Disclaimer: I don't own Law & Order or its characters…

Author's note: I seem to be the only Lupo Lover around these parts, but I was compelled to write this nonetheless…and hey, why not share?

Oh, she had all the trappings of a prostitute, but something about her just didn't sit right with Detective Cyrus Lupo. It wasn't any blatantly obvious characteristic, rather something subtle, small and nagging that aroused his suspicion.

The clothes were all typical, perfectly so…revealing but not giving away too much for free. Also, her make-up was spectacularly overdone. Sometimes, he wondered if they did it on purpose. Besides for covering blemishes or accentuating certain features that would be otherwise lost under the harsh and lousy street lights. He couldn't help but think the thick mask of concealer, mascara, lipstick and rouge made them feel hidden, safe even. The hooker wasn't really them. It was just a persona, a role they played.

For some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on, this girl's façade seemed even more a contrivance. Maybe she wasn't just protecting a fragile soul, the girl she used to be…

"I already told ya," So-Called Kandy repeated her claimed ignorance. "I don't know jack shit about no murder."

She resumed chomping on a rather sizeable wad of gum. Oddly, it was attractive in an unattractive way. And boy, she had done her homework. Even her mannerisms, her words were canonical hooker. She was every working girl Lupo had ever encountered. She had in common with the others what she should. And she possessed the individualistic differences where you'd expect to find them.

"Word is that you like high stakes jobs," he informed her of the intel that had lead them to her. "High risk, but equally high pay-off. Just like the little soiree Madello held for his best clientele last Tuesday night."

Crossing her arms across her ample bosom, she chomped away at her gum in a most recalcitrant manner. Hookers didn't snitch to cops. She got that right, too.

Worn. She looked worn.

Exhaustion was etched into her rather comely features-which he couldn't help but notice even with the caked on cosmetics. That was what made her so genuine, despite the doubt persisting deep in his gut. She had that elusive, emotionally-depleted appearance, a secret repressed burden threatening to burst and drown her. It was a look that informed you that you were witnessing at a woman who had suffered, had been dealt one of the lousiest hands known to mankind. She had seen some reprehensible shit and performed some deplorable acts.

And that's what made him shove aside the notion that she was a complete imposter-not that he could figure out why anyone, and her specifically, would want to pretend to be in such a horrid, detestable situation.

In his mind, for a reason he couldn't fathom, he had grouped her with the lady VICE cops who posed as prostitutes on a regular basis. They were good at what they did, good enough to fool the average desperate john, but they weren't the real deal.

It was in the eyes.

Oh, they had a tiredness about them, but it was the fatigue of cops weary from dealing with the dregs of society. The real ladies of the night were weary with life.

But not this girl.

Not yet anyway… Although she sure as hell was well on her way, she was no veteran of the street.

"You haven't been on the street very long, have you?" Lupo asked, finally realizing what had been bothering him. She was at least in her mid-twenties. And, unfortunately, most girls got trapped into the life in their early teens.

Only for a moment she glanced at him, but he caught her startled expression nonetheless. The question had surprised her, and for however briefly, her face had changed and he saw something flash in her eyes. And the detective knew he had been right all along to question the veracity of the tableau before him.

It was all an act. She hadn't been driven to such disreputable state at all. But why had she opted for the pretext? And how could he get her to talk?

"Why take such risks?" he thought aloud, not really expecting her to answer. She continued to satisfy his presumed expectations and remained silent. But he was on to her…

"Hey-I'm not saying I was there-but if the money's good…"

Classic hooker attitude. Silently, he scrutinized the young woman lounging in a deceptively nonchalant manner across the interrogation table from him. Remove the make-up, the cheap clothing, and you'd have one hell of a beauty on your hands. And it was the kind of beauty that could only come from a maintenance of health not generally obtained by those of the social class that tended to fall victim to such a seedy world. No, money may not have been abundant for her, but it hadn't been a problem either…

More than that, there had been people that had taken good care of her, that she probably still could return to for assistance, were she actually in dire enough circumstances to consider selling her body.

"I didn't witness anything," she reiterated once more, mistaking his silence and impassively appraising gaze as an interrogation tactic. "Even if I was there, I don't get paid to see. I get paid to do."

She leaned in, giving him and the world in general an unobstructed view of her assets, which threatened to spill out of the low-cut tank that was somehow passing as a shirt. At least tube-tops were obviously not an option for one so generously endowed…

"Though, I have been paid to watch on several occasions," she added in the sultry and forced falsetto of the seductress-for-hire.

She was blatantly trying to distract him, throw him off. A less than keen observer would assume that she did not want to be coerced into admitting what she had witnessed, that she was afraid of the consequences of giving testimony against dangerous men. But Lupo was almost certain that it was because he had caught her in whatever lie she was hiding. But he had yet to figure it out, and he wasn't going to give up…

Without a word, he placed his hands on the table, rose from his seat and left the "prostitute" alone in the interrogation room. He needed his partner's opinion.

"What do you think?" he asked the man staring contemplatively through the two-way mirror when the door had closed behind him.

"I think she likes you," Detective Green informed his partner. It might have been a joke, exemplary of the man's dry wit, except Lupo felt a latent vibe of the same nature, buried beneath the layers of the woman's hostility and other defenses.

"Wanna give her a crack?" Lupo asked, hoping to gain some insight off the experienced detective.

"Nah," the man responded. "Like I said, she likes you." He paused to scrutinize the less-than-talkative witness again. Lupo could tell his partner had picked up on the same aberration that he had. Something just wasn't right about this unassuming cliché of a hooker. Shaking his head, Green seemed to come to a conclusion. "No. If she's going to open up to anybody, it's gonna be you."

"Alright," Lupo conceded in feigned defeat, working the muscles of his neck over with a large hand. Truth was, he was desperate to put the pieces together, dying to know what picture the puzzle (which his brain insisted was there) would form.

Entering the interrogation room once more, he leaned over the table to look her in the eye. He was too agitated to sit. If he did, his fidgeting would no doubt give away his frustration and eagerness to dissect her persona. Because if she was this good at forming such a pretense, then she must be an efficient observer.

"What's your story, Kandy?" he asked out of frustration, already knowing what her response would be…intractable as ever. "Why the façade?"

Again, the mask fell momentarily. He was on to her, and now she knew. She wouldn't let her guard down so easily anymore.

But he could figure this out. He needed to figure this out, and not just for personal reasons, or so he tried to tell himself. His gut told him this was the key to cracking her, to getting her to admit what she had witnessed, to catching a murdering bastard. Pacing the room, he mulled over the problem.

So, what exactly did he know about her?

It wasn't a matter of necessity that had turned her to prostitution. Money was obviously not really a problem for her. He could tell that, if anything, she was smart enough that she could've just taken advantage of some wealthy bastard. Cleaned up, she'd look right at home on the arm some rich old guy, or senator's son. And she obviously had the wit and skill to pretend to be a pretentious trophy girlfriend…or practically anything.

If it wasn't money that made her take such risks, what other reason could there be? Why did people do things? Because they had to, which she obviously didn't, or because they wanted to…but why would she want to sell her body? Did she get thrill from it? That didn't seem fitting with the girl he saw behind the mask, who was startled and afraid that he'd find the truth. But it had to be because of the experience, not because of necessity. For some reason, she wanted the experience…

She was an observer who wanted the experience. And she pretended to be something she was not. Actor, maybe, preparing for some bizarre role? No, if anything actors were quite reliably needy. She would've spilled her beans by now, wanting an audience to appreciate her skill and prowess, to praise the superb act she had put on. But what other kind of person made it their business to observe others, and craved dangerous situations?

That was it, had to be!

He circled around so that he could read her face, not wanting to miss her reaction. Admittedly, he knew part of him would take pleasure in the expression of defeat on her face. He didn't especially like that part of him, but it was there nonetheless, and it didn't want to miss this.

But he had to be sure first…

"Can I see your hands please?" he asked in what he hoped was his most charming, innocent voice. She gave him a suspicious look, but conceded to his request in the end. Pushing away the startling tingling sensation he felt when he took her hands in his, he proceeded to examine them. And there it was…the proof. Many people held their writing utensil in such a manner as to develop a callous on the inside of their fingers. The large lump on the middle finger of her right hand indicated that she was an extensive note-taker. Busted!

He released her hands and moved in for the kill, keeping his face impassive, craving the shock and surprise that would no doubt consume her.

"Kind of crazy lengths to go just for a story," he suggested. Her round, brown eyes grew even larger as the Hardened Hooker mask dropped entirely. He definitely had hit upon the core of the matter. "Don't you think?"

She swallowed hard and tried to look tough but failed. Her entire demeanor had changed, collapsed around her. She looked timid and much more nervous than the callous call girl she had purported to be. And her real personality seemed much more endearing, so much so that he actually felt remorse for crushing her.

"The only way to get noticed is to have the most innovative, novel perspective," she spilled her guts. He had exposed her completely and her ingenuous expression betrayed her as the type who would desperately justify her choices, needing and wanting approval.

"Sensationalism," Lupo said disapprovingly. She had put herself through god-knew-what just because of the blood-thirst of society for the sensational. Apparently, she agreed, releasing a melancholic sigh and refusing to meet his eyes. "Was it worth it? Worth the risks you took, the things you saw?"

"I can't give a statement," she insisted once more, this time he could see that she was remorseful for her refusal to help. "If I testify, the truth will come out and all of my work will be ruined. The last two years of my life would have been for nothing."

Green was right. She did like him. There was no real reason for her to justify her refusal to anybody. It was enough that she said 'no.' Her justification did not matter to them. It only meant that a murderer would go unpunished. But still she tried. No doubt she wanted Lupo to understand, wanted his respect.

And he would not give it to someone who ignored their conscience, despite how pretty, charming and apparently intelligent they were.

"How will helping to put a murderer in jail hurt your story?" He tried to find a way around the conclusion to which her logic had led her. "Won't all the publicity there will no doubt be help your exposure?"

"Not if my book isn't published yet," she insisted. "And I am nowhere near a final draft. If my true identity is known, my cover is useless."

"Madello is a monster," Lupo tried to plead his case to her social conscience, which had to be there, considering the story she had sacrificed so much to bring to light. "Are you really going to let him walk, free to abuse and kill, just so you can get some journalistic glory?"

Were those tears making her eyes glisten?

Guilt stabbed at his chest. Why was he remorseful about hurting her feelings? He was a cop. And she was just another witness, like any other. Right?

A tense silence descended between the pair. Apparently deep in thought, she chewed her lip in what Lupo would consider an endearing idiosyncrasy under normal circumstances. But he was currently fighting the sympathy he so badly wanted to bestow upon the woman, as well as suppressing the innate attraction he was developing for her, all while simultaneously trying to figure out a solution to the conundrum.

"Call girls never give you their real names, do they?" she asked, breaking the silence.

"As you know, they tend to be a little tight-lipped while in police custody," he replied, frustrated beyond reason. In such situations, he couldn't reign in the sarcasm.

"Then why can't I testify as the call girl you got a material witness warrant for?" An intensity entered her demeanor, pushing the anxiety to the wayside. She had formed some sort of plan. He hoped it was a good one, one that met both their needs. "Then, no one has to know about the book I'm writing. If you hadn't figured it out, none of you would be any the wiser. I'm just a hooker who witnessed a murder."

Lupo was fairly certain that it would be skirting the edge of perjury, but for her he found himself willing to run it by the experts, and even argue in its favor.

"I don't know," he said slowly, unwilling to commit to anything lest he couldn't fulfill his promises. "I'll have to run it by the district attorneys."

She smiled at him.

"I'll try my best, Kan-what's your real name anyway?" he inquired, rising to leave before she caught him blushing.

"I rather not," she responded. "It's my only insurance that you don't screw me over."

Ouch. Smart, and sharp when she wanted to be. Not to mention attractive. He needed to stay away from her if at all possible…

A/N: I think there will be more…