my coffee mug. I'm not quite ready to get back to work, and fiddle around the pot making the perfect cup of coffee, or as close as I can get with the sludge left in the bottom. Starting a fresh pot, I even go so far as wiping down the counters with a sponge that has just about disintegrated into crumbs when a flash of gold catches my attention. Turning towards the door, I see gold dissolve into blond hair and such pale skin and those damned glasses. She stands in the doorway, watching the guys at work, and smirks fondly at their bowed heads. I take the time to observe her for a moment; she is wearing a turtle necked sweater, the palest blue can be before being labeled a shade of white. It hangs past the edge of her jeans, rather shapelessly, but leaves her legs free. There is something about her legs in a pair of form fitting jeans, not tight or indecent in any way, that makes my breath catch. I love those legs in sort skirts and hose, or naked altogether, but there is something about jeans. I note the sensible, but still stylish and very expensive, boots that complete the outfit. It would explain how she managed to sneak in without being noticed. When she was ours, we always had a heads up as her heels clicked distinctively on the short trip from the elevator.
She hasn't been ours, or mine, for a long time now, but I see her looking around, past the guys, and I hope she's looking for me. When she finds me lurking by the coffee pot, she smiles, and for a moment I see something in her eyes that I've missed often over the last few years. Before I can name it, or begin to wonder what it means, the look is gone, replaced by something like fear, or panic. My heart aches a little as she breaks eye contact and turns back to our guys.
"Munch, you better keep your eye on that report if you ever want Don to let you out of here." He startles at the sound of her voice, turning guiltily from the snow falling outside the window. His embarrassment at being called out is soon replaced with his characteristic smirk as he turns to face our former ADA.
"Cabot, unless Novak sent you around as her errand boy, I don't see how it is any of you business when I get this done. Unless you had plans for me after work. In which case I'll be ready in ten minutes." Seeing Munch leer and raise his eyebrows is more comical than anything, and watching Alex laugh I see some of the tension slip from her shoulders. It is good to see her smile; the last few times I've seen her she seemed weighed down like Atlas. I'm struck as always by the way her beauty softens into something tolerable when she relaxes. In court, in her office, the hard edge of her beauty was so daunting, making her unapproachable. Walking towards the guys gathered around her, I have to consciously remind myself that she is off limits to me all the time now.
I stand back from the group a little, letting the guys fawn over her, and not pushing to include myself in her fan club. Even as she avoids looking at me, I know she is aware of exactly where I am in the room. When we were together she could turn a full 180 and meet my eyes without hesitation. She knew where I would be, and I knew what each look meant; the 'can you believe this jackass,' the 'I can't wait to get you out of here,' and the 'save me.' I feel cold when I think of the last time I saw the 'save me,' remembering how completely I failed her that night.
Shaking myself, I try to follow the conversation as Alex and the guys get caught up on the news. I notice that the guys are too polite to ask about the fiancé; rumor has it they broke off the engagement and looking at her left hand clasping her briefcase I see no engagement ring. I assume with his family money she would be wearing a diamond large enough to blind us, if not some obnoxious heirloom. All I could ever give her was a simple necklace, and though she wore it often enough, I wished she had worn it always, wished she'd seen it as the ring I could never afford to give her. Not that she would have accepted a ring from me; I know how that argument would have gone, the need to be careful and protect both our careers.
The guys step back and allow her to set down her things. She moves to my desk setting the case down next to my chair and dropping her jacket from her arm to the top of my desk. It seems so natural for her things to be in my area of the squad room, and the ease with which we move in and out of each other's space as I gather up my abandoned paperwork is as familiar as it is jarring. How long has it been since we danced around each other like this?
"So, what brings you by, counselor? Other than wanting to be harassed by Munch here." Elliot settles into his own chair as Alex half sits on the edge of my desk, the others taking their usual spots around the room in a call back to all the meetings we five had together. I sit in my own chair, drawing it close enough to touch her even though I know I won't.
"The court schedule is a mess because of the storm, and half of my staff can't figure out how to get into the office," she rolls her eyes as we chuckle at her crew. "No, really, they're not incompetent, just very young."
"Youth is wasted on … " Munch begins as Alex glares at him, though I can see her fighting not to smile as I study her profile above me. "Seriously, you were almost that young when you got assigned to SVU. And see how well that turned out."
She looks shocked for a moment, and then starts to laugh, but without real humor, as John gestures between them, meaning what, I can't figure. She lets him off the hook with a wave of her hand, forgiving him for inadvertently bringing up her death and rebirth. Even as she sits here on my desk, I can't stop from worrying about her disappearing again. The Feds wouldn't have let her come back if it wasn't safe now, but as much as I know that with my mind, the rest of me finds it hard to believe.
"I just meant that they are acting like kids hoping for a school closing. They were keeping it together because I was there, but they were vibrating in place waiting to be set free. I don't really need to see my ADA's involved in a snowball fight or anything like that, so I left." We all smile remembering days like that; one in particular comes to my mind of the five of us ducking out early during another storm to grab a couple beers before braving the subways. Elliot turns into a goofy kid in the snow sometimes, and he caught Alex in the face with a handful of wet snow as we were leaving the bar. I spent several minutes chasing him around the sidewalk with a handful before catching his collar and dumping it down his back. Half buzzed, she called me her prince and linked her arm in mine, leading me down into the subway station, the sound of Elliot sputtering and cursing fading behind us. I look at him across the desk and wonder if the distant look and half smile means he is thinking of the same night.
The Cap interrupts by sticking his head out the office door, probably to tell us to get back to it so we can get out here at a reasonable hour, but stops when he sees Alex. His whole face relaxes when he sees her and he gives her a genuine smile as he steps out to greet her. Usually I just see the quick smile he gives when he knows it is the appropriate thing to do. The one that looks pained as if his face has lost the muscle memory of how it is done and has to learn again each time. The one that never reaches his eyes.
Seeing them greet each other by name and hug, I see why so many of the gossips thought the two of them were an item before. I knew it was not true, but there is some fondness between them that they show few other people.
"So is this a social visit, Alex? Or do you need us for something?" I'm always amazed the Cap is as good at the politics of his position as he is, given the bluntness he generally shows. Alex settles back against my desk, half turning as she reaches for her case. I already have it in hand, meeting her past the halfway point, and as she turns back to Cragen, I realize that the action was seamless. She didn't even have to ask; I knew what she wanted, and she trusted that I would know.
"I am glad for an excuse to visit, but, yes, I need something. The problem is, I'm not sure what exactly I need," she draws a handful of files from her bag and sets it down on the edge of my desk between us. I place it back on the floor by my chair as she gathers the files to her chest in a crossed arm stance, not wanting any barrier between us. "In the past three months, ten open cases have passed my desk involving women being accosted in public areas. They are not assaulted, but verbally harassed by a man they can't quite make out. Each woman swore he seemed ready to assault her before he gets spooked, by various things and in one case by nothing at all, and flees. SVU hasn't been called in because there is no actual assault, and the language he uses varies from one case to another, so there aren't any common key words to use to search similar cases. Each case originated in a separate precinct, so no table talk to connect them."
"Alex, no offense, but that's a pretty shaky connection. And frankly, it is really not our call, so why did you bring them here?" I know Elliot is right, that this really isn't our problem, but I want to hit him for even remotely implying that Alex isn't welcome here.
"You're right; it is pretty weak, and if I was the ADA on this I would probably tell you to shelve it until a better connection became available. But I have a feeling these are connected and when I said I've seen ten of these in three months that is not exactly accurate. I saw the first case three months ago, and in the course of eight weeks, I saw the number crossing my desk go from one a week to three a week. In the past two weeks, I haven't seen any similar cases," she stops when Fin leans forward in his chair.
"You think he's escalating, probably escalated beyond your department's jurisdiction," he stops as she nods. "And what? You want us to review these cases, see if they match anything we've caught recently?"
"More or less, yes," she tucks her hair behind her ear and holds the files to her possessively, protecting them. "I sense there is a pattern here, but you guys are the best at this, so."
"Flattery will get you far with us, Cabot," Munch picks off as Alex's voice trails off uncertainly. "But Elliot's right, as much as I hate to admit it; this isn't our jurisdiction. Unless Dad says to go after it."
All five of us turn to face the Captain as he glances at everything but us; the piles on our desks, the snow falling outside the windows, the files in her arms, and then to the clock that is showing it is past noon already. He stares at the clock for a long time, and I can see the mental calculations, the time lost if she is wrong, what it will mean for the victims if she is right, and how pissed our current ADA will be when she finds out.
"Alex, it doesn't even sound like you have a suspect on this. How did these cases end up in the DA's office, much less on your desk?" The Cap looks at her with concern, the same look he gives the victims we meet, but she waves it away.
"It is not personal, Don. Well, it is for one of my ADA's; his sister was the second victim. Or rather, she was the second woman to report it." We all nod in understanding; so few women report assaults, the figures on verbal harassment and attempted assault are probably much worse. "He brought the case to me when the officers signed off on it and asked me to find someway to get this guy. I had my assistant flag similar cases, but they weren't enough descriptions to move forward before the reports stopped."
Alex looks around the room, searching for an ally in this. Elliot and Fin won't meet her eyes, and Munch looks at her with that dispassionate gaze that serves all purposes for him. She turns to look at me, and I struggle to meet her intensity without flinching. She holds my eyes longer than decorum dictates, and I start to forget why she is here and that there are others in the room, as I get lost in the shifting colors of blue.
"Look, Alex," Cragen starts, drawing our attention back to him. He looks ready to decline her request, but whatever he sees in her eyes when she turns back to him causes him to pause. With one more look at the clock, he sighs and begins again. "You can have their assistance until the end of business provided nothing comes up, and then you'll hand it back to whoever originated the cases if nothing comes of it. I won't make it mandatory for my detectives, but I'm guessing you will have plenty of volunteers." Even before he is done speaking, all four of us are closing up the files in front of us, ready to follow Alex's hunch, causing the Cap to sigh heavily.
"I have to go to a meeting, though I suspect it will be poorly attended due to weather. If you need me, call me; otherwise I will see you all in the morning. Make it home safely, all of you." The Cap leans towards Alex to give her a hug good-bye, and I doubt anyone else can hear him as he whispers in the ear nearer to me. "Alex, you are welcome here anytime. Open investigation or not."
I watch her face as he pulls away, the way it shifts between sorrow, loss, and acceptance in the span of a few seconds. She nods her thanks as he shifts to face us all with his sternest 'Dad' look, and I feel myself sit up in my chair without thinking, as he looks us over. Even as I feel silly for my involuntarily response to his gaze, I am grateful for the gruff affection he shows for his 'kids.' He waves to us over his shoulder as he leaves the squad room, and I see my guys drawing around her again. I look at her openly, since everyone else is as well. I tell myself there isn't anything inappropriate about it, but when she glances back at me after taking in the volunteers in front of her, I can't read the expression in her gaze. Or rather, I'm too afraid to hope; too sure I can't be seeing that look again.
"So, counselor, let's see those files."