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Greater than the Sum

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Casey has always loved taking things apart.

Her father was convinced that she should be an engineer or designer of some kind, and he always gave her Legos and Tinker Toys for her single-digit birthdays. Casey played with them, but mostly by letting her older brother build something and then spending hours pulling the pieces apart. Her brother always tried to beat her up afterwards.

Somewhere in college, Casey turns her destructive tendencies towards arguments, deconstructing complex positions into their building blocks of logic. She wins debates by shredding her opponents’ arguments and pulling out all the flaws, not by the strength of her own position
NYU Law notices her debate team and mock trial successes at Brown and suddenly Casey has a career path. She gives her father a set of Legos at graduation and isn’t surprised by the confusion in his eyes.

Casey moves to a too-expensive studio apartment in the Village, gets a cat, and finds a boyfriend. She learns, from him, how much damage the dissolution of a mind can do – she watches his fragment itself into its component pieces and for the first time is terrified by something coming apart.

Around the same time, Casey takes to attending criminal trials downtown, weighing her options of high-paying defense firms against the prosecutor’s minimal salary.

One such trial that Casey observes involves three women charged with the rape of a male stripper. She watches the blonde prosecutor, mesmerized by the woman’s razor-sharp edges, carefully balanced arguments, and, more than anything, her conviction.

A month after graduation, Casey joins the White Collar division of the District Attorney’s office.

She loses the first case she tries, stands disbelieving as slippery businessmen slide out of the framework she’s so painstakingly (and nervously) prepared, watches her argument fall to pieces around her. The walk back to her 7th floor office seems like the longest of her life and the sympathy in her coworkers’ gazes feels like ice water. Casey packs the files for the next day’s cases, listens until the hallway goes quiet, and sneaks to the elevator. After pushing the ground floor button, she finally slumps and lets her forehead meet the wall.

Casey hardly notices the different ding or the doors sliding open until a voice asks, “Hard day?”
Casey’s head snaps up and she immediately develops the theory that the world is treating her like she treats Legos.

“You could say that,” she replies dryly to the blonde who enters the elevator.

“It happens around here. You don’t really get used to it,” the other woman responds.

Casey can’t stop herself from cracking a wry smile. “Good to know – I think.”

The elevator doors open onto the ground floor of the building and the two women step out. The blonde turns towards Casey and holds out her hand. “Alex Cabot. I work Special Victims.”

“I know,” Casey blurts out before she can think. “I mean, I watched a trial of yours once. I’m Casey Novak, White Collar.”

Alex makes a face. “Hope you don’t get any of that slime on you.”

“Well, same to you,” Casey laughs, “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too. I’m sure I’ll see you around,” Alex smiles.

Casey is smiling too as they part ways.

She loses her next trial too.

At a loss for what to do with herself, Casey wanders the halls of the court building, suddenly pausing at a door that shuts behind a glowing blonde head. Casey pushes the door open and slips into the back row before she can even stop to think. Alex is arranging her papers and shortly rises to call her first witness.

“The People call Detective Olivia Benson.”

Casey is startled as a woman to her right stands and inches past her, saying ‘excuse me’ with her eyes. Casey’s not sure she’s ever seen more beautiful eyes.

The interrogation is spellbinding. Casey can feel the chemistry between Alex and Olivia from her seat in the back row. She can tell that they trust each other not to push too hard or give too much, and she thinks that might even extend beyond the courtroom. Casey doesn’t know how Alex could ever lose a case with support that unshakeable, and she doesn’t know why it bothers her so much.

Olivia steps down and after two more witnesses, the court adjourns. Casey forgets to slip out before the end and is vaguely mortified when Alex catches her eye.

“Hello, Counselor. Taking a break from the rich and sleazy?”

“Yeah, thought I’d come see how you were faring on this side of the tracks,” Casey responds with as much humor as she can muster.

Alex looks at her carefully. “Would you like to join me for a drink?”

The offer catches Casey a little off guard. “Well, sure. I still need to get my stuff from my office…”

“Oh, me too,” Alex reassures her, “I’ll meet you in the lobby in half an hour?”

Casey agrees and they part ways.

They go to a bar nearby, one Casey has seen but never entered, and miraculously run into no one from work. Not that it would have mattered, Casey tells herself, because it’s perfectly normal for colleagues to have a drink together. But apparently an hour of normalcy is all she can handle, because by that time she’s hearing mysterious things in Alex’s ice-blue eyes and seeing them in her tone.

‘No,’ Casey reminds herself, ‘This is not happening. I am imagining this.’

So she has another drink, which is a bad idea.

Casey means to direct the conversation back to work, away from the dangerously personal turn it’s taken with the discussion of ex-boyfriends.

“So, it seems like you and Detective Benson have a pretty good relationship,” Casey offers, genuinely oblivious to the alternative interpretation of her comment.

Alex looks slightly stunned. “Uh, we’re not – I mean –“

Casey catches on. “Oh! No, I’m sorry. I meant working relationship, uh, it seemed like you had a really good rapport with her when she was on the stand.” She can’t believe how much that plan backfired and is pretty sure she couldn’t possibly blush any more.

Alex laughs, her composure fully regained. “Don’t worry about it.” She leans closer and Casey forgets to breathe. “I just had no idea it was that obvious.”

“Obvious that – wait. But you said…” Casey is confused, but Alex cuts her off.

“No, Olivia and I aren’t involved, technically anyway. There’s – something, but our jobs, her past, my career – it just wouldn’t work.” Alex sounds wistful for a moment, but her decisiveness has returned even before the end of the sentence.

Casey can tell what’s holding Alex together – this fabricated certainty, patched together because the pieces are too frightening by themselves. She can’t let herself tear this fragile stitching apart, so she just nods.

They sit in silence for a few moments, both a little shaken by how quickly that wall came tumbling down. Casey stares at the melting ice in her glass, finally looking up only to be confronted by the frozen blue of Alex’s eyes.

“Want to get out of here?” Alex asks, and they both hold their breaths a little.

Casey nods again.

After managing to hail a cab, Alex gives an address far from the Village apartment Casey still hasn’t bothered to leave. The ride is quiet and almost awkward, making the two women remember how little they really know about each other. By the end, Casey’s determined not to get out of the car at Alex’s Upper West Side address. She can feel that this is a mistake, but she doesn’t know how or why.

The cab slows to a halt in front of a well-kept brownstone just off the park. Casey gawks briefly, then meets her companion’s gaze.

“Are you coming up?” Alex queries softly.

“Um, I really probably shouldn’t – “ Casey starts to babble.

“That’s okay. I shouldn’t ask, but I did.” Alex’s tone is gently firm and, Casey realizes, a little hopeful.

She ducks her head to follow Alex out of the cab, praying she’ll regain some sense of what she’s doing here before she gets inside the door.

Casey’s wish does not come true, and by the time she’s sitting on Alex’s couch with a glass of wine, she’s no less confused. Alex joins her on the couch, watching her quietly through the first and into the second glass of wine. Suddenly Alex’s low chuckle breaks the silence and draws Casey’s gaze.

She raises an eyebrow, asking for an explanation with expression instead of words.

“I’m sorry,” Alex starts, “I’m just not quite sure what we’re doing here.”

“You and me both,” Casey’s smile starts. “But I believe it was your invitation.”

“You accepted,” Alex retorts.


By this time they’re both smiling, relieved at the shattered tension. Alex reaches a hand out to touch Casey’s knee, her hand somehow warmer than Casey expects. She covers it with her own hand.
“It’s okay. I can go, if that’s what you want,” Casey offers, fully expecting an affirmative response.

“Actually…could you stay? We don’t – there doesn’t have to be anything else. I just – “ Alex can’t seem to find the right words, for once. Casey understands, and interrupts her.

“Of course I’ll stay.”

Over an hour later, with Alex’s blonde hair fanned out on her pillow, Casey finally lets her pale fingers entwine with the golden strands, the way she’s wanted to since the first time she saw those filaments catch the light. The hair is thicker and coarser than she expects, but she doesn’t mind. Neither does she object to being used as a substitute for a dark-haired detective with, apparently, an equally shady past. Watching Alex sleep, Casey knows she’s been woven into Alex’s patchwork, an integral part of the fibers binding her world together. A creeping sense of terror approaches, sneaking into her brain in the wake of thousands of lonely Lego blocks, and Casey’s fingers tighten in Alex’s hair. This time, she is determined not to destroy the complex structure, because while the individual pieces hold the logic, the whole creates the beauty.