Title: By Its Cover

Author: Christi

Rating: R, because, uh, it’s SVU and there is a large ick factor in the storylines and this details a few of them. I mean, not DETAILS, but…whatever. Oh. Plus there is nondescript, but completely consensual sex.

Category: L&O: SVU Munch/OC, angst, romance

Author’s Note: Um, I’m not sure when or why it happened, but for some reason, SVU has taken over my brain temporarily. (Don’t worry, the gateverse is still my first and truest love.) You should be warned that this fic is mainly trying to answer the question, “If you have a blatant Mary Sue, and you have her do very blatantly Mary Sue kind of things, is it still possible to have a good fic?” I don’t know if I succeeded or not, but I thought it would be an interesting experiment. 



John Munch had been a cop for a long time. Longer, perhaps, than he thought was really good for anyone. And being on the SVU squad…well, it was a whole different level of commitment.


Probably one that deserved a nice white jacket, if he was honest with himself.


He had thought he was done with late nights acting as a chaser to really bad days. Instead, the days had gotten worse, which in turn meant the nights were longer.


Because on the very worst days, the filth of the job felt like a tangible film hanging on to his skin and his clothing. Munch knew that if he went home, all that rage and disgust would eventually slough off and remain there, leaving his apartment as contaminated as the dirty street corner where a thirteen year old girl had been found gang-raped and beaten to death that morning.


Because he couldn’t face having his home any more haunted than it already was (failures personal and professional clinging to every surface), John Munch knew that it was better not to go straight there after work.


At least the streets of New York were already stained with the permanent color of their own hopelessness—a little more darkness wouldn’t be noticed.


This particular evening found him perusing a used bookshop (curiously bright and airy for someplace so small), hoping for something more interesting than dinged dime store novels and not having much luck. At least, not until she came out from behind the counter, offering him a beat-up volume of philosophy and a tentative smile.


The philosophy was right up his alley—sixties revolution mixed with conspiracy theories and the occasional diatribe on old Aristotelian ideals that didn’t exist anymore (if they ever really had to begin with, which John doubted). Surprisingly though, it was the smile that caught his eye, open and bright.


Had he ever smiled like that?


Fingering the slightly worn binding of the paperback, he studied her carefully. Her youth should have been out of place when surrounded by the long forgotten books lining the walls, but somehow her haphazard ponytail and earnest eyes seemed to fit right in. “This is perfect. How did you know?”


A shrug was her first response. “I’m good at my job. Besides, you looked like the type.”


It was an intriguing answer. “What type?” he asked before he could help himself.


“The government has a secret satellite to listen to our cell phone conversations. The world’s economy is secretly run by three men locked in a white room somewhere. LBJ headed up the conspiracy to kill Kennedy,” she said by way of explanation.


Because he didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended, John said the first thing that came to mind. “Well, he did.”


Her laughter was even better than her smile, and for the first time since seeing that little girl broken and bloody so many hours ago, John began to feel human again.


“I know.”




Four a.m. and more than a little forlorn, Munch probably would have been going crazy on yet another stakeout had it not been for that book. Although Fin was a good partner and a good man, his conversation skills tended to be less than sparkling—unless they were arguing, of course, but even John got tired of baiting him after awhile.


There was a lot about the job to despise, but John had never gotten over hating the tedium of stakeouts. It always seemed like such a waste, sitting in the dark (literally and figuratively), waiting for something—anything—to happen.


Luckily, one tiny book light didn’t give off enough light to be noticed in the gray predawn, and John made it a point to glance up every five paragraphs. In the pages of philosophy, he could almost forget that this was the third night straight they had spent cooped up in this too-small car, with nothing but the too strong smell of day-old takeout and Fin’s snoring to keep him company.


He could almost forget that they were waiting (in vain, he theorized) for the leader of a brutal prostitution ring to make a move—even if that move meant watching him haul yet another dead girl to the Hudson for dumping.


Three pages from the end and he took to glancing up more often, not quite wanting the book to be over. It wasn’t that the book was particularly brilliant or said anything he hadn’t read before, but it had been a more than welcome distraction from the reality of use and abuse he knew.


Two pages from the end, John looked up to see the pimp emerging from the warehouse. The book now became useful in another way—he used it to thwap Fin on the head.


“Hey. Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”


“Sorry to disappoint, but you’re not my type,” Fin croaked before pulling himself a little more upright. “What’s up?”


Munch gestured out to the figures moving in the mostly-dark. “He’s on the move.”


Fin nodded and proceeded to get a little more situated, clearly ready for the struggle sure to come. “Let’s go.”


As Munch started the car, neither one of them commented on the trash bag that their perp had lugged into the back of his van.




He hadn’t known that he was going back until he was walking through the door some two weeks later, the slightly musty smell of old books mixing with coffee and lemon floor cleaner. A bell rang as he entered and she looked up, seeming honestly glad to see him.


“Finished the book?”


He didn’t want to go into the details of that three-day stakeout, which had ended with another girl dead and another man wholly unrepentant—not in this place filled with respected books and friendly smiles. “Yes, thank you. Have anything else along those lines?”


“Sure.” She was silent for a long moment, watching him so intently that he had to curb the impulse to shift on his feet. “But you don’t want to read that.”


John couldn’t help but peer at her over the rim of his sunglasses, amused at her easy declaration. “I don’t?”


“No.” After thinking for one more moment, she disappeared down a row to the left, coming back with an old hardback (the pages were brittle, but whole, yellowed but beautiful) and handing it to him confidently.


Collected Plays of Anton Chekhov?” he read out incredulously. “I think you may be losing your touch.” John had learned Russian because he still remembered having to perform duck-and-cover drills, not out of any particular love for Soviet literature. 


Obstinate brown eyes held his own. “Trust me,” she insisted. “Most things don’t seem quite so awful after immersing yourself in self-important, melodramatic Russian angst.”


He honestly wasn’t sure if that theory was completely laughable or made a strange amount of sense, but after this past week, he was hardly in a position to turn down any hope at a new perspective. So, he accepted the book and gave in to the urge to tease (flirt?) a little. “Do people ever get to pick out their own books in this store?”


She grinned, completely unapologetic. “Only the people I don’t like. Besides, it’s a great book. At the top right corner, you can smell the dried vodka someone spilled.”


Information like that couldn’t be resisted, and soon his nostrils were filled with the sharp scent. “Scratch and sniff literature, hmmm?”


“Didn’t you know? Good books appeal to all the senses.”




There were days and days of tapes to watch, because the bastard had kept them filed away in his bedroom, trophies of his assaults on little girls with clear eyes and sweet smiles. And as much as John hated it, he always took it upon himself to volunteer to sort through the tapes that involved kids—Elliot and Fin and Cragen were all fathers, and Liv…well, as tough as Olivia was, everyone had their Achilles’ heel. Kids tended to get under her skin easier than the rest.


Staring at the boxes set up in a tiny room, John sighed and settled in. Just as he was getting started, the Captain poked his head in.


“All set?” he asked, before seeing the extent of the video evidence. “Jesus. This is…John, we can get someone to help you with all this. It’s going to take forever.”


He wanted to take him up on it—but the inevitable image of Elliot not being able to look his little girls in the eye or Olivia crying herself to sleep danced across his vision.


“No,” he said, resigned. “I’ll be fine.”


Taking him at his word, Cragen shut the door and Munch, after one more second of hesitation, pressed play.


After the first hour, he found it hard to eat.


After the first day, he found it hard to sleep.


After the first week, he was once again wishing for the tedium of retirement. Not to mention that he had been forced to throw a blanket over the television in his home after just the sight of it had made him gag.


So instead of watching C-SPAN and yelling Yiddish and Russian obscenities at the politicians with their sleaze and thinly veiled agendas (hey, everyone had to have a hobby) or enjoying a good episode of The Daily Show like he normally might before bed, John read.




After finishing The Seagull and following it with Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters in quick succession, Munch wasn’t really sure if she had been right. He did, however, experience a curiously strong sense of patriotism for the next few days—as screwed up as America was, it still wasn’t Russia. And somehow, by the end of the book, he was able to take the blanket off of his television without shuddering in disgust.


Naturally, it was only polite that he go back to the store and tell her that she had been right after all. At least, that was what he had managed to convince himself.


When he saw that she was in the process of closing, he fought down more disappointment than he should have felt and turned to go. But she had seen him through the window and waved him in.


He probably shouldn’t have taken her up on the invitation. But as John walked in and heard the soothing sounds of sixties rock and water splashing against the wood floors as she mopped, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. Still, it had to be said: “You shouldn’t just let strangers in like this, you know.”


Instead of being annoyed like some might have, she shot him a look of pure amusement. “If I didn’t, I’d have a hell of a time running a business,” she pointed out. “Besides, you’re not a stranger.”


“Close enough,” he grumbled, sitting on a stool to stay out of her way as she mopped, bare feet tapping in time with Fortunate Son.


All she spared him was a cursory glance over her shoulder. “I could throw you back outside if it would make you feel better.”


His silence seemed to echo and her resulting smile was warm instead of triumphant (even though she would have been justified). “So, you liked the Russians?”


John laughed wryly. “No. But you were right, it helped.”


“Good. Chekhov is great for putting things in perspective. Tolstoy is usually my last resort, but you didn’t seem there yet.”


“Isn’t Tolstoy the one who wrote eight hundred page books?”


“Quite a few of them, yes.”


The thought of that much unrelenting angst made his head swim. “You’re right. I wasn’t that desperate.”


She laughed, and when the chords of A Hard Day’s Night filled the room, she began dancing with the mop. “Glad to hear it. Need something new now?”


“Yes, I would appreciate that,” he admitted, regretting the inevitable turn to business.


Instead of going to fetch some obscure book, she merely continued doing The Twist with the mop. “No problem. But you have to wait until I’m finished mopping.”


He leaned back against the checkout counter, feeling his muscles unwind one by one. “Sounds fair.”


Forty-five minutes and an entire CD later, she handed him a collection of Lewis Carroll’s poetry. Before he had managed to ask the obvious question, she had freely offered the answer.


“It only makes sense if you don’t think about it too hard.”




Their next case was run of the mill compared to some, a twenty-something-year-old girl pulled into an alley on the way home from her second shift job. Traumatized and mad as hell, but alive, which was more than a lot of their victims could say.


Still, there was something about this particular case that was eating at him. John had always felt more for these cases anyway—maybe because the rage and hurt and pain wasn’t reflected in some inanimate crime scene (to be photographed and then straightened as good as new), but contained in a living, breathing woman.


But this wasn’t his normal level of attachment. This was…something else. He wasn’t sure what, exactly.


Waiting in the bullpen for Elliot and Olivia to arrive with their lead suspect, Munch paged through the latest book, somehow getting drawn into the seven rambling cantos of Phantasmagoria.


It wasn’t until they actually walked through the pen to the interrogation room that Munch realized the problem. The weight of it fell over him, a heavy (choking) weight on his chest.


Fin passed by at the most inopportune moment, no doubt seeing the lovely new green shade to his complexion. “Hey, you all right, man? Look like you just saw a damn ghost.”


Considering the poem he had just been reading, John normally would have found this funny. Instead, he just snapped, “Keep on walking, Fin.”


His partner held up both hands in defense. “Hey, just trying to help. What bug crawled up your ass and died?”


“It’s nothing. Drop it,” Munch insisted, slamming his book into a drawer and practically running to the viewing room, where a man about his age was being put through the wringer by Elliot and Liv’s undefeatable tag team.  “He confess yet?” John managed to ask the somewhat startled Cragen.


“No, but we’ve got enough to compel a DNA sample. The rest should fall into place.” The Captain gazed at the perp, shaking his head. “Raping girls half your age…what the hell is his defense gonna be? I mean, I may have looked at one or two sports cars in my day, but this is taking the midlife crisis too far.”


And there it was, put into words exactly what had been eating at him. Because John (who was definitely on the wrong side of fifty) was somehow already half in love with a woman twenty years his junior, even though she had done little more than smile at him.




He arrived just as a throng of people were emerging, happy faces and animated conversation filling the chilled New York air. Inside, John found her cleaning up, a circle of folding chairs arranged around a variety of cookies on a low table, paper plates and napkins spread everywhere.


“What was all that?” he asked. She jumped a little, because she hadn’t seen him coming, but when she looked at him, it wasn’t displeasure that colored her face.


“Oh, that? Book club. We had a rather spirited discussion about Thomas Hardy’s view of women. At one point, I thought the girls were going to start chucking Oreos at the guys.” Her color was still high, John could tell she had enjoyed the spectacle. “Speaking of, try this.”


She picked up a gingersnap (not even close to an Oreo, so how was that a ‘speaking of’ situation?) and, to his surprise, fed him a piece. It crumbled a little on his tongue, but the sweetness of cinnamon sugar spread in his mouth, the slight bite of ginger lingering long after the cookie had gone. “Good,” he remarked before helping himself to the rest of it.


Strangely, his verdict didn’t seem to please her. “Yeah, that’s what everyone else says. But no matter how many times I try, my gingersnaps always seem to be missing something for me. Which is a bit irritating, because I really love gingersnaps.” Her sigh was so earnest he almost smiled, but predictably, she cheered right up. “So, what did you think of the poems?”


With that question reality came crashing back and John remembered that of all the things he had come here to do this evening, being hand-fed cookies wasn’t one of them. “Well, I….”


This time when she sighed, it was aimed toward him. “You thought about it too much.”


Considering his disgruntled revelations over epic children’s verses, John thought that was probably an apt description. “It seems so.”


After careful consideration, she nodded. “Oh well. Can’t win them all, now can I, Detective?”


The title startled him, because he had told her a lot of things over their short acquaintance—how he had met his second wife, what he thought of T. S. Eliot, the details of a long-ago trip to Paris that were probably best forgotten—but had never once mentioned being a cop. “How did you…?”


She tilted her head, puzzled at his confusion. “You flash your badge when you open your wallet. I’ve known since you paid for your book that first night. Was I not supposed to?”


“No, I just…” John wasn’t sure what to say, or why it surprised him so much anyway. “It’s fine. So you know what the SVU squad is, then?”


Her glance was downright exasperated. “I’m a sometimes single girl living and working alone in New York City. I’d have to be brain dead not to know what the SVU is.”


“You’ve…never asked me about it.”


A shrug was her first reply, and she picked up another forgotten gingersnap to snack on. “Why would I? Generally when a man talks about his ex-wives before he talks about his job, it’s a strong sign that the job is not a topic open for discussion.”


And even though in his mind he had gone there that night to break off a relationship that they had never had, when he heard her reply, his hand (seemingly of its own volition) reached out and pulled her close.


When he kissed her, she tasted like cinnamon.


Before he left, she handed him a book—Pride and Prejudice. And when John demanded to know why this book was apparently next on his assigned reading list, she refused to tell him.




It was a slow day, which meant it was a good day. John had blown through his paperwork, and at this moment was perfectly free to read his book while he waited for something (and hoped for nothing) to happen. And even though it wasn’t his style or his taste, he found that there was a reason that Jane Austen was still loved two hundred years later.


Fin sat down at his desk and out of the corner of his eye, Munch could see him watching. “Something on your mind, partner?” he asked without looking up.


“Only that you seem to have cheered up some. Good thing too, because I wasn’t about to stand looking at your pathetic mug anymore.”


“Glad to have eased your suffering, Fin. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you while I’m at it.”


His partner grinned. “Don’t suppose you’d tell me what’s got you so cheery.”


“No,” Munch said, turning a page nonchalantly. “I don’t suppose I would.”


“Is it something to do with all those books you been reading? What’s this one?” Before John could react, Fin had plucked that book clean out of his fingers. “Pride andyo. You’ve always been a strange one, man. I let it go because it sorta worked for you. But I gotta tell ya, this is taking eccentric a bit far.”


John snatched the book back. “Rag on me all you want. But lay off the damn book.”




Their first so-called date ended in the bedroom, where the feel of her skin against his seemed to be the most fascinating thing he’d ever experienced. Touching her was everything he’d thought it might be—easy and happy and light, her conversations in physical form.


When it was over, he couldn’t quite remember how he had gotten here—when buying a used book had evolved into something that he wasn’t sure he could describe without sounding like an idiot. And the way he felt (about her, them, all of this) worried him, even as she pressed a kiss against his sweat-covered shoulder and made a joke about being a loose woman.


“I don’t want another ex-wife,” he blurted out—wincing even before the sentence was finished.


She blinked, startled at his outburst for a minute, then after a moment of processing the content of his outburst, slid over him until she was straddling his hips.


“Now, John, I know I like to talk during sex, but I’m pretty sure I don’t remember proposing.”


He was a little amused, but…. “I’m serious.”


“So am I,” she replied. “This is Lewis Carroll all over again—let it go. If you can’t stop thinking this to death, it’ll never work.”


“What if it doesn’t work anyway?”


She shrugged. “We’ll deal with it then. But despite what you think of me, I’m not fragile. I don’t break. And you….” She trailed off, uncertain.


“It’s okay,” he encouraged her, running a hand up and down her spine because the sweet skin was there against his calloused hand. “Go ahead.”


After a little more hesitation, she finally came out with, “I know you see a lot of really horrible things, everyday. You see people in pain, people causing it. But you might have to accept that you’re not obligated to be miserable just because they are. I mean, you certainly are within your rights to be, but it’s not your only option.”


He held her tighter. “I’m starting to understand that.”


She smiled. “Good.” She kissed him and tucked her head under his chin, stray hairs feeling damp and bristled against his mouth. “Did you like the book?”


Remembering the scene with Fin, he chuckled. “Yes. Very much.”


“Understand why I gave it to you yet?”


With her warmth slowly seeping into him from above, it was hard not to.