"And a Child Shall Lead Him"

Thursday 10:12pm, the Station. The detectives and Captain Cragen are gathered around outside the Interrogation Room looking in thru the window.

"So, what do we do now?" Stabler asks.

"Hell, if I know. Benson, what did Children Services say?" Cragen asks her

"They are booked until Tuesday."

"They're not taking her? Probably don't wanna." Fin replied disgusted.

"Being in the presence of a child who saw her mother raped then murdered, THEN saw her father murdered, would make anyone hesitant." Munch said.

"That leaves us." Cragen says.

"You mean one of us will be babysitting?" Benson asked.

"Yes. We'll do this the democratic way…" Cragen started.

"You mean by paying off the Electoral College?" Munch asked

"No John, by drawing a name from a hat. John; your hat please." Cragen asked.

Munch takes his hat off and gives it to Captain Cragen. Cragen proceeds to write their names on scraps of paper and throw them in the hat. Cragen shakes the hat around and pulls out a name.

"The winner is…Detective Munch."

"I want a re-count" Munch said.

"Go in there and makes friends John." Fin said smiling.

"Does she have a name?" Munch asked.

"Ayana Klept. 3 years old." Stabler said reading thru his file.

Munch took a quick breath and walked into the Interrogation room. Ayana sat in the corner playing with a few toys. She was a little less than 3ft, on the thin side, bright green eyes, and long brown hair. She wore a pink and yellow jumper. Ayana looked up to Munch as he walked in. Munch knelt down to her level and spoke in a kind voice.

"Hi Ayana, I'm Detective Munch" He shows her his badge. "You're going to stay with me for a little bit. Is that ok?"

Ayana shrugged and put her toys in her duffel bag. Munch then took her hand and led her outside the police station and into his car. 15 minutes later they pull up to Munch's apartment and walked in. Ayana eyes searched around the apartment. Munch's apartment had a warm feel to it. Dark hardwood floors, the walls painted in a warm tan color, his couch and recliner a homey shade of brown. He had an oak bookshelf filled with books, a bar in the corner of the kitchen, and French wooden doors leading out to a small balcony. Munch put her duffel bag on his recliner and they sat down on his couch.

"So, are you hungry?"

Ayana nodded.

"Stay here and I'll find you something. Ok?"

Ayana nodded again. Munch went into his kitchen and frantically started to look for something she could eat.

"Cold Chinese food wouldn't be acceptable I suppose."

He continued to look, the sound of the cabinets opening and closing interested Ayana and she quietly made her way into the kitchen. She stood there silently just watching him. He turned around and almost jumped seeing her behind him.

"Hey. See anything you like at restaurant De Munch?" He asked her.

Ayana looked around then motioned for Munch to pick her up. Munch leaned over and picked her up by her waist, resting her on his hip. She pointed to the cabinet with cereal inside.

"Cereal, are you sure?"

Ayana nodded. Munch grabbed the box of Kix, got the milk, and a bowl. He set her up at his dining table and poured her a bowl. Munch watched her as she ate.

"So, um, can you tell me how old you are?"

Still eating, she held up 3 fingers.

"3 huh? I would show you how old I am but I don't have that many fingers." He said smiling.

Ayana gave him a confused look.

"Never mind."

When she finished, they sat on the couch and Munch turned on his TV.

"I'm not to sure if I have Cartoon Network…" He said fiddling with his remote.

Ayana got up and walked over to her duffel bag. She grabbed a nightie, a book, and a stuffed Raven. She walked back to the couch and laid her things down.

"Your bedtime ritual?"

Ayana nodded. Munch helped her out of her clothes and she threw on her nightie. She then climbed up on his lap with her book.

"'Dr.Seuss's Sleep Book' Good choice."

Munch reads her the story…

"If you've never thought of sleep talking as a sport, this book will make you laugh with a "Snort!" It tells all the wonders and wows of sleeping you never knew, from sleepers in town, to sleepers in Solla Sollew…"

Munch trails off when he looks down at her and she's asleep. Munch smiles, she looked so serene as she slept. Munch gently moved her onto the couch, covering her up with a blanket that hung off the back of his couch. He moved the hair away from her face and retired himself to bed.

Around 3:30 AM Munch is awakened by the stare of two little eyes. His eyes flutter open and Ayana is staring at him, holding her stuffed Raven.

"You ok Ayana?" he asks softly.

She nods

"It's early you know." Munch told her.

Ayana shook her head and pointed to the window, it was still dark outside.

"Your right, need to be tucked in again?"

Ayana climbs into his bed and snuggled into his chest, much to Munch's discomfort. He tries to scoot away but she follows him to the middle of the bed. He finally gives in.

"Ok, you win." Munch says, wrapping his arm over her.

9 A.M. Munch rolls over, his hand falling over onto the bed, sighing almost dreamily. The brows on his face narrow into a confused look as his hand gently pats down the space on the bed next to him. He sat himself up and realized Ayana wasn't there. Grabbing his glasses off the nightstand he hopped off the bed, grabbed his robe, tossed it on and rushed for the living room. Before he could call her name in a panic he found her on his couch, sitting peacefully, watching cartoons, and eating a slice of cold pizza. Munch took a deep breath and smiled.

"Morning." He says walking over and sitting next to her.

Ayana smiles brightly chewing on her pizza.

"Is that the last slice?"

Ayana nods and offers her piece to him, holding it up to his face. Munch is humbled; he lowers it back down to her.

"You eat it. You shouldn't have to eat Cereal morning, noon, and night."

She smiles and continues to eat happily. Munch watches her with a smile on his face; he's amused by how she eats like a squirrel. After a few more bites a large slice is gone and she is wiping her hands on a napkin.

"Today's plans: Get you dressed, get myself dressed, and we'll go to the grocery store and get some real food. How's that?"

Ayana nodded and walked over to her duffel bag. She pulled out a rubber ducky, a yellow and pink dress, and a pair of under-roos. She laid them on the couch next to Munch. He looked at them for a moment…

"You're telling me you want a bath?" Munch asked her.

Ayana nodded in agreement. A look of frustration waved over Munch's usually calm face A Fifty something year old man giving a 3 year old a bath? Isn't that a reason for me to arrest people, he thought to himself. He knew one person he could call for help. Munch grabbed his cell phone and dialed a number.

"…Elliot? It's John."

"Hi John, how's fatherhood treatin' ya?"

"Fine, I have bit of a problem though." He says looking to Ayana who waiting on the couch. He turns away from her, keeping his voice low.

"What would that be?"

"How…do you…go about giving a little girl a bath?"

Stabler chuckled on the other end. Munch could feel his face turn red. A detective for 30 some odd years and bath time brings him to his knees.

"John, it's easy. Make sure the water isn't to hot or to cold, pour the soap on the rag and let her wash herself, help her with washing her hair, make sure no shampoo gets in her eyes, and make sure she has plenty of toys to play with in the tub."

Munch was about to say something when he hears water running from his bathroom. He hurriedly tells Stabler 'thanks', hangs up, and rushes into the bathroom. Ayana is already undressed and in the tub while it fills up with warm water. Munch knelt besides the claw-footed porcelain tub.

"Independent aren't ya?"

Ayana tilts her head and looks at Munch confused.

"Don't worry about it."

Munch grabs a blue washcloth that hangs off the faucet and pours some of his liquid soap onto it.

"You're lucky I'm not into the smells of an old man…"

He takes her arm gently and starts to soap her up.

"…because you would be scented like old spice if I did."

Ayana sniffs her arm and smiles up at him. Munch chuckles, moves over to her other arms and soaps it up. As Munch washes her he starts to get a feeling inside of him, something he has never felt...or at least hasn't felt in a long time. He felt whole, complete even. He rinsed her off and pours a small amount of shampoo into her long brown hair. Massaging it into her scalp, he watched her close her eyes. She'd been pretty uptight and it warmed his heart so she her relax for once. He rinsed the shampoo out of her hair, let the water out, and wrapped her in a large blue soft towel. After drying her off he helped her get dressed and brush her hair. They headed out.

10:45Am. Manhattan Market. Munch is slowly going down the first aisle, pushing Ayana in the cart.

"So, what do you like to eat?"

Ayana shakes her Raven in his face.

"Bird?"

Ayana rolls hers eyes. She folds her little arms into wings and starts to "flap" them.

"Oh, Chicken. A hell of a detective I am."

Ayana smiles. After picking up a few items Munch stops by the magazine rack, parking the cart right next to him at the sunglass rack. Ayana bangs her feet against the front of the cart to get Munch's attention. He turns around, "Conspiracy" magazine in his hand.

"Yes?"

Ayana motions for him to come over and he obliges. She snatches his glasses off his face and start to compare them to the ones on the rack. She slowly spins the turnstile-rack looking carefully.

"What are you doing young lady?"

Ayana smiles when she finds a pair that looks just like his, but with a yellow frame. She puts his back on his face and takes the yellow pair and puts them on her face. Munch smiles…

"You're an official Munchkin now Ayana."

Ayana points to the small mirror fitted into the rack. Her and Munch take a look but become distracted by the conversations of 2 female shoppers.

"That is so cute" The first shopper remarked.

"Look at that, he got his daughter matching sunglasses. There's a man for you."

They walk by and Munch smiles at Ayana

"Munchkin team is on a roll."

Ayana high-fives him.

Noon: Back at Munch's apartment. Munch fixed some sandwiches for lunch and they ate. Afterwards, Ayana grabs another book and climbs up on Munch who's sitting on the couch.

"Another book? You sure do like to read, did your mommy and daddy read to you a lot?" Munch asked her.

Ayana gets a sad look on her face and nods. Munch can feel his heartbreak, he smoothes down her hair.

"It's ok Ayana" he told her in a soft voice. "We'll continue the tradition."

Munch takes the book and reads the title aloud.

"A Light in the Attic". He smiles. "Good choice Munchkin."

Ayana smiles and cuddles into his chest. The sounds of Munch's soft voice reading to her and his heartbeat quickly put her to sleep. Munch sees that she's asleep and tries to move, but she groans every time he does. He gives up and grabs the blanket off the back off his couch. He covers them up, wrapping his arms around her, leans his head back, and falls asleep. He had never felt so comfortable then when the 3 year slept on his chest. He felt whole, most importantly, he felt fatherly. He wondered if his own father ever felt…he quickly shook that thought away. He didn't know and he didn't want to know. All he knew was that she wasn't going to suffer the way he himself had all his life.

2:30PM; the sound of a ringing phone jerks Munch out of his slumber. Still holding Ayana, Munch's reaches for his phone on the coffee table, and answers it before it can wake her up.

"Munch." He answered, clearing his throat.

"John, come home pronto. We need an extra man." It was Cragen.

Munch looked down at the sleeping child.

"What do I do…?"

"Bring her with you. I'll see you in 15." Cragen said then hung up.

Munch hung up his phone. He stood up holding Ayana and was able to slip his shoes, grab his jacket, and her duffel bag. They left for the station; Munch arrived at the station in 12 minutes flat. Walking in with Ayana, he doesn't even notice Cragen as he walks into the back room and lies her down on a cot. He takes her blanket out of her duffel bag and covers her with it. He also grabbed her Raven and laid it next to her, stroking her hair from her face. He waked back out to Cragen.

"What happened?" Munch asked sitting at his desk.

"A jogger found 3 dead bodies in Central Park. Looks like they've been raped and their throats have been silt. I needed Benson and Stabler at the crime scene and Fin at the ME's office."

"Why Am' I here then?"

"This looks like a serial killing. The bodies were at different levels of decomposition, we're thinking the perp is taking back to this one spot. We got some specs and I need you to run them thru PINNS."

Munch takes the spec sheet from Cragen and turns to his monitor. He starts to work and Cragen goes into his office. Munch keeps an ear out of Ayana, typing as softly as he can. 15 minutes into his work he hears Ayana cry softly from the back room. Munch hops out of his chair and quickly walks into the room. Ayana cries sitting up, her eyes still closed. Munch sits down and pulls her into his lap, holding her tightly, rocking her.

"It's ok Ayana. I'm here." Munch comforts her.

Ayana's tears' dampen Munch's shirt slightly as her head rests on his chest. Munch instinctively rocks her gently back and forth. When she quiets down he stands up and starts to walk back out to the squad room with her duffel bag.

"You ok Munchkin?"

Ayana nods, burying her head in his neck.

"How about I set you up at my friends' Fin's desk and we'll get the coloring book and crayons from your bag and you can color?"

Ayana lifts her head and nods. Munch sits her down at Fin's chair then walks over to her duffel bag and pulls out her coloring supplies. He gives her some paper, lays out her crayons and lets her at it. He sits back down at his desk and goes back to his work. Every once in awhile he would look up at her and smile to himself. About an hour later Cragen pops his head out of his office.

"Munch, Fin needs you in the Bronx to talk to a relative of one of the Vics. They may have a description on the perp."

"What about—"

"I'll take care of her John. Go." Cragen said walking out to the squad room.

Munch gives Cragen a look then picks Ayana up in his arms.

"I'm gonna be right back Ayana, ok?"

Ayana latches onto him tightly. He rubs her back.

"Ayana, I need to go. Captain Cragen will play with you while I'm gone. Be good, ok Munchkin?"

Ayana nods slowly, Munch passes her off to Cragen and runs out. Ayana starts to whimper.

"What's wrong Ayana dear?" Cragen asked concerned.

Ayana pulls out her sunglasses from her dress pocket and puts them on. She points to them. Cragen chortled…

"You miss Detective Munch?"

Ayana nods.

"Ok, why don't you draw me a picture of him until he gets back?"

Ayana wiggled out of his arms and raced to her crayons and paper, she started to draw enthusiastically.

5 P.M : The Detectives walk back in, noticeably exhausted. Ayana and Cragen sit across from each other, playing cards.

"Welcome back Detectives, what did you find out?"

"We have a stalker by the name of Vic Melamine being stalked himself by some of our friends in blue. They're gonna give us a call when and if he returns home" Stabler said.

"Until then, we're checking Interpol…" Fin started.

"Pass employers…" Benson continued.

"…and ex girlfriends" Munch finished. "…Texas hold'em Captain?"

"5 card stud. She's winning though. Ok, you guys have had a busy day, do your reports and forms then go home." He looks to Ayana. "You beat me kid. I'm done."

Cragen folds his cards and goes into his office. Ayana immediately climbs on Munch's lap and snuggles up against him.

"She took a real shine to you John" Benson says.

Munch looks to her in an introspective manner and smiles widely.

"She has hasn't she?"

Ayana puts her glasses on top of Munch's

"Looks like the feelings mutual." Fin replied.

"You know, I can't let her go back to some orphanage, she's been thru enough. I'm going to apply for foster care for her.

The detectives look to each other in surprise.

"What? Out of character for old John Munch?" He asked

"No man, just, unexpected." Fin answered.

"Well John, if you ever need references, tells them to call me." Benson told him.

"Me too." Stabler replied.

"Yea, I guess I can give ya a few good words." Fin said smiling.

Cragen walks in.

"A few good words about what?" Cragen asked.

"I think I'm going to apply for foster parent of Ayana." Munch told him.

Cragen raised his brow and nodded.

"Ok John, since we cannot find any other family, I'll make the call to Novak and have her start the paperwork. Congratulations." He walked back into his office.

Ayana looked up to him; she pointed to him then to herself, and then puts her fingers together.

"Yes Ayana." He pointed to himself. "Me" He pointed to her. "You" He smiles and put his two fingers together. "Together."

Ayana smiled brightly and hugged him tightly; Munch hugged back, a new feeling of fatherly love taking over his body.