Disclaimer: These characters don’t belong to me. They are the property of Dick Wolf and NBC and whoever else has creative claims over Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. I’m just borrowing them for a little while, and I’m not making any money off them.
Timeline: This story takes place during and immediately after the Season 9 episode, ‘Signature’.
Rating: MA so far, but it could go anywhere. Up to you.
Dr Melinda Warner walked up the brownstone’s front stairs, hefting her crime scene kit from left to right hand as she flashed her medical examiner’s identification at the cop on the door.
It was mid-afternoon, mid-summer in New York and Warner was uncomfortably warm in the official jacket and pants that were perfectly designed to stop her from contaminating her own crime scene but also ridiculously impractical for the weather.
She stepped out of the sun and into the cool interior of the stylishly modern home. Warner moved down the hall and came across SVU detective Chester Lake sitting on the bottom step of the internal staircase, his head in his hands.
“Detective?” He looked up at her, shock and sadness on his face. “What have we got?”
Lake stood up. “Agent Cooper,” he said. “She …” He swallowed. “She just … Blew her brains out. In front of us.” He leaned back against the wall, closing his eyes against the memory.
Lake nodded. “Yeah. Olivia’s still up there.” He gestured up the stairs to the second floor.
“Okay.” Warner moved past him and started climbing the stairs. As much as she always anticipated working with Detective Olivia Benson with pleasure, the ME was already thinking about the minutiae of the task in front of her. Any time a law enforcement officer was involved, the onus was on her to be especially vigilant. And she knew Benson would be ultra-focused — beyond her usual intensity, even. It wasn’t a time for the personal.
She stepped under the bright yellow crime scene tape strung across the door. The room was crowded with police officers and CSU personnel, but Warner’s attention was caught by the sight immediately in front of her.
She had expected to find Olivia directing other officers, or bent intently over the body, as she had done so many times before. The tall brunette was a compassionate woman, Warner knew, but when it came to crime scenes, nobody was more focused on the task at hand than Benson, regardless of the circumstances.
So finding the detective leaning against the wall, doubled over, hands on knees, her breath coming in great hitching sobs, came as a surprise to the ME. Warner stepped forward and placed a hand gently on Benson’s shoulder.
There was no response from the detective. Warner took in Benson’s pale, tear-streaked face, glazed eyes and clammy skin. Classic shock response, she realized.
“Olivia, come on. Sit down, before you fall down,” she said, quietly, aware of the junior officers surrounding them. She pulled Benson towards a nearby chair. “Sit.”
“M’okay,” Benson said huskily, nevertheless allowing Warner to gently push her down into the armchair.
“No, you’re not,” Warner replied. She put down her bag and crouched in front of Benson, her hands on the detective’s knees. “You need to get out of here.”
For the first time, Olivia’s eyes pulled away from the horrific scene in front of her and focused on Warner. “Not yet,” she said, her voice regaining a little strength. “Not until she’s taken care of. Do that for me?”
Pleading, intense dark eyes met the ME’s gaze and Warner felt the full force of Benson’s emotions. She nodded.
“Don’t I always?” She smiled grimly.
“Yes,” Benson replied. “But this one is special. She …” The detective choked up, her eyes welling with tears, and she shook her head, unable to say any more.
Warner knew about the case Benson and Agent Lauren Cooper had been working on, knew the two women had spent a lot of time together, had been through a lot. She patted the cop’s knee in reassurance.
“I’d like to hear about it … about her … some time,” she said.
Benson just nodded slowly, a fresh tear sliding down her cheek. “Go do your job, Melinda,” she said. “I’m okay.”
Warner spent another few seconds watching the brunette before she pushed herself up and picked up her bag. She knew better than to argue with Olivia. The detective would do what she needed to do when she wanted to do it. The ME had worked with her long enough to know that.
Benson was still sitting there an hour later when Warner walked the body out with her ME technicians. In the meantime, Olivia’s regular partner Elliot Stabler had arrived. He and Det. Lake were talking quietly in a corner. Clearly Benson had brushed him off as well. Olivia watched as the gurney and body bag were wheeled from the room.
“Hi, doc,” Stabler said. “All squared away?”
“Hi Ell,” Warner replied. “Yes. Straightforward. COD was a single gunshot wound to the head at point-blank range. I’ll have the full report to Kragen by morning.” She looked down at Benson, then back up to Stabler. “You need to take your partner home, Detective.”
Stabler nodded. “I will, but the Cap wants us back at the house, first,” he replied. “He wants her and Chester debriefed.”
Warner looked back down at Olivia. ‘Debriefing’, she knew, meant a psychologist and a written report. Benson and Lake would be lucky if they were home by midnight. “Can’t they do that tomorrow?”
Stabler shrugged. Benson had been blunt with him about what had happened and she’d refused any attempt at conversation. He had a wife and brand-new baby he needed to get home to, and dealing with his partner’s bad mood wasn’t on his list of things to do this evening. His plan was to drive Benson and Lake back to the precinct house and then clock off.
“Guess it’s up to Kragen and the brass,” he said.
At that moment Benson stood up and pushed past Stabler and Warner.
“Let’s go,” she muttered as she brushed aside the crime scene tape and headed for the stairs.
“Right behind you,” said Stabler as he followed her out. Only Det. Lake remained, leaning against the wall.
“She freaked out when it happened,” he said to the ME. “She was talking to Cooper, trying to talk her around. Then Cooper just pulled a gun from behind her back and …”
Warner nodded. It hadn’t taken her medical degree to know how the FBI agent had died. Most of her brain was on the wall – that was proof enough.
Warner admitted to herself that she was concerned about Benson.
Normally she was always amazed at the SVU detectives’ ability to deal with the horrors that came their way on a day-to-day basis. As a forensic pathologist, Melinda spent her working life with cold, dead bodies – she made them talk, made them tell her how and who and what had killed them. She was a compassionate woman, but she knew that if she had to deal with living victims and families, the way Benson and Stabler and Lake and their squad-mates did … well, she had never been sure she could do the same. Not without losing her mind, at least.
But today, the look on Benson’s face had been something Warner had never seen on the experienced cop before.
“Detective,” she said to Lake. “Give me a call when you and Olivia get out from under the paperwork tonight?”
Lake met her eyes and she thought he probably understood where she was going.
“Sure,” he replied. “I think she could use a friend.”
Warner tilted her head to the side and looked at the younger man. “How about you? How’re you doing?”
Lake flashed his trademark lopsided smile. “I learned to do without friends a long time ago, Doc,” he said. “Don’t worry about me.” And with that he walked through the door.
Save me from stubborn cops, Warner thought as she followed the detectives out of the blood-spattered room.
“Detective, you will spend an hour with the department psych, or you will take a week’s suspension. Your choice.” Captain Don Kragen unwittingly mirrored the ME’s frustration with the pig-headed nature of his senior detective. The only difference was he totally understood it. His distaste for headshrinkers was every bit as heartfelt as Olivia’s. But there were procedures. And experience told him they were in place for a reason.
Kragen looked at Benson. She was exhausted, that was obvious. And her eyes had a burned-out look that worried him. He decided to soften his tone.
“Olivia, please. If you don’t want to talk to a stranger, Huang is around. Talk to him. He’ll make it easy, you know that. A suspension goes in your jacket.”
“I know that, Captain,” Benson replied, not meeting his eyes. “I just want to go home.”
“Then take the hour, tell him what he wants to hear, if you don’t want to work it through yet,” he insisted. “Then go home. No suspension, nothing but good news in your jacket.”
Benson chewed on a fingernail. She knew Kragen was right, but the last thing she wanted to do was remember. Even though that was all she seemed to be able to do.
“Where’s Huang?” she muttered.
“Waiting for you in Interview 1,” Kragen replied.
“Fine.” Benson stood up quickly and exited the captain’s office with a slam of the door. Kragen didn’t care. Anything to keep one of his best functioning and in her right mind.
The door would survive.
Two hours later, Olivia laid back on her couch, a cold compress on her eyes, a glass of scotch in her hand. Huang had, as promised, made things relatively easy, asking the proscribed questions required by procedure, not pressing too hard when she had served up the expected answers, even though he knew she was soft-pedaling it.
Huang had been around Manhattan SVU long enough to know that each detective had their own coping mechanisms. Much as he might disagree with them, at least the FBI psych had the good sense to trust they would seek help when they really needed it.
“Trouble is, I really need it,” Olivia muttered before taking another sip of her drink. She let the burning liquid trickle down her throat, feeling its warmth spread through her gut. “What a totally fucked up day.”
Chester had seen what she had seen. Yeah, he’d been shocked by what had happened, but he seemed to be dealing. He was even sharing a joke with Fin just before she left the precinct house, before he had stopped her and told her Warner wanted her to call.
Olivia trailed the edge of the scotch glass along her bottom lip as she thought about the ME. She liked Melinda. A lot. Had always found the woman attractive. And smart. And very, very good at what she did. They had shared a few after-work drinks and a couple of lunches over the years and Olivia had always enjoyed the experience, had always come away wanting to know Warner better.
But work always came first.
“Plus there’s that whole straight and married thing,” Benson reminded herself. Ah well. Warner probably wanted to talk shop. God knows they had about five active cases the ME was involved with right now. She would wait until the morning to call. Last thing Olivia wanted was to think about work tonight. Another sip of scotch. It was taking the edge off the day, but making her headache worse. Olivia sighed. Whatever.
The knock on the door made her jump. Olivia glanced at her watch – 11.45pm. “This isn’t going to be good news.” With a groan the lanky detective pulled herself up off the couch, put down the glass and headed for the front door. “Who is it?” she called out.
“It’s Melinda, Liv.”
Well, speak of the devil, Olivia thought as she opened the deadlocks on her door. “Hi,” she said to the woman leaning on her doorjamb. “This is a surprise.”
“I didn’t trust you to call,” Warner said with a gentle smile. “So I thought I’d take a chance that you wouldn’t tell me to go to hell at this hour.”
Olivia smiled back. “Never,” she said. “Come on in.”
Warner walked into the detective’s apartment and took in the details with interest. It was the first time she’d ever seen Benson in anything other than a work situation or a bar. The apartment was tastefully furnished, if a little sparse. And the ME was unsurprised to see very few personal knick-knacks.
“Nice place, Liv,” she said, meaning it.
“Thanks,” Benson replied. “I’m not here much. Make yourself at home.” Warner took off her ME’s jacket and put it over the back of the nearest chair. She’d come straight from the morgue where she had completed the autopsy and report on Agent Cooper. “You look as tired as I feel,” said the cop.
Warner flopped down on to the sofa. “I nearly said the same thing to you,” she replied, smiling up at the detective.
“Drink? I’ve got a bottle of white wine in the fridge.”
Warner pointed at the half-drunk glass of scotch on the coffee table. “That doesn’t look like wine, Detective. I’ll have what you’re having. Thanks.”
Olivia poured Warner’s drink in silence, placed it in the other woman’s hand, picked up her own and sat down next to her.
“I thought you wanted me to call you about a case,” Benson said. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay. You had no reason to think it was anything else.”
They sat for a couple of minutes in companionable silence. Benson was wondering why the ME had suddenly decided to pay a social call after almost a decade of knowing each other professionally. Warner was wondering how to start the conversation about Olivia’s day without sounding like a psychoanalyst.
And both of them were suddenly very aware of just how beautiful the woman next to her was.
“Sorry you go …”
“After you …”
They laughed softly. Olivia dropped her head back against the back of the sofa, closing her eyes. Immediately the image of Agent Cooper’s brains spraying across the room and splattering against the wall popped into the front of her thoughts. Her eyes flew open again.
“Hell of a day,” Warner said quietly, like she was reading Olivia’s mind.
“Oh yeah,” Benson whispered. “You gonna Huang me, Doc?” She tried to make her voice light.
“Nope. Just wanted some company. Thought you might too.”
Olivia looked at the woman sitting next to her. Melinda was gorgeous, no question. Classic lines, caramel skin, long eyelashes surrounding dark, smoky eyes. But there were fatigue lines on the doctor’s face, too. And dark circles under those beautiful eyes. Benson knew how to read people. It was one of the things that made her a great cop.
“Bad day?” Liv asked.
Warner laughed wryly. “Bad couple of months, truthfully. Work’s been about the only thing keeping me sane.” She took a mouthful of scotch and tasted it slowly, savoring the heat. She turned to face Olivia’s open gaze. “Nothing I can’t handle. Nothing like what you saw today.”
Benson took a deep breath. “I’ve seen it before,” she said quietly.
“I know. But this was a little different, Liv. We both know it.”
Olivia took another drink. “I’m not going to deny that,” she acknowledged.
“Tell me about her,” Melinda said.
Liv sighed. “You are going to Huang me,” she laughed, and Warner joined in, softly. “So, it’s midnight. Why aren’t you at home with that handsome husband of yours?” she asked.
“Ah. That would be because we separated nine weeks ago,” Melinda said as she stared into the amber liquid in her glass.
“Hence the bad couple of months,” Olivia murmured. “I’m so sorry, Melinda.”
The ME shrugged. “It’s been coming for a while.”
“Isn’t it always?”
Olivia sighed. “I hear ya.” She reached for the scotch bottle and tipped some more into Warner’s glass, then topped up her own. She clinked the edge of her glass against the pathologist’s. “Cheers.”
Another two minutes passed as the women drank together.
“I liked her,” Olivia finally said. “Cooper.”
Warner nodded, knowing the cop well enough to let her talk when she felt like it.
“She was committed, driven. Smart.”
“You had a lot in common, then,” Warner said. Olivia accepted the compliment with a smile. “How well did you get to know her?”
“Pretty well, I thought,” she said. “But what the hell did I know, in the end?”
“Don’t do that to yourself, Liv,” Melinda warned. “From what I saw of the scene, Agent Cooper set you up.”
Benson looked at her sharply. “Set me up? How?”
“Liv, she had one weapon and her badge on the table, like she was going to surrender to you. You had no way of knowing about the gun behind her back. She was going to kill herself no matter what you said to her. She wanted you up close and personal, so she could make a point.”
Olivia nodded, knowing that the ME was right, but hating what that meant about the young FBI agent she had admired so much.
“Well, she made her point, all right,” she said.
Melinda took Liv’s right hand in her left and squeezed gently. “It must have been awful, Liv. I’m sorry.”
Benson was unnerved to find the tears sliding down her cheeks, suddenly. “Damn, I thought I was done with it,” she sniffled.
“In a few hours? Come on, you know better than that.” Melinda turned to face the cop, still holding Liv’s hand. “How many times have you told a victim to acknowledge what happened?”
“I’m not a victim,” Benson said fiercely.
“Yeah, Liv, you are. So is Chester.”
“I don’t want to be.” The tears were flowing freely now.
“I know, sweetheart. But it is what it is.” She reached out with her left hand and touched her palm to Olivia’s cheek. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “Nobody here but me, and I’m not going to tell anyone, I promise.”
It was like she’d switched on a light. Olivia leaned into her and rested her forehead against Melinda’s shoulder and let the sobs come. Warner put down her glass, took Olivia’s away from her, then held the detective in her arms and let her cry.
Twenty minutes later the two women were still wrapped in a hug, but now it was mutual, and they were relaxed into the cushions of the sofa. Olivia’s face, still damp with tears, was burrowed into Melinda’s neck. Both were almost asleep.
“Can I ask you something?” Melinda said.
Olivia chuckled. She liked where she was. Melinda smelled wonderful. She realized she had half-expected to smell the morgue on the ME’s skin. Instead it was … she breathed it in again … soap and sandalwood. “I’d say we’ve pretty much broken down the barriers, wouldn’t you?” she said against the softness of Melinda’s neck.
Warner smiled, breathing in the apricot scent of Olivia’s shampoo. “Mhmm.”
“Ask away,” Benson said.
“Okay. Were you attracted to her?”
Benson lifted her head and looked Melinda in the eye. “Is that a roundabout way of asking me if I’m gay, Dr Warner?” A small smile played across her lips.
Melinda shrugged slightly. “I’ve always wondered,” she replied.
“You and everyone else I work with, apparently,” Olivia said wryly. “About the only one who hasn’t asked me outright over the years is Kragen.”
“I’m sorry to be one of the crowd,” Warner said.
Olivia relaxed back into the ME’s arms. “It’s okay, Melinda. You asked nicely.” She felt Warner shake slightly with laughter. “And I’ve never answered anyone honestly, until now. For the record, I’ve walked both sides of the street. Lately, though … women are my … choice.”
Olivia snorted. “God, no,” she laughed. “Just … more … right, somehow.”
“I can understand that,” Warner replied. She was reveling in the feel of the woman in her arms. Olivia was only a few inches taller than her, but she was stockier. Soft – but there were muscles under the velvet … and so warm and inherently gentle. It had been a long, long time since the ME had felt what she was feeling now. A long time.
“Fair’s fair, Liv,” she murmured. “Ask away.” She felt the cop go still in her arms.
“Well … uh, I guess I just assumed. The husband, and all.”
“Tch, Det. Benson. You should know better than to assume anything.”
There was a long pause. Olivia was suddenly very aware of how close they were. They had their arms wrapped around each other and with just a half inch of movement she could press her lips against Melinda’s neck. And, she realized, she very much wanted to.
Melinda was having similar thoughts. She moved her left hand slightly and curled a strand of Olivia’s hair around her forefinger. It was silky soft. She just resisted the temptation to run her hand fully through the golden brown tresses.
“You’re bisexual?” Olivia asked softly. Melinda could feel her warm breath on her skin.
“Mhm,” Warner replied. “I think we all are to one degree or another. I haven’t been with a woman since college, though. I met my husband just after I graduated.”
Olivia pushed herself up so that she could look the ME in the eye.
“What I do for a living … sometimes it makes it difficult for me to be … spontaneous. I like to make sure I’m not …” She struggled to explain the hesitancy she felt.
“I understand, Liv. You spend your days with women who don’t want the advances that come their way.”
Olivia nodded. “And it kinda kills the romance when I preface things with ‘I like to make sure I’m not …’” She grinned lopsidedly.
Melinda reached out and silenced her with a gentle finger against the detective’s full lips. So soft. “Liv … relax. I wouldn’t be here … I wouldn’t be touching you … like this …” She brushed the pad of her thumb across Olivia’s bottom lip. She loved the sound of the cop’s breath catching at the touch. “… if I was in any doubt about what I wanted. Okay?”
Olivia took a deep breath, mesmerized by the look on Melinda’s face. There was desire and … anticipation. She wondered at it, trying to think how she hadn’t noticed it before now. Because she didn’t show it before now, she realized.
“Okay,” she whispered.
“So … what do you want?”
Olivia leaned closer. “Oh, I want to kiss you. Very much.”
Melinda came up to meet her. “Me too, Liv. So much.”
The kiss started so slowly, so gently, the touch was almost not there. Their breaths mingled for a few seconds but then neither woman could wait any longer and their lips met. Olivia groaned at the explosion of sensation. Melinda’s hands were in her hair and Liv slid her arms around her waist, pulling her closer as the kiss deepened. The ME felt so good to the touch, her lips were sure and sweet. Liv tentatively found Melinda’s tongue with her own, and it was met with confidence and wicked intent.
They pulled apart eventually, after minutes of exploration, breathless.
“God, Olivia.” Melinda rested her forehead against the cop’s, savoring the intimacy.
“Mmmm.” Liv pushed her hands up into the other woman’s tight curls and tipped her head back gently, kissing her again. “You are quite the revelation, Doctor.”
Melinda traced Olivia’s strong jaw line with her fingertips. “You are beautiful.” She met the dark eyes gazing back at her. “I want you.”
Olivia didn’t answer. Not verbally, at least. Gently she nudged Melinda backwards, lowering her on to her back and crawling over her, tangling their legs together. She dropped her head and nuzzled the ME’s cleavage softly, then trailed her tongue slowly up her breastbone, then up her throat and chin until their lips met once again.
“And I want you,” she whispered when they parted again.
Melinda slid her hands to Olivia’s lower back and pulled her down on top of her. “I can tell,” she murmured before kissing Liv deeply again. Mel felt the cop’s firm thigh slide between her legs and press up against her centre. She arched into the touch and Olivia moaned in response.
A cell phone chirped. The women broke apart.
“No, no, no, not now,” Melinda groaned, burying her face into Olivia’s neck, exasperated.
“It’s yours,” the cop said. “You always get there before us.”
Another ringtone sounded and Olivia growled. It would almost have been funny, but they both knew the calls meant only one thing – a body.
“I’m sorry, Melinda. I wish I could ignore it.” She reached for her cell phone.
“Me too. But neither of us can,” the pathologist replied, fishing her own phone from her pants pocket.
“Benson.” The detective listened to voice on the other end. It was Stabler. “Where?” She sighed. “I’m on my way.” She flipped the phone closed and looked over at the ME, who was just finishing her own conversation. “Battery Park?” she asked.
Warner nodded. “I’d suggest car-pooling, but …”
Their eyes met and they smiled at each other.
“A little early?” Benson suggested.
“Maybe so,” the ME agreed. “Liv … I don’t want to let this go … it feels …”
“Good,” Olivia finished for her.
“Yes. But …”
“I hear you. I don’t want to let it go either, Melinda. At all.”
The ME stepped forward quickly, reached up and pulled Olivia’s face down, kissing her fast and deep. When they broke apart, both women were breathless.
“Soon?” the pathologist asked.
“Oh yes. Soon.”
Want more? Leave some feedback and tell me if it’s worth writing another installment. Thanks for reading.