Manhattan SVU Squadroom
11 July

Rather than gather around the shift leaders by Cragen's office for the shift meeting, Howie's detectives stood by the hallway door, ready to make a swift getaway at meeting's end. Elliot and Fin leaned against the wall to Olivia's left.

Keeping me between them and us... thanks, guys....

Couch came in right before the meeting began. Other than a bit of redness, his nose looked normal. Olivia couldn't say the same for his demeanor and expression.

Didn't think I'd ever see someone out-scowl Fin, but that's exactly what Couch did when he saw Judith's vacant desk....

Howie handled the situation with Munch and Otten as part of his report.

Disciplinary action... assigned to work cold cases... render no assistance... sounds good, until I think about the disgust in Cragen's voice when he told me about it... this isn't punishment—it feels more like revenge....

As Olivia was finishing her update on cases, Chloe handed her an Action Sheet fresh from the fax machine. She noted the source, "Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information", before reading it through. Howie read over her shoulder while she went through it again.

Son of a bitch.... this makes no sense... no sense at all....

"I'll announce it if you want," Howie whispered.

She shook her head.

It's my job... my people....

"This morning," she said, her voice shaking despite the tightness in her throat, "there was a raid on a drug house in Brooklyn. The purpose of the raid was to capture the person suspected of shooting Detectives Fred Tierney and Tammy White and two civilians on July fifth. During the raid, the suspect attempted to draw on NYPD detectives and was shot and killed.

"All right!"

The exclamation came from both Elliot and Fin. Couch's scowl curved into a grin. The same elation brightened the faces of every person in the room.

Street justice for a cop-killer does that to us... but this—this isn't....

Olivia drew in a breath and continued.

"The suspect was Jason Meade, age eleven. Meade had been kidnapped from a mall in Missouri seven years earlier and was—"

Elliot interrupted her. "But that's the witness!"

"Yeah, the kid everyone's been looking for," Fin added. "What the hell?"

"All I know," Olivia told them, "is this. It's the official release that the media will get now that we've seen it. It doesn't say who shot Meade or why he shot Fred and Tammy. It just goes on about
Dominick Anacacis, the guy Meade has been with all these years, and his drug dealings."

"Shit. That don't make no sense."

"Nothing's made sense in weeks," Elliot groused in reply to Fin. "You expect it to start now?"

"Certainly be nice if it did," Couch responded.

By the door, Howie's detectives reacted with puzzled looks and mutterings. Olivia was about to ask why when Howie spoke up.

"Fontana was in here earlier. He looked rough, almost like he was having a heart attack or something. Didn't make any sense at the time but, if he's the one who took Meade out...."

Elliot's laugh barked over his words.

"'Didn't make any sense'—just like the rest of the crap around here."

The meeting ended with that cheerful note. As soon as Howie's shift cleared out, Officer Taylor went over to Couch. They stood by the window and talked while the other three detectives headed for their desks. Olivia noted that Elliot and Fin did exactly what she did—take a long look at the two empty desks as though remembering the detectives who should be sitting at them.

"It's wrong," Fin said to no one in particular. "Getting shot by a kid like that."

"John called it," Elliot noted. "The day it happened. Some of us were talking at the coffee pot and he said the kid had to be more than a witness."

"So the blind squirrel finally found a nut. Did anyone believe him?"

"'Sue called it a crackpot theory," he replied. "We all agreed with her and he shut up about it."

The three of them turned their attention to John's vacant desk, where his morning mug of tea, a paper tag dangling by its handle, still sat by his phone. Olivia then turned to Judith's desk. Her notepad, left open from her work on the Dykeman reports, still lay by her keyboard.

It's like a cheesy horror movie... two by two, we keep disappearing....

"Olivia?"

At the sound of her partner's voice, she spun around to face him.

"I didn't get a chance to call you," Elliot said. "Did you want something?"

She pointed to where Taylor and Sofarelli were talking.

"You should talk to Couch."

The cold glint in his eyes showed how unwelcome her suggestion was, but Olivia ignored the warning

"His partner fucked up and left him hanging. Couch may be new here, but he's one of us and we need to be there for him..."

Olivia then set both elbows on her desk and leaned closer to her partner.

"...and because he was your rookie and you're not the kind of man who forgets that."

She braced herself for the argument she knew was coming.

If you get angry about him replacing as lead, I'll point out that I'm the replacement—not Couch... the lies are Cragen's fault, not Couch's... doesn't matter what we think about it—we can't function as a team if we treat Couch like an outsider....

To her surprise, Elliot nodded.

"As soon as they're done," he said. "Got any hot sauce."

"For what?"

"I hear it goes good with crow," he replied. "You're not the only one eating a helping of it today."

Twenty minutes passed before Elliot decided the time was right to get right with Sofarelli. Officer Taylor finished talking to him not long after Olivia's suggesion, but Couch immediately left the squadroom. His expression and quick pace told Elliot that he needed time alone to cool off.

When Sofarelli returned, he went to Judith's computer and saved the report still open on her screen then he reopened it on his own machine.

If he's calmed down enough to do paperwork, then this is as good a time as any....

Elliot crossed the room and snagged the chair from the desk behind Couch. He spun it around and sat down, his arms on his knees, body leaning toward the younger man.

Look friendly, interested... try and put him at ease....

"You doing okay?"

Couch turned his head from his computer barely enough to see Elliot, but not far enough to welcome his interruption.

"Your nose bothering you?" Elliot asked.

Couch brushed the air by his nose.

"I've been hit harder. I didn't expect Judith to know that move."

"You're lucky your partner can defend herself."

Couch's sarcastic snort was followed by a decent attempt at a British accent.

"Obviously, some strange use of the word luck that I wasn't previously aware of."

In his regular voice, he asked Elliot what he wanted. Elliot glanced at Olivia, who urged him on with a wave of her hand.

Okay... if you can do it, I damn well can....

"I want to say I was pissed at being dumped from lead," he replied, "and I took it out on you."

He paused before his next sentence.

Try for a laugh... God knows we could use one....

"And I want to thank you for not spin-kicking the crap out of me. You looked like you wanted to."

Elliot watched as the younger man turned to face him. He relaxed as the wary tightness in Couch's face loosened into a crooked smile.

"Yeah, I did," he replied, "but I'd have gotten your crap all over my shoes. I hate polishing shoes."

Elliot nodded.

Apology offered and accepted... mission accomplished....

"I figured I'd get flak," Couch continued, "for taking the exam right after being transferred, but you can't turn down that big a favor."

Elliot kept smiling and hoped its shift to faked didn't show.

Sure you can turn it down... you say "Hey, Cap— Isn't it a bit soon? I've only been here six weeks."

"Smart move on Cragen's part," he replied. "Now, you owe him."

Couch's emphatic grin told Elliot how good being in debt felt to him.

"Yep, and I want to keep owing him. He's got all the right eyes looking at him and all the right ears listening to him—with that kind of juice, he's the hook I need for advancement. Look what he's done for me already."

"What if Cragen's promotion falls through?" Elliot asked. "There's no guarantee—"

"I know, but this time's different. He's got his record here, a successful contract negotiation, the Chestnut and Erastis operations, the eulogies he gave for Fred and Tammy—Elliot, you heard him. He was so eloquent and sincere, he blew both the mayor and the commissioner away."

Couch's hands, held out and open, and the worshipful brightness in his eyes, told Stabler all he needed to know.

Al didn't just find a hook—he's hooked....

Elliot sat back, using the motion to hide his surprise.

His last C.O. must have been a real asshole if he admires the way Cragen's acting now....

He pointed his thumb at Judith's vacant desk.

Let's try a leading questions... see how hooked he really is....

"I'm sure he showed the same amount of leadership this morning with John and Judith."

Couch quickly glanced over his shoulder to where his partner should have been sitting.

"Yep. Thing is, I wish he hadn't. Been better if he'd turned them over to IAB."

Elliot sat up so fast, the chair under him slid backwards.

"Damn it, Al. You can't mean that."

"I'm serious, Elliot. This morning wasn't the first time they got physical. Taylor was telling me he broke up a fight between them last week. With that and this morning and everything else...."

Olivia broke into their conversation.

"Sorry, guys, but I need the two of you."

She rolled her chair backward to Fin's desk and held out a phone message slip.

"A woman running a daycare reported a man exposing himself to the children there. You handle it with Couch."

Fin took the message and glanced at it.

"This is only two blocks from the 151st."

"Yeah, I know," she replied. "Takes balls to display himself so close to a station house. Elliot...."

She waved another message slip in the air."

"You and I got a rape victim at Mercy General."

Residence of Arlette Wilcox
567 W. 152nd Avenue
11 July

567 W. 152nd Avenue was a five-story apartment building built in the 1920s. The narrow gap between it and the next building was fenced with a tall wrought-iron gate at the sidewalk and a tall solid wood gate at the building's back corner. Bright plastic yard toys—a playhouse, slide, turtle-shaped sandbox—occupied the center of the enclosure while plants covered with large white flowers grew in plastic tubs by each gate.

Couch inspected the iron gate while Fin checked the surrounding buildings.

Another apartment building next door... 24-hour diner across the street with a storefront church next to it—enough people around only a determined pervert would display himself here....

Up in 3D, Arlette Wilcox, a large-boned woman in black Spandex shorts and a huge Howard University sweatshirt, took time out from making macaroni and cheese to explain why she had called.

"I only keep girls now 'cause girls so much easier to watch than boys. Boys want to run all the times; girls now, they content to sit and play. It don't take as so much energy to watch girls."

The seven little girls in the living room proved her point. Four were playing Shoots and Ladders while the other three were dressing stuffed bears in baby clothes.

"I don't do no Barbies or those other skinny dolls—don't do television, either. Children need to play good games and toys, need to exercise their minds if they want to grow up right. Anyway, you two aren't here as parents; you here as detectives so I'd better get to what brought you here."

She poured a heap of cubed Velvetta into a saucepan of white sauce and stirred it with a wooden spoon.

"This afternoon, right after playtime outside, I heard Ivyanna and Nevaeh talking about the purple worm. I asked them and they told me this big purple worm comes through the wooden fence everyday after supper. Brenda and De'Asia and Jayda, they all say they see it, too. I was going to let it alone, figuring it was a play story they was making up, when Brenda says that the worm looks just like her brother's penis, only big and purple."

She turned the burner under the cheese sauce to 'Low' then poured a bag of elbow macaroni into a large pot of water.

"It's close enough to boiling. So, while the girls were down for naps, I went and checked that back gate. Sure enough, there's a hole in it about three feet off the pavement right behind the Rose of Sharon."

Couch looked up from his notepad.

"The what?"

"The Rose of Sharon. I planted them because they bloom all summer and they don't mind the winter. That one by the back gate—you can tell some man been jizzing on it. The gate keys are on that hook by the door. You go look for yourselves. I have to mind the sauce."

They left Mrs. Wilcox to mind her cheese sauce. Outside, Fin slid on gloves before pushing aside the branches of the Rose of Sharon.

"She's right. There's a hole here."

Couch leaned over his shoulder to see where a knot was missing from the fence slat.

"Looks too round to be natural," Couch told him.

"Get some gloves on and hold these branches back."

Fin knelt down to check the pavement. There, amid fallen blossoms and other plant debris, he spotted a few slivers of freshly cut wood.

"You're right. Someone's been at it with a knife."

He bagged the wood slivers then leaned in to examine the hole.

"See the shine on the sides where it looks slick? We need photos of that."

After Fin stood up, Couch let go of the Rose of Sharon. Its branches slapped against the fence as Fin pulled a knife from his pocket.

"We also need samples—leaves and such."

He cut two leafy twigs from the shrub. He handed them to Couch for bagging.

"Let's see what's on the other side of this gate."

Fin unlocked it and swung the gate wide. A tall chain-link fence woven with white plastic strips blocked the view to the right. On their left, the area was filled with weeds and neglected landscaping all the way to Broadway three buildings to the west. Crushed beer cans, pint bottles drained of their alcoholic contents, and assorted butts—both cigarette and hand-rolled—lined a path worn in the weeds.

"Party spot," Couch commented.

"Yeah, but that's after dark," Fin replied. "Mrs. Wilcox's worm shows up after supper and she's cooking it right now."

He pointed to a overgrown birch ten yards away.

"You find a spot behind that tree. Watch where you step; looks like a place people relieve themselves. I'll get the camera from the car and call you when I'm in place inside the gate."

Once he had the camera, Fin took photos of the hole and the area surrounding it, making certain to include the play toys in the background.

Not gonna let some defense attorney claim no kids ever play here....

He then slid the camera into the pocket of his jacket and phoned Couch.

"You in place?" he asked.

"Yes," Couch answered. "You were right; this tree is a biohazard."

"Try not to step in anything. Let me know if anyone comes by. If it's our pervert, I'll get a picture of his worm before we bust him."

"You going to hold him there?"

The way Sofarelli stressed 'hold' told Fin exactly what Couch was asking.

"Shit, no. I know where that worm's been. You want to hold it, we'll switch places."

Fin leaned against the wall on the near side of the gate.

"What do you think about that Meade kid?"

Seconds went by before Fin replied.

"Damn. That's all I got to say about it—damn."

"Judith said Fontana and Green had orders not to talk to anyone about the case. Guess they were trying to keep this Anacacis from spiriting the kid away."

"Makes sense. I collared a few of his corner boys when I was still Narcotics. Dude was rumored to be one sick fuck."

"Hard to believe anyone could turn a little kid into a cop-killer."

Fin's reply was a mirthless snort.

...stick aroud SVU
long enough, you'll believe it....

The silence remained unbroken by Couch as it stretched into minutes. Fin braced himself against the wall and let the sounds from the nearby buildings surround him.

... little girls giggling... must be funny macaroni and cheese... people talking across the street... someone practicing a clarinet in the building in front of me... kid ain't bad... sounds better than that yippy little dog right above my head....

A loud crash and shouting from further down the street reminded him how glad he was not to be in uniform any more.

Hated domestic disturbances... nobody thinks cops is heroes when we come to bust up those fights... women stick to their men no matter how bad they get beaten and men stick to their women no matter how much they bitch and hit back....

The sound of his name from his phone brought him back to the present.

"Guy just turned in from Broadway heading our way."

"Got it."

Fin set his phone on the top of the plastic play slide then he listened for the approach of their pervert. Feet scuffling through the weeds told him that the suspect has stopped on the other side of the fence. He leaned against the fence, careful to not make a sound, and aimed the camera at the hole.

Through the view finder, he saw two fingers spread a thick clear paste around the inside of the hole.

... fence foreplay....

He took four photos of the action then waited. As soon as the offending penis appeared, he took three more photos then pushed the gate open with his left hand.

"Cheese!"

His next shot was of a pelvis clad in blue jeans, fly open, pressed against the fence. A quick refocusing and Fin had the entire pervert in his viewfinder.

... male, early forties, scrawny, blue Mets shirt—figures....

Fin took the shot before the man could jerk away from the fence. Couch had him by the collar and waistband before he could move further.

"NYPD," he announced. "Zip it right now or we'll take you in like that."

The man compiled then he tried to twist around.

"What's the matter?" he demanded. "What I do wrong?"

"You displayed your junk to kids," Fin told him. "That's a felony."

The man stopped struggling.

"Kids? T'ain't no kids 'round here. It's just me and my knot-hole."

Couch caught Fin's attention and raised an eyebrow.

Sure... why not?

He nodded in reply and Couch forced the man over until his head was even with the knot-hole.

"The other side of your knothole is a day care playground," Fin told him. "That's why we're taking you in."

Emergency Room
Mercy General Hospital
11 July

The ER at Mercy General was filled with the casualties of a summer Sunday afternoon: two kids with jammed fingers, a girl whose lip was split in a bike accident, a middle-aged man with a dislocated shoulder, a young man bitten by his friend's dog, an "accidental" stabbing, three generations retching with food poisoning from poorly-stored potato salad, and an elderly woman in a floral housecoat who was telling the triage nurse how she had "gone woozy from the heat."

Stabler and Benson spoke to the admitting nurse, who directed them past the waiting throng to Treatment Bay 6. There, they met with Dr. Neal VanDePol, a resident whose puffy features and pale skin told of too much time spent working double shifts. Having worked with the doctor before, Elliot greeted him with "Hey, Doc—sorry about the Mets. What you got?"

"I have Austin Beckman, age ten," VanDePol replied. "His parents brought him in."

Elliot looked through the glass at Austin, who was sitting on the examining table.

Brown hair, brown eyes, kid needs to get out and play soccer or something....

Two adults in their early thirties were with Austin. Each wore jeans and t-shirts; hers read "Western Michigan University," his "Beckman Heating and A/C: We Blow Hot and Cold."

Kid resembles both of them....

"Those the parents?"

Dr. VanDePol nodded. "They brought him in after Mrs. Beckman found a pair of blood-stained underpants in the bathroom trashcan. These are them."

He handed Elliot a clear plastic storage bag that contained a wad of gray knit fabric. Elliot slid it into a evidence bag then pocketed it.

"Injuries to the boy?" Benson asked.

"Anal trauma consistent with penetration, some bruising at hips, arms, and shoulders, adult fingertip-sized. Based on the color of the bruises and condition of the other injuries, I'd estimate the damage was inflicted five, maybe six days ago."

Olivia made some notes in her pad then asked, "Did Austin say anything about what happened?"

"No," the doctor replied, "and, since you're going to ask, he isn't showing any fear or anxiety about either parent. There's no fluids—unlike most ten-year-olds, this one bathes regularly. I am running blood work to check for STDs."

"And the Beckmans?" Elliot asked. "How are they doing?"

"Mom is all 'I'm gonna kill whoever did this to my baby'; Dad's still in shock."

Dr. VanDePol shrugged to show he wished he could do more.

"Let me know if you need anything else."

As he entered the neighboring treatment room, Elliot and Olivia observed the Beckmans.

"Looks like Neal is right," Olivia noted. "Austin seems at ease with both parents."

"We'll get the lab to test the underwear—maybe there's DNA present—and ask Mr. Beckman for a cheek swab. Better to eliminate him now than have Cragen and Casey chew on us later."

Olivia nodded. "You want the boy or the parents?"

Elliot turned back to the window and considered the question.

...male attacker, male vic... Liv stands a better chance of getting anything out of Austin....

"Parents," he decided. "You go work your magic on the kid."

She snorted at the joke before pulling the treatment room door open. Elliot let her do the introductions, the explanation of what was about to happen, and the request for the Beckmans accompany her partner into the hall for further questions.

...no complaints from them... just eager to help... that's a good sign....

Elliot led the couple down the hall to the waiting room. Since those waiting were gathered around the room's TV, the back of the room offered some privacy. He took his seat in a molded plastic chair and gestured for the Beckmans to join him before opening his notepad.

Paul and Jenny Beckman... married twelve years... Austin's their only child... he manages the family business... she teaches kindergarten at P.S. 75.... she's angry... he's still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that someone raped his son....

He listened as Mrs. Beckman told of finding the underwear that afternoon when she emptied the bathroom trashcan and of asking her son what had happened.

"Austin wouldn't tell me anything. He just stood there and refused to talk to me. Paul sat down with him in his bedroom talking to him and Austin finally said that someone had held him down and hurt him. That's why we brought him here."

Elliot turned to Mr. Beckman, who had stared at the floor while his wife spoke.

"Mr. Beckman?"

"Yeah," he replied, "that's how it was. He and I sat in his room and I told Austin it didn't matter who hurt him or how, we loved him and we'd take care of him. After a while, he told me what happened."

As he spoke, Beckman's spine stiffened and his hands knotted into fists. He fell silent and his wife picked up the story.

"It was last Tuesday, the sixth. Paul was at work and Austin was spending the night at Zach Melton's house—he's a friend from school. He wasn't due home until 10 o'clock so I figured I had time to run some errands. When I got back to the apartment, Austin was already inside. He said Shelley—Mrs. Melton—had brought him home early. He has a key so I didn't think anything about it. Austin said he was tired and he went straight into his room. I didn't think anything about that, either. What really happened was...."

Elliot held up his hand.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Beckman, but I have to hear this part from your husband. He's the one Austin talked to, not you."

Both Beckmans glared at him, the mother because she wanted to talk her anguish out of her system, the father because he could not bear to say the words.

"I know this is hard," he prompted.

Mr. Beckman's glare shifted back to the floor.

"—but it has to be done," Mr. Beckman said. "I know."

He swallowed hard and resumed the story, not making eye contact with Elliot as he spoke.

"Austin told me that a man he'd never seen before came up to him after Shelley drove off. He asked if Austin would help load some bundles of paper so he could take them to be recycled. The man said he had gotten them down from his apartment, but he'd hurt his back and couldn't load them in his trunk."

That's a new one... 'help me recycle' as a lure for kids....

"Austin went with the man around the corner and there was a pile of bundled newspaper by a blue Prius. Austin said the man tried to help him load the papers, but he hurt too much to lift anything so Austin put all the papers in the trunk."

He paused to draw in a deep, shuddering breath.

"The man said there was two more bundles in his apartment and asked if Austin would go up and get them for him while he waited by the car. My boy said that sounded safe enough so he said he'd do it. He took the man's keys and headed into the building.

"Which building?"

"The red brick one on Wadsworth—around the corner from where we live. Austin went up to the third floor but he couldn't find the apartment number the man gave him. He was heading back down the hall to look again when someone... someone grabbed him from behind and... and...."

Beckman paused again to swallow. His wife reached over and placed her hand on his. Motion at the edge of his vision caught Stabler's attention.

Olivia beckoning from the door....

He excused himself and met her in the hall, where she stood with muscles taut as though ready to bolt from a starting gate.

She's got something....

"You ready for a lucky break?" she asked.

"Not really. I don't believe in them any more."

"Tough."

She held out her notepad, which was open to a page dated 'July 7th.' On it, in her neat handwriting, was an address on W. 185th Street.

"The Beckmans live on the same block where Fin and I picked up James Speck, one of your Erastis pedophiles."

She smiled as she completed the news.

"Speck fits the description Austin gave me."

The next two hours were spent arranging for a DNA swab to clear Mr. Beckman and getting photo arrays to Austin. The boy looked over the twelve head shots and, without hesitation, picked James Speck.

... a.k.a. Reginald Makin, a convicted child rapist from Vermont... he's now at Rikers thanks to the Erastis round-up... wish every case was this easy to close....

Manhattan SVU Squadroom
11 July

Fin and Couch had brought Dale Reynolds, a.k.a. Mr. Knot-hole, back for processing then Fin scheduled his transport to Central Booking, Both detectives were at their desks when Elliot and Olivia returned to the squadroom at 11:30 p,m.

"Back already?" Fin asked.

"Don't look so shocked," Olivia replied as she took her place at her desk. "Turns out our guy is one of the Erastis pervs you and I brought in. Casey's arraigning him tomorrow morning."

Fin snarled at the news.

"So we didn't get that one in time?"

Olivia shook her head. "No. Our victim was attacked the day before."

"Damn."

"Yeah. Anything happening here?"

"Just Couch and me wrapping up our case, and e-mail from Cap'n canceling our days off until shift change on Thursday."

"Damn it," Elliot said from by the coffee pot. "I'm supposed to watch Lizzie's ball game Wednesday night."

"We'll work something out," Olivia told him then she hooked a thumb at the interview room.

"What's up with John and Judith?"

The answer came from Couch.

"Chloe said they both went home to get some things. I guess they're restricted to the house."

"Grounded and sent to their rooms," Fin added. "Suits the way they've been acting."

Olivia raised her eyebrows at his vehemence then turned to her own paperwork without a word in reply. Elliot stifled a smile at her restraint.

I don't want to get into it with Fin now, either... we just put the team back together....

He stopped by Couch's desk and began to read over his shoulder.

"You'd better change that to 'flowering plant'," he said, pointing to the paragraph about how the evidence was collected.

"Why?"

"Because," Fin called out, "you don't want to sit in court explaining how you took semen from Mrs. Wilcox's bush."

Couch winced then made the correction. Elliot leaned back against Judith's desk.

"You know that Tarzan used knotholes before he met Jane?"

Olivia and Fin turned their attention to Elliot as Couch took the bait with a shake of his head.

"It's true," Elliot told him, "and Jane wasn't too happy about it. She decided Tarzan needed some proper sex education so she took off all her clothes, laid down on the ground in front of him, and pointed to her...."

Elliot paused for a moment then said, "...flowering plant."

When the chuckles subsided, Elliot continued.

"'Forget knotholes,' she told Tarzan. 'You should put it in here.' So Tarzan removed his loin cloth and gave her a good hard kick in the crotch."

He waited for the wincing to stop.

"Finally," he continued, "Jane stopped screaming long enough to shout, 'What the hell was that for?'"

"Tarzan replied, 'Tarzan check for squirrel.'"

The three detectives gave the joke the groans it deserved. Elliot mentally patted himself on the back.

Better us groaning together at a bad joke than at each other's throats....

"While you're at it," Fin said, "try and work 'xlyophilia' into that report."

"Xlyophilia?" Couch asked.

"Means 'getting off on shit made from wood.' Sounds a lot classier in Greek."

Couch scrolled up a page and inserted the word before he saved his work.

"There," he announced. "All done. Can I buy the first round?"

Elliot quickly checked both Fin and Olivia. His partner nodded; Fin didn't scowl at the notion.

"Sure, Couch. McMullen's?"

Sofarelli blinked as though surprised they had accepted his offer.

"You know somewhere cheaper?"

Olivia turned her monitor off.

"In Manhattan? I wish. You coming, Fin?"

Fin stood up and shoved his chair under his desk.

"I'm in."

"Great," Elliot said, "Let's celebrate a couple of slam-dunks."

... and well celebrate us as we try to keep it together...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Author's note: The story backtracks and continues from Munch's POV in "The Defiant Ones" (soon to be posted). "Holding Our Breath" and "Prey and Predator" follow to complete this series. These are crossovers with Law & Order.