The best thing about being John Munch, he thought to himself as he reached for the bottle, was that there was always a good excuse to go on a bender. After four marriages and divorces, countless breakups (usually his fault), more than two decades in the line of duty, the Sixties, and countless other fuckups, nearly every day on the calendar corresponded to a particular disaster -- an anniversary, divorce, shooting, something that polite society would accept as a valid reason to get smashed. A while back he had even quit bothering to track down exactly why he was drinking on the calendar.
Every so often, especially after just enough alcohol to impair his judgment, he'd start thinking about Gwen, and how funny it was that they were both here in New York, and shouldn't he call her up for a drink, for old times' sake? He usually came to his senses just as he was picking up the phone and called Lennie Briscoe for a friendly game of pool instead. The damage to his wallet was far preferable to the alternative.
Munch expertly mixed a gin fizz, his specialty. After Gwen there had been Maria, and then Nancy. Somehow being married to them made the names effortless to remember, even after all the other things he'd forgotten. Several of his old buddies from the Sixties had ended up drug fiends; he'd become addicted to marriage. He thought he'd beat it, even turning down Felicia's proposals, but then he'd woken up one morning after the single most embarrassing sexual experience he'd had since college and realized he'd made the biggest mistake of all. What had he been thinking when he'd married Billie Lou? She had less in common with him than all of his previous wives put together.
So he'd left.
Odd, he reflected as he mixed a second gin fizz. All his marriages together totaled less than a fraction of the time he'd been partnered with Stan Bolander. His term, not Stan's. He remembered when they'd first met -- him new to homicide, and secretly thrilled to be partnered with a departmental legend like the Big Man -- and Stan bored, annoyed, missing Mitch. "You're not my partner. Mitch is my partner." Even though Mitch had left him to go God knows where. Mitch was still his partner. Now that was loyalty.
He'd tried, though. Really, he'd never stopped trying, even after years. Especially after Stan got shot... Beau and Kay too. Why had the bullets missed him? He wasn't half the detective Stan was, or Kay either. And while Beau had his flaws, he had his kids to live for. Of the four of them, he was the one that would have been missed the least. Why was he spared? He chalked it up to a vindictive God.
In a way, it was easier to sit in the hospital waking for Stan to wake up than dealing with him afterwards. As long as Stan was lying there silent, he could cut his pain by imagining that Stan would wake to find him sitting vigil, and soften. Maybe then he would be his partner. But of course, it hadn't happened. Perhaps Stan had been a little kinder, but he obviously still had one partner, and it wasn't Munch.
Stan would never know what he had done for him. And even if he did, he wouldn't care.
Then almost immediately Stan and Beau had been suspended, neither ever to return. He'd joked to Kay about it, and she'd been angry. He wondered why she'd never realized that the mockery was just to hide the fact that he was as lost without Stan as Kay was without Beau.
Another gin fizz.
None of his homicide partners after that had felt like partners, which he supposed made him like Stan in a perverse way. Megan Russert's heart wasn't in it anymore, not after what the department had done to her. He and Kay had always worked well together, but she was busy being sergeant, and then he'd lost his mind over the sniper and driven her away. He'd snapped at her because he didn't know how to say that he couldn't bear to see her get hurt ever again. His partnerships with Kellerman and Bayliss, while friendly, had been built around the simple principle that Meldrick was Mike's partner, and Frank was Tim's partner. He had just been a placeholder, a fill-in. Maybe that was why he'd tried to keep distant. He damned himself for that again. He'd known full well how much Mike was drinking. He should have said something. What had held him back? After three drinks, he could admit it was the fear that Mike would push him away like Stan had.
He made another drink, then tasted it. Not quite right. He was obviously getting sloppy.
And Bayliss -- poor, lost Timmy. He was lost without Frank, a shadow. And then there was that bizarre night -- oddly enough, his last wedding night -- when Bayliss had shown up asking questions about Gordon Pratt. If he'd been a little smarter, maybe he could have caught on in time, talked him out of it.
That had been the real reason he'd left. Not Baltimore, not Billie Lou, not even the prospect of serving under that bastard Gharty, distasteful as it was. He couldn't face that squadroom again, knowing what he knew.
So, like millions of immigrants and dreamers before him, he'd taken off to New York.
He'd come to SVU seeking redemption. He'd gotten Brian Cassidy. Cassidy was young, naive, clueless -- in short, the one person who finally made him understand how Stan must have felt about him. Once in a moment of frustration he had started to bite out You're not my partner, but he caught it just in time to modify it to a generic wisecrack.
Annoying wide eyes aside, Cassidy had been a good kid, perhaps the first person who'd ever looked up to Munch for anything. Munch missed him, but he wasn't entirely sad to see him go. Get out while you still have a soul, kid. This job's destroyed greater men than you. Or me.
He'd liked Jeffries from the start. She was competent, smart, too strong to put up with his bullshit. He didn't always admit it, but he adored women like that. But she'd been kind, especially when Sarah was killed. They could have made a good team, he thought, but she'd had demons of a variety he didn't recognize, and she was gone so quickly he'd wondered sometimes if she'd ever been there.
Then had come Fin. By then Munch was used to the revolving door of partners and after their early disagreements (if there was a God, he'd undeniably proved his sick sense of humor by pairing Munch with a narc), he'd hoped Fin would be gone just as fast. But he wasn't, and now he had been Munch's partner longer than anyone but Stan. They'd gotten used to each other, even enjoyed each other's company at times. They weren't the closest of friends, and Munch expected they never would be, but maybe that was for the best in this line of work.
An image flashed through his mind. The hospital, after the shooting. Beau gazing at Kay, his eyes saying all the things a billy boy wouldn't have a clue how to put into words. They weren't lovers, he knew. They loved each other too much for that. They were partners.
No one had ever looked at him like that. Not a woman. Not a cop.
He started to make another gin fizz -- Kay's favorite -- then shoved the glass away and took a pull straight from the bottle. Kay. No matter how these things started, they always ended up with Kay. Ended up with him wondering if Kay was the only woman he'd ever really loved.
I'm a fool. Why didn't I ever ask Kay to marry me?
Because she would have said no, you fool.
He gazed south out his window, telling himself maybe he could make out the lights of Baltimore if he tried hard enough.