A/N: since the 16th Precinct does not exist, I've chosen to put it in the parish of this church. Yes, I know the NYPD uses "Desk Officer" or "Desk Lieutenant", but it doesn't sound right to me and it's my AU.

The Church of Saint Michael
W. 34th Street
21 June

One candle for Brewster's shift, one for Stabler's... I light these and pray that Saint Michael and all God's holy angels will protect us and keep us safe today....

A simple morning ritual in an almost empty church. The coins Cragen slid into the votive stand's metal receptacle rang loud enough to disturb a dark-haired woman kneeling in a pew across the sanctuary. She raised her head, narrowed her eyes and scowled at him.

Sorry to disturb you, but the Altar Society ladies will come after me if I don't pay up....

He shrugged off her scorn while considering a third candle for the CompStat meeting he was about to attend.

Nothing like standing at 7 a.m. in front of the Executive Staff and a giant display that pinpoints every unsolved Manhattan sex crime...it's enough to make archangels tremble....

The thought of the Executive Staff, especially First Deputy Commissioner Tony Balzano, sneering at him drew his hand toward the candle, but Cragen left it unlit.

Our numbers prove I do the job better than anyone else...it won't get me promoted, but our close rate does protect us from the wrath of powerful assholes....

The official purpose of meeting with those powerful assholes, a/k/a NYPD commissioners and reps from the district attorney's and mayor's offices, was "to foster a team approach to problem solving, and ensure that crime and quality of life problems identified at the meeting can be immediately discussed and quickly addressed through the development and implementation of creative and comprehensive solutions."

In other words, we get beat down for our job performance whenever it's less than perfect....

Despite the capacity crowd, only Howie Brewster and Ted Reyes, the shift's admin assistant, sat near Cragen for the meeting. Howie blew it off with a crack about preferring a comfortable chair over standing for three hours while Cragen ignored the two empty spaces across the table from him.

Around them, the videowalls and plasma screens of the Emergency Operations Center displayed the current statistical graphics for the Manhattan Patrol Borough. As the meeting progressed, one screen displayed the crime scene under discussion; the live feed came from the city's security cameras or the D.O.T cameras watching the roads and bridges of New York City.

Al Rogello's getting reamed a new one over his Clarkson Street shooting... live feed of the street memorial for the dead passers-by doesn't help any... after years of these meetings, you'd think they would stop expecting us to catch the perps by some arbitrary deadline... make the humps schedule their crimes and we'll schedule their arrests....

Cragen's own turn in the hot seat was short, consisting mostly of praise for Stabler and Benson's capture of serial rapist Robert Cusick and Otten and Sofarelli's arrest of kidnapper and molester Stephen Rollins. Howie answered questions about the unit's on-going investigation into the posting of amateur porn videos from local high school students—"Boys and Girls Gone Wild" as it had been dubbed by One P.P.

Howie flinches every time he hears that name... he says it trivializes the problem and he's right... someone is conning these kids into taping and posting their sex acts... whether they realize it or not, they're being used and abused and we need to catch the bastards doing it....

No one mentioned Operation Chestnut or its aftermath, but Balzano's stern frown and glare at Cragen was countered only by a slight smile and nod from Chief Conrad. Every other NYPD brass present kept a carefully neutral expression.

Oh, well....

As the meeting ended and everyone left the EOC, Cragen made mental note of those commanders who ignored him and those who took the time to shake his hand, speak with him, and commiserate over his broken wrist.

More than I thought... maybe Richardson's right—things are starting to change....

Sixteenth Precinct
Seventh Floor Lounge
21 June: 3:45 p.m.

George Huang leaned against the railing overlooking the SVU squad room, his hands cupped around his borrowed mug. To the officers and support staff cutting through the lounge, he was a man lost in thought.

It's been a week since this shift suffered major physical and emotional disruption. Some distress is to be expected, but ongoing problems need to be noted. From up here, I can observe interactions without affecting them....

Directly below him, by the coffee pot, a thickset man in his early thirties, 5'10", 205, brown and brown joked with a women in her late twenties, 5'6", 125, ash blonde and blue.

Detectives Fred Tierney and his partner Tammy White. Both are short-timers—as soon as their posting here is over, they'll move on. They know that "SVU" looks good when it comes to promotions or plum assignments, but only if they do the two years—no more and no less... anyone who leaves early is "weak;" anyone who stays longer is "weird"... Tierney and White were not involved in Operation Chestnut or Chief Sullivan's takedown... no one holds that against them... they are competent, but not part of the gang....

Huang surveyed the squad room. Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson were by the lockers, Elliot leaning against them while Olivia put her purse away. Stabler had loosened his tie, his only concession to the warm June weather. Olivia shed her cotton sweater, tossing it over the back of her chair before sitting down at her desk.

Those two aren't going anywhere any time soon... a shame, really... they could easily reach the point where SVU is harming them, both emotionally and professionally... Olivia is so bound up with the victims that it's becoming more about vengeance than justice... Elliot has wrecked his marriage and what Sullivan said about his being one punch away from a psych discharge is close to true... I've discussed the possibility of a transfer for them with Don, but he doesn't see it my way... I hate to think he'd put his unit's close rate over his people's well-being….

As Huang watched, Benson tipped her head towards Cragen's office; her partner responded with a frown before taking his chair at his desk.

I listened to the tapes: Sullivan baiting and berating Don and Elliot, then Commissioner Richardson's team interviewing them about their actions... Elliot truly thought his captain had betrayed his people. His lack of faith hurts Don deeply, partly because Don was risking his own job and pension to counter Sullivan's machinations, but more because this is the second time Don has faced this situation. Since he didn't back O'Farrell's dishonesty then, Don believes that Elliot should have trusted him now.…

Huang sipped his tea as he pondered the matter.

Elliot doesn't apologize well and Don won't forgive easily... in his mind, Elliot's lack of faith is tied to Sullivan's betrayal, Lau and Eristoff's attacks, and his own embarrassment at his role in ending Wilkerson's blackmail scheme... Don doesn't like feeling powerless yet he had to buckle under several times to achieve his goal—to make things right for the department, his people, and those murdered officers. It cost him more than just his dignity... it reminded Don that the reward for honesty is a permanently stalled career—something hard for a proud man like Don to accept....

Through the open blinds of the commander's office, Huang saw Cragen at his desk, talking on the phone and rhythmically poking the rubber end of a pencil under his cast, scratching what appeared to be a nasty itch.

Not that Don's dignity is a small matter... no amount of anything would entice me to fake intercourse for IAB's cameras... his interactions with Judith Otten since then have been strictly by-the-book and she returns the formality... neither wants to risk their reputations any further....

He took a step to his right, a move that gave him clear view of Otten's desk. She was there talking with Alphonse 'Couch' Sofarelli, who sat at the desk adjoining hers. Sofarelli was dressed like Stabler—gray suit with maroon-striped tie, a look matched by Otten's tailored pants suit with blouse.

Judith and Al also concern me... Judith because she committed a cop-on-cop shooting, justified though it was, and both partners because the stress of handling SVU cases is beginning to affect them... the next weeks will show whether they can handle the strain or not... I told Don they would be fine, but only time will prove me right....

He watched the two newcomers converse—Couch doing most of the talking, Judith listening. Without warning, she stiffened her posture, the motion so slight that, had Huang not been looking directly at her, he would not have noticed it.

The psychiatrist shifted his gaze to see what irritated the older woman.

Only change is the arrival of Detectives Munch and Tutuola. I know that John said unkind words about the supposed affair. Surely Judith knows by now that the scorn and contempt was faked....

Behind Otten's now-turned back, Fin and John were getting settled at their desks. Fin nodded in response to a greeting from Couch and one from Judith said over her shoulder. John propped his feet on his lower drawer and called out to Sofarelli, but not to Otten.

Huang raised his mug to hide a frown.

They are ignoring each other. In a high-pressure environment that attracts Type A personalities, conflict is to be expected, but so is professionalism—perhaps the dynamic between John and Judith also bears watching....

Huang checked his watch against the squad's wall clock.

Four p.m.… time to slip away before someone decides that I really do spy on them….

265 W. 139th Street
Apartment 605
21 June

Stabler stood in the center of the apartment's main room, his shield clipped to the lapel of his jacket.

Hardwood floors, nice job on the crown molding and the corner fireplace—no wonder it takes four tenants to afford the rent… but I'm not here to admire the interior….

He drew in a deep breath through his nose.

We're also not here to notice the stale smell of burnt illegal plant leaves….

He stared at the tenants, all of whom were crowded together on a futon set against the wall by the fireplace.

All female, Caucasian, early to mid-twenties… one Goth—looks like she's wearing John's hand-me-downs, one thin with legs like a marathon runner, one in a "Worship Me!" t-shirt and more eye shadow than my daughters wear in a month, one in sweats with her hair pulled back in a bun… nothing in common but the rent payment and that's all we know about them… the Goth answered our knock and let us in, but then nothing but sideways looks between them. Even Olivia struck out trying to get them to talk to us….

Benson was leaning against the kitchen entrance to his left, eyeing the four women as intently as he was. She noticed his attention on her and raised an eyebrow—that and her pursed lips told him that her patience was wearing thin.

He turned back to the four on the futon.

"Look," he said. "Someone here called and said they wanted to talk to SVU detectives. We're here. What do you want to tell us?"

One more round of glances and "Worship Me!" swallowed then spoke up.

"It's Bridget. She lives one floor down. We think someone attacked her."

Benson took a step closer.

"What makes you think so?"

The runner shrugged as she said, "She used to hang out with us—come up and split a pizza or something, talk about her job, the guys she was seeing. Couple of weeks ago—"

"—I saw her getting her mail," the Goth picked up the story. "I said "Hi" and she almost jumped through the mail slot. She kept her head down and she was all hunched over like something hurt or she didn't want me looking at her."

"Yeah," the bun girl said, "same with me. I tried to get Bridge to go for coffee, but she just shook her head really hard and ran back to her apartment. She doesn't act like that normally—she's really outgoing."

All four women nodded their heads in agreement.

Stabler caught Olivia's gaze and also nodded.

A change in behavior like that could be caused by physical or emotional trauma… can't hurt to check it out….

He waited while his partner recorded Bridget's full name and address then asked what else the four women knew about her.

"She's a Home Health Aide; she does things for people who are sick or disabled so they can stay home instead of going to a nursing home."

"She isn't seeing anyone—at least, she wasn't last time she came over."

"Yeah—she was complaining about being with us and not out with someone."

Olivia wrote that down also with the names and cell numbers of the four women. Elliot then thanked them for being concerned about their friend.

"Just don't tell her we told you," Worship Me! told him. "It might be nothing and then she'll be mad at us for butting in."

Elliot waiting until he and his partner were on the stair landing before he spoke.

"With friends like that...."

Olivia's flat stare showed her disagreement.

"At least they called," she said. "Obviously, Bridget didn't."

"Let's make sure of that."

A call to the unit confirmed that the supposed victim had not been involved in any reported assaults or other crimes. Elliot stepped aside and motioned for Olivia to take the lead.

"Bridget Shanahan," he said as they walked to her apartment door. "Think she's Irish?"

Benson smiled as she held her shield before the peephole and knocked on the door.

"Ms Shanahan? NYPD. May we talk with you?"

572 W 162nd Street
21 June

The building was red brick, ten stories of newly renovated condos. The reserved loading area at the entrance was occupied by an ambulance, lights flashing and its rear door open for the two paramedics loading a stretcher. A blood-stained blue blanket covered the victim; a third paramedic held an IV high over the stretcher.

"What we got?" Fin asked.

The woman holding the IV bag glanced in his direction.

Quick check to make sure I'm not a reporter snuck past the tape....

"Male, mid-forties. Gunshot wound to the chest."

She jumped into the bus and it pulled away. A uniformed sergeant took up the story.

"That vic is Dale Nicholson. Only one not DOA."

Fin scowled at his partner, who had voiced the opinion that the shift would be an easy one. Munch focused his attention on his notepad as the sergeant continued.

"Two more vics in the apartment—2E. We've tentatively ID'd them as Sylvia and Tommy Nicholson. Both shot in the back of their heads."

Munch fixed a steely glare on the sergeant's face.

"You've mistaken us for Homicide," he chided. "Try the Three-three's detective squad; I can give you their phone number."

The sergeant frowned at Munch's insolence.

"Don't question my judgement, Detective," he replied. "You have no idea what's up there. You might not be a perfect fit, but SVU is the nearest thing we've got to it."

A car horn behind them signaled the arrival of the ME. The sergeant turned without another word and went to guide the van through the crowd now gathered at the barrier.

Fin closed his notepad.

"Ain't smart to piss off a sergeant, John," he told his partner. "You know that."

"There's always a sergeant eager to explain," he replied, "why we have to take the case. Last I heard, gunshots to the back of the head and chest are not part of even the kinkiest of sexual activity."

Fin led the way to the entrance.

"And you'd know—right?"

John caught up to his partner at the door.

"Damn right I'd know," he replied. "Since joining this unit, I have thoroughly researched the items, beliefs, and practices that occupy people's minds and bodies. I can tell you about masochism, puerilism, bourbonism—which, I'll have you know, neither of us suffers from—sadism, transvestic fetishism—in fact, any ism about which you might inquire. I can discuss the differences and similarities between Furries and Formalists, Obscurants and Flagellants ...."

The harangue continued through the foyer, into the elevator, and down the second floor hallway to the open door of 2E. There, Munch turned his attention from his partner to the scene inside.

His voice stopped in mid-sentence.

Front desk
Sixteenth Precinct
21 June

The building housing the One-Six was built in the early 1900s. The squad rooms' décor was almost as old; only the computers on the ancient desks and the faxes and copiers snugged into odd corners proved that the twenty-first century existed. Technology had its biggest footprint on the precinct's Front Desk, an ornate wooden counter used by every desk sergeant ever posted to the precinct. Due to 9/11 and Homeland Security funding, it now held a bank of twelve security monitors, controls for all doors to the outside, and a dual-monitor computer.

Behind all this technology stood the one person no cop wanted to piss off—the precinct's desk sergeant—for the evening shift, a petite woman in her late thirties with short brunette hair and hazel eyes.

"They've been standing there for almost twenty minutes," Sergeant Neville told Otten and Sofarelli. "Those two—the ones in the headscarves."

She tipped her head toward the main entrance. Couch leaned against the counter, using his movement to mask a glance through the glass door. Next to him, his partner adjusted an earring while making a similar visual check of the outside.

Young…maybe early twenties, more likely late teens…one in low-slung jeans and long-sleeved shirt—trying to blend current fashion with keeping her body covered. The other is wearing a long skirt and blouse, both light brown—Judith would know if that's beige or tan. She's Pakistani, maybe—the one in jeans looks Lebanese....

The two women stood close together, holding each other's hand as they eyed the entrance and each passerby, especially those who steered a wide course around them. The jeans-wearer took a small step towards the entrance, but the woman in the skirt held her ground.

"They're scared," commented Judith. "Too scared to come in, too scared to leave. We'll have to approach them gently or we'll tip the balance."

"Any idea why they are here?" Couch asked.

"No," Sgt. Neville replied. "At first, I thought they were waiting for someone, but they're too nervous. I was about to send out a uni, but I remembered seeing your name on the translator list and called you instead."

Couch caught his partner's attention.

"Your wish is our command," he told the sergeant. "Let's go see what they need."

Sixteenth Precinct
Office of Captain Cragen
21 June 5:53 p.m.

Captain Cragen waited until Fred Tierney had closed the door before he introduced him and Tammy to the two men standing by his desk.

"Ed Green and Joe Fontana from Manhattan Homicide," he said as introduction. "Do you remember Ted Bewler?"

He got the reply he was expecting as quickly as he expected.

"Of course," Fred said, "Exposed himself to some Brownie Scouts on a field trip at the Natural History Museum. It wasn't the first time for him and he got the max—except that he's appealing."

"Not very," his partner added.

Cragen sighed.

Tammy needs a new joke....

Ed Green picked up the story.

"Seems Bewler was the victim of a hit-and-run this morning," he said. "No wallet or ID on the body, no tire marks from braking, no witnesses. The ME ID'd him through his prints."

Fred stiffened in his chair.

"You think one of the girls' parents did this?"

"At this point," Fontana answered, "we don't know what to think. You know we have to check out all the possibilities."

Tierney turned to face Cragen.

"You want us to hand these guys a list of the victims' parents?"

Cragen resisted the urge to duck the question.

No, it's worse than that….

"I want you and Tammy to work with Green and Fontana—question each parent and guardian, check their alibis and, if you can, get a quick, legal look at their cars."

Both Tierney and White opened their mouths to protest. Cragen spoke first.

"This is from One P.P. They don't like vigilantes running over convicted flashers the week before their appeals get heard. Just work through the list—Fontana and Green will handle the rest."

He stared down at his detectives until both nodded. Fontana smiled at their acquiescence.

"I'm sure we'll all work just fine together," he said. "Shall we get that list?"

He led the way from the office. Cragen ignored Tammy's overly loud sigh as she and Tierney filed out after him.

Ed Green hung back.

"You know I don't like to work this way, Captain."

Cragen nodded. Green had joined the Two-Seven's detective squad after Cragen's transfer, but he knew of him through Lennie Briscoe.

Lennie respected Green as a detective and as a friend, but Fontana looks like the poster boy for 'smug.' Wish I could have paired him with Logan…one look at that hand-sewn silk tie and Mike would blow eight gaskets….

"Use the kid gloves," he told Green. "This guy didn't just flash those Brownies; he told them exact how and where he wanted his willie to go. Their daughters were confused and scared and so are the parents."

Green showed that he understood with a tight smile.

"We'll watch our step. Want me to say 'Hey' to the lieutenant for you?"

"Yeah, give Anita my best."

Cragen's gaze followed Green as he left his office.

It's the first day of summer… two hours into the shift and everyone has a new case… let's hope this isn't an omen….