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“You’ve got to meet him!” Amanda insisted, her eyes bright with enthusiasm as she sat across from Oliva who was seated at her desk. Olivia rolled her eyes, removing her glasses and leaning back in her seat, “Amanda... I can’t just bring people into my life these days. I have Noah to worry about,” she replied, her brows furrowed and her tone serious. It was true, she’d hardly dated since ending things with Tucker and she didn’t really anticipate wanting to again. Amanda’s lips tugged downward into a frown, “come on, I met him through an old friend... he’s successful, driven, and he’s a family man! I ran his history for you, he’s never been arrested... man doesn’t even seem to have a parking ticket!”

Olivia arched a brow, tilting her head and flashing the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ expression. Amanda continued, “I get trying to protect Noah, but you can’t avoid your own happiness forever,” her tone serious, but laced with concern. It was the tone of a friend who was desperate to look out for someone they care about. Olivia sighed, shaking her head, “Amanda, I’m not sure that... that is in the cards for me,” she said finally, her voice warm but laced with a certain sadness that only those close to her could pick up. In truth, there had never been a man in her life who filled the void left within her, she wasn’t sure such a man existed. Or, rather, she wasn’t sure she could have such a man.

“You can’t give up, Liv,” Amanda retorted, scolding her slightly, “if there isn’t hope for you, then I’m truly screwed...” At that, Olivia laughed and shot an appreciative smile at her colleague...her friend. They hadn’t always been close, but it had been nearly ten years of working side by side now and with each year they’d grown closer. Olivia was still unsure about accepting the date, blind dates didn’t often pan out well... but what was the worst that could happen? They don’t hit it off... she gets out of there... and they never speak again. Harmless, right? The silence between them was tense, she could tell Amanda was hopeful and she hadn’t given much thought to her own needs... she was so focused on the job, on Noah... perhaps she deserved a night for herself. “Alright, I’ll do it,” she agreed, smiling nervously. “I’ll text you the time and place... you go get dressed, Fin and I will hold down the fort here,” Amanda replied with a wry grin, standing from her seat and rushing from the office before Olivia had time to second guess her choice... before she had time to say no.

Some time later, she found herself staring at her closet and wishing she had something suitable for the occasion... dresses were strewn across her bed and she found herself completely unsure of what to wear. She chewed at her lower lip, suddenly aware of why choosing and outfit was so difficult... she was actually *nervous*. She frowned at the realization, feeling annoyed at herself for agreeing to the date... suddenly wishing she could call the whole thing off. She ended up settling on a little black dress... after all, it was the sort of dress that never went out of style. It was form fitting, hugging at her curves, and had a high neckline as well as Long sleeves... as did most of her current outfit choices, a way to conceal the scars that had been left on her body by her encounter with William Lewis.

She examined herself in the mirror once she’d slipped into the dress, smoothing the material and checking that the length was acceptable. It fell to just above her knees, a length that was both tasteful and sexy. The slight slit at the back wasn’t too revealing, but allowed for more ease as she walked. She paired the black dress with silver heels and a matching clutch, ditching her bulky work purse and bringing only essentials. When she turned back to the mirror, she took in her reflection and found herself staring at a woman she hardly recognized without her sensible jackets and boots... she couldn’t recall the last time she’d had an occasion to dress up this way, but she hoped that it would be worth the time she’d taken getting ready.

As she stood there, her phone emitted a small -ding- signifying a text. She retrieved it, glancing at the screen, Amanda’s text gave her the name of a high end Italian restaurant and a time - 19:30. She pressed her lips together and took one last glance in the mirror, breathing out sharply and steeling her nerves... it was just a date, she could always leave if she didn’t enjoy herself. Brushing a hand through her loosely curled brown hair she sighed and turned from the mirror, walking down the short hallway then past her kitchen and living room. She felt as though she might bail if she lingered, so she decided that showing up to the date early couldn’t hurt... worst case she could have a glass of wine to ease her nerves.

When she arrived to the restaurant, she pulled a mask over her face. It was black and matched her dress, one of the fancier masks she had acquired for occasions that required a certain elegance... this date qualified. She felt butterflies in her stomach, a sign of her nerves. She swept the room with her mahogany gaze and found that the restaurant was nearly empty, meaning she would have an easy time spotting her date most likely. So far, her gaze had settled upon couples... with the exception of a single man seated at one of the bar stools. Even from here, she could tell he had money. He was dressed to the nines, an elegant suit that looked designer and was so well fitted she knew it had to be custom. His hair was dark, nearly jet black and looked as though every hair was in place. It had to be him, so she approached tentatively, her heels clicking across the floor.

“Richard?” she inquired, though her voice was somewhat muffled by the mask over her lips. The man turned, his mask was already off, and flashed a debonair smile. Olivia was taken aback by his looks, feeling somewhat flustered and caught off guard. He was handsome, devilishly so. “You must be...Olivia,” Richard Wheatley spoke, enunciating every syllable of her name with care. He offered a hand but hesitated, remembering his new COVID manners, “you should know I was tested today, I’m negative. As soon as the vaccine is available I’ll be getting that. Can’t wait for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said, his tone cool and practiced. He was hard to read and Olivia found it unsettling, but she tried not to give in to her cop instincts so soon.

She flashed a practiced smile, but quickly realized her mask blocked the majority of it. “I am tested for work quite a bit,” she replied, pausing before adding, “I’m already vaccinated.” Wheatley’s charismatic smile broadened somehow, showing off his perfect teeth and enhancing his good looks, “Ah, yes... your job. Amanda tells me you’re the Captain of Manhattan Special Victims. I have so much respect for your unit and what you do,” he replied, glancing to a waiter and nodding almost imperceptibly. He extended his arm towards the waiter he’d just signaled and added, “come, our table is already prepared... let’s get more comfortable.” She nodded, smiling, though her mask concealed it. She wasn’t sure about him yet, but he certainly played the role of the perfect gentleman well.

She followed the waiter hoping for a table near the windows, but instead found their table was tucked in a corner. She noted, as she sat, that from this corner you could see every single entrance and exit. She glanced at her companion, narrowing her eyes imperceptibly as she considered him... something still had her wondering about him, but time would tell. She reached up and removed her mask, using her blackened phone screen to ensure that her lipstick hadn’t smudged horribly. She had opted for a nude shaded to minimize complications from the mask... but she still didn’t want to have a rogue smudge marring her face. Satisfied that she looked fine, she placed her phone and mask into her clutch and tucked it on the seat beside her.

When her gaze rose to Richard’s she found him watching her with a fascinated expression. “I must admit, when I was told you were beautiful, I didn’t expect you to be as magnificent as you are, Olivia... I’m practically speechless,” he said after a moment, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips. She felt a slight heat rise in her cheeks and a coy smile took hold of elegant features, “you flatter me,” she mused, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d been complimented like that... and with that simple action one of her lines of defense lowered its guard. “So...” she added, chewing her lower lip for a second as she phrased her question, “what exactly do you do for work?” she inquired, her voice calm and laced with subtle intrigue. At this Richard chuckled slightly and grasped a glass of water, raising it to his lips and taking a long sip. “I dabble in a little of everything... I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades that way, though currently I’m the head of an online pharmaceutical company called Contrapos,” he replied, his tone confident and cool. He wasn’t bragging, she noted... and he also wasn’t lying, though something about him still had her slightly on edge.

“Good evening, my name is Sal and I will be serving you this evening,” the waiter said as he approached, placing their conversation about professions on hold, “What would you like to drink?” Olivia noticed that the waiter, while talking to them both was looking to Richard... clearly he was a regular here and the staff knew him. Richard, however, was looking at her with admiration in his gaze. “Tell me, Olivia,” he spoke, using her full name and letting his tone caress each syllable, “do you enjoy wine?” He flashed her that devilishly handsome smile and, for the second time, she felt the hint of butterflies in her stomach. She matched his smile and nodded, “I prefer reds, generally Cabernets,” she replied, her tone gracious and laced with a hint of warmth. She was, in spite of her initial misgivings, enjoying herself... Richard was proving to be the gentleman she’d been led to believe he was.

Richard smiled at her, his sharp gaze flicking to the waiter and he simply nodded, an unspoken request. Without a word, the waiter bowed his head slightly and departed. Olivia’s brows were furrowed and when Richard’s gaze returned to her, there was a brief flicker of another smile, “If you can’t tell... I’m a regular here. My father’s friend owns the restaurant... I’m particularly fond of their pasta - made in house,” he offered, his tone calm and warmer than it had been. Clearly, he was growing more comfortable as well. She half-smiled and nodded, “you’re a well connected man, Richard,” she replied, her tone more casual than even she expected. She was surprisingly relaxed and was well aware that this was one of the more pleasant dates she’d been on in years. “So, tell me more about you,” she said, leaning forward onto her elbow and placing her chin in her palm, “Do you have a big family?”

Richard chuckled, fiddling with his silverware idly, “in all honesty, my family is quite large... and complex,” he admitted, pausing briefly before adding, “You should know I was married once before... and we had three kids together. She’s still quite involved in my day to day life, as I have custody of two of our children: Richie and Dana.” She smiled warmly, relief flooding through her... he had kids and a complex family life, meaning he may be more understanding of her own complex life and Noah. “Three kids, wow,” she replied, shaking her head slightly which caused her loose curls to bounce against one another, “that’s wonderful. I have a son, his name is Noah.” Anyone in the room would’ve seen it, the way her entire being lit up at the mention of her son. It was something that was not lost on Richard Wheatley, he leaned forward ever so slightly and smiled warmly, “how old is he?” he inquired, engaging her on a topic she clearly cared about.

Normally, she would avoid discussing her son with a stranger... a habit for a police officer who had already dealt with one abduction and several threats against her son, but her defenses were already disarmed by his charm and the fact that he came with such glowing recommendations. She jumped at the chance to discuss her son... to brag about him and tell someone how proud she was, “He’s eight,” she replied, pride oozing from her as she spoke, “he’s so bright, so sweet... and he’s a dancer. I’m so proud of the boy he’s growing up to be.” Her pride and joy was infectious, Richard found himself smiling warmly at her. He’d been about to reply when the waiter returned with the restaurant’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon, from Italy. The waiter extended the bottle to Richard, holding it by its neck and supporting it with the palm of his hand to that Richard could examine the bottle. Richard flashed a confirmatory smile and nodded, “Perfect, Sal, thank you.”

Sal inclined his head, carefully uncorking the wine in the most elegant of ways... popping it from the bottle with the ease of a practiced hand. He poured a sample into each of their glasses, Olivia’s first and then Richard’s, allowing them each to taste it before he poured a full glass. Olivia smelled the wine, the way she had seen wine connoisseurs do on the food network, swirled it around her glass and took a small sip, savoring it’s flavour. It was perfect, though the intricacies of fine wine were lost on her...less expensive pallet. Richard nodded again, demonstrating his approval of the wine and Sal took each of their glasses, pouring a hefty portion. He left the bottle on the table, then inquired, “Are you both ready to order?” That’s when Olivia realized that she hadn’t even taken a glance at the menu, she’d been to enthralled with their conversation. She gaped, hesitating, but Richard answered for her, “you know, Sal, we have both been so engrossed in our conversation that we hadn’t even looked at the menu. Give us a minute?” She nodded, looking from Richard to Sal and smiling somewhat nervously. Olivia chuckled as he walked away, picking up her menu which had been laid before her when they’d arrived at the table, but they’d both neglected it, “I rarely eat at new places these days,” she admitted aloud, perusing the menu as she spoke, “any recommendations?”

She glanced at him over the menu and noticed that he hadn’t picked up his, he was instead observing her with intrigue and a hint of... desire. She felt heat rise in her cheeks at the thought, her heart racing dangerously. There was a long pause before he spoke, “I’m partial to the eggplant parmigiana,” he replied, his tone more casual than she’d expect given the look she’d received, “but since they make their pasta and ravioli in house, you can really never go wrong...” She mulled over his words and found that her eyes looked but didn’t see the menu... she was focused on him, the scent of his expensive cologne that she could smell from this distance. She swallowed dryly and reached for her water, taking a sip as she closed her menu and flashed a nervous smile. Richard either didn’t notice or he pitied her and chose not to mention her nerves. Instead, he reached for his glass and held it delicately, raising it in her direction, “a toast,” he proposed, and she picked up her glass extending it towards him, “to getting to know one another on a deeper level... you see, Olivia, I feel like I know you. We share a love of our children, a devotion to our jobs, and... a lack of someone with which to share it. I know you, because we are so very alike... so, a toast to us and whatever the future may hold.”

Their glasses made a delicate -clink- as they collided and she smiled more naturally before bringing her glass to her lips and taking another, longer, sip of the garnet liquid. It was the sort of wine that held only subtle fruity undertones and nearly no sweetness. Olivia had taken his words to heart and she found herself feeling similarly... she did feel in some ways as though she knew him. She knew what it was to hold yourself back from love... to put everyone else in your life ahead of you, to guard your heart against even the possibility of hurt by avoiding love altogether. Her misgivings about Richard Wheatley were vanishing faster than the wine in her glass... she considered him, her deep brown gaze focused on his bright blue eyes. He was an enigma, a mystery, and yet he was so familiar. There was an easy chemistry between them and she found herself lost in his gaze for a moment. “Yes,” she agreed, a bit later than intended for her foray into the depths of his vibrant blue gaze, “I agree with what you said, somehow despite having just met you I feel as though there is an ease between us. It’s a welcomed change to my usual...encounters.”

He smiled, a knowing smile, “I’ll admit, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences with dating,” he concurred, taking a sip of his wine, “then again, I have a bad habit of dating beautiful women whose intentions aren’t always aligned with my own... the last time I dated a woman anywhere near as impressive as you, I ended up married to her.” That was a direct compliment and Olivia felt her cheeks flush slightly, feeling instantly flustered by the ease with which he said those words. She bit at her lip, glancing down at the menu once again and trying to keep her composure. After a few moments, she shut the menu and lifted her gaze to him, “I think I’ll get the mushroom ravioli, sounds delicious,” she said, avoiding the compliment he had paid her, avoiding the second half of his statement... she hadn’t yet explained that she had never been married, that Noah was adopted... In truth, there was still quite a bit that he didn’t know about her.

Sal returned to the table once her menu had been shut and placed on the table before her. She ordered her meal quickly, making sure to flash a practiced smile at the waiter after she ordered. She found her gaze drawn to him as he ordered his meal, observing his face and each of the micro-movements of his expression. Their conversation slowed for a few moments, but Richard decided to break it in a substantial way, “So, you’re the Captain of Manhattan Special Victims,” he began, flashing a charismatic smile before continuing, “you must be very proud... I can only imagine how much work has gone into you gaining that title. I’ll admit, I have lived in New York for a long time and even I was aware of your case against William Lewis... I’m surprised that you chose to remain in the unit after a run in like that...” It was abundantly clear from the way in which he brought it up that he had no experience with survivors... it was also clear that he may not understand the extent of her ordeals with William Lewis.

Initially, she tensed at the mention of Lewis, but she also knew that Richard was likely trying to learn more about her... and, unfortunately, what had happened between her and William Lewis had been a foundational shift in her character, her life. She hesitated briefly, considering her response, “I actually had several encounters with William Lewis,” she began, her words tentative as she fiddled with the hem of her sleeve, “it was difficult to come back, but in some ways I feel like I was born to be a part of this unit, to run it. My mother... my mother was the victim of a rape and that led to my conception. Instead of taking after the monster who had fathered me, I overcorrected and became a cop.” Her honesty surprised ever herself, but Richard Wheatley took it in stride.

He reached across the table and laid his hand over hers, “I’m sorry, I can see I’ve brought up a difficult subject... I didn’t mean to cross a line. My father isn’t the best of men either, I’ve done everything I can to distance myself from that legacy... I even took my ex’s last name when we married and kept it.” Her jaw dropped, slightly, her lips pursed. Her eyes dropped to their hands, still touching, then rose to meet his unwavering gaze. She swallowed, nervously, but fought the urge to jerk her hand back... something kept her frozen in that moment, her stomach doing a nervous backflip. “It’s alright,” she said finally, finding her voice, “it’s natural for you - for anyone - who was aware of the case to inquire... it was a difficult time in my life, thankfully before Noah.” Richard nodded, his face a solemn mask of understanding, and he stroked the back of her hand with his thumb. The butterflies returned to her stomach and she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear with her other hand before taking another sip of wine.

They were silent for a while, but over time the conversation returned to a normal pace. The remainder of their conversation consisted of idle topics... his work, her work, and even his children. The dinner was delicious and she found herself enjoying the evening far more than she had expected. She was still aware of something in the back of her mind that nagged at her, something that kept her just slightly on edge... unable to fully relax and let her guard down. Then again, she couldn’t recall a time in which she had let her guard down fully in well over a decade. When the check arrived Wheatley snatched it and held up a hand, “I can already hear the potential offer to split it, but I’m old fashioned this way... beautiful women deserve to be treated for dinner,” he said, retrieving his wallet and paying for the meal. Olivia shook her head, smiling, and took a sip of water. She’d had enough to drink that she was questioning her desire to drive home, despite her decision to drive herself to the date.

As if she had said it out loud, Richard spoke, “We’ve had quite a bit to drink... let my driver take you home, will you? I couldn’t stand the thought of you getting into an accident. My other associate can drive your car to your apartment if you’d like, so you have it for work tomorrow?” They were so in sync somehow, it was eerie, but she nodded, “That’s a good plan, I’ll admit... I did drive here with the intention of having a clear escape plan if things went poorly,” she replied, smirking slightly at the truth of her statement. Amusement tugged at his handsome features and he chuckled, “well, I’m glad to see I wasn’t too much of a disaster for our first date,” he replied, pausing before adding, “because I’m certainly hoping for a second.” Olivia smiled coyly tilting her head down and looking at him through her long eyelashes, “we shall see...” she replied, keeping her options open. She needed to think before a second date... she needed to think seriously before becoming serious with anyone, because it wasn’t just about her anymore.

Richard’s credit card was returned and they both stood, in sync once again. Richard offered his arm to her and she took it, after only a brief hesitation. All of the eyes in the restaurant were on them as they departed and she couldn’t say that she blamed them... for the first time in a while she was focused on herself as a woman, rather than a cop or mother, and she was beautiful... walking alongside a handsome man who was so well dressed that it was hard not to stare. They made quite the pair. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk as they approached the large, black SUV with tinted windows... before they arrived, a man emerged from the passenger side and opened the rear door for them. “Your keys,” Richard stated, extending his other hand to her. She retracted her arm from his and opened her clutch, retrieving the keys and handing them to him, “it’s the SUV parked over there to the right,” she said, clicking the lock button so the lights would flash. “Follow us,” he instructed his man, tossing him the keys.

Wordlessly, his man nodded and jogged off toward her vehicle. Richard gestured for her to get in first and held his hand at her lower back as she climbed into the vehicle and settled herself into the seat. He slid in beside her and shut the door with a solid -thud-. The drive to her apartment building was relatively uneventful, their conversation was idle and quiet... she wasn’t as at ease around his driver as she had been at the restaurant with just him. When they arrived at her building, Wheatley slid out of the SUV first and extended his hand to her, helping her out of the car after him. She smiled warmly at him and, as she was looking at him, his man walked up with her keys. “Here you go, Miss,” he said, handing them to her and she uttered a small, “Thanks...” When her gaze shifted back to Richard, his hand was extended to her and she took it. They walked hand-in-hand to her building’s door and she could feel the smile tugging at her lips involuntarily.

He turned to her at her building door, offering her a look that could only be described as bedroom eyes... the charisma was turned up to the maximum level. “Olivia Benson, I haven’t had such a pleasant evening or more enticing first date in a very...very long time. I do so hope that I will have the privilege of sharing a second date with you,” he spoke, his tone genuine and gravely. The tone in his voice sent a chill down her spine and she faltered, nervously. “I—,” she began, pausing to swallow, “I had a wonderful time... I was hesitant to agree to a blind date, but you were a pleasant surprise,” she admitted, smiling slightly as she did. He leaned in, pressing a long, warm kiss to her cheek... then another to her other cheek. When he did so, she could feel the slight stubble from the day against her soft skin and she felt her body react in spite of herself. “Goodnight, Olivia,” he said, holding her hand as he backed away, until he could no longer reach her fingers. He released her hand and retreated, turning back to his SUV and his awaiting drivers.

She stared after him, watching his retesting form and waving when he glanced over his shoulder at her. She didn’t linger in the brisk air, however, and retreated into her building. She barely registered the indicator noise of the elevator that alerted her to the arrival at her floor, her mind still lingered on the kisses to her cheeks... on the buzz she felt about the whole evening. She ran a hand through her hair and made her way into her apartment, brushing through the empty apartment to her bedroom and kicking her heels off immediately. Her apartment seemed to be deathly silent, seeing as Noah was at a friend’s house for a last minute sleepover... She managed to get her dress unzipped and slipped out of it, finding pijamas and slipping into them. She grabbed a makeup wipe from her bathroom and began removing the makeup that she wore for the date, wandering to Noah’s bedroom door and leaning against the frame. She stood there for a long time, staring at the empty room... missing her sweet boy and wishing she could tell him how her evening went. She sighed, turning away, and making her way to bed. She tossed her makeup wipe away and flopped down in bed, thankful for the cloud-like comfort it provided... thankful for sleep which came quickly.

Meanwhile, at the restaurant, Sal dialed a number on the landline and held the receiver to his ear. Someone picked up on the other end of the phone, “He was here,” he spoke, pausing briefly to give the person on the other end time to speak. “He was with a woman... one I’ve never seen before, not his usual type. Some lady cop... Captain of a unit. Her first name was Olivia,” he said, giving all the information he had to the individual on the other end of the line. “Yes, if they come back you’ll be my first call. Yes... you’re welcome,” he replied, not bothering with a formal goodbye as he hung up the line. Somewhere in the city, someone was very unhappy with the news they’d just received. Richard Wheatley had introduced another player to the game, an unanticipated player that came in the form of a Captain of the NYPD.