Disclaimer: I don't own them. Good thing, eh?

A/N: Not completely proud of this one, but it's been hindering my creative processes on my other stories. So I thought I'd get it out into the open, and let you guys tell me what you think of it.

Please, please, please leave a review! Please!


Sacrifice

Detective Elliot Stabler drove under the crime scene tape and slowed his car to a stop just behind the mobile command post.

"What's going on?" he asked urgently as Captain Don Cragen stepped out of the van and began walking with him.

"Two subjects in the house. Olivia took one of them down, but she didn't know about the second. No one knew about the second."

Elliot's stomach did a flip. "Oh my God. I gotta get in there, Cap'n."

Cragen shook his head. "No, you stay. Munch is in there already, but this guy's threatening to kill her if we try to send anyone else in."

He glanced around. "SWAT's getting into position. They don't have a shot yet, but hopefully John and Olivia can talk this guy out of doing anything stupid."

Elliot met his gaze. "What do we do?"

His boss sighed. "Pray."

-- o --

Sergeant John Munch held the gun steady as he tried to line up a shot that would not include a piece of his colleague.

"Drop the gun." His voice was as stable as his hand. "Drop the gun and let Detective Benson go."

The man's only response was to remove the gun's safety mechanism.

"Let her go," Munch demanded once more. "Let her go -- and no one gets hurt."

"Nah-uh," the man answered, adjusting the gun against Olivia's temple. "I let her go -- what's to stop you from shootin' me? Huh?"

"What's to stop him from shooting you now?" Olivia Benson asked.

The man tightened his grip around her neck. "He ain't gonna risk shooting his partner, is he now? 'Specially a sweet piece of ass like yourself."

Munch was afraid to even blink. He thought he saw an opening, but he was too scared to take it. The man was so jittery, he could just as easily hit Olivia.

The two detectives locked eyes from across the room. Olivia saw the fear in his eyes -- she understood it. She knew how hard the decision was to make. She knew she could never make the choice that she wished he would do right now. She had never been able to make it.

Take it, she pleaded with her eyes. Take the damn shot!

He was not going to, and she knew it. She began trying to think of a different plan.

Windows! She reasoned that rescue teams had already arrived on scene and she knew sharpshooters would have been placed immediately. Get him to the windows.

"Munch -- shoot him!" she screamed. "Shoot him!"

Her fellow detective shifted his weight. "Shut up, Liv!"

"Shoo --"

Intense pain flared up on the side of her face where the man had struck her with the butt of his gun. She tasted blood in her mouth.

"He said 'Shut up'," the man clarified.

Olivia resisted the urge to respond. She had already succeeded in moving him back far enough to be in range of the windows. She hoped the sharpshooters lacked the hesitation that prevented Munch from trying to take the man out himself.

Come on, come on! She wanted to scream. Just take the shot!

After two minutes passed, however, with no results, Olivia closed her eyes in disappointment. It was only then that she tuned back into the exchange between Munch and the man who was holding her hostage.

"If you let her go, I promise you that no one will shoot you."

The man scoffed at the premise. "Oh yeah? How the hell is that gonna work? You probably got snipers all over the place. I let her go, I'm dead."

"No," Munch said, shaking his head. "You let her go, and the sharpshooters won't dare shoot you."

Olivia felt the man guiding her a few inches forward. No! The windows. She tried to use her weight to keep him from moving any farther out of range.

"How's that?" he asked.

Munch took a breath to calm his nerves. "They won't shoot you because when you let her go, you're gonna take me instead."

What? Olivia held her breath for a second trying to decide whether or not she had heard right. No.

"Take me instead."

"Munch, no -- I'm fine!" she shouted, trying to squirm out of the man's grasp.

Munch held up a hand. "Detective."

The man stopped moving, contemplating the suggestion. "How is that any better than what I got right now?"

"It's not," Olivia muttered, glaring at Munch.

Munch ignored her. "Because sooner or later, the men outside are gonna stop caring about Little Miss Detective and are gonna put a hole through your head. You use me as your ticket out of here -- take me and let Detective Benson walk out of here -- and they'll hold off for a whole hell of a lot longer."

"He's lying," Olivia shouted. "Don't listen -- he's lying to you."

"Shut up." The man narrowed his eyes as he thought over Munch's proposition.

Munch lowered his firearm. "Trust me -- they care a lot more about an NYPD Sergeant than some half-rate detective."

"Okay," the man finally agreed. "But you throw down your weapon first."

"No!" Liv protested. "Munch, don't!"

Munch sighed. "Detective, I'm not gonna tell you again."

He dropped his gun to the floor and kicked it to the side.

The arm pulled away from Olivia's neck and she felt herself being shoved forward.

Munch cautiously walked towards the man holding the gun.

"Take the gun and shoot him," he whispered without moving his lips as he passed Liv.

Though initially confused, she glanced down and saw the second gun tucked into the back of Munch's belt.

"Get out of here, Detective!" He shouted so the man could hear him.

Olivia quickly spun around and pulled out the gun. She aimed around her partner and fired two rounds into the subject.

The man was down, but it was already too late. He had panicked when he had seen a sharpshooter's laser sight appear on the wall and had already discharged his weapon before Liv could even squeeze the trigger.

Time seemed to slow and Olivia felt her heart stop beating as she watched her friend fall.

A scream erupted from her lips as she dropped to her knees alongside Munch.

"No," she whispered. Tears dripped down her cheek as she rolled him onto his back. Her hands moved onto his chest where blood poured out from where two bullets had ripped through his torso.

She tried to hold the blood back -- to keep it in his body -- but it seeped up between her fingers and ran across her hands.

"John, no!" she cried.

His color was fading fast, and she saw him try to move his lips.

"Don't talk. Just stay with me."

She nearly jumped as his hand clamped down on hers.

"Liv," he managed to breath.

She squeezed his hand, and brought her eyes up to meet his gaze. His glasses had been knocked off when he hit the ground. The naked eyes that now stared back at her held their own tears and were being darkened by death.

"I --," he struggled to speak.

"Shhh..." Olivia tried to smile back at him. "It's okay," she cooed, hoping to believe it herself.

" -- love you."

Her breath caught in her throat.

Suddenly the hand she held went limp, and his eyes rolled back into his head. The breath left his body, and he was gone.

"No," she hissed, beginning to shake him. "No."

She shook him harder and her voice became louder until she was actually screaming. "NO!"

Olivia felt strong arms grabbing her about the waist and pulling her back, away from the body.

"No!" she continued screaming, kicking -- trying to get away.

The arms wrapped tighter around her as her voice went out and her body stopped squirming. Her knees buckled, and Elliot softly guided her to the floor.

He pulled her closer to his chest and cradled her as he had done so often with his children.

She turned her head into his body, sobbing into his shirt.

Elliot fought hard to keep his own tears in check as he stroked her hair while watching the EMT's lift Munch's body onto a stretcher. They rushed past him towards the door, but he knew there was no hope.

Cragen walked over towards them, and Elliot glanced up at him.

No words came out of his captain's mouth, but his somber eyes said everything.

Cragen's eyes rested on Olivia for a moment before he dropped them to the floor. He closed them and then shook his head. He clenched his hands into fists.

"Damn it!" he shouted, turning and kicking a metal trash bin across the room.

As it clattered against the wall, spewing papers over the floor, he put his head in his hands.

Olivia glanced at her boss for a second, and then turned back into Elliot's chest.

"Captain," Elliot whispered.

His boss glanced back at him and took a deep breath. He walked over towards his detectives and extended his arm, grabbing hold of Elliot's elbow.

Elliot nodded his thanks as Cragen helped him to his feet with his partner still in his arms. He proceeded to carry her through the house and out the door while Cragen followed at a small distance.

The ambulance with its lights and siren activated had just turned the corner at the end of the block, and a another car came screeching to a halt inside the perimeter.

Fin's head appeared above the car as he slammed shut the door. He raced up the front lawn as he saw Elliot come out the front door carrying his partner.

"Liv?" he asked, concerned. "What happened?"

Elliot shook his head.

Fin narrowed his eyes. "Where's Munch -- where's my partner?"

Cragen appeared beside Elliot. "I'm sorry, Fin."

"No," Fin muttered as he took in everything -- Liv's tear-stained face and bloody clothes, the mournful look in all of their eyes, the distant wail of the ambulance as it sped to the nearest hospital, the fact that the EMTs were just now removing the bodies of the two gunmen.

Fin stepped back a few paces, shaking his head. "He's not. He can't be."

-- o --

The morgue was absolutely silent as the team stood over the metal table where the body of their fallen friend had been laid.

After ten minutes, Elliot squeezed Olivia's shoulder and turned towards the door. Cragen followed him out soon after. Fin and Olivia were the only two remaining in the otherwise vacant room. Warner had chased her underlings out the door and stayed just long enough to offer up her sorrowful condolences and mutter something about privacy.

Fin turned his head to look at Liv. She stood perfectly still with one hand fingering the necklace around her neck and the other arm draped across her stomach. She stared almost absently at the body. He could see how tired she was.

He closed his eyes and looked away.

Olivia caught sight of the motion and glanced in his direction. She took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry."

Fin turned towards her. "What?"

"I --" She failed as she fought the urge to cry again. "I let him die."

"Aw, babe," Fin said, walking up to her. He set a hand on her arm. "Nah, you didn't."

Liv shook her head. "No, that -- that should be me. I shouldn't have let him."

Fin gave her a reassuring smile as he stroked her arm. "Liv, you gotta understand somethin'. As long as Munch was in that room, that was never gonna be you."

"What?"

He swallowed hard and nodded to her. "Believe me -- he was never gonna let anything happen to you."

She blinked and then met his gaze. "You know, before he -- uh -- before he -- he told me he loved me."

Fin raised his eyebrows. "He did?"

He turned his head towards the table. "Took ya long enough."

Olivia's eyes went wide. "You knew?"

Fin shrugged. "Well, he never came out an' said it, but it was kinda hard to miss."

She looked towards the floor.

"Oh, uh -- well," Fin stammered. "He tried so hard to hide it around you -- but whenever your back was turned or you weren't lookin', it was there."

He shook his head, smiling. "Creepy old man," he muttered under his breath.

Olivia laughed through her tears. "Who you calling old?"

Fin began to laugh, and their eyes locked onto each other again.

"Maybe it's time, Liv."

"Uh, yeah," she nodded. "Just --"

He gave her a grin and a dip of his head. "I'll wait for you by the door, 'kay?"

She squeezed his hand. "Thanks."

Fin nodded and sauntered away towards the door.

Olivia watched him walk away and then slowly turned back towards Munch's body. She took a deep breath and edged up to the table. Hesitantly she reached out for his hand.

His hand was like ice. The absolute coldness made her gasp in surprise. Her eyes moved up his arm to his empty face.

"I'm sorry," she whispered leaning over him, resting her head ever so briefly on his chest as if searching for a heartbeat that would never sound again. "I'm so sorry I didn't see it."

She straightened up and stared at his closed eyelids. A tear fell from her cheek and landed on his face. Liv reached across and wiped it away.

Closing her eyes, she bent over and placed a small kiss on his cold lips.

"I love you too, John," she breathed before standing up straight again. She reached for the edge of the white sheet and then pulled it up to cover his face once again.

She sighed and stepped backwards a while before turning around.

Fin smiled and nodded to her as he held open the door. He placed his hand on her shoulder as they stepped through the door.

Tears rolled down her cheeks. She knew that, in time, images of happier days -- of a smiling John Munch -- would return to her memory, but for now she could only remember his sacrifice.

She could only see the darkness of his eyes; she could only feel the iciness of his lips; she could only hear the pain in his final words. She saw nothing -- felt nothing -- heard nothing else as Fin guided her out into the cool summer evening.