Amanda walked into the SVU squad room at half past seven, her hair still damp from the shower she took a little while earlier. She pulled her beanie hat off her head, threw it onto her desk and removed her scarf before unbuttoning her coat. The smell of fresh coffee reached her nose and she crossed the room to the small coffee corner and poured herself a cup. She walked back to her desk clutching her mug and just as she sat down she saw Olivia walk in.
She followed the brunette detective with her eyes as she headed straight for the coffee pot, picked up her favourite mug and poured herself a much needed drink. Olivia then turned around and Amanda averted her eyes just before the older woman saw her looking and picked up two files that had somehow landed on her desk since going home the night before. She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder and her head whipped around.
Olivia seemed somewhat startled by Amanda's reaction and was quick to apologise. "Sorry," she said, a hint of worry etched across her face. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"Lack of sleep, y'know," Amanda answered. "Makes me jumpy."
Olivia perched herself on the end of Amanda's desk. "I take it you didn't go back to sleep then?"
"Brian was snoring when I came in. No one could sleep when he's chopping down the entire Amazon rainforest."
Amanda flashed half a smile and Olivia stood up. She crossed the room to her own desk, sat down and switched on her computer. She didn't see the blonde woman's eyes still lingering on her as she rummaged through her drawers looking for a pen and almost knocked over her coffee in the process. She also didn't see the almost pained expression that briefly appeared on Amanda's face as she watched Olivia and by the time she looked up, Amanda was already studying something on her own computer screen.
There were plenty of things that Olivia Benson didn't see or know about Amanda Rollins and that was all because the younger woman did everything in her power to keep it that way. She had managed to shield herself from the brunette's intense gaze. Truth be told, it was a daily struggle but over the years she had perfected the art of pretending and not even a trained detective like Olivia had managed to see behind the mask Amanda had so carefully put in place.
Amanda had never intended to develop feeling for anyone she worked with, and she had definitely not intended those feelings to be aimed at Olivia. It was just something that had happened over time and when she finally realised, it was already too late. They were there and she had to find some kind of coping mechanism to deal with them. Since gambling was no longer an option, she had turned to something perhaps far darker and dangerous. The anonymity of one night stands was something that elevated the stress and the pain for a little while; no questions asked, no strings attached. They were strangers in the night whose face she never saw in daylight.
It wasn't the fact that she had feelings for Olivia that hurt. It wasn't even the fact that she knew those feelings would never be answered. It was the fact that, every day, she had to face the woman she cared about go home to somebody whom Amanda didn't think was worthy of her. It was something she shared with Nick Amaro. He too wasn't a fan of Brian Cassidy, albeit for different reasons. But every time Olivia mentioned Cassidy's name, Amanda would hurt a little bit more inside.
She was roused from her thoughts when Cragen walked into the squad room accompanied by Fin and Nick. Cragen shrugged himself out of his trench coat and draped it across his arm before turning to Olivia and Amanda.
"I heard you had a call out last night?"
Olivia stood up, a file in her hand. She gave it to the captain and waited for him to look inside. When his eyes met hers, she knew he shared her thoughts. "You are about this?"
"MO is a match," she answered. "He's back."
"Who's back?" Nick wanted to know.
Olivia turned towards the squad room and her eyes darkened. "The 911 rapist."
Fin looked up. He recognised the name immediately and his eyes found Olivia's across the length of the room. "The guy who raped women on the street, told them they should have watched their back and then called 911 when he was finished?" He frowned and Olivia nodded. "It's been, what, five years?"
"Yeah," Olivia answered, her eyes briefly lingering on Amanda. "But he's back."
Amanda stood up and picked up one of the files that had been left on her desk. Inside were several photos that had been taken during the night and she stuck the portrait one of their victim onto the whiteboard before turning around. "Her name is Emma Hamilton, aged twenty-six. She was on her way home when the rapist struck from behind. He threw her down to the ground, raped her and then told her she should have watched her back before calling 911."
"The rape kit showed vaginal tearing and bruising on her thighs and wrists, no semen or DNA so he used a condom," Olivia said. "Emma described a scar on his right hand, identical to the scar described by the three previous victims." She reached over her desk to pick up three more photos and stuck them underneath Emma's one before writing the date and year of their rape underneath. "Serena Lambert, Allison McKenzie and Lauren Jones were all attacked in the timescale of two weeks. All were thrown to the ground, raped and the rapist called 911 when he was finished. They all described a large scar on his hand."
"Talk to those three," Cragen said. "See if they remember something now that they may have overlooked back then. Sometimes it takes time for victims to remember specific details that didn't seem important and get a sketch of that scar out to all other precincts with the warning that we have a possible serial rapist on the loose."
The detectives went their separate ways with Fin and Amanda returning to the hospital to speak to Emma and get a sketch of the scar and Olivia and Nick searching for the details of the previous victims and comparing the notes from the old cases.
Two hours went by without them really noticing. Paperwork littered Olivia's desk as she compared all the files, took out all the pictures and rearranged them in order. Nick watched her from a small distance, understanding that this was something Olivia had to do. He knew what it was like to be confronted by a case that tormented you. Every cop had one. The one that got away. This was Olivia's one and he knew she would do anything to catch him this time round.
"Did you have any suspects at all back then?" Nick asked when he noticed the frustrated look on Olivia's face as she stuck the pictured on the whiteboard and added the details of their time and location beside them. She turned around.
"No," she admitted. "It was one of those cases that remained on my desk for all this time. I'd run the pattern through the system a few times a year, hoping to find maybe more cases but nothing came up. It was as if our serial rapist had just disappeared."
"Did you do a search for New York State or a nationwide search?" Nick wanted to know.
"I even tried the FBI," Olivia sighed. "Compared records from guys who were arrested for other sexual offences and were locked up. Nothing stood out. He just vanished."
"So we have four victims, none of whom have seen his face. Do we have any security footage of nearby shops?"
Olivia held up to somewhat blurred photos that were clearly taken by a security camera outside a small bodega. "This is all we have. It shows us he's white, around six foot three, wearing a hoodie and jeans and what looks like work boots." She stuck the two photos onto the board and took a step back. "The original footage was almost impossible to clear up."
"Technology has changed a lot in the last five years," Nick suggested. "We could have them take another look at it." Olivia looked up, her eyes suddenly brighter. "They may also be able to clean up the audio recordings of his original911 call. I know a guy who's quite technical. He owes me."
At that same moment Fin and Amanda walked back in. The blonde detective crossed the room and stuck the picture of the scar onto the board. It was almost identical to the sketches provided by the previous victims.
"I'm gonna fax these to every precinct," Fin said as he took a copy of the picture. "We're gonna catch this son of a bitch."
"How is our victim?" Cragen asked. He walked out of his office when he saw Fin and Amanda return.
"Better," Amanda answered. "The doctor says she's free to leave later today. She's given me the address of her mother in Chelsea." Her eyes briefly flashed to Olivia. "She said she didn't want to go home."
"What about our old victims?" Cragen wanted to know. "Any luck tracking them down?"
Nick sat down at his desk and picked up a piece of paper. Olivia leant against her own desk, arms crossed in front of her chest. Her eyes weren't fixed on Nick but on Amanda. Somehow her eyes were always drawn to the blonde detective throughout he day. She didn't know why but she didn't fight it either. As she watched the younger woman she noticed the way her face hardened as she studied the pictures on the whiteboard. Olivia recognised the anger and devotion.
"Serena Lambert is currently travelling in Europe. I spoke to her mother and her last known location was just outside of Milan, Italy. She's not due back for another six months but her mother did say she would let her daughter know we'd like to speak to her," Nick said and looked around the squad room. "Allison McKenzie was killed in a car accident two years ago. Drunk driver."
Olivia felt an unexpected lump in the back of her throat. "Poor girl. Raped by a stranger and then killed by some idiot who got behind the wheel while he was drunk. It's not fair."
Nick briefly looked at his partner. Olivia's face reflected all her emotions. "Lauren Jones moved out of New York six months after the rape. She went back home and is currently living in Atlanta, Georgia."
"Atlanta?" Cragen asked and his eyes darted over to Amanda. "Isn't that your old backyard, Rollins?"
She nodded, feeling somewhat uncomfortable now that her old hometown was mentioned. She didn't have fond memories of Atlanta. In fact, she didn't have fond memories of home at all. "Yeah."
"You and Benson, get on the next available flight to Atlanta. I want you to talk to that girl. She is the only one who may be able to give us some new insight on this case," Cragen said and the two detectives looked up in surprise.
"Captain," Olivia began, suddenly feeling somewhat uneasy. From the corner of her eye she saw Amanda stare at the floor. "We can just speak to her over the phone."
"We're dealing with a serial rapist, Liv. I want you to take every photo you have that could trigger her memory and see if she's remembered something. I'll okay it with 1PP," Cragen dismissed her concerns and Olivia knew there was no arguing with him. In a way she knew she had to be grateful because they would have all the means required to solve this case but flying out to Atlanta wasn't what she had in mind. "You'd better hurry to pack your bags or you're going to be on the redeye!"
Olivia and Amanda both picked up their coats and left the squad room. Behind them they heard Cragen instruct Fin and Nick to chase up the audio recordings and old security footage of their rapist. When they reached the elevator and Olivia pressed the button she looked at Amanda. The younger woman's face was hard and emotionless. The normally so kind blue eyes suddenly seemed distant. It was as if a guard had suddenly been put up and Amanda Rollins was trying to protect herself.
"How long has it been?" Olivia wanted to know. The doors slid open and they stepped into the elevator. "Since you've been home?"
Amanda chewed the inside of her cheek. "Not long enough."
Olivia didn't ask any further. In her first few weeks Amanda had confided in her that something bad had happened to her while on the job back in Atlanta. Not long after that she learned about the difficult relationship Amanda had with her sister Kim. She'd quickly figured out that Amanda's life as had been anything but easy but it seemed that she had chosen not to talk about it.
Amanda felt the older woman's eyes on her. A whirlwind of emotions stirred in the pit of her stomach. She had managed to work alongside Olivia for all this time because it had been quite easy to stay out of her way when she felt she needed to. It was possible to keep a lid on her feelings if she worked alongside Fin and only spent time with Olivia on her own on rare occasions. The idea that they would travel to Atlanta together and would probably spend a couple of days in very close proximity of each other put her on edge. She didn't know how she was going cope.
Olivia leant against the wall without taking her eyes of Amanda. Once again she was taken in by the blonde's striking features. The long blonde hair and clear blue eyes accented her pale skin. Olivia couldn't deny she liked hearing Amanda talk. There was something about the Southern drawl that just dragged her in.
They weren't really friends but Olivia had tried to be on friendly terms with her. They were the only two women in the squad and it did create a bond. She'd soon learnt that Amanda wasn't really the type of person to hang outside of the job. Like Olivia, she lived for what she did. It was what Olivia recognised in her the first time they met. It was one of the first thing she noticed, besides her blue eyes and accent. Over time the lines of work and personal life had slowly begun to blur but it had never gone beyond grabbing a couple of beers with the guys at the end of a long week.
As far as Olivia knew Amanda was single. Until not too long ago, she herself had been single. She knew what it was like to come home at the end of a day to an empty apartment where nothing but a pile of unread mail and last week's take-out box waited for your return. Sometimes she wondered what Amanda did outside of work. She knew about her gambling struggles but had never mentioned to her. There were moments where she wondered how she coped at night, alone, in the dark, with the images of what they saw every imprinted into her head. She'd had plenty of nights like those herself and even now she still had them. Living with someone didn't chase those demons away. It just meant there was a light on whenever she walked through the door.
The soft ping announced that the elevator had reached the ground floor and it snapped Olivia out of her thoughts.
"You want a lift?" Olivia offered as the doors opened and they stepped out into the precinct's main lobby. "We can swing past your place and get your stuff, then go to mine. I don't know what airport we'll be leaving from but I think it will be La Guardia."
Amanda just smiled. "Sure," she replied and followed Olivia through the lobby and out into the bitter cold. The wind took her breath away and made her eyes well up with tears.
Olivia unlocked the car and watched as Amanda got inside. "I know you and your family have a troubled relationship," she said. "But I'm sure there'll be time to visit them."
"No," Amanda dismissed and folded her hands in her lap. She briefly looked at Olivia and the cold look in her eyes told the older woman that the subject of family was out of the question. "It is best if they never know I've been back home."
"Sorry," Olivia said. "I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable."
"S'allright," Amanda sighed. "It's just…. It's better, okay?"
Olivia started the car and briefly patted Amanda on her arm. "Okay."
Amanda felt her skin glow where Olivia had touched her and rested her head against the window. She couldn't even look at the other woman and she just hoped, prayed, that the next few days would go by quickly. As they drove away from the precinct Amanda realised that the only safe haven she had known, the only place where she had really managed to hide her feelings, lay behind them now. She was heading out into the great unknown and she had no idea how, or even if, she would cope.