I guess I should give Munch more credit; his friend in records turned up five other cases that Alex's assistant hadn't caught and linked it to a suspect charged with B&E twelve days ago. He got caught breaking in to a woman's apartment late at night, carrying gloves, duct tape, condoms, and a bag of cloth pins. I have no idea how the unis missed the sexual implications of those items. The potential victim had some sort of martial arts background, and had the perp incapacitated before he got a chance to attack her. Apparently she added a couple kicks to the groin once he was down as well.
The rest of the afternoon is spent reviewing all the files again and making some calls to the other precincts involved to help the DA on the B&E file more charges, even though we know it will probably get kicked back to our own ADA. When Casey shows up around four, she is a little pissed to find we aren't actually working on the paperwork she had wanted yesterday. And when she sees Alex hanging around, the temperature drops about ten degrees. I know we gave Casey a hard time for not being her; I was so lost in my own grief at the time I don't remember much, just resenting her for being here when Alex couldn't. But after so many years, it seems she should know we respect her and don't see her as Alex's replacement. It is really not my job to stroke her ego every time her predecessor's name comes up in conversation, though I find myself doing it anyway. I mean really, she has now been with our team longer than Alex was with us.
I hadn't really thought about it until now, but Alex has really been gone that long. I've been carrying a torch for a woman who has been dead, resurrected and lived I don't know how many lives since she entered Witness Protection. All I can think about is wanting to finish the conversation that got interrupted earlier because every minute that passes makes me less sure of what I saw.
I know my head hasn't really been in the work since lunch time, so when the guys say we're as done as we can be, I figure they're probably right. It is a little before quitting time, but with Dad out of the office and no calls in hours, we figure we can cut out early tonight. Munch suggests beers, and Fin agrees, wheedling Elliot into one round even as he starts up about needing to get home. I volunteer to straighten up the files we've been working on, since I've felt pretty useless all afternoon, and Alex says she'll help. After swearing up and down that we will be at the bar within the hour, the guys take off.
After checking our desks for loose paperwork, I carry a handful of files into the observation room where Alex had gone to box up the bulk of the material for the case. There wasn't much we could do with it until the storm cleared out, but it would at least be ready for the courier when the roads were clear again.
"I think that is the last of it; if it doesn't get kicked back to us, the ADA who caught the B&E is going to owe us a nice gift basket," I joke as I enter the room and dump the papers in the half full file box. Looking up, I realize she isn't paying attention, standing close to the window, staring out at the snow that is still falling in spurts. Her arms are crossed over her chest, her sleeves pulled down over her hands, and the exposed fingertips of one hand are working at the neck of her sweater. She looks so vulnerable; the shadows playing across her profile making her face appear more drawn than before, almost sorrowful.
"Alex?" I move closer, well into her personal space, and lay a hand on her shoulder. She jumps at the contact, and I instinctively move back several feet, trying to figure out what I did wrong. She gives me a half smile and waves off my concerned look, and I can see the walls going back up, the vulnerable woman hidden behind the bureau chief façade.
"Sorry, just got lost in my own head for a moment. Remembering other snow storms." I smile and lean against the windowsill despite the cold, looking down at people scurrying along the street.
"When you came in earlier, I remembered one snow storm that caught the five of us here at the station house, and we went out to the bar before heading home. It must have been shortly after you started because it was before we were …" I trail off, not willing to bring up what was between us. "It was that night we all got a little drunk and Elliot shoved snow in your face as we were coming out of the bar." Her brow furrows in concentration, before relaxing and I see a smile she tries to hide.
"I remember you defended my honor, and spent several minutes chasing him around before you got a handful of snow down the back of his jacket," she chuckles slightly, and turns to face me fully, laying a hand on my shoulder. "I called you my knight in shining armor for getting him back."
"Your prince," I murmur softly, leaning in as she lays her other hand on my upper arm, looking at me quizzically. "Not your knight, you called me your prince and we made a quick exit into the subway before he could catch us."
"It was very chivalrous, what you did. We weren't even dating yet and you were coming to my rescue," her voice is husky as she plays with the ends of my hair, and I swallow back the lump that forms in my throat as a remember the times I hurt her, that we hurt each other, and that last night when I couldn't save her. I try to keep my face neutral, but something must have shown, or she is actually inside my head, because she seems to be reading my thoughts. "Liv, you couldn't have saved me that night. No one could have stopped that bullet; even if they had, there would have been another one, and another, until they finished the job." I'm trying to blink back tears, and when she wraps her arms around me, I start crying silently against her sweater. Breathing in the smell of her is so familiar, and despite the sorrow and the loss we have both felt, being in her arms again is amazing. I feel safe.
"You were my knight, and my prince, and my love." I feel her breath against my hair, and I try not to think about her talking about us in the past tense. "After the Connor's trial, I had to move a lot. I never got to go back to Wisconsin, to say good-bye to the man who loved 'Emily.' I couldn't take hurting any more good people, either because I knew I would have to disappear, or because they would never compare to what you and I had. So I dated some not-so-good people. All the people I would never have dated in New York because my family and colleagues wouldn't have approved. A radical environmentalist, a biker, borderline insane, borderline criminal. And when I would inevitably get moved to a new identity, I didn't feel as bad about leaving them, because I figured they were using me the same way I was using them. For company; to chase off the chill or make the shadows less frightening; to not be alone all the time."
She breaks off and withdraws a couple of feet, and for a moment I can still feel the ghost of her arms around me, the sense of her along my skin. She wraps the arms around herself defensively and turns her back to me, head bent, in a pose I recognize as her gathering her thoughts before starting a tough discussion or summation. I watch the snow mindlessly, knowing I can't rush her. I get lost in looking for patterns in the snow that aren't really there, and startle when she begins speaking again.
"There was a man in an office I worked in briefly, and he was crazy about me. But I thought he was a good man, and I didn't want to hurt him so I kept him at arm's length. We had this hundred-year snowstorm while I was there and everyone was snowed in for days. I had a house outside the city limits, and an old hatchback that couldn't handle more than a couple inches of snow, so I was stuck until the county cleared the roads. He called and offered to bring me supplies since he had a heavy pick up with chains, and I accepted because there was no one else offering.
"When he showed up with food and fuel for the fireplace, I was just grateful for the company, and invited him to stay for dinner. A snowstorm out there is nothing like a storm here, where everyone lives in apartments. Even when you can't go out, you are not alone. Even if I had known my neighbors, we were basically cut off from each other until the roads were plowed."
I can feel a chill down my back that had nothing to do with the cold seeping through the windowpane. I want to stop her, to tell her it is all right, that she is safe with me now; I want to go hunt down this man who put that fear in her voice. I don't want to hear this, but I understand that she needs to tell me.
"After dinner, I thanked him and tried to send him home. It wasn't just that I didn't want to hurt him, I wasn't attracted to him. I tried to explain, to send him away without damaging his ego, but he wouldn't listen." Her voice trails off, and as much as I want to hold her, her posture tells me I'm not welcome yet. I wait for her to let me in or continue, and watch a tear drop run down the side of her face, the only outward sign of what it costs her to tell me this, as she turns to face the snow. When she continues, her voice is flat, defeated; and that scares me more than anything else.
"Afterwards, he left, and I sat in front of the window watching the snow fall, too isolated by the location and the situation to do anything about what happened. I couldn't go to the police; I'd been warned many times that staying off the grid as much as possible was my best bet of surviving. We assumed they had someone inside law enforcement, someone who could watch for my fingerprints or DNA to turn up. Before this, it had meant that I couldn't get any sort of job that required a criminal check; now it meant that I couldn't get a…they couldn't do a rape kit." Her voice chokes on the last few words, and I can't not hold her then, wrapping my arms around her from the side as she leans her forehead against the cold glass, more tears running down her face.
"The next day I called my handler, told him I had seen someone I recognized in town and that I didn't feel safe. I'm pretty sure he knew I was lying; it was the only time I requested to be moved. Most of the times I fought to stay where I was, even if it had only been home for a couple of weeks. They had me out of the area before the snowplows even got to my neighborhood. I never told him, I never told anyone, what happened."
I've given up on not crying, the tears running down my face are being absorbed by the shoulder of her sweater. I can see from the reflection in the window that she is crying as well and I can feel her breath catching as she struggles not to sob. She wraps her hands around my arm, clinging to me almost painfully, and I draw both arms tighter, striving to completely surround her, to make a shield of my body.
I could tell her all the things I tell the victims I deal with every day, but she knows my spiels; she knows my platitudes. I know there will be days in the future where I will remind her it is not her fault, that she is not responsible for his actions. But right now, I give her what I can, what I think she needs. And as I lay a soft kiss on her temple, she turns into my arms, burying her head in the crook of my neck. All I can give her is my strength, and as I wrap my arms around her too thin form and murmur soft words of comfort into her hair, I pray it is enough.