Chapter 1

"Elliot." Olivia snapped her phone shut and came up behind her partner. He jerked his head up out of his hands. "Hey." Her voice softened. "Casey just called--guilty on all counts. It's finally over." She surveyed his face, searching for some emotion. He had been camped out at his desk all day with his head buried in paperwork. She always worried whenever he got like that. It meant something was up. She knew this case had been rough on him.

"It's never over. That little boy still doesn't have anyone. Where's the justice in that?" The images of the child, scared and alone haunted him. His family was shattered, and the boy had no home, no family. What kind of twisted world found justice in that?

"Elliot, there's only so much you can do."

"I know. It's just…it got to me you know." He finally allowed himself to look into her deep brown eyes, and he saw the genuine look of concern that clouded them.

"Yeah, I do." She saw the pain and knew that it was mirrored by the fact that as much as he hated sitting at a desk with a stack of paperwork, it was better than going home alone. Olivia shifted slightly as his eyes returned to the file lying open on his desk. "Hey," she suggested softly. "Wanna grab a drink at Maloney's?"

Elliot shrugged nonchalantly and averted his eyes away from her. "I don't know. I was thinking about finishing up some paperwork here, and…"

"Come on, El. The Bennett case is over. It's Friday night. Cap gave us the weekend off." She crossed her arms in front of her. "Let's get out of here." She knew he was weighing his options, wanting to leave, but not wanting her to feel as if she had to change her own plans, whatever they might be.

"All right, maybe I could go for a quick drink."

"Here." Olivia tossed him his jacket and grabbed her keys, tucking them into her left pocket.

"Oh, come on. You can't tell me that you really believe that." Olivia laughed and brushed back the bangs swinging into her eyes. They fell into a comfortable silence, both knowing what was coming next, but neither one willing to quell the light-hearted mood between them.

Her eyes darted back and forth, as if trying to decide how best to broach the subject. She didn't have the chance. "I'm okay, Liv, really."

She chose her words carefully when she responded. "I know you'll be okay. And I know that you're going to fight like hell to pretend that it doesn't bother you, but even though they're not right there with you, your kids are still there, Elliot. They're not going anywhere."

His head shot up, amazed at her innate ability to know exactly what was in his head. The protest that slipped from his lips died as soon as he met her steely gaze. She raised an eyebrow, challenging him to refute her. Crossing his arms over his chest, he straightened in his seat and met her defiant glare. She was stubborn as hell, and he knew it.

He forced out a shaky breath and let his arms fall to his side in defeat. As much as he might try to fight it, he knew without a doubt that he wasn't going anywhere tonight until he said something. She'd make damn sure of it. Elliot faltered for a moment, unable to form the words to describe the emotions that the case had stirred in him. "It's just so hard. It's almost like I can't protect them anymore. Hell, I don't even know where they are half the time. What if something happened?"

"There's always the chance of something happening, Elliot. Nothing you do can ever change that. You just have to move on with your life and hope for the best because if you don't, then you're always going to wonder what happened."

"You're right." He took a long, deep breath. "You're right. It's been a long week. I don't think we've slept in days. I think I'm going to head out. You want a ride home?"

"No, that's ok. I'm going to finish my drink, and then I think I'll walk home. The fresh air will do me good."

"You sure?" He surveyed her face, checking to make sure that she was okay, that he hadn't missed something. At her affirmative nod, he stood up. "All right, suit yourself."

As he reached for his jacket, she paused. "Hey, El. Are we still on for tomorrow night?"

He hesitated for a moment before answering. "Sure, but I think Kathy said she could drop the kids by for a little bit in the afternoon. I'm not sure what time. I'll call you."

She nodded, instinctively sensing his unspoken words. "Okay, but if you get busy with the kids, don't worry about it. I'll always be here another time. Just El, get some sleep."

"Yeah." Without another word, he turned and headed out the door, leaving her alone.

She stirred what was left of her drink and took one last sip as she watched him walk out the door. A voice behind her caused her to jump. "Here you go."

"Oh, I didn't order another…"

"I know, my treat." A man slid into the now vacant seat next to her. "By the way…Roger Hammond. And you are?"

"Getting ready to head out for the night." She cocked her head slightly, searching his eyes for a response. "And I don't need another drink."

He laughed. "Let me guess…you're a cop?" At the surprised look on her face, he elaborated. "Relax. I saw you with Elliot, but I didn't make it over before he left."

Olivia raised her eyebrow. "You know Elliot?"

"Well, knew's been a long time." He paused for a moment as he surveyed her face. "Although if I didn't, the fact that you approach anyone who walks up to you with immediate suspicion and won't take a drink from a perfect stranger may perhaps have given you away."

Her lips curved in a small smile. "Am I that obvious?"

He nodded. "Don't you ever wonder what it would be like to just relax for once? By the way, how are Kathy and the kids doing?"

Olivia relaxed visibly. "Well, he and Kathy are separated now. His kids are good. He tries to spend as much time with them as he can."

"That's too bad--stress of the job get to his marriage?"

"Uh, can't really say." Olivia shifted in her seat uncomfortably.

"Sorry. Are you two…"

"No. No. We," she paused, her mind struggling to form a single word that could somehow describe a relationship that she had been trying to define for the past eight years of her life. "We work together," she finished lamely. "I'm his partner, Olivia Benson." She offered him a small smile, sensing his discomfort.

"So, no more Pete, huh?"

She looked up in surprise. "You must go way back. Elliot barely mentions Pete." At his light-hearted tone, she felt slightly guilty about her original wariness of him. He seemed to be a decent enough guy, and she knew that Elliot was a good judge of character. She picked up the drink he'd offered her for the first time and took a sip. It was a little stronger than she was used to. "Wow, you trying to get me drunk?"

He laughed at the look on her face. "Nah, you just look like you've had a tough day. I figured you might want something a little stronger. If there's a problem with it, I can…"

"No. No, it's fine. Really. I'm actually coming off a pretty rough case so I guess you could say it's been a long few days." He didn't press for details, and she was relieved.

"So how long have you been partners?"

"Eight years."

"Eight years. That's a long time, especially in SVU. You must be close."

"Yeah." She swallowed hard. "We are." In the silence that followed, she tipped her drink back letting the burning liquid slide down her throat. She hesitated, trying to decide how much to confide in him. "You never mentioned how you knew Elliot."

"Of course. I met him on a case a few years back."

"You're a cop?"

"It was a long time ago, but I'll never forget the case. I'm sure you know the feeling."

His words hit her harder than she thought, and she fingered her drink again, buying time. The cases, the victims…it was something you didn't really get over. She drained her glass as if searching for a way around dealing with the question. "Yeah."

"Want another?" He eyed her empty glass for a moment.

"No, I don't think I better. Is it getting warm in here?" She shook her head, unaccustomed to the sudden warmth and dizziness that swept over her. She slipped her jacket off, and tossed it on the back of her chair. "I…uh I think I'm done for the night. Apparently the lack of sleep must be getting to me." She laughed uneasily.

His eyes roamed over her face carefully as if committing every detail to memory.

Her eyes started to flutter shut. "I'm sorry," she murmured quietly. "I'm just feeling a little bit shaky." She tried to stand up. Another wave of dizziness washed over her, and she felt herself stumbling slightly.

He caught her in his arms. "Olivia, are you really okay? I mean…look, Elliot would kill me if I left you here like this. Why don't you let me take you home?"

She pressed a hand to her temple and blinked hard, forcing herself to focus on the form blurring in front of her. "I'll be fine." The protest died on her lips as she felt a wave of nausea sweep over her. "I just need to go to the bathroom for a moment."

He nodded silently. "Here, let me help you. She accepted his arm and willed her legs to propel her forward. He wrapped his arm around her narrow waist to steady her as they crossed the room. When he released her, she managed to stumble through the door and into the nearest stall. She collapsed on the floor and waited until some strength returned to her body. She felt the bile rising in her throat and swept her hair back. After a few moments, she managed to draw herself to her feet and over to the sink. What the hell was wrong with her? She didn't think she'd had that much to drink. She splashed ice cold water on her face and was relieved to find the pounding in her head subside ever so slightly.

"Olivia? Are you okay?" The voice that called out to her was rising with concern, and she heard a knock before the door swung open. "Olivia, can I come in?" There was no answer. Then suddenly, she felt herself start to fall. She felt strong arms surround her, and somehow he helped her out of the bathroom, out of the bar, and she felt a moment of relief when she felt him help her into a car, and her legs finally gave out underneath her.

As he pulled away from the curb, she drew her arm up to her face to shade it from the intensity of the headlights shining through the windshield. Then, she felt him reach over and pull something from the right side of her belt. It took a moment for it to register. Then suddenly a wave of panic swept over her as she realized he had stripped away her last sense of security. "What…what are you doing?" she mumbled.

"Don't worry, Olivia. I'll take good care of you." She tried to fight back, but the dull pain in her body seemed to heighten as she struggled to maintain her grip on consciousness. Her breathing became ragged and uneven, and she squeezed her eyes shut as her body began trembling uncontrollably. Then suddenly, the pain faded away, and there was nothing left but darkness.