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Arresting Officers

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Her left knee creaks - creaks, there’s no other word for it, as if she is literally an old, decrepit house that small children fear and cross the street to avoid - as she lowers herself into her burgundy leather desk chair, and she sighs in irritation even though no one is around to hear it. She swings her briefcase onto the desk - the burnished handles and soft leather still pristine despite close to a decade of service - pops it open awkwardly with a groan of protest from her mildly arthritic knuckles, and pulls out the files she’d taken home to review last night. 

She flicks through them, documents rasping against the paper-thin skin of her fingers and mentally prepares for the day ahead. Three counts of murder; child neglect and endangerment; five counts of rape and battery. Her eyes move through them the way another woman might consult a list of daily chores. After nearly forty years on the job, she suspects there’s nothing left in this world that will shock her. 

Her assistant knocks on the door and enters smoothly, bearing a cup of coffee and another file. “Good morning, Your Honor.”

“Good morning, Margot.” One of the better assistants she’d been graced with over the years. Margot is almost thirty, keen and - most importantly - not interested in small talk. She places the coffee down on the walnut desk, produces a single packet of sweetener from somewhere about her person and lays it down beside. Then she holds out the file. 

“This was just added to the docket.” 

“Which department?”

Margot pushes her long ponytail off her shoulder. “Sex crimes. ADA Carisi is prosecuting.”

Taking a sip of her coffee - perfect, as always, Margot truly was one of the good ones - she nods her thanks and watches her assistant leave, closing the door softly behind her. Then she opens the folder. 

Kidnapping and endangering the welfare of a child. Two defendants to be tried together. Looked like Carisi was trying his luck by adding in attempted murder, as the child suffered severe asthma and the perps made no attempt to provide her with an inhaler during the six hours they had her…

Then her eyes drift lower, to the box which reads arresting officers and she lets out a deep groan and says “oh, you have to be fucking kidding me.”

***

It’s her last year on the bench. She’s retiring at Christmas. 

She’s given this profession forty years of her life. Two attempts have been made on that life - one of them very nearly successful. Her fists still clench in rage (as much as they can these days - arthritis is a bitch) when she thinks of that moron Dale Stuckey and his syringe of potassium chloride. 

Forty years of overtime. Of working nights, weekends, holidays. Of being dragged out of bed at all hours to find an impassioned detective on her doorstep, pleading for a warrant. Her husband is gone, her children are grown, she’s a grandmother four times over. She deserves to slow down, drink some tea, smell some freaking roses and do a goddamn jigsaw puzzle while her hands still can. 

And she’d have been happy - so, so happy - if she could've made it to Christmas without having to hear another word from either of them. 

She glares at the paperwork before her as if she can transmit her displeasure to them through their haphazardly scrawled signatures. No time to stay inside the lines, oh no, not for those two. No time to follow protocol, to file papers properly, to make anyone else’s life easier before storming off after their next perp and probably putting themselves in imminent danger in doing so. Lurching from case to case with heedless abandon and somehow amassing the greatest closure rate the NYPD had ever seen. 

Benson. Stabler.

Some of her most hectic years on the bench. 

She’d had Benson on her stand since the split, of course. She’d seen the shift in the woman, seen her eyes turn to dead wood in the months after her partner left, seen them darken further after her abduction and torture. She’d been there when the spark came back, when she found new purpose and started her historic rise through the ranks of the department - a rise that consequently took her out of the field, and therefore off the stand. It’s been a few years now since the two of them have shared a courtroom. 

Stabler, she hasn’t seen in over a decade. Had no idea he was even back with the NYPD. No one tells her anything these days.

Margot gets to her feet as soon as she opens the office door, stepping smartly around her desk and shaking out the black robe. She holds it out so it can easily be slipped on, and they barely break stride, so practiced is their dance. Margot falls into step beside, notepad in hand, scribbling in shorthand as instructions are fired at her like pellets from a gun. 

“Detective Elliot Stabler. Badge number 6313. Last I heard he put his papers in. Find out when he was reinstated to the NYPD and why. And Captain Benson - why is she on my docket as an arresting officer? Find out what went on in that case to put a Captain in the field. Go over the file with a fine-tooth comb. Look for anything that breaks procedure, any nasty surprises in store for me. There’ll be something. Mark my words.”

As they approach the doors of the courtroom the instructions taper off and Margot nods sharply and retreats back the way they came, heels tapping, ready to action everything. Oh yes. One of the good ones.

She turns to the bailiff and nods. He sweeps open the doors to the courtroom and steps inside in front of her. 

“This court is now in session. All rise for the honorable Judge Elizabeth Donnelly.”

***

Elizabeth knocks off six arraignments before calling a break for lunch. The force of the gavel reverberates up her arm when she bangs it now, and she again counts the months until her retirement.

Margot is waiting for her in chambers, a salmon quinoa salad ready on her desk beside a tall glass of sparkling water. The woman stands respectfully when Elizabeth enters, but she waves her back into her seat and steps around the desk to her own chair. “What do you have?”

Margot clears her throat. “Detective Elliot Stabler retired from the NYPD in 2011 with six fatal shootings in his jacket. He went off-grid for several years and from what I can tell worked in private security all over Europe. Eventually settled in Rome and became an NYPD liaison, investigating an organized crime family operating out of Puglia.” Margot pronounces it wrong, and Elizabeth smoothly corrects her. The woman nods and makes a quick note on her page. “Returned to New York last year and his wife was murdered by a car bomb. The hit is believed to have been ordered by a member of the family he was investigating in Puglia.” Said correctly this time, of course. “Until recently he worked out of the Organized Crime Control Bureau, reporting to Sergeant Ayanna Bell until he was suspended for his actions against the man accused of murdering his wife. He’s been demoted down to the 3-7 now.”

Elizabeth cocks an eyebrow at the irony, but waves for Margot to go on as she spears some more salmon and asparagus on her fork. The takeout options around the courthouse have improved immensely over the last few years.

“The child in question is the daughter of one of the officers from the 3-7. Hence Stabler’s involvement.”

“And Benson?”

“SVU caught the case, of course. It’s unclear why Captain Benson was so heavily involved rather than one of her detectives.”

Elizabeth fights the urge to snort. She can guess exactly why.

“The little girl, Sara, was abducted from the street while her mother was in a store. She was lured away with a puppy and pulled into a van. The perps had her for six hours before she was found in an abandoned house in Queens.”

“By Captain Benson and Detective Stabler?”

“Yes.” Margot hesitated. “It does say they went in alone rather than wait for backup.”

Elizabeth rolls her eyes. “Of course they did.”

“Detective Stabler discharged his weapon at one of the suspects.”

“Of course he did.”

A faint smile is playing at Margot’s normally serious mouth. “You don’t seem surprised by any of this, Your Honor.”

Taking another mouthful of her lunch, Elizabeth chews and regards Margot thoughtfully. “To be honest, Margot, nothing you could tell me about those two would surprise me.”

***

Their case is up at 4pm. It’s the last one of the day, and the last thing Elizabeth feels like dealing with. She is tired and longing to go home, turn off her phone and sink into a bubble bath with a glass of Shiraz.

The bailiff announces the case and the two accused are led in. Carisi stands behind the prosecutor’s table, graying hair slicked back, calm and confident. The courtroom is mostly empty now, the audience members dispersing throughout the day as the cases they were concerned with were arraigned. All that’s left is a handful of reporters and a tearful Latina woman who Elizabeth assumes is Sara’s mother.

Elizabeth clears her throat and looks to her bailiff. “Charges?”

As he begins to recite them, the door to the courtroom creaks open, and there they are.

They stand still for a moment, framed in the doorway, shrewd eyes surveying the room. Not a care for the fact that they are late and interrupting, though the bailiff continues to read despite the intrusion. Elizabeth studies them.

The years have been kind to Stabler, she notes with mild appreciation. She casts a discerning eye over his three piece suit – expensive, probably bespoke, not at all reminiscent of the rumpled, ill-fitting off-the-racks he used to turn up to her witness stand wearing. If that’s what years in Italy did to a man, she could recommend it to some of her friends whose husbands had retired only to give up on any personal presentation and start living in worn sweats. The luxurious fabric is straining at his arms and neck, muscles built up far beyond what she remembers. He carries himself differently too, there’s a weight on his shoulders that she doesn’t recall, a gravity she herself knows only too well from losing her own spouse. Though that boyish charm is still there – that she remembers well, remembers it deployed on her whenever he desperately needed a warrant, recalls her own failed attempts at resistance – and as his sharp blue eyes flick up to the bench and he sees her, a corner of his mouth twitches up in a grin of recognition. She can’t help herself narrowing her eyes at him, but the bastard’s grin only grows wider.

Benson, on the other hand, seems lighter than the last time Elizabeth saw her. Her hair is longer, her face has softened and opened. Her eyes are scanning the courtroom and land on Sara’s mother, and she leans into Stabler – very close into Stabler, Elizabeth notes – and whispers something in his ear. His gaze follows hers and he nods, takes Benson by the elbow and guides her into the bench seat the woman is occupying. She looks up as they slide in beside her and gives them a shaky, grateful smile.

Elizabeth realizes the bailiff’s recitation has ended, and quickly gathers herself. “How do the defendants plead?”

The two of them rise in unison. “Not guilty.”

“Bail?” she asks Carisi.

“The People request remand, Your Honor. These men have very few ties to the community and are facing serious felony charges.”

“Ah, yes, your charges.” Elizabeth slides on her glasses and glances at the sheet in front of her. “Attempted murder, Carisi? Do you really believe the People can meet the burden of proof for that one?”

“The defendants showed a reckless disregard for Sara Santos’s life. They left her trapped behind a temporary wall, struggling to breathe, and made no attempt to secure the medicine that she needed to live.”

“That’s ridiculous, Your Honor,” the defense attorney cries. “He’s grandstanding, he has no proof my clients even knew Sara Santos had asthma.”

“I’m sure the gasping and wheezing would’ve tipped them off,” Carisi shoots back.

“There was no intent there. My clients assisted the police with their enquiries when they busted into the house where they were staying. And got shot for their trouble, I might add.”

Elizabeth’s gaze flicks to Stabler, who looks thoroughly unapologetic.

“Your client shot at police first!” Carisi snaps. “We should be adding attempted murder of a police officer to the charges against him.”

 Elizabeth holds up a hand. “Enough, Counsellor. You’re reaching, and you know it.” She removes her glasses and regards the ADA. “We’ll see how this plays at trial.” She turns to the other table. “Counsellor, your thoughts on bail?”

The defense attorney shakes his head. “Remand is unnecessary, Your Honor. My clients are committed to proving their innocence and they are willing to surrender their passports.”

“Good. I’ll see that they do. For now, bail is set at one million dollars. Each.” She bangs her gavel, trying not to wince at the jolt of pain it sends to her elbow, and waits as the bailiff leads the defendants back down to the tombs to await their bail. Elizabeth stands. “Court is adjourned for today.”

With a rustle of clothes and papers, the journalists get to their feet and start to file out. In the gallery, Benson has an arm around Mrs. Santos and is rubbing her shoulder encouragingly. Stabler’s eyes are fixed on his partner, his face is soft. Elizabeth bites back a groan.

By the time she has stepped down from the bench, Mrs. Santos is on her way out and Benson and Stabler are on their feet, still standing unnecessarily close and murmuring to each other. At her approach they break their intense gaze and turn to her.

“Judge Donnelly.” Stabler’s voice is a familiar deep rasp. “Good to see you again.”

“Mmm hmm.” Elizabeth purses her lips, gaze moving between the two of them. Benson shifts her feet under her stare. “Together again. Welcome back, I suppose.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll be retiring at the end of the year. What do you think my chances are of escaping before this case is back on my docket?”

That damn grin returns to his face, and he shrugs. “You know better than me – court system is pretty backed up.”

“Indeed.” She regards them for another moment, eyes flicking coolly back and forth between them. “Entering without backup. Unauthorized search. Discharging a weapon.” A shake of the head. “Some things never change.”

Stabler turns back to his partner, and she meets his eyes, warmth creeping over her features. “No,” he says, and Elizabeth could swear that his hand just brushed across Benson’s, his fingers briefly wrapping around hers and squeezing, “some things never do.”