Title:
Hurt and Comfort
Pairing: B/S
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: HBO owns Oz, Dick Wolf owns SVU.
Summary: Beecher and Stabler struggle with their relationship.

********

Toby flipped on the TV and sat down to eat his dinner. He was alone, which was fine, and after he ate, he'd go to bed and read a little. The same thing he did nearly every night, except tonight he had the TV on for some noise. The late news came on, but he didn't watch. He took his plate to the kitchen and came back out with the cat in his arms.

"What the hell?" That was Olivia Benson. Toby had seen her before, but never spoken with her and for good reason. He sat down and turned the sound up a little higher.

"Meow."

"Shut up, cat," Toby muttered. He was too late to hear what Benson had said, but suddenly they cut to footage.

"Oh my fucking God." Toby ran out the door.

********

"Did you call Kathy?"

Stabler frowned up at her. "It's late. I don't want to upset them."

Benson sighed softly. "When's the divorce final?"

"Next week, more or less. I still have to sign the papers." Stabler looked away from her. He didn't want to discuss this, not now, not ever. "I'll be fine."

"I'll check in with you tomorrow." Benson gave him a small pat on the arm that wasn't in a cast. "Don't argue with the doctors like you do me."

Stabler smiled. He had to, or she wouldn't want to leave. "I'll be good. Go home and make sure to check-"

Benson was already gone. Stabler laughed softly. He'd thought that would work. He gently wiggled his shoulders to get a little more comfort out of the pillows. When he happened to glance back at the door, he groaned. "Shit."

Toby nodded and shut the door gently. "Deep shit. You are in deep shit!"

"Lower your voice," Stabler managed to growl. He'd hoped to avoid this until tomorrow.

Toby came to stand over him. "I always knew you'd get shot, but I really thought you'd call to tell me you were alive."

"Most cops don't get shot." Stabler fidgeted with the blanket. He did feel a trace of guilt. He'd thought of it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it, and the reason was simple. He'd have sounded like a big whiner. "I hoped you'd think I was bunking at the precinct."

"It was on the news." Toby ran a shaking hand through his long hair. "Nice shot of them taking your bleeding body and stuffing it in an ambulance!"

"Toby! Enough!" Stabler reached. He hadn't thought it through. Of course, it would be on the news. He probably had too many painkillers in his body to think clearly. "Please. I'm sorry."

Toby took him by the hand. "Fuck. I'm sorry. Here you are half-dead and hopped up on pain killers, and I'm yelling at you." He gingerly sat on the side of the bed. "You are half-dead?"

"Yeah." Stabler smiled. He couldn't help it. Toby had gone to angry to apologetic in record time. Stabler squeezed Toby's hand to reassure him. "I lost a lot of blood and a huge chunk of my arm."

"And it's broken. Large-caliber gun?"

"Oh yeah." Stabler hated to remember. "The boy could shoot."

Toby lowered his head. "Christ. What a fucking mess. Why is it always Nazis?"

Stabler glanced at the door. He wanted to pull him closer, comfort him, but it was a bad idea - too many nurses and cops around tonight. "Thanks for coming."

"Stupid cop," Toby whispered. "I passed Olivia in the hallway."

Stabler slid his hand up and encircled Toby's wrist. "Did you talk to her?"

"No. You never told her you had a roommate, did you?" Toby didn't sound angry.

Stabler bit the inside of his lip. He might as well tell the truth. "I like to keep my life private. Olivia and I are up each other's asses for days at a time."

Toby laughed softly. "I could have done without that description. Well, she's going to know now. Get used to the idea over the course of the next twelve hours."

Stabler groaned. He didn't think it was a good idea. He never had, but it was probably too late to do anything else. He'd have to try to control the situation. "Couldn't you take pity on a poor, broken-down cop?"

"No." Toby pulled a chair over and sat next to him. Their hands were still linked. "Anyway, she'll hire you a nurse, if she thinks you're going home alone. Admit it. Now is the time to mention it."

"It's a good point. She would." Stabler nodded. He was convinced, but he hoped Toby understood the risks. "Fine. You can meet her, but . . . don't talk. Okay?"

"I promise to be the soul of discretion." Toby slowly caressed the palm of Stabler's hand. "Is the pain bad?"

Stabler hated to admit how much it hurt. "Yeah."

"Rest. I'll be here."

"Good." Stabler shut his eyes and let the painkillers drag him down.

********

Toby watched him sleep. He wanted to shake him for being so stubborn and kiss him for being alive, but neither was a good idea. Being pushy with Stabler was always a dicey prospect. There was a very small knock on the door, and he got up fast to answer it. He stepped outside.

"Who are you?"

Toby nearly stepped back at the intense words. This guy looked dangerous. Was it better to tell the truth, or skate around it? "I'm a friend of Stabler's - Toby Beecher."

"Funny. I ain't never heard of you." The black man extended his hand slowly. "Fin Tutuola."

Toby shook the hand firmly, trying to impart that he was a good guy. "He's asleep but go on in, if you want."

"What's the doctor say?" Fin's eyes were suspicious.

"I just got here. Saw it on the news." Toby stuck his hands in his pockets. He hadn't done anything wrong. "You a cop?"

"Yeah. You?"

Toby shook his head. That was laughable. And he wasn't volunteering what he was. Stabler would go ballistic. Toby hooked his thumb at the door. "Are you going in?"

"I'll come back tomorrow." Fin didn't smile. He didn't look like the type that ever smiled. "Beecher, huh?"

"Yeah." Toby had a bad feeling about this guy, so he tried to explain further. "We met at Victim's Services and became friends. I was just worried about him."

Fin seemed to relax a little. "You gonna sit with him?"

"I thought I would, for a little while, unless . . ." Toby began to think that Stabler had been right to keep him away from the precinct. Too many questions from too many people that were use to getting answers. He dropped his gaze to the floor.

"Nah. I'll be around." Fin took off down the hallway, walking with all the casual confidence of a gangbanger, and Toby had seen enough of them to know. Toby went back inside and sat down with a small thump. He hadn't been prepared for that, and Benson would be worse. Much worse and she'd want to understand why the hell Stabler had a roommate, which wouldn't be easy to answer.

"I hate it when you're right," Toby whispered. He put his head in his hands and squeezed.

********

Stabler woke up with a jerk and shut his teeth on a curse, but a grunt still got out. Damn. His arm felt like someone had chopped it in half and stuck it back together. Shit. The room was mostly dark, but he'd know the figure asleep in the chair next to him anywhere. How long had it been? Four months? It seemed longer. He tried to find a more comfortable spot. It wasn't possible.

"Let me help." Toby was there, suddenly. Stabler bit his lower lip and let him try. Toby worked at it until it was better. "Okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks." Stabler squeezed Toby's shoulder. "You can't stay here all day."

Toby looked away and at the door. "I know. I'll go. I would guess that you're going to live."

"I am." Stabler wondered what had happened to change Toby's mind. He checked the clock. It was almost six a.m. "You could come back tonight."

"I'll bring real food." Toby gave him a shy smile. "And I'll feed the cat."

"It's your cat," Stabler growled. He smiled at Toby's expression. "If Kathy saw it on the news, she might call and-"

"I'll tell her the truth." Toby smiled back at him. "Everyone at work is going to ask about you."

"Tell them I'm fine and to send beer." Stabler slid his hand down Toby's arm. "Go on."

Toby nodded and rummaged in his pockets. "Bye."

Stabler looked around the room. "Where's your coat?"

"I, uh, forgot it." Toby blushed.

"Take mine. It's probably cold!" Stabler pointed at the closet. "Goof." He realized now how panicked Toby had been, and he felt guilty. "I'm going to be fine."

"I know. I can see it on your crabby face." Toby shrugged into Stabler's coat. It was too big, but it would work. He pulled it close, and Stabler saw him take a deep breath. It was a little frightening. Toby loved him so much.

Stabler pointed. "Check the hallway, give me a kiss, and beat it."

Toby did all three, two of them quickly, and one he lingered over. Stabler didn't mind. When they pulled apart, he took a deep breath. Toby ducked his head. "Bye." And he was out the door without looking back. Stabler stared after him and wondered again how things had gotten to this place. Benson was going to be upset for not telling her, but if she suspected what was really going on, he was in real trouble. Hopefully, it would never cross her mind. It was incredible to believe, especially for him. It had happened fast, and he'd regretted it for days before finally accepting it. He and Toby had something special. Both of them had been reluctant, and neither of them had wanted it, but they had fallen into a rhythm that was comfortable. It was damn weird.

"Good morning!"

Stabler pasted a smile on his face for the nurse and doctor.  It was time to be poked, prodded, and have meds pushed down his throat. Hopefully, it would only be his throat.

********

Toby was nearly late after he made his way to Queens, showered, ate, fed the cat, and headed back to work. Turned out that no one was doing anything but talking about the shooting anyway. He slipped into his cubicle, put his head down, and tried to focus on the file in front of him. There was nothing to worry about, except for the risk of infection and the fact that Stabler might choke someone to death from being confined to a bed.

"Did you hear?"

Toby gave up. He was going to have to go join the gossip. He did manage to get some work done, but not as much as usual. Well, they weren't going to fire him.

"Toby, are you coming in tomorrow?"

Toby hesitated. He usually did, but this week was different. "I don't think so. Don't count on me."

"You need a few days off. Don't worry about it."

Toby nodded and made another phone call. He'd finish this, get some food, and head over to the hospital.

********

Fin ran the name. He wasn't sure why. Something about the guy's manner - almost guilty, and definitely worried. Ah, there it was. Simple. Damn. What the hell was going on? Had he been robbing Stabler? Damn. Fin grabbed his coat.

********

Stabler was ready to go home. Now. Right now. He shifted impatiently on his butt for the tenth time that hour. They'd let him walk down to see Munch, but that was it. Another damn day in this damn bed. Just to be sure. To be safe.

"Why are you growling to yourself?" Toby asked as he maneuvered through the door with bags in his hands.

Stabler tried to push up, winced, and remembered the bar hanging down in front of him. He used it to pull up higher. Damn. Toby was there at the end of it, tucking the pillows against Stabler's back. Stabler tried to laugh, but his heart wasn't in it.

Toby did laugh softly. "You're mad as hell, aren't you?"

"Is it so obvious?" Stabler let his hand linger on Toby's forearm. Toby nodded and looked around. He started picking up, throwing things away, and getting out the food. Stabler shook his head. "Toby."

"Hey, it's not like you can do it, or I'd wait for you to do it!" Toby handed him a beer. "Just one."

Stabler grinned and popped it open. "Now I'm happy. You drove over here with that in the trunk, right?"

"Elliot, I don't have a car, remember?" Toby sat down in the nearest chair. "Eat. It'll cheer you up."

Stabler took a long drink. It did help. He pulled it down and sighed. "Thanks."

Toby smiled. Stabler eyed the cheeseburger. He would feel better if he ate it. The beautiful moment with his food was shattered by Fin throwing open the door. Two uniforms pounded inside right behind him. Toby got up fast, and Fin shoved him against the wall. "You know the drill!"

Stabler put his beer down carefully. "Fin!"

Fin didn't turn and look at him until Toby was patted down and cuffed. "Take him down to the precinct."

"Fin!" Stabler tried again. "Put him in a chair!"

Now Fin listened. Fin pushed Toby into a chair. "This skel was here when you were sleeping!"

"That skel is my friend. He's clean, sober, and works at Victim's Services, occasionally  seven days a week." Stabler sipped his beer. Toby looked scared as hell, and Stabler had to handle this right. "He's done nothing wrong."

"You're sure?" Fin gave Toby a hard look.

"Positive." Stabler smiled. He had to do it to put Fin at ease, but nothing about this was funny or cute. He'd been right to protect Toby from his friends. "I appreciate you being so protective, but Toby brought me a cheeseburger and a beer. Not the actions of a criminal."

Fin sighed. "He's your friend?"

"Yeah. We met over at his work. Toby, say something so Fin will take the cuffs off." Stabler could see a world of fear in Toby's blue eyes, and he didn't like it.

Toby cleared his throat. "Uh, hi?"

Fin rolled his eyes and apologized to the officers. "Sorry, guys." He pulled Toby up and removed the cuffs. "Elliot, it wouldn't kill you to tell us."

"I have a lot of friends. You want a list?" Stabler picked up his burger. He wasn't letting it get cold and acting as if he didn't care was the best was to go.

Toby sat back down and rubbed his wrists. "Sorry. I'll go."

"Stay put." Stabler took a bite and chewed. He hoped Toby didn't bolt for the door. It would make him look guilty.

Fin still didn't look happy. "You've seen his sheet?"

"Yes." Stabler chased the burger with the beer. Heaven. "We've discussed it."

"So, you're feeling better?" Fin ignored Toby, and he would. Toby seemed small, and it was too damn bad. It was unfortunate that it had happened this way, but there was no way to fix it now. Stabler took another bite. God, this was good.

"I can see you're happy." Fin barked a rough imitation of a laugh. "I'm gonna check on Munch."

"Thanks, Fin." Stabler smiled and stuck out his good hand. He had to say it, even if he didn't feel it. "Glad someone's looking out for me."

Fin shook Stabler's hand. "Later." He shot Toby a look and strolled out. Toby never took his eyes off his shoes until the door shut.

"You breathing?" Stabler wanted to pull him over, but he couldn't get up, and he couldn't take a chance that Fin would come back.

Toby heaved out a breath. "I better go."

"Please don't." Stabler took another drink. He hated feeling like cops were the bad guys, but it was easy after something like that. "Did you eat?"

"No." Toby's eyes were wild, skipping all over the room. He couldn't handle much more. "I did talk to Kathy. She was upset."

"She brought the kids over. Thanks for talking to her." Stabler had to stop at half. He was full. Damn. "Is there a burger in that bag for you?"

"Yeah." Toby rubbed his face. "When you're right, you're really right."

"My wife used to hate that." Stabler smiled at him. This time, being right wasn't a good thing for either of them. "You know cops."

"I'm more familiar with correctional officers, but I get the idea." Toby got up and took the bag. "I don't think I can eat."

"Give it a try. I know you skipped lunch in your little cubicle." Stabler leaned back and held his beer loosely. With any luck, the drama of the evening was over, and they could chat about nothing. "I slept most of the day."

Toby unwrapped a burger. "Good. What's the prognosis on your arm?"

"I'll need some therapy, but I should be fine." Stabler shrugged. He'd deal with it as he went along. "Want to sign my cast?"

"Not really." Toby took a bite, and Stabler saw him glance out the door. Stabler had seen that look on deer in his headlights when he drove upstate. It could only mean one thing. Toby put his burger down, stood, and said, "I'll just assume the position."

Stabler groaned softly, and Benson's eyes crackled. "You know this guy?"

Toby leaned into his hands and dropped his head. Stabler shut his eyes for a second. He had known this would be ugly, but it was stopping here and now. "Please, Toby, sit and eat. Yes, Olivia. I'd like you to meet Tobias Beecher. Toby, Olivia Benson."

Olivia kept her hands in her coat pockets. "Toby or Tobias?"

Toby turned around, sidled to his chair, and sat down. "Nice to meet you and I'll answer to anything."

Stabler took his last drink of beer. He wanted another one. "How's Munch?"

"Complaining about the donut he's sitting on." Olivia had chosen to ignore Toby. Stabler wasn't surprised. It was probably better that way. She smiled. "You?"

"Better. I'm ready to go home." Stabler smiled at her look of concern. "Hopefully, they'll get sick of me soon."

"I'm betting on that." Benson laughed softly. "Tobias, how long have you been out?"

Stabler wasn't going to answer for him, but he wanted to. Toby said softly, "About six months."

"Still on parole?" She managed to put scorn in those few words. Stabler nearly flinched. He wasn't enjoying watching this, but he had no idea what to say or do to make it better. Toby was an ex-con, and cops were cops.

"I did them all, with time off for good behavior," Toby said with no trace of apology in his tone.

Stabler caught Benson's eyes. "He's a friend of mine. I had more than a few stop in today."

"I'd imagine. Toby, give us a minute while I bring Stabler up to speed on the case."

Stabler watched Toby get his stuff together and put on his coat. Toby wouldn't be back, not tonight, and maybe not tomorrow. He wasn't strong enough to face all these cops. Stabler understood, but he didn't like it. "Thanks for the beer, Beech."

"No problem. Oh, before I go, Angus called when he couldn't get hold of you. He has papers for you to sign. I told him to wait." Toby hesitated. "Okay?"

"I'll deal with it when I get out. Thanks." Stabler smiled. He had no idea how to end this conversation in front of Benson. Toby nodded and fled the room. Stabler slowly spun his beer bottle. Now the shit was going to hit the fan, and he didn't want to hear it.

Benson pulled up a chair and sat down. "Now we can talk."

Stabler nodded, praying she meant work. "Tell me what's going on at the precinct."

"Who's Angus?" Benson frowned and put on her stubborn face. She was going to talk about Toby, with or without him.

"My lawyer. Toby's brother." Stabler shrugged. He had to play this cool. "I needed one for the divorce."

"Toby's brother is a lawyer." Benson sounded skeptical. "You sure he's not scamming you?"

"Toby was a lawyer, and he does good work for Victim's Services. He did his time, and Angus is a nice guy." Stabler wasn't happy discussing this, but he hoped he was making himself clear. It was time to back off Toby. "Tell me about the case."

Benson shook her head. "He killed a little girl!"

Stabler rubbed his hand down his face. "I know. He knows. He can't forget."

"And you're his friend? Elliot Stabler?"

Stabler felt pushed. He should just deny it and lie for the rest of his life, but he wasn't that man. "It's complicated. He made a mistake, but he paid for it. Did he ever."

"Nothing will bring back that child."

Stabler was finished talking about Toby. Benson had made up her mind that Toby was a dirty skel. She wouldn't change it without evidence, and Stabler couldn't give her any. He changed the subject. "The case?"

Benson sighed. "Fine. We'll discuss it later when you're off painkillers."

Stabler hoped not. It would be easier to talk about the damn Nazis.

********

Toby threw the food away and took a minute to get a drink of water. He felt like he needed oxygen. He was accustomed to people hating him when they found out the truth, but these were Stabler's friends and it hurt more than usual.

"Don't think of pulling some sort of con on Stabler."

Toby turned and reluctantly faced Fin again. "Everyone was worried. They asked me to stop in and give a report. I won't come again."

"Don't." Fin looked him up and down. "You can't ever wash off the stench of Oz."

"No shit." Toby brushed his hair back. He could see that he could talk honestly with this cop, so he would. "Now get the fuck out of my face."

"Oz made you tough, huh? Stabler know you're nothing but lying to him? Playing all meek and mild?" Fin took another step closer.

Toby ducked his head. He wasn't going to get angry. This was a cop. "I'm leaving. Rest on your victory, homeboy." He walked away fast before Fin cuffed him again. His wrists still ached. Fin followed him out to the taxi stand, but didn't say anything else. Toby caught the first cab and sank gratefully into the darkness of the back seat. Stabler knew exactly what Toby was, but Stabler's friends really didn't need to know that. Damn it! The hospital was off-limits now. Fin would be watching for him, and Benson would too. Shit.

********

Stabler waited until everyone was gone, the lights had been turned out, and the hospital was quiet. He fumbled for his cell phone, turned it on, and hit his home number.

"Leave a message at the sound of the tone."

"Toby, I know you're there. Pick up." Stabler waited and hoped that Toby had fallen asleep on the couch and hadn't moved out.

"I'm here." Toby yawned into the phone. "You okay?"

"I was more worried about you." Stabler shifted on the pillows to get more comfortable. It wasn't possible, but he kept trying.

"I'm good. Fin took one more shot at me on the way out. If I come back, there could be blood in the hallway." Toby paused. "Probably mine."

"Fin would hurt you." Stabler regretted this. It was his fault. He should have tried to ease Toby into his work life earlier. "You have to bring me my coat."

"I'll think of something." Toby laughed softly. "Want me to pack and get out?"

Stabler wondered at the laughter. "No. Who'll feed my cat?" They laughed together. "Toby, don't take it personally. It's the job."

"Fin is right. I can't wash Oz away." Toby sounded sad. "I took tomorrow off. Call me if you need anything."

"I'll call you." Stabler had to say something more. "You know how I feel."

"Tired and cranky and you want your own bed. No cats preferably."

Stabler smiled. That was all true. "Bye, Toby."

"Bye, El." Toby clicked off.

Stabler shut his cell phone slowly. He could only hope that Benson and Fin didn't cause trouble for Toby because there wasn't anything he could do stuck in this bed. Having Toby faint dead away at his feet had been one of the best moments of his life, but there wasn't any way to explain that. They wouldn't believe him, and they wouldn't understand. They'd think he'd gone crazy, and maybe he had. Maybe the job had pushed him too hard, and he'd lost it. He and Toby had talked about it before. Toby believed that it was just fate. Two guys that were meant to be together. No big deal. Stabler didn't think that. Something had made him want it, but damned if he knew what.

"Need anything?"

Stabler smiled at the pretty nurse. "No. Thanks."

"One more check and then you can rest." She unwrapped her stethoscope from around her neck. "Any numbness in your hand?"

"No." Stabler pursed his lips. He'd think about it more tomorrow, when they lowered his painkillers.

********

Toby cleaned house and went to the grocery store to waste time and take his mind off Stabler sitting in a hospital room contracting sepsis. He even cleaned the cat box and did the laundry. When he was on the way to the dry cleaner with Stabler's shirts, he realized that he was losing his mind. Stabler was going to be pissed. He hated it when Toby did more than his fair share around the house.

"Shit." Toby took the dry cleaning ticket and went out on the sidewalk. Going to the hospital was a bad idea. Very bad. Shit. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number.

"Benson."

Toby hung up. The old, clunky hospital phones didn't have caller I.D., so she'd never know it was him. If she was there, things were fine. Damn it. He had already done too much, said too much, and he might be moving out soon. Fucking Nazis always managed to screw him over, and this time they'd nearly killed Stabler. Toby caught a cab back to the house and went inside. He flopped down in Stabler's chair and sighed. His cell phone rang.

"You called?"

"Yeah. Sorry," Toby apologized. He'd never tell anyone how good it was to hear Stabler's voice. "I'm going stir crazy here today."

"Why didn't you work?"

Toby sighed into the phone and stayed quiet.

Stabler groaned softly. "Because you were planning on spending the day with me."

"Stupid, huh?" Toby laughed at himself. "Anything around here you need done?"

"No," Stabler growled into the phone. "I'm being released in the morning. I insisted. Benson is insisting that she's bringing me home."

Toby thought about that for a minute. He'd done too much just by existing. "I'll be gone. Okay?"

"I can't lie by omission forever. Come see me tonight. Bring my coat." Stabler hesitated. "Please."

Toby wasn't sure that was a good idea. He wasn't scared, but he didn't want to make things more difficult. "Fin may have a piece of my ass."

"You're tough. You can take him." Stabler coughed, and Toby knew it was to hide laughter.

"I'll come late." Toby smiled. He was going, and they could all kiss his ass. "Love ya."

Stabler was quiet a moment. "I'll see ya." And he clicked off. Toby checked his watch. He'd work until midnight and then go to the hospital. With any luck, Fin wouldn't kill him.

********

Stabler was tired by the time his wife sent the kids down to the cafeteria. "Thanks for bringing them."

"You must know we care. Are you really so stupid?" Kathy didn't smile all that much anymore.

"I guess so. It's awkward. I don't know how to do anything any longer." Stabler immediately regretted the blurted words, even if they were true.

Kathy sighed softly and glanced out the door. "It is. Let's pray there's never a next time, but next time you better call!"

"Yes, ma'am," Stabler said with all sincerity. He'd screwed up, but he'd done nothing but make mistakes with her for years.

"Are you going home tomorrow?" She gave him a tiny smile.

"Yes." Stabler shifted to find a comfortable position. "Give me a day to get settled before you drop them off. Okay?"

"Toby will be there?" Kathy's eyes narrowed.

Stabler nodded. He wasn't sure what emotion he heard in her voice.

"If he's not, I won't bring them." Kathy was firm on that point. "If he goes to work, you'll call me."

Stabler smiled at her. "You like Toby?"

"He watches my kids, and they're always fed and reasonably clean if he's there." Kathy crossed her arms. "So yes, I'm glad you have a buddy that's kid friendly."

"Toby loves them too," Stabler said softly. He knew Toby did, and he didn't quite know why. "He'll be there, or I'll call. I'll be overmatched."

"You sure as hell will. Even on a good day you are." Kathy laughed at him. "Get some rest. You looked tired."

"Thanks." Stabler pulled the blankets up a little. "Call me."

"I will." Kathy left quickly, and she didn't look back. The love that had been in her eyes for so many years was gone. If he'd have been paying attention, he would have noticed it sooner. Some detective he was. He shut his eyes. Toby would come see him later.

*********

Toby refused to slink inside the hospital, but he did take the back door and use the stairs. Yeah, he was a pussy, but he didn't want any trouble with the cops, not again. And Fin wouldn't fool around.

"Dragging in pretty late," Stabler drawled.

"I said late." Toby put Stabler's coat back in the little closet. "You got something to wear tomorrow?"

"Well."

Toby gave him a dirty look. "They cut your bloody clothes off. Are you going home naked?"

"I'm going home any way I can." Stabler grinned - it was fake. "Okay. I screwed up."

"I'll get you something, you idiot." Toby rolled his eyes. He should've thought of it, but he'd been too worried about Fin and Benson to think clearly. "I'm going to need extra money for taxis this month!"

"I'll toss you some." Stabler was glaring now. Toby thought it was pretty funny. He checked the hallway and went to kiss him. Stabler pushed him, grabbed him tight, and finally kissed him. Typical. "I'm still not used to this kissing stuff."

"I know, but I needed it. The house is huge and lonely, even the cat is freaked out." Toby pulled the chair close and sat down. He didn't like being handled rough, but he'd take it this time. "You need anything?"

"Shut up." Stabler dropped his hand over the side of the bed, and of course Toby took it. Toby didn't talk. He held Stabler's hand and let a keen sense of gratitude wash over him. Stabler squeezed. "Thanks."

Toby just nodded. He had no idea what Stabler was talking about, but it didn't matter. This was all still new to them, and being polite was part of the awkwardness. "I can be gone from the house."

"I know. It's just that I don't know how or what to tell her." Stabler didn't let go of him, and it was nice. "If she draws the right conclusions, I won't be able to lie."

"I will. I'll cover for you." Toby would too. He didn't give a shit what Benson thought about him, not now that he'd met her. "Let's take it one day at a time."

"Okay." Stabler smiled at him, and it was beautiful. "Kathy was here. Now she likes you. She said I couldn't have the kids unless you were at the house."

Toby knew his eyes widened. "I'm stunned. Did you curse at her?"

"Toby."

"Sorry." Toby blushed. He crossed the line there. "Did you pass out from shock? I might."

"I think it's a good thing. She knows. It doesn't bother her." Stabler tugged Toby's hand. "I have an itch that I can't reach. It's driving me nuts."

Toby laughed and got up. Stabler leaned up, with a little help, and Toby scratched Stabler's shoulder right above the cast. "She trusts you, not me."

"She trusts us both now." Stabler groaned. "Down a little. Damn that feels good."

Toby went lower. The skin was dry. "You need some lotion."

"You ain't doing that here." Stabler groaned. "Okay, rub now."

Toby rubbed. "I can see what my life is going to be like for the next six weeks."

"Should be only four." Stabler shot him a grin. "I'll give you a break on the rent."

"I'd hope so." Toby moved closer, sat on the edge of the bed, and did a more thorough job. Stabler's muscles were tight, and it was no trouble to touch him. None at all. He felt good. He felt great. Toby felt his jeans tighten up. He nearly kissed Stabler's neck. "Oh shit."

"That's probably enough." Stabler nudged back, but Toby didn't get completely out of the way. "Stop moaning."

"Sorry." Toby gave him a last rub, adjusted the pillows and blanket, and got away from him. "It's not my fault that I like you."

Stabler wiggled his shoulders. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."

Toby laughed and made sure his jeans were still zipped. "Did you have a shower today?"

"I did." Stabler sighed. "I'm going to need a lot of help at home."

"I know. I took two weeks off." Toby raised his hand. "Don't say a word. They didn't even blink, and when I get sick of you, I'll go in for a few hours."

Stabler sighed loudly. "I give it two days."

"Maybe three." Toby had to smile at him. "Have your brothers or sisters been to see you?"

"All of them." Stabler pointed at the flowers. "It was crazy. I wanted to pass out so they'd leave."

Toby thought it was nice, especially since his brother wouldn't cross the street for him, but who was he to say anything. "Angus called just to ask about you. He was worried you'd die and stick him with a bill."

Stabler chuckled. "He probably was. Did you talk to your kids?"

Toby wasn't sure he wanted to answer that. He shrugged and looked away. It wasn't worth talking about, not really.

"Sorry."

"It's all right." Toby didn't think it ever would be, but there was only so much he could do, and only so many times he could apologize for being a royal fuck up. "Dickie's getting tall."

"He has a ways to go." Stabler smiled. The love for his boy was easy to see. "Harry and Holly will come around."

Toby shook his head. "Holly is angry, and Harry is a lot like me, so I know what he's thinking. Trust me, it will never be okay. He might come to my funeral, but that's it."

Stabler gave out a soft grunt. "That better not be soon."

"Hey, you're the one bleeding everywhere." Toby smiled and paced over to the door. "Get some sleep. I'll be here."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." Toby kept his back turned so Stabler didn't see him blink a few tears away. The situation with Holly and Harry was awful, but that was normal, and normal sucked. Toby rubbed a hand through his hair. He couldn't ever make it right, and they would never forgive him, and he didn't blame them. A few lights clicked off, and he relaxed on his feet. Stabler was close by, and it might be enough to see him through the night.

********

Stabler woke up slow and easy. He tried to rub his eyes, failed, and a wave of pain crashed over him. "Damn!"

"Need more pain med?" Toby was very close. Stabler grabbed him and sat up. It hurt. Damn. It hurt. He tried to breathe deeply. His head spun around once, and he licked his dry lips. Toby pressed the water cup to Stabler's lips and he drank deeply. It helped clear his head.

"I'm okay."

"Right." Toby snorted. "The nurse told me they were cutting off the painkillers. Guess she did."

"Good." Stabler explored the pain and told himself it wasn't that bad. He'd slept through the nurse? He had been tired. "You can let go."

"You're shaking. Lay back down." Toby raised the end of the bed and moved the pillows. Stabler bit his lip and let it all happen. He would not yell and curse, not yet. It was the first day. Toby checked everything over. "I'm losing the feeling in my hand."

Stabler released him quickly. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"If you break it, they can fix it here." Toby smiled and gave him a gentle pat. "I know it hurts. Try to breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth, and relax your muscles."

Stabler heard the voice of experience talking. "You know?"

"I do." Toby gave that shrug that meant he didn't want to discuss it. "Do it."

Stabler filed it away for later and tried to breathe. He finally got the hang of it, and the pain smoothed out. It wasn't better, but it wasn't agony any longer. "Thanks."

Toby brushed a gentle kiss over Stabler's forehead. "Relax. There's no place you have to be."

Stabler tried to smile. He was afraid that he failed. "What time is it?"

"Very early. I'm going to go home and get you a few things. Stay here." Toby kissed him again.

"I'll wait." Stabler shut his eyes. He wasn't going anywhere for a long time. Desk duty, if he was lucky, but Cragen wasn't going to let him work the street. Toby shut the door quietly. He was a good man. Stabler swallowed hard. How had Toby gotten a broken arm? Or had he been shot? Or maybe both? Stabler bit the inside of his lip. He hated not knowing everything that had happened at Oz, but Toby wasn't ready to talk about it. What they had wasn't strong enough, not yet, and maybe not ever.

Stabler tried to relax again. He could call Oz and request the file, but that seemed like cheating, and it wouldn't be fair because Toby wouldn't tell it from his point of view. It would just be facts, and they could be harsh. Stabler took several deep breaths. He was going to have time to find out a few things. He could only hope that he didn't regret knowing the truth.

********

Toby was surprised when he heard the lock click over. He had a duffle bag ready, and he trotted down the stairs to see who was breaking into Stabler's house.

"What the hell are you doing here?" She was outraged.

Toby sat the bag down at her feet and looked her in the eye. "I'd guess the same thing as you."

"You have a key?" Her eyes snapped.

"Yes." Toby dug it out of his pocket and held it up. Dickie had given him a Spiderman key chain. "Do you really think they'll let him out today?"

"I hope not. He lost a lot of blood." Benson practically snarled at him, "I'll deliver these. You go to work or wherever."

Toby was surprised she hadn't told him to go to hell. He toyed with telling her the truth, but this was not the time, and he wasn't the man to do it. "I could go with you?"

"No." Benson shook her head firmly. "He needs his friends."

"Not a dirtbag skel with ulterior motives, like me." Toby backed up enough that she felt comfortable picking up the bag.

"At least you're honest about it. He doesn't keep any cash here." She glanced about as if she were doing an inventory and looking for missing items.

Toby had never been so insulted by a woman. "I'm his friend. Get over it."

"We'll see." Benson opened the door. "Does your supervisor at Victim's Services know exactly who you are?"

"Don't you mean what I am?" Toby shoved his hands in his pockets. He felt about one inch tall. She was good at hurting a man.

"I guess I do. Out!" She casually put her hand on her gun.

Toby sighed, grabbed his coat, and let her throw him out of Stabler's house. "Talk to Stabler, you stubborn-" He didn't say it. He was proud of himself. He bit it off. Stabler would kill him if he said it.

Benson locked the door, confiscated Toby's key, sniffed, and left him there on the sidewalk. Well. Shit. She was pissed now. He sat down on the step and rubbed his face.

"Meow?"

Toby looked over at his cat. "I agree. She's not nice, and all fuck is going to break loose when she finds out I live here."

The cat rubbed against him and purred. Toby considered moving out. He didn't have much. He could be gone quickly. Disappear. His kids wouldn't give a damn. His brother would probably throw a party, and his mother was dead. She'd never recovered from the death of Toby's father, which was something else that was completely his fault.

"Murp!"

"Yeah, who would feed you?" Toby stroked the big, grey tabby. "Tell you what - I'll just sit here with you until Stabler comes home and yells at me. After that, you and I can hit the road."

The cat rolled to his back and wiggled. He was good with that. Toby liked his cat. He should name him, but the cat wouldn't give a damn. His cell phone rang.

"Hello?" Toby answered it before glancing to see who it was.

"It's Angus, and we have a problem."

Toby wasn't surprised, and the problem would be him. It was always him. "What did I do now?"

"You're in a mood." Angus paused. "I got a call from a detective. I thought we should discuss it before things get out of control."

"Benson or Fin?" Toby made sure not to squeeze the cat.

"Benson. She was very suspicious, to say the least." Angus sounded confused. "Who is she?"

"Stabler's partner. She thinks I'm trying to run some sort of game on Stabler." Toby sighed and leaned against the railing.

"Tobias, I don't want your screwed-up life affecting the firm. Benson is obviously out to get you, not that I blame her."

Toby took his hand off the cat and rubbed his chest to make sure his heart hadn't fallen out on the sidewalk. His brother was never kind, not any longer, but it still hurt so very badly. "My apologies. Tell her that we don't associate with each other. I'm sure she'll back off."

"I did, and I hope so."

Angus hesitated, and Toby rushed out his next sentence. He had to know before Angus hung up on him.

"You would tell me if things were bad with my kids, right?"

The long moment of silence did nothing to reassure him. Finally, Angus said, "Both of them are coping with your release. School is going well. We watch them closely."

"For drugs and alcohol, right?" Toby hated his genes every day of his life.

"Yes. I have warned them. Harry knows the truth. I think it scared him."

"Good." Toby tickled the cat's tummy. The cat thumped him with his back legs. "I may have to move."

Angus was very quiet again.

"I don't expect you to offer me anything. You've made it extremely clear that I'm persona non grata." Toby spoke firmly. He would not beg, not again. "But I may leave the state."

"I respect that." Angus would. He probably prayed for it. Toby lowered his head and clutched his knee. It would be nice if someone cared enough to protest, but Chris was dead. Angus continued, "Don't ever call the house."

"I won't." Toby snapped it shut and stuffed it away before he threw it out into the street and the neighbors were appalled. There had been several moments since he'd gotten out that he'd wished fervently that he could go back. This was one of them. In Oz, no one gave a damn and it hadn't hurt. Out here, it hurt. Fuck. It did.

********

"You what?"

"I took his key." Benson handed it to him. "I don't know how he got one."

Stabler rubbed his face and sat down gingerly. He was dressed, had signed all the paperwork, and taken a Demerol. It was time to go home. "Shit."

"You ready?"

Stabler looked up at her. He had no idea where to begin. "Toby's my friend."

Benson opened the door. "We can discuss it later. I'm sure it seems that way, but you've been depressed since things went bad with Kathy."

Stabler got up with a grunt. He wasn't going to argue about his mental state, but it wasn't a fair assessment. The nurse put him in a wheelchair, and they went towards the front door. Benson had the sedan, and Stabler had no trouble getting in. He was ready to leave, even if it hurt, and even if the doctor had frowned. Home would be fine, and he could go to work occasionally and check his messages.

"Okay?"

"Yeah." Stabler tried to think. How could he explain it? "I need you to listen. I met Toby Beecher over at Victim's Services."

"I spoke to his supervisor."

Stabler could only gawk at her. "You got him fired?"

"No, but he's going to be in a different department now." Benson shrugged. "They're too short-handed to fire him. Someone like him has no business dealing with clients."

"I don't believe it." Stabler could. They'd done it before, to other skels, but this was different. "Toby worked hard. He didn't deserve that."

"That little girl didn't deserve to be run over." Benson shot him a quick look. "Do we agree on that point?"

Stabler had a feeling that he could talk until he ran out of air, and she wouldn't change her mind. He leaned his head back and tried to figure out something to say. Toby was going to be upset. He tried to help people. All of this had happened because some Nazi kid had put a bullet in him. Damn.

"I can have him picked up, if he pesters you. I'm sure he's using." Benson would do it.

"You won't do that. Do you understand?" Stabler glared and spoke slowly. "Do not."

"Okay, okay. I get it. He's convinced you that he's reformed." Benson smiled at him. "Just relax. Forget about him. I'll hire someone to come in and cook for you."

Stabler shook his head. "No."

"I already made a few calls." She was smiling big now. "You have to let your partner help out."

Stabler's cell phone rang, and he pulled it out of his pocket. It was Angus Beecher.

"Stabler."

"Mr. Stabler, this is Angus Beecher. Can we talk?"

"Of course." Stabler kept his eye on Benson's reaction. "Toby told me that you'd called."

Benson stiffened. Angus said, "I was concerned, and I'm very glad to hear that you're going to be fine. I'll have the paperwork sent around tomorrow, if that's adequate."

"It is. Thank you. It may take me a day or two to sign it." Stabler didn't want to sign it at all, but he would, for Kathy. She wanted it.

"No rush. Mrs. Stabler's lawyer is a friend of mine." Angus hesitated far too long. "Are you evicting Toby?"

Stabler thought he'd heard that wrong. He was on painkillers. "Excuse me?"

"Are you evicting my brother? I completely understand if you are. He's an ex-con. Your partner has spoken to me about Toby's erratic behavior." Angus gave a small sigh, which was probably faked. "Toby can't be trusted, and he's not welcome in my house."

Stabler stared at his damn partner. He finally managed to say, "No, I'm not. I'll be in touch. Thank you." He closed it gently. Toby had no one, not even his brother. They all thought he was shit. Were they right? Stabler waited for his partner to speak up.

"I spoke to Angus Beecher also."

"I thought so. He's legit, and he's good." Stabler spoke softly. For months, he'd been angry about everything, then he'd met Toby, and things had gotten better. Toby had understood that rage. Stabler felt it prickle at his neck. He was about ready to be seriously pissed off.

"I agree. It's a shame he's saddled with a drunken addict for a brother." Benson was so sure of herself. "Angus assured me that his brother has nothing to do with the firm, and I believe him. Where does Tobias live?"

"So you can have him evicted?" Stabler realized he was still clutching the Spiderman key chain. Dickie had given it to Toby, and Stabler remembered clearly the look of astonishment on Toby's face. Toby expected no kindness. He lived with the constant knowledge that he could try and try, but no one would give a damn. Oh yes, they shared something, and that was part of it.

"I might give it a try." She grinned.

Stabler pressed his lips firmly together so he didn't yell or curse. He didn't know how to deal with this. His partner had wrecked Toby's life and wasn't stopping. There was also no telling what Fin was doing. Stabler stared out the window, ignoring the scenery. He ruined everything he touched, and Toby could be added to that list. Toby would run away and never come back. He would vanish, and Stabler had nothing to offer him to keep him close. Nothing.

"What's wrong?"

Stabler was surprised she would notice. "I'm not happy that you took it upon yourself to destroy Toby's life. Toby was trying to do some good, and you know what his mistake was? His mistake was that he likes me. His mistake was coming to see me at the hospital because he cared that I'd been shot!"

Benson sucked a deep breath. "That's not fair."

"It's accurate," Stabler snapped. "Poor fucker had me for a friend. Damn it!" He saw her shock. He never said 'fuck,' but it was appropriate today. Toby had been bent over again, and this time it was on him. Stabler couldn't look at her any longer. Right now, Toby was wishing he could pack, but he didn't have a key to get in his own place.

Benson pulled into the driveway. "I told him to get lost! That's it. I'm calling a patrol car."

Stabler reached and wrapped his hand around her forearm. He was very careful not to hurt her. "Toby lives with me." And he turned her loose and got out of the car. Toby wouldn't look at him. Stabler went directly to him. "Here's your key."

"Keep it." Toby pushed it away. "I'll pack and go."

"Good." Benson was right there between them. "I don't know how you managed to weasel your way into my partner's life, but it stops today."

Toby nodded. "I'll go. Just let me get my stuff."

Stabler caught a harsh breath. This situation was completely out of control. Benson was not throwing Toby out. "Benson, leave."

"What?" she yelled.

"Leave. Goodbye. Thank you for dropping me off. I'll call you later." Stabler leaned over, patted his cat on the head, and went up the stairs. "Beecher, get your ass in here."

Toby flinched. Stabler unlocked the door, waited for Toby, and shut it behind him. The sedan squealed away. She was furious. She could get over it. He didn't always agree with how she ran her life.

"Toby, I need to lie down." Stabler let his coat slide off, and he tossed Toby's key on the coffee table. He couldn't face a serious conversation right now. "And I might puke."

"It's the Demerol." Toby scooped up the meds that had rolled out of Stabler's coat pocket. He tucked his shoulder under Stabler's good arm. "Let's go upstairs."

Stabler sagged. He hated it, but he was worn out, and just from sitting in a car - well, and yelling at his partner. "Sorry I'm such a pansy."

"You're the toughest guy I know." Toby helped him up the stairs and to the bed. "You mind if I give you a hand?"

Stabler heard so much ache in those simple words. "Please. I know I don't deserve it, but I need it."

Toby nodded. "You deserve everything."

Stabler didn't answer. He didn't believe that for a minute. When he was down and comfortable, he said, "Don't leave."

Toby tucked the blanket closer. "Get some rest. Cat will keep you company." He slipped out the door, and Stabler couldn't think of anything to shout after him. The cat curled up close and fell asleep. Stabler did the same.

********

Toby went downstairs and out to the garage. He went up the wooden steps and surveyed his tiny kingdom. He had to get organized and get out of here, but it wasn't as easy as it sounded. Stabler was going to need help. Had Benson hired someone? If she had, Toby could leave immediately. He sighed, sat down on his bed, and rubbed his face. It was his fault. He should never have moved here.

The doorbell rang. Toby pushed his hair away from his face and went downstairs. Instead of going back inside, he raised the garage door and stepped around the bushes. "Can I help you?"

The guy turned from the front door. "Is Elliot home?"

"Yeah." Toby looked him over. This was a cop, no doubt. Sure, he was older, but he still had the look about him. "Go on in."

"And you are?"

Toby was surprised that Benson hadn't posted his picture at the precinct. "Toby Beecher. I live above Stabler's garage."

"Don Cragen." Cragen was giving him a hard look. "The garage?"

"I needed a room. Stabler needed some money. It works." Toby told the bare bones truth and hoped it was enough. "I think the door is open."

"Thanks." Cragen finally went inside. Toby was not going to go find out what was said or not said. It didn't matter. He went back to his room. It wasn't much, but it was clean, and it was a hell of a lot more than he'd had for the last twelve years. He spent most of his time at work anyway.

"Beecher?" Cragen, in the garage.

Toby went down again. "Yes?"

"I don't want to disturb him. Will you tell him to call me when he wakes up?"

Toby shrugged. "If I'm here, sure."

Cragen frowned at him. "Tell him."

"What was your name?" Toby played stupid. It worked for him. "John?"

"Don Cragen." Cragen pulled his badge. "Captain Cragen."

"Another cop." Toby gave him a grin. "I'll make sure he gets the message."

"Thanks." Cragen pulled his trench coat that much tighter and left. Toby stared after him. Cragen seemed like a decent guy, but once he talked to Benson all bets were off. Toby glanced over his head. He had to get out of here. But. He sighed. Well, while Stabler was sleeping, Toby would run to work, and then he could make up his mind.

********

Stabler woke up when the pain overwhelmed his need for sleep. He groaned softly, nudged the cat off his body, and struggled to get his back off the bed. It made his head twirl around, but he was going to get up.

"Damn it," Stabler cursed softly. When he was sitting and his head wasn't pounding, he took a deep breath and wondered if Toby had left. Probably and Stabler didn't blame him. Whatever they had wasn't enough to forget all the harassment.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." Stabler gingerly put his back to the headboard. "I thought you'd left."

"I went to work." Toby shrugged. "A cop by the name of Don Cragen was here. He wants you to call."

Stabler took another deep breath. "Was he pissed?"

"Didn't seem that way." Toby sat on the edge of the bed. "Thirsty?"

"Yeah, but-" Stabler stopped when he saw that Toby was already out the door. He didn't want to be waited on hand and foot like an invalid. Toby came back with a glass of water. Stabler took it and stared. "Water?"

"It's the best thing after surgery. Whether you know it or not, your body is slightly dehydrated. Two liters a day is recommended." Toby smiled. "When you want dinner, I'll take care of it."

"I'm not hungry, not yet." Stabler drank some water. He did feel dry. The cat moved to his lap and curled up. "Your cat is exhausted."

"Hard day around here." Toby stood up. "Whatever you need, just ask. You can have another pain pill in an hour."

"Toby." Stabler took another drink to give him courage. Water didn't work as well as beer. "I'm sorry."

"Hey. You warned me. I was an idiot. It's all on me." Toby lifted his hands. "Not everyone is as willing to listen as you are."

Stabler nearly burst out laughing. He was not known as a kind and sympathetic guy. "You give me too much credit. I'm an asshole too."

"Yeah, I'm sure you are." Toby's eyes were sad. "Yell if you need me." And he was gone, leaving the door wide open. Stabler stroked his hand down the cat's soft fur and drank his water. He had warned him, but he still hadn't expected Benson to pull out all the stops. His cell phone was on the nightstand, and he reluctantly opened it. Time to play nice with Benson and find out what Cragen wanted. Shit.

********

Toby flipped through his shit in the small box again. Was there anything that he wanted to keep? In five months, he'd collected a few things, but it was all crap. He did smile when he pulled out the picture of Stabler that he'd clipped from the newspaper. Sure, it was stupid, but he'd needed something to get him through the day. The picture had helped.

"You quit?" Stabler leaned against the doorjamb.

Toby wished Stabler had stayed upstairs. "In my new capacity as mail boy, I won't have a desk, but no, I didn't quit."

"Not yet."

Toby shrugged. He hadn't made up his mind. "My supervisor apologized. It's wasn't his fault."

Stabler gave him that look.

Toby laughed. "Yes, Karl's a wiener, but he did feel bad about it. Some. Maybe." He put the picture back, dropped the box by the trash, and didn't worry about it. "It doesn't matter."

"It does to me," Stabler said quietly.

Toby couldn't think of a way to answer that, so he changed the subject. "More water?"

 Stabler went to the fridge and refilled his water. "I'm going to pissing all the time!"

Toby thought that was probably true. "I also made some tea. When's the nurse showing up?"

"I don't know." Stabler was lying. Toby could see it clearly. Stabler sat down at the kitchen table very carefully. "I know you packed."

"I did." Toby wouldn't deny it. He had, and he'd leave as soon as he could do it without feeling guilty. More guilty. "Let's face it. I'm just going to make your life harder from now on, and you don't need that shit. I'll disappear. Your cop friends will breathe a sigh of relief. The world will go on spinning."

"What about what I want?" Stabler kept his eyes on the water. "Don't I get a say?"

"Speak up now or you'll be talking to an empty room." Toby didn't mean to sound flippant, but he was being shoved out the door. Stabler opened his mouth, and the doorbell rang. Toby shook his head. He wasn't facing any more cops today. "I'm not getting that."

Stabler gave a grunt, and Toby went out the garage door, around the car, and up to his room. He was marginally safe here, and he'd be damned if he'd run away in the dark. When the nurse showed up, he'd leave, not before.

********

Stabler answered the door. He moved slowly and carefully. His legs were still upset at him for walking around. "Come on in. I gotta sit down."

Benson and Fin came through the door. Stabler went back to the kitchen, picked up the box, and sat down by his water again. He idly pulled out the knick knacks of Toby's life.

"Where's he at?"

"Hi Fin. I'm feeling better. Thanks." Stabler raised his eyebrows. Fin sat down and shrugged. He wouldn't apologize.

Benson looked around. "The nurse will be here tomorrow. Fin and I will do shifts until she gets here."

"I'd rather you didn't. I mean, we're close, but there are limits." Stabler wanted her to back off. He glanced at Toby's business cards and then tossed them back in the box. "How's Munch?"

"He'll get out in two more days." Fin nodded. "He's crankier than you are."

"He needs more painkillers." Stabler grinned, drank some water, and pulled some miscellaneous papers out of the box. The newspaper photo of him was on top. He had been so embarrassed about that picture. Toby had cut it out and kept it. It said a lot, but whether he would admit it was another thing.

"So where is Tobias?" Benson was still mad. It was obvious.

"Probably over the garage." Stabler was careful not to shrug. "It's where he lives, well, for now. I guess Operation Screw Toby is complete. He lost his job, his room, and any chance of reconciling with his family. Good work, guys."

Fin had a funny look on his face. "He's a skel."

Stabler put the papers back in the box. He wasn't going to argue. They didn't get it. They couldn't.

Benson sat down next to him. "Elliot, he's been a heroin addict since Oz and a drunk before that. You know the statistics on recovery rates. He can go do it elsewhere."

Stabler was now certain that she'd pulled Toby's file. He ground his teeth. Toby was clean, but they'd never believe it.

Fin gave a short nod. "Oz can break a man."

Stabler didn't answer because he honestly had no idea what to say. Statistics didn't tell them about Toby. Stabler drank the last of his water. "I talked to Cragen. He's going to let me be at a desk in a week."

"That's kinda soon." Benson frowned. "Did you have to pay him off?"

"Pretty much." Stabler pushed the box at Benson. "Put that by the trash, will ya?"

Benson did it. "What's in there?"

"The stuff from Toby's desk." Stabler smiled at her. "You haven't lost your touch."

Benson's back stiffened. "We've done it any number of times!"

"To guys that had actually done something wrong, yes. What did Toby do?" Stabler wasn't ready to turn this loose. "Does it piss you off that he likes me?"

"Elliot!" Benson's mouth dropped open. "You don't need his mess in your life right now. He's nobody."

"But my friend. Poor guy." Stabler barked a laugh. "Get out. Both of you. I'm going to be fine."

Benson furrowed her brow. "I'll go. I can tell you're still not thinking clearly." And she strode out the door.

Fin hadn't moved. "I ain't gonna preach it, but he was a drug addict," he said in his quiet way that carried more weight than yelling.

"You would be too if you lived in a six by nine with a Nazi that ass raped you every night while the CO's laughed their heads off." Stabler regretted those words instantly. It wasn't any of Fin's business. Fin's eyes slid away. Stabler adjusted his sling and waited for a reply.

"Maybe so." Fin tapped his fingers on the table. "If he's been selling you on the poor me routine, he's lying."

"He hasn't. He figures he deserved it for killing that girl." Stabler sighed. He was tired again. "Things aren't always cut and dried. Hasn't working at SVU taught us that?"

Fin got up. "Let me help you upstairs."

"No. Go get Toby. He mentioned something about food." Stabler felt his stomach growl. He had to eat and then he'd sleep again. "Either that, or get the hell out, and I mean it."

"I can see you do." Fin left him at the table. Stabler rubbed his face. This had taught him something valuable. He wasn't going to work at getting skels fired from their jobs anymore. It wasn't right to wreck a man's life based on suspicions. Who was he, after all? Nothing but another cop. Nothing.

********

Toby shut the book fast and put his back to the wall. He didn't want to fight. He never did, but he would.

"Stabler wants to talk to you." Fin put his hands in his pockets. "I don't understand how you and him became friends, but I ain't gonna kill ya for it."

"Well, that's one of you." Toby relaxed a little. He took one step. "Is Benson here?"

"She left." Fin went towards the stairs, and Toby followed him back to the kitchen. Toby saw with one glance that he was going to have to do some damage control or tonight was going to get nasty. He got Stabler another glass of water, a pain pill, and didn't waste time getting food on the table. Dinner was simple, but Stabler's stomach couldn't handle much. Toby made sure to include Fin.

"Toby, sit and eat," Stabler growled.

Toby did, but he didn't talk. What could he say, after all? Fin and Stabler chatted about work and Cragen. Toby didn't even look up until Fin spoke to him directly.

"Sorry about that scene in the hospital, Toby," Fin said.

"Bullshit," Toby replied. He dunked his biscuit and took a bite.

Stabler laughed softly. "Toby wanted to be a diplomat, but his father sent him to law school."

Toby checked Stabler's bowl. It was still half-full. "Eat, ya pussy bitch."

Fin sucked in a deep breath. Stabler grinned. "Kiss my Irish cop ass."

Toby grinned back at him. Fin slowly said, "You two like each other?"

"Tons."

"Bunches."

Fin wiped his mouth and shook his head. "When's the nurse show up?"

Toby was curious about that as well. He watched Stabler carefully. Stabler shot him a look and said, "In the morning. I'm sending her packing. I have enough trouble."

"Poor woman probably needs the money." Toby knew he should leave. He should. This situation was already bad, and it could get worse. Hell, Benson could find a way to send him back to prison.

"She can find someone else's ass to wipe." Stabler glared at him. "You can go to work."

"Such as it is." Toby pushed his temper away. He was going to look the fool, pushing a mail cart. "I hope you thanked Benson for me, Fin."

"I ain't saying nothing." Fin seemed to be finished eating.

Stabler cradled his arm, and Toby knew what that meant. It was time to get him in bed. Toby pointed at Fin. "Get him upstairs. Use your gun, if you have to."

"I want a beer."

"No. You're on Demerol." Toby got up from the table. "It's one or the other."

Stabler glared at him. "I'm too tired to argue now, but I will tomorrow." He started for his bedroom.

"You got balls," Fin said over his shoulder to Toby.

"Nope. Oz cuts them off." Toby took his time cleaning the table and loading the dishwasher. He wiped the cabinets and got himself a Coke to drink. A beer would be nice, but even one was a bad idea.

"You clean now?"

Toby ignored that. "Is he asleep?"

"Pretty much. Some big ass cat was weighing him down." Fin stepped right into Toby's space. Toby pulled his head back, but he wasn't stepping back. Fin tilted his head. "Are you clean?"

"Yes." Toby leaned an inch closer. "You?"

Fin glared right back at him. "So you cook for him?"

"I'm Stabler's bitch," Toby drawled. This was ending right now, and he suddenly smiled. "Want your dick sucked?"

Fin quit. He couldn't take the heat. "I'm gone. Someone will stop in tomorrow."

"I won't be here." Toby kept his smile and waved. Fin shut the door behind him, and Toby leaned against the cabinet. That was the plan. Leave tomorrow. Maybe Canada. He sure as hell wasn't going to Mexico. He'd be high and taking it up the ass before the week was out. Canada would be nice and dull. Maybe California would be better. His foot nudged the box by the trash, and he retrieved the picture of Stabler. Before he could change his mind, he took it to his room.

********

Stabler woke up in the middle of the night. It was dark, completely. He stared at the ceiling and wished there was someone breathing next to him. Well, someone he loved. He managed to get out of bed and take a long piss - too much damn water. And Toby would be pouring more of it down him tomorrow, unless he left. Damn it. Stabler walked through the upstairs until he reached the wall opposite the little room above the garage. He stared at it for a long moment. He was going to have a door put in. Dickie wouldn't mind. He wasn't here all that much.

"Beecher!" Stabler knew exactly how to project his voice through the wall. He heard a thump, and he laughed.

"What?" Toby yelled.

Stabler went back to bed. It was enough to get Toby moving. Sure enough, about five minutes later, Toby wandered in the bedroom. "What?"

Stabler was glad the lights were out. It would make these words easier. "I've been hurt. I could use some comfort."

"And you think I'll volunteer?"

"Yes." Stabler reached for him. Toby hesitated and then came to him. Stabler tucked him close and even rested his head on Toby's. "Thanks."

"Geez," Toby breathed. He fumbled to get the covers over them. When they were settled, Stabler gave him a gentle kiss. Toby mumbled, "Damn you."

Stabler fell back asleep.

********

Toby sighed and gently kissed Stabler's chest. He was going to miss this. "Do you need a pain pill?"

"I'd rather have a beer." Stabler used his good hand to smack the back of Toby's head.

"It's kinda early for beer, but I'll get you one." Toby stretched, rubbed the back of his head, and sat up. He'd slept through the night. It was another small victory. It had been three weeks. Maybe he was over it, and he could sleep with Stabler again some night. Wait. "I'm moving out today."

Stabler shook his head. "I don't want that. If you up and vanish, I swear I'm going to hunt you down."

Toby rolled his eyes and got out of bed. He needed to piss. "You couldn't find your ass. You know I should leave. It's the right thing."

"If you leave, you'll have nothing." Stabler sat on the edge of the bed and stared at him with those damn, beautiful eyes.

"Nothing is still more than I had before." Toby shivered a little. He needed clothes, but he'd come over here unprepared. "Face it. We're done. There isn't any room for me in your cop life."

Stabler rubbed his face and stood. "I gotta piss."

Toby got out of the way. He made sure that Stabler didn't fall down though. "I'll get you a pain pill."

"I'd appreciate it, but first, I want to know something." Stabler reached and pulled him close. Toby quivered, controlled his instant flinch, and made sure not to bump the cast. He didn't want to talk any longer. Stabler spoke quietly. "Who broke your arm?"

Toby shut his eyes. If he said it fast, it would be over. "Early in my stellar career at Oz, my arms and legs were broken. It took three months before I could walk again."

Stabler made a soft noise. "Why?"

"They were teaching me my place. I'm a slow learner." Toby eased away. He'd said enough. "I have to find clothes and you a pain pill."

Stabler let him go. Toby went quickly. The garage was cold, and he went up the stairs fast. He didn't bother with the space heater. Dressed, he went to get Stabler his meds and cook some breakfast. If he didn't move out, it was going to be a long day.

*********

Stabler didn't want to Toby to leave, but he didn't seem to be listening. Where would he go? He could find a life somewhere else. He had skills, and he didn't look like an ex-con, but Stabler didn't want that.

Toby came in the room with a pill and a glass of water. Jeans and a sweatshirt made up his outfit today; usually he wore Dockers and a Polo shirt. Stabler took the med, but he was skipping the next one in favor of a beer.

"Shirts are going to be a problem." Toby went to Stabler's closet. "You can't run around in a hospital gown."

"How about nothing?" Stabler smiled at him.

"You'll get cold." Toby didn't look or smile back at him. "How about a wife-beater?"

"Bottom drawer." Stabler thought it was a good idea. He wore them a lot in the summer anyway.

"My, my, you have quite a selection." Toby was on his knees, sorting through them. "I guess you don't wear them for company."

"Not usually." Stabler grit his teeth and let Toby help him get dressed, even clean underwear was the order of the day. Toby just did it. He didn't linger, caress, or make wise ass remarks. Stabler wondered why. "Tomorrow, I'll need a shower."

"I'm sure your nurse will help you." Toby knelt and helped him with his socks. "Okay. You're ready to face the day. Want to sleep on the sofa?"

Stabler laughed softly. "Just dressing is work. Shit, I'm pathetic."

The doorbell rang before Toby could reply. Stabler headed downstairs. Toby went down behind him. "I'll fix you some breakfast."

"Thanks." Stabler pulled open the door and groaned. "Good morning, Benson."

"This is Maria Sanchez, your nurse." Benson smiled.

Stabler barred the door. He wasn't backing down on this. "No. I'm fine. Look. I'm up and dressed. Thank you, Maria. I'll pay you for today."

Maria looked him up and down. "Keep it dry."

"I promise." Stabler smiled. "Thanks."

Maria handed him her card. "Call me if you fall on your ass and can't get up."

Stabler took it and laughed. He might have actually liked her. She left quickly, even in the face of Benson's anger. Benson stepped inside. "You need help!"

"Toby is around." Stabler shrugged. He moved to the sofa and got comfortable. He'd done nothing but sleep, and he was tired. Lord, he was a wimp.

Benson didn't sit. She paced, finally throwing up her hands. "Fine. I'll go cook."

"Go to work. Cragen will need help." Stabler wasn't going to throw her out bodily, but there was some small part of him that wanted to for all the grief she'd given Toby. "Please. Go to work."

She marched off towards the kitchen. Stabler rubbed his eyes and prayed for patience. He did care for her. She came right back to him. "Fine. I'll go to work."

"Thank you." Stabler smiled. "I'll give you a call if I need anything, and we'll get pizza once this week."

She pointed. "You're making a mistake." Toby was at the other end of her finger.

"Shit, El. You'd think I lived in the house!" Toby laughed and went away.

Benson stared down at Stabler. "Over the garage is still in the house."

Stabler was finished discussing it. She and Toby were going to butt heads. He should have guessed the fact that Toby was an alcoholic would make her crazy. Damn. He kept his smile on his face and said, "Give him a break, and tell the guys hello."

"I'll call you later." Benson left. Finally. Stabler had a feeling that she wasn't giving up. For some reason, she was taking this very personally, and he knew it wasn't his good looks. She had issues, and he was too tired to deal with them today.

"Hey, come eat."

"Okay." Stabler adjusted his sling and went to sit down at the table. "I threw the nurse out."

"I heard." Toby gave him a look and set a plate down in front of him. "I should leave anyway."

"I have her business card." Stabler slapped it down. "I ain't gonna beg. Stay or go, but it's all on you, not me."

"I'll think about it." Toby sat down with a thump. "Benson hates my guts, and women usually like me."

"It's those blue eyes and long eyelashes." Stabler batted his eyes at him, picked up his fork, and started eating.

Toby laughed. "Fuck you. Well, I guess it doesn't matter. In another month when I can't pay the rent, you'll throw me out."

"How stupid do you think I am? I know that job pays shit. You don't rely on the money." Stabler knew it. He didn't have to look at bank records or statements.

"Well, gee, I guess I'll skip the pity party." Toby drank his coffee. He wasn't denying it. Stabler quit talking. He ate as much as he could and enjoyed his coffee. By the end of breakfast, he was ready for a nap. Toby smiled. "Bed?"

"Sofa." Stabler stood. His knees shook. "I really hate this."

Toby was there. "I know. Hey, do you get hazard pay or anything?"

Stabler reached, yanked him close, and leaned against him. "Walk towards the sofa."

Toby walked, got him settled, and put a blanket over him. "Elliot, I swear."

"Too much of the time." Stabler shut his eyes and rested. Toby would be close, and right now, it was enough.

********

Toby thought he should probably go work a few hours, but he hated to leave Stabler alone. What if he couldn't hold his dick or something? Toby cleaned the kitchen again and hoped they ordered out for dinner. He didn't mind doing some cooking, but three times a day was going to get old fast. He might have to move out to get some rest. Fuck it. He was going to stay until Stabler booted him to the curb. After all, what else did he have besides Stabler's gruff affection? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Toby went up to his room and unpacked. He sat down on his bed and looked through the pictures again. Holly, Harry, Gary, his parents, Grandma, Sister Pete, Angus, and one of Chris. Just one, but it was enough. Toby stowed them away and went downstairs. Finding things to do while Stabler slept wasn't easy, and finally Toby curled up in a chair with his book. The morning turned into lunch, and the doorbell ringing woke them both up. Toby got it.

"Delivery for Elliot Stabler. Sign here."

Toby signed and took it. It was from his old law firm. "It's for you."

Stabler groaned. He looked groggy. Toby got him a big glass of water and put the package in his lap. It had to be Stabler's divorce, but he did nothing more than put it on the coffee table.

Two seconds later, the doorbell rang again. Toby glared at the door. "I'm going to work where it's quiet." But he got it.

"Delivery."

Toby took it and tossed it down by the first one. "You're a popular guy."

Stabler rubbed his face. "I expected the first one." He grabbed the second one and tore it open. Toby groaned. He recognized that by the color. Stabler read the note aloud. "Check out your roommate. Olivia."

"Okay. That's my cue to go pick up your dry cleaning. Enjoy your reading." Toby got up and checked his wallet. When he came back, he could pack again. Shit.

********

Stabler sighed and put it down. "I suppose none of it is good."

"I did sing in the choir." Toby gave him a funny smile. "Just read it. Then, we can discuss the bullet points, and then, I can move out."

Stabler drank the rest of his water. "You did my shirts?"

"I was bored. I'll go get them. I promise you it won't happen again." Toby was out the door before Stabler could say another word. The cat came in as Toby went out. Stabler oofed when his lap was suddenly full.

"You're fat." The cat purred and made happy feet. Stabler winced and pushed him to a safe distance. He wasn't going to read it, but he could skim it. After a few minutes, he swallowed hard and put it down. Prison was never pretty, and Oz was the worst New York had to offer. The cat nudged him, and Stabler gave him a pat. "I should read it."

The cat curled up and dropped right to sleep. Stabler opened the file again. After a while, he just went numb. If he'd been reading about a stranger, it would have been easy, but this was Toby. One thing was very interesting, and he studied it closely. Toby had had regular visits from someone in his family up until he'd broken his parole. After that, nothing. No one.

Toby had knifed Schillinger, Keller had killed himself, and then Em City had been shut down because of biohazards, but no visitors after that either. It was clear to see that by breaking his parole, Toby had alienated his family. They'd written him off. Why? Lots of skels go back into the system, but of course, Toby was from a wealthy family of lawyers. Maybe they'd expected more from a Harvard man.

A hand suddenly held out water, and he took it. Putting the file aside, he was nauseous from it; he took a long drink. "Thanks."

"Well, if you'll still talk to me, it's something." Toby sat down and pulled the cat into his lap.

Stabler took another drink. "I'm glad you knifed Schillinger."

"I only wish I'd have gotten to enjoy it." Toby sighed. "How could I know that Chris had switched the prop for a real shank?"

"You couldn't." Stabler hesitated. There were only two things he wanted to discuss. "I'm sorry about your son. I didn't know."

Toby lowered his head. "Thank you. It was, perhaps, the worst fuck-up of my life. I thought that I could make things right with Schillinger. My family paid dearly for it."

Stabler could see the grief on Toby's face. There really weren't any words that either of them could say. Stabler had seen the horror in his job, and he knew Toby's pain, but he hadn't been through it himself, thank God. "Nothing can undo it."

"You're so right." Toby rubbed his face. "I'll always miss him, and I'll always blame myself. I killed a child, and mine was killed. The evil that we do comes back to us."

Stabler couldn't think of anything else to say. Toby had had years to punish himself. It was best to move on to the other thing he was curious about.

"Why did you break your parole?"

"Chris asked me to." Toby nodded. "He told me his ex-wife had cancer and needed these drugs. I picked them up, and the cops picked me up."

"Keller sold you out."

"Yes." Toby brushed his hair back. "He couldn't live without me, or so he said."

"And your family?" Stabler saw the stricken look come over Toby's face. "They never forgave you."

"I'd betrayed my surviving children for some prison lover. No, they never forgave it, and they never will. I don't blame them, not really." Toby looked up and their eyes met. "After that, the reading is pretty dull. I got sent to Rikers, back to Oz, and did the rest of my time."

"What happened to Robson?" Stabler had winced when he read about that guy.

"He died of AIDS. He refused to take his meds." Toby's eyes were sad. "They're all dead except for Ryan O'Reily, nothing can kill him."

"I didn't see his name mentioned." Stabler didn't remember it. "Who was he?"

"Leader of the Irish and the lord of the dance." Toby laughed, but it wasn't funny. "I could tell you a hundred stories about him."

"You liked him?" Stabler thought he heard respect, maybe a trace of admiration.

"O'Reily had nothing and nobody, but he survived. He was my first supplier." Toby shrugged. "Hey, can I order pizza?"

"How about Chinese?" Stabler didn't want to invite Benson over tonight, and he took the change of topic gratefully. They'd said enough for one night. He'd thought they'd find time to talk while he was home hurt, and getting it all dropped into his lap was a bit much. The one thing he did know was that his opinion of Toby hadn't changed. Toby was doing his best, which was pretty damn good, and it was a shame that no one seemed to see it.

"Sounds good, and then I'll pack." Toby picked up the file and flipped through it. "I'll take the blood on my soul to my grave, but beyond that, Benson should have waited until you were healthy."

"I'm inclined to agree with you. It's a lot to read." Stabler finished his water. He needed another pain pill soon. Forget the beer; he needed medication. "I need to go for a walk. Want to come?"

"Are you sure?"

"Doctor's orders." Stabler let Toby help him up. They put on their coats, and Toby locked the door behind them. Stabler went left out of the driveway and just walked, not too fast. He wondered if Benson had read the entire file, and what she'd taken away from it. Toby didn't talk. He just walked along. Stabler slowed down after a block or two, and then turned around. "I think Angus is under the impression that you're moving out."

"I told him that I might have to." Toby looked at him. "I'm not a good man, Elliot. You know the truth now."

"Who is?" Stabler headed for home, more food, and possibly another nap. He wasn't all that worried about the things Toby had done. Toby had paid for it, a few times in advance, and he regretted it. That made him more of a man than most. Stabler hesitated at his steps and decided to sit in the sun for a second. "Sit with me."

Toby sat down on the step above him. "I should punch Benson in the face."

"I'm almost sure she'd arrest you. Toby, it doesn't change anything. You'd told me about Keller and Schillinger. I never expected you to recite all the years, list each sin, and whether or not you did penance!"

"I'm not Catholic, but I see your point." Toby leaned back on the other step. "Getting high would make it all slide away."

Stabler didn't like hearing that. Toby had so damn little. It was a miracle that he'd stayed clean as long as he had. Stabler sighed. "Shut up with that shit."

"Let's go inside, and I'll make you a sandwich. Then you can watch Dr. Phil. I like it when he says, 'That dog won't hunt!'" Toby grinned. Stabler pointed at the car pulling into his driveway. Toby looked. "Forget it. I'm gone." And he was. He disappeared into the garage like his cat. Stabler eased up to his feet and waited.

"Was that Beecher I saw running off?" Cragen pointed at the garage.

"Yep. He's not overly fond of cops." Stabler opened the door. "Come on in."

"Thanks. We need to talk about a number of things." Cragen didn't smile.

Stabler nearly groaned. He had hoped this could wait. "Hopefully, not anything that's going to make my arm hurt any worse than it does."

Cragen pulled off his coat. "You let me know."

*********

Toby waited until Cragen was inside, and then he started walking. It wasn't long before he got a cab. Since they hadn't expected him to come to work, he just found some mail to sort and took his time doing it. This job sucked, and it reminded him far too much of Oz. Down in the mail room, no windows, nothing but schmucks and mail. The other mailroom boys were college age, and for them, this was a good job.

"Are you down here, Toby?"

"Over here." Toby kept on working.

"I heard you were in the building.”  Karl put his hands on his beefy hips. He didn't look happy. “Why didn't you quit in protest?"

Toby picked up another stack and moved down to the correct boxes. "I would be protesting the unfortunate reality that is my life."

"You're wasted down here." Karl shuffled his feet. "I've gotten twenty complaints today from both clients and other employees!"

"You act like this was my decision, Karl." Toby shrugged. There wasn't anything he could do about it. "You have to stay on the good side of the cops. It's okay."

"No, it isn't. Did Stabler kick you out?"

"No, and he's not going to, or at least, he says he's not going to." Toby couldn't imagine where this was going. Karl needed to forget it.

"This isn't over." Karl huffed. He lumbered off. Toby dismissed it. He could stay here or find another job. It wasn't like Karl hadn't known that Toby was an ex-con. Benson had just leaned on him too hard. Cops would do that. They weren't always as interested in fair as in what they thought was right.

"Want to deliver?" It was Mike. He was so young.

"Sure." Toby grabbed the cart and got moving. He could spread the word that Stabler was home and fine. There were several women who would want to know.

********

Stabler found the pain pills and took one. He hurt, and he didn't like it. It was at that point that Cragen's cell phone rang. Stabler was glad to take a break.

"Cragen."

Stabler didn't listen. He shut his eyes and leaned his head back. Toby would bring food home, and they could have a nice, quiet evening. Stabler just had to pay for it now.

"She did what?" Cragen's voice penetrated Stabler's fog. Stabler got up and went to piss. He didn't want to know. He yanked up his sweats and washed his hand. Going back out, he found a nice spot and was glad when the cat got in his lap.

"Elliot, what do you know about Olivia getting Toby Beecher fired?" Cragen frowned and sat down. "That was Victim's Services. They're pissed at us!"

Stabler pointed at the file. "Toby is an ex-con. Benson acted on it."

"They knew he was an ex-con when they hired him!" Cragen picked it up, but didn't open it. "She overstepped her bounds. Beecher hasn't done anything wrong."

Stabler felt caught. He couldn't complain about his partner, but he wanted to defend Toby. "I wouldn't let him live here, if I thought he was a threat. He watches my kids if I'm running late."

Cragen stood and got his coat. "Lately, things are just going to hell in a handbasket. It makes me want to take up drinking again."

"Toby said the same thing today. Must be catching." Stabler didn't get up. "Are we square?"

"Yes. Come in next week, and we'll see how long you can work before you pass out."

"Good enough." Stabler was very glad when the door shut. Benson was in trouble, but she'd done it to herself. Stabler leaned back and closed his eyes. He'd rest for a minute.

********

Toby smiled when he saw Stabler and the cat sleeping. They were handsome together. Two big guys with attitudes.

"Food?" Stabler didn't even open his eyes.

"Yes. Let me get you upstairs. You can eat in bed." Toby put everything down on the kitchen table and went back for him. "You look exhausted."

"Cragen wore me out." Stabler leaned into him, and they went upstairs. Toby nearly panted at the end of it. Stabler was not light, and he didn't walked all that straight. Toby helped him get comfortable, propped up on the bed. Stabler smiled a little. "Toby, did you go to work?"

"For a couple of hours. Mail doesn't deliver itself." Toby checked the time. "When did you take a pain pill?"

"About three." Stabler scratched his arm. "Later, I need a good scratch."

Toby smiled and went to get him a plate of food. They ate together on the bed in companionable silence, watching the news on the small TV. Toby didn't know what to say, and Stabler just ate. Poor guy had missed lunch.

"That's good. I owe you?"

"On me, this time." Toby wiped his mouth. "So what happens to you? Do you get penalized for being shot?"

Stabler's eyes twinkled. "Yeah. They can fire me for not ducking fast enough."

"They should, smart ass. Really. That was an ugly one. Do you get blamed?" Toby was curious. The workings of the police department were a mystery to him.

"Given the circumstances, no. They took my badge and gun because of I was involved in a shooting, but I'll get them back once the investigation is over." Stabler picked up the remote and clicked off the TV.

"They should smack you around for not killing that boy. I know you hesitated." Toby saw it drop over Stabler's face - anger - but all it did was confirm the truth.

"Get out."

"Get pissed. I don't care. You should have shot him!" Toby took Stabler's empty plate before it was thrown at him.

"I couldn't. He was a child." Stabler's eyes shot fire at him. "A boy!"

"I know, but boys kill. That's why Oz has plenty of young asses to fuck." Toby tossed Stabler a fortune cookie. "You're mad at yourself."

Stabler looked away and crushed the cookie. "I am. I should have shot him."

Toby leaned and grasped Stabler's hand. "There. Now don't you feel better?"

Stabler yanked him. Toby went and allowed Stabler to hold him down and tight. "I don't like your methods, Beech."

Toby managed to relax. It wasn't easy. He didn't like this at all. His first impulse was to get very violent, but it was Stabler. Stabler was occasionally a bit rough and tumble. It didn't mean anything. Toby took a deep breath to let out the shakes, and Stabler released him suddenly.

"It's funny how hesitating can be the right decision or the wrong one, and we never know which until the blood hits the wall." Toby didn't get up for a minute. He waited to see if Stabler would let him.

"I'm not laughing." Stabler tapped him on the head. "What should I do next time?"

"You'll know." Toby believed that. He cautiously sat up on the bed, hiding his anger at being treated like a prag. "You won't see the boy. You'll watch the gun."

Stabler grunted. "You're right, but I pray there won't ever be a next time."

Toby got up and started clearing away the mess. "I'll pray too."

********

Stabler put his feet on the floor and waited for his brain to kick in. He was tired of the constant drum of pain, but he told himself it was better. The house was quiet, but he thought he smelled coffee. Again, he looked at his cast, and the events played out behind his closed eyelids. Each shot rang in his head and again he hesitated to kill a child. The child came at him again. He was dead. He knew it. The blast was loud. The look on the boy's face changed from pure hatred to bodily shock.

"Elliot." Toby's hand rested gently on Stabler's face. "You did all you could."

"It's never enough." Stabler knew he was a failure. His father had known it. He always disappointed the ones he loved. And in his business, mistakes led to dead people. His father should have mentioned it before insisting on law enforcement as a career.

"Yes. It is."

Stabler opened his eyes and took the cup of coffee and the little pill. "Thank you. You, Toby Beecher, are a good case in point. If I had simply told Benson about you, you might still have your job. You could have helped any number of people, but it won't happen now. Thanks to me."

"Elliot, you're taking the world and putting it on your shoulders. Benson would have done that no matter what you did. You aren't responsible for the choices other people make." Toby squatted down in front of him.

Stabler popped the pill in his mouth and chased it with coffee. Toby made good coffee.

"You can't fix the world. Do the good you can and live with the rest." Toby stood up.

Stabler remembered a long time ago when he'd been able to go to bed every night and tell himself that, but somewhere along the line, it had all changed. It had become personal. No, the job had become his life, instead of his wife and kids.

"How about a shower?"

"Sure." Stabler handed him back the coffee and got to his feet. Straightening his back, he bit back a groan. "Did you ever do any good?"

"Hell no, but by bringing you coffee, I get bonus points." Toby smiled at him. "I'm going to ride your tailcoat into heaven."

Stabler had to laugh. "Uh, Toby, there's a few things you should know." Heaven wasn't an option, not since he'd found his hands tangled in Toby's long hair, and he didn't regret it.

"Ah, skip it. Ignorance is bliss." Toby wrapped the cast in plastic. "That should work. You want to fumble through this on your own, or do you want me to wash your back?"

Stabler wasn't sure. He hated feeling like an invalid, but his back was dirty from lying on it for two days straight.

"I'm taking your hesitation as a no." Toby adjusted the shower curtain. "Don't fall."

Stabler took a step and blocked the door. "Take it off, Beecher."

Toby stared at him and then slowly smiled. "Don't pull that bad cop routine with me."

Stabler grabbed a fistful of Toby's shirt and pulled. "How about a quick strip search?"

"This is not making me horny." Toby did take his clothes off though, and Stabler shoved down his underwear. They got in the shower together, and it was a tight fit with the cast. Stabler handed Toby the soap. Toby put it to good use. "Kathy called. She's bringing the kids over this afternoon."

"Good." Stabler let out a small groan. "Get your hands off my ass."

"It was dirty." Toby kissed him on the back. "Someone from your doctor called. They want to see you tomorrow."

"Okay." Stabler wasn't thinking about that. He was trying to make his dick go down. It wasn't working. "You'd think I'd be too weak from blood loss."

Toby reached around. "I can make it go away. If it's bothering you."

Stabler liked Toby's sense of humor. "Is it gonna hurt?"

"Might." Toby tugged him back. "Turn around."

Stabler did and gasped when he found out why. Toby smiled up at him. Stabler groaned softly and tried not to fall on his ass. "I don't have as much energy as I used to."

Toby sucked him hard and fast, and because of it, the results came quickly. Stabler felt the world drop away and then slam back into him. It felt so good, and he slowly folded to his knees. Toby gave him a quick kiss and stood up. "I'll wash your hair."

Stabler caught Toby's dick with his hand. He wouldn't have minded using his mouth, but Toby pushed his head back and slopped on some shampoo.

"Shut your eyes."

Stabler stroked him slowly as the soap was worked into his hair. It felt good, and he lowered his head. Toby caught him by the chin and pushed his head back into the water. It sluiced over his head, soap ran, and Toby gave a small grunt.

"I'm about ready to get you dirty," Toby whispered. Stabler added a short twist to his hand movement. Toby gasped and groaned. He grabbed hold of him. "Up."

Stabler stood. Toby kissed him and shut off the water. Stabler leaned against him and breathed. "It's a good thing I don't start every day like this."

"Yeah. You'd lose that bad ass Stabler attitude." Toby got them towels. "You'd be whistling and humming at the crime scene."

Stabler dried his face. "You're right. That would be wrong."

Toby flashed him a quick grin, and Stabler laughed. It seemed to take forever before he was dried, dressed, and downstairs enjoying his coffee. Damn arm. Damn Nazis. Breakfast became brunch, and he didn't protest when Toby insisted he take a nap before the kids arrived.

"Are you going to work?"

"Not today." Toby put a blanket over him and picked up the cat. "Sleep with El, okay, cat?"

The cat took up a lot of space, and Stabler caught Toby's hand. "Thanks."

"You owe me." Toby winked and disappeared in the direction of the garage. Stabler knew he owed Toby, but he hoped the collection process would be relatively painless.

********

"Thanks, Toby, for helping with the kids," Kathy said and gave him a quick hug.

"They're no trouble." Toby was always surprised that she liked him. Him. It didn't make much sense, but it felt good, so he didn't complain. "Give him a day or two to recover."

"Will do." She got in the van, threw him a wave, and was gone.

"If you think that little scene is going to convince me that you're some great guy, you're a fool as well as an ex-con."

Toby hadn't seen her come up. He' been busy enjoying Kathy's trust. Well, that little moment was over. "Yeah, well, bite me." And he headed for the garage. She didn't stop him. He flopped down on his bed, laced his hands behind his head, and wished his own kids liked him, just a little. They never would. He had faced that bitter reality years ago, but it still hurt like hell. He'd been out six months, and he hadn't seen them yet. What the fuck was the use of being out if he couldn't be with his children. They weren't kids anymore, but they were still his children. His.

"Hey, Beecher!"

Toby trudged halfway down and sat on the steps. "What?"

Fin twitched his head towards the house. "Pizza will be here soon."

"How many cops?" Toby wasn't sure he could deal with more than Fin.

"Six, maybe seven." Fin tucked his hands under his arms. "You a pussy?"

Toby thought about it. Yeah. He was a pussy. "I'm not serving drinks."

"You ain't nobody's bitch." Fin obviously felt like he'd said enough because he left. Toby wasn't so sure about this, but he was hungry after chasing Stabler's kids all afternoon. If he was going to be even a peripheral part of Stabler's life, he had to be willing to be in the same room with cops. Shit. They'd all give him that look. And he knew it wasn't the alcohol. Hell, half of them were drunks. It was the drugs. Cops hated drugs. Benson would have filled them in on the details of Toby's addiction by now.

Toby got up, dusted off his jeans, and went in the house.

********

Stabler reached for the long neck. He needed this, and if he had to skip a pain pill, well, he would. The cat glared at him. "Oh shut up, furball."

"I didn't know you had a cat, Elliot," Benson said.

"I don't." Stabler twisted the cap off and savored the taste. He'd always liked beer, and he wasn't going to apologize for it. "The cat moved in with Toby."

"Can't seem to get rid of either of them, huh?" She smiled, but it was false.

Toby moved into Stabler's view. "We pay our rent."

Stabler nearly laughed. He choked it off. Toby had a lot of balls coming inside. Stabler's smile went away when Toby pointed at the beer.

"Willing to pay the price?"

"Yes." Stabler took another drink, held it in his mouth for a moment, and swallowed. Heaven in a bottle.

Benson didn't look happy. "I took a rip because of your skel renter."

"That's all on you," Stabler said. "I didn't ask you to act like a psycho cop."

"Thanks a lot." Benson leaned closer. "You could have told me that you needed money."

"Like that was going to happen." Toby picked up his cat. "Come away from the crazy lady, kitty." And he strolled off. Stabler watched her eyes turn mean. Toby was heading for a tune up. She would kick his ass. But that was funny.

"Child support ain't cheap. Right, Steve?"

"Damn straight." Steve nodded. "When's the pizza getting here?"

"About ten minutes," Benson snapped.

Stabler got out of the chair and stretched, but gently. He'd sat too long. "Hey Fin, how's Munch?"

"He'll be here. Think he'd miss a party?"

"Hope he brings a pillow!"

Everyone laughed. Stabler clicked on the TV to the Thursday night game and wandered to the kitchen. Toby was sitting at the table talking to Cragen.

"Captain, I didn't see you come in."

"It was the huge cat in your lap." Cragen smiled. "I had to make an appearance, and there's free food."

"I'm not buying," Toby said quickly. Stabler squelched the glare he'd been about to shoot Toby's way. Benson and the guys must have kicked in the money.

"Toby has his job back," Cragen said. "And our apology, which he didn't want."

"I'm a skel, right Stabler?"

Stabler knew he was supposed to agree, but it stuck in his throat. "No beer for you two. How about a soda?"

Cragen nodded, and Stabler pulled them out and slid them down the table. Toby took it and sighed. Cragen looked at him. "I hear you. It never gets any easier."

"Sure doesn't." Toby popped it open.

Stabler had the feeling they were getting ready to talk about AA and commiserate, so he left to make sure everyone had something to drink. It wasn't exactly a lie.

********

It took three guys to get Stabler up the stairs. Benson hovered over him, and Toby didn't go with them. It was long after midnight, and the morning was going to be absolute hell. Stabler had a doctor's appointment.

"What are you thinking?" Fin leaned into the wall near Toby.

"That Stabler's doctor is going to be pissed." Toby smoothed his hair back. He wanted to know a few things about Fin. "You ever do any time?"

"Sure." Fin gave a quick nod. "I've been undercover in every prison in this state, even Oz."

"I thought so. You got the swagger." Toby stuck his hands in his pockets. "Got sick of narcotics, huh?"

"SVU ain't no cakewalk." Fin shrugged. "I gotta take Munch home."

"He's asleep." Toby pointed with his chin at the sleeping man on the sofa. "He can stay there."

"You sure?" Fin didn't sound convinced.

"Yep. I'll get him a cab in the morning." Toby looked around the room. He was not cleaning this mess up. No fucking way, not even a little of it. Okay, maybe the kitchen. He sighed. "I gotta clean up."

Fin barked a short laugh. "I'll help out."

"Ms. Benson sure as hell won't." Toby didn't like her. She'd done nothing but act like a bitch and a prima donna. The other cops hadn't even seemed to notice.

"She's a cop, so back off." Fin caught the trash bag that Toby tossed him.

"I'll shut up, but you know I have a case." Toby got out the glass and aluminum containers for recycling.

Fin shrugged and went to load up his bag. Toby put himself in charge of beer bottles. Damn. Cops put fish to shame.

********

Stabler's eyes shot open. He jerked up. "Damn it!"

"Here." Toby held out a plastic trash can.

Stabler leaned over it and threw up. And again. His eyeballs rolled away, his tongue felt like a slab of liver, and he shook. The shaking pissed off his arm. Pain. God damn. He hurt! Toby gently wiped Stabler's face with a cold washcloth and then put it on his neck.

"I gotta pour Munch into a taxi. Don't get up. You might fall."

Stabler couldn't even nod. He sat on the edge of the bad and waited for everything to subside. Breathing through his mouth helped. Damn. He was an idiot. Reaching back, he grabbed the washcloth and wiped his face again. His wife would be kicking his ass for this.

"Okay. Munch and his pillow are on their way home." Toby took the trash can, went to the bathroom, and came back with it empty. "More?"

"I think I'm good." Stabler meant good in the sense that he felt like shit. "Pain pill?"

"No. You drank too much. Maybe at lunch." Toby helped him lay down and washed his face again. "Just rest until your doctor's appointment."

"Damn," Stabler whispered.

"Yeah. You're busted." Toby sat down on the floor next to him.

"You mad?" Stabler hoped not.

"I'm not your wife," Toby drawled. "I'm a guy. We get drunk and then we pay for it. Right now, you're paying. Enjoy it."

"You miss it." Stabler knew it was true.

"Yes, I do." Toby crossed his legs and leaned back against the wall like a small child would. "Keep breathing through your mouth."

"Got it." Stabler felt his stomach roil. He was so stupid. The cat landed on the bed, and the slight movement was enough to push him over the edge. Toby held him. Stabler's head buzzed and he wanted to die, but that would be too easy. He'd have to suffer instead.

"I don't miss this part." Toby wiped him down again. Stabler wanted to curl up and shiver, but the cast made that hard. Toby pulled the covers over him. "You'll make it."

Stabler looked up at him. "I love you."

"That's the beer talking." Toby kissed him on the forehead. Stabler shut his eyes and shook. It was the truth, and he'd wanted to say it for a couple of weeks. Now he could pretend it was nothing but the beer talking.

*********

Toby checked his watch. They needed to be leaving for the doctor, but Stabler was in no condition to drive. A cab presented its own problems, and he was running out of options. He was going to have to call Fin.

"Stabler?"

Toby went downstairs quickly. He wasn't happy to see Benson, but she was the answer to his problem. "Benson, Elliot has a doctor's appointment. Can you drive him there?"

Benson's eyebrows went up. "Where is he?"

"Dressed, but still in bed." Toby was more worried than he'd admit to her. "He's exhausted, and I'm not sure I can get him down the stairs alone."

"Why didn't you call for help?" Benson snapped.

Toby wondered if she was always such a problem solver. "I'm asking you."

Benson went past him and upstairs. Toby got his coat, wallet, key and Stabler's pain pills before going up after her. She looked at him. "I'm calling an ambulance."

"No." Stabler shook his head. He managed to sit up. "Just help me to the doctor."

Toby got under Stabler's arm and grunted. Stabler wasn't thin. Benson helped by going first and making sure they didn't fall down the stairs. Toby felt strung out by the time they got Stabler in the car. "You gotta go on a diet."

"You'd think I'd weigh less after all the puking." Stabler leaned his head back. "If I say stop the car, please stop."

Benson shut the car door. "Get in the back, Toby."

Toby got in. She was finally acting human. Stabler made it to the hospital without throwing up, but when Toby helped him out, he threw up on the sidewalk. Benson dashed inside, and Toby was relieved to see two guys pushing a gurney come out the door. Stabler was going to be pissed when this was over, but it was too damn bad. They got him on it, and Toby trotted along with them inside the hospital. It was Benson who stopped him from going in the exam room.

"They got him. Let them work."

Toby pulled his arm away from her. "Fine." He rubbed his face and leaned against the wall. Fatigue was creeping over him. He should have slept, but he'd been afraid that Stabler would drown in his own vomit.

"How long has he been throwing up?"

"All morning." Toby shoved his hair back behind his ears.

Benson sighed. "Hopefully, he kept down the pain pills I gave him."

"What?" Toby stood up straight and moved in on her. "You gave him a pain pill?"

"Two. He asked for them. I could see he was hurting." She took a small step back. "Why?"

Toby wanted to punch her in the face. "Pain pills and alcohol?" He left her with her mouth open and went in the exam room. This was information the doctor would need.

 

Stabler rolled his head Toby's direction. "Don't leave."

"I'm right outside." Toby grabbed the doctor and filled him in.

The doctor frowned. "What was the dosage?"

Toby handed the pills over.

"Okay. Out. You can see him when I get him to a room." The doctor went to work, and Toby reluctantly backed towards the door. Stabler was throwing up again. Nurses were helping him. He'd be okay. Toby rubbed his face and punched the wall.

Benson grabbed him by the arm. "Is he okay?"

"No." Toby jerked away and left her. He was furious. He should have kept closer watch. Stabler had been drunk. Toby sat down in the waiting room and clasped his hands together. He had lost everyone he loved, and telling himself that wasn't going to happen with Stabler wasn't easy. He'd killed them all. Squeezing his head between his hands, he fought to control the panic that choked him.

"Hey, I'm sure he's going to be fine." Benson needed to leave him alone. Toby didn't look at her, but she sat down close. "My mom drank and took pain pills. Nothing bad ever happened."

Toby looked in her eyes. She was lying. She was scared. He took a deep breath, but there were no words.

The doctor stepped into the waiting room. "We're putting him in a room. 212."

"How is he?" Benson asked breathlessly.

"He's dehydrated, exhausted, and groggy, but he'll be fine in a day or two. I gave him something to relax his stomach muscles and put in an IV." The doctor frowned. "Mixing pain meds and alcohol isn't very smart."

Toby rubbed his face. That was the understatement of the year. Benson flushed. "I didn't think."

"Next time, skip one or the other." The doctor left quickly. Toby put his hands in his pockets so Benson didn't see them shaking.

"You need a ride somewhere?"

Toby knew that for her this was an olive branch, but he was too angry to accept it. "No. I'll catch a cab later."

She nodded and sighed. "I have to go to work."

Toby had no idea what she wanted from him. Absolution? Empty platitudes? He wanted to hit her. "Your mother was an alcoholic."

"Yes." Benson raised her head. She looked defiant now. "And like you, she didn't care who she hurt."

Toby understood her animosity towards him now. "I care." And he walked away from her. He went to the nearest restroom to wash his face and get himself under control. Stabler was going to be okay, and that was what mattered, not Benson and her issues.

*********

Stabler stared at the hospital ceiling and hated himself. It was easy when he felt so crappy.

"Hey, partner."

"Hey." Stabler turned his head slightly. "You're taking a long lunch."

She smiled. "I need to get back. Can I trust you to stay in bed?"

"Sure." Stabler reached and clasped her hand. "Thanks."

She looked away, gave him a squeeze, and shrugged. "I'll check in with you tonight."

"Good." Stabler turned her loose, and she was out the door. He had the feeling he was missing something, but he was too tired to care. Shutting his eyes, he tried not to think and not to feel. Time drifted and eased around him, and when he opened his eyes, Toby was there. Slumped in a chair pulled close. Toby. He must be angry.

"Quit staring. It makes me crazy." Toby didn't open his eyes.

"How do you know?" Stabler wanted to pull him on the bed and hold him close. Toby sat up straighter, stretched, and yawned. He rubbed his eyes. Stabler didn't think he was getting an answer. Prison had probably done it though. Always sleeping with one eye open, just in case his cellmate went nuts.

Toby stood and checked his watch. "Damn. I might as well go back to sleep."

Stabler smiled. It was late. He'd slept the day and part of the evening away. "You should go home and feed the cat."

"Probably still gorged on pepperoni." Toby sat down with a thump. "You cops sure do know how to throw a party."

"We take notes when we break them up." Stabler had to touch him. "Come here."

Toby got up, dropped the bed rail, and sat down close. "What?"

"I know a kiss is out of the question until after I brush my teeth." Stabler rested his hand on Toby's chest. Toby smiled and kissed him on the forehead. Stabler gave him a fast hug just for the touch. "Thanks for not leaving me to be miserable."

"Uh, you are miserable, right?"

"Pretty much. Never mind. Thanks for not leaving." Stabler kept his hand on him. "You happy you got your job back?"

"I guess. It seems cheap, but I'll take it." Toby sighed. "You scared the shit out of me."

"Again." Stabler couldn't feel any worse than he already did. "I didn't think I drank all that much."

Toby hesitated. His blue eyes narrowed. "You took two pain pills when I wasn't looking. My fault."

"Damn." Stabler couldn't believe he'd done such a stupid thing. "I'm sorry."

"You'd had too much to drink, and those pills they gave you are strong ones. You're lucky they didn't pump your stomach."

"Nothing left in it." Stabler looked at his guts. They ached, and the thought of food made him want to puke again. "You paid for my stupidity."

Toby slid off the bed. "Don't beat yourself up over it. You're going to suffer enough." He picked up his coat. "Listen. I gotta go, um, well."

"Don't say it." Stabler groaned. He was not going to think about food. "Are you leaving?"

"No." Toby rubbed a hand through his hair. "Not this time and don't think I will."

Stabler knew when to give up. "Good."

Toby smiled and left the room. Stabler relaxed back and shut his eyes. Lord, he was an idiot, and he was lucky to have Toby and Benson looking out for him.

********

Toby hit the salad bar hard. He was hungry. He'd had nothing since yesterday's pizza. His cell phone rang about the time he sat down.

"Hello?"

"Hi Toby. It's Karl."

Toby took a bite. "What's up?" he mumbled around the food. He was hungry!

"Are you coming in tomorrow?"

Toby swallowed. "Stabler's back in the hospital. I'll come in Monday. Okay?"

"Is he okay?"

"Yeah. He got dehydrated." Toby took another bite and chewed fast.

"Good. And Monday's fine. You aren't mad?"

"Nope." Toby gave up trying to eat for a minute. "I'll be in Monday morning."

"Thanks. We need your help." Karl hesitated. "Thanks."

"Later." Toby shut it and started eating again. Food. Wow. His happiness was short-lived.

"Tell me what lies you put in Stabler's head before I go see him." Benson's eyes shot fire at him.

Toby rolled his eyes. Damn it. He took a sip of his soda and wiped his mouth. "I told him it was my fault, which isn't really a lie. I should've been watching. You were clueless. Now please go away." He started eating again, and he wasn't talking until his plate was empty.

"You covered for me?" Benson didn't believe it. Toby didn't care. He wasn't talking. She stared at him for a few more minutes. "I can see you're finished talking."

He didn't look directly at her, and miracle of miracles, she went away. He remembered a time when he would have loved to mess with her, get in her head, and make her like him. Now it just seemed stupid. The only person he cared about was Stabler. His phone rang again, and he almost ignored, but his plate was nearly empty.

"Hello?"

"It's Angus." A pause. A long one. "Did you find a new place to live?"

"Stabler refused to kick me out, so for now, I'm staying." Toby took another drink. He knew his brother didn't give a damn, so what the hell was this all about.

"That's good, I guess." Angus cleared his throat. "Harry has a basketball game next Friday at school."

Toby felt his heart pick up speed. Hope reared its ugly head. "And I'm invited?"

"No." Angus made that clear. "But it's a public place. I can't stop you from showing up."

Toby didn't understand, and he wanted to. "Why are you doing this?"

"I miss Dad," Angus said softly.

"So do I." Toby didn't hear a hint of forgiveness, but he didn't want it, not after everything he'd done. "I miss you."

Angus coughed. "Later." And he clicked off. Toby shut the phone slowly and put it in his pocket. He wasn't sure if that was good news or bad, but everyone was dead now. It was just him and Angus. Brothers.

"Damn you, Chris." Toby had screwed up plenty of times, but never bigger than when he'd actually trusted Chris. Stupid. Stupid. It had cost him everything that Oz hadn't already fucked up. and then Chris had taken the easy road out, the cocksucker. And that had made sure that Toby had no chance at another parole. No. He'd had to do his time. Angus should hate him. Angus did hate him. His children hated him, and he didn't even want to think about Angus's wife.

"You look like a man with a problem." Fin plunked down a plate and sat.

"Hey. Join me." Toby picked at the rest of his food. Suddenly, he wasn't hungry. "You come here for the food?"

"Don't be an ass." Fin started eating, and Toby hoped they didn't have to talk. Toby finished his plate and drank his soda. Fin finally spoke up. "You rich?"

Toby hadn't expected that question. He thought about his answer carefully. "Yes."

"Thought so." Fin tilted his head to the side. "Why live in a garage?"

Toby didn't want to answer that. He stared at him.

Fin almost smiled. "You're keeping prison right where you can see it. I respect that."

"Maybe so. You got kids, Fin?"

Fin frowned. "Ain't none of your business."

"That's a yes." Toby looked him over again. "They ashamed of you?"

"No." Fin ate a French fry. "My boy's gay. In our community, it doesn't sit easy."

Toby heard years of hurt in those simple words. "The heterosexual community?"

"The black community. Asshole." Fin wasn't leaving though. He kept on eating.

Toby watched him. "I saw a lot of that in prison. The gay black men were ostracized. It was okay to fuck a man in the ass, but not okay to like it."

Fin nodded. "You like it?"

Toby leaned back and smiled. He'd almost let his guard down. He could see now that it would be a mistake around Fin. "I don't remember ever doing the fucking."

"You think you paid enough?"

Toby instantly knew what Fin meant. "No, but I'll roast in hell someday. That should do it."

"We all make mistakes." Fin pushed the tray away slightly. "I gotta go."

"See ya." Toby gave him a small smile. "You got a cell number?"

Fin nodded and pulled out his phone. "Don't be afraid to call it."

Toby put the number in the memory and gave Fin his. Fin picked up his tray and left. He wasn't an average cop, and Toby could speak honestly with him. It was refreshing. Of course, Toby would have to pick his truths, but it was better than silence, condemnation, and eyes that refused to meet his. He put his tray on the conveyor belt, refilled his soda, and headed back upstairs.

Stabler was alone, and he looked asleep, but he opened his eyes as soon as the door shut. "Hey, Beech."

Toby smiled. "Hey, Stab."

"I really hate that." Stabler smiled back at him, and it was beautiful. "Did you get enough of that thing I don't want to discuss?"

"Yes." Toby sat down and fiddled with his coat. "They ever going to feed you?"

Stabler groaned. "I begged them not to."

Toby knew that feeling well. "Shower?"

"I don't trust my legs." Stabler shrugged. "Tomorrow. You should go home."

"Why? You mad at me?" Toby got up, dropped the side rail, and stared down at him. "Roll over and I'll rub your back."

"It'll hurt." Stabler was not a tough guy today, but he managed to roll enough to present Toby with his back. Toby knew from the lack of grunt that Stabler had pain meds in his IV. Gently, Toby rubbed, trying to ease the tension from vomiting. Stabler gave a small sigh and said, "Benson gave me the pain pills."

"Yes." Toby wasn't going to lie. If she'd wanted to come clean, it was her business. "I was stupid to let you out of my sight. She didn't know."

Stabler gave him a look. "Her mother did a number on her."

Toby didn't much care. He didn't have to work with her. "She's your partner."

"Yeah." Stabler was relaxing. "I wish we were home."

Toby did too. He kept his hands moving until Stabler was asleep. Pulling the blankets up again, he slid off and into the chair. His heart gave a twist, and he rubbed his eyes. He loved this man so much. It had to end poorly.

*********

Stabler hated the hospital. He hated it. And he was going home. Today.

"Okay. I can see by your face that this is a bad place to be." Toby stopped right inside the door. "What's wrong now?"

Stabler glared at him. "The doctor won't release me until tomorrow. Something about the lining of my stomach."

"Did you throw up some blood on his shift?"

"I might of." Stabler didn't want to remember. "I'm better. I want to get the hell out of here!"

Toby pulled the chair away from the bed and sat down. "Damn. I had the welcome home party all arranged. Beer, cake, and-"

"Beecher! Shut up!" Stabler tried not to gag. He swallowed hard. "I feel fine."

"Right. You look like hell, and I don't think they let anyone go who still has an IV in their arm." Toby stretched his arms over his head. "I guess you could yank it out and stagger out to a cab."

"I'm thinking about doing just that." Stabler knew he sounded about eight years old and was talking like a fool, but he wanted to go home. "How's my cat?"

"You mean my cat, and he's fine. Fat and happy. He misses his favorite pillow." Toby frowned. "I'm kind of upset with myself."

Stabler was caught off-guard by the sudden change of topic. "What?"

"I like Fin. I didn't want to. He's a cop, but I like him. It's kind of embarrassing."

"They'll kick you out of the ex-con union for that." Stabler smiled at him.

Toby blushed. "I know. Don't tell the guys, okay?"

Stabler laughed. He knew better than anyone that Toby had no friends inside the joint. Toby always found a way to make him feel better about crappy situations. Stabler had had plenty of time to think today, and he'd made up his mind about one thing, and he wanted to discuss it now before he fell asleep again.

"Toby, I need you to get my divorce papers and bring them here so I can sign them."

"Here?"

"I want to get them to Angus on Monday." Stabler was certain. It was what Kathy wanted, and he couldn't argue about it any longer. "Can you messenger them to him?"

"Of course." Toby nodded. "I'll bring them when I come back. Are you sure? There are days that I think she still loves you."

Stabler nearly flinched. He reached out his hand, Toby took it, and he pulled him close. "Toby, how could I go back to her after you?"

Toby's eyes widened and his head jerked back. "Easy. Wave goodbye as my taxi pulls away."

Stabler shook his head. "No. You are worth more to me than you know." Those words would have to be enough. He didn't have any others to give him. "Please bring them."

"I will." Toby squeezed Stabler's hand. "So does this mean I get to move in the house?"

Stabler laughed. They'd had that argument ten times, and he always came out the loser. Toby laughed with him. Stabler turned him loose so he could adjust the bed more upright, and he turned on the TV. Toby sat down close, and they didn't talk, but they didn't need words. They'd never needed words.

********

Toby paced until Stabler came down and took over the couch. He would not act like a freak in front of Stabler, so he sat down and tried not to fidget.

"What's wrong with you?"

Toby wasn't completely sure. He felt strung tight, out of control, and one step from losing his mind. "Nothing."

Stabler muted the television. "Go to a meeting."

Toby didn't want to. He was sick of them. Blah blah. He was an alcoholic. Blah blah. It wasn't going to help, not tonight. "No. It's not alcohol."

Stabler gave him a hard look. "Better not be drugs."

Toby got up and went to the kitchen. He loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the cabinets. Getting off heroin made getting dry look so easy. All these years, and he could remember the rush, the feel, the perfect moment of no pain. His brain would never forget. He put some food down for the cat and took a very deep breath. Tomorrow was Friday and he had to make up his mind. Stabler was better. He didn't need constant supervision any longer. Toby could go to the game. He wanted to go, but he was so afraid, and he hated that fear. Getting high would make it all go away.

Stabler's strong arm suddenly wrapped around him. "Tell me."

Toby controlled his flinch of surprise, leaned back into him, and told him the truth. "Angus called me. Harry has a basketball game tomorrow night."

"And he invited you? That's great." Stabler held him close.

"No. I'm not invited, but it's a public place." Toby shut his eyes and tried to feel only Stabler, nothing else. No fear. No pain. Nothing but Stabler's concern. Toby said softly, "They can't stop me."

"It's a good first step." Stabler kissed Toby's neck. "He didn't have to call you."

"I know." Toby had been over it and over it, and he still didn't know what to do. Angus must have expectations, but what were they? And his children, what would they say? So many questions. He could go or stay, and both choices could hurt. "If Harry lashes out at me, I may do something very stupid."

"You'd never hurt him." Stabler held him a little tighter.

"Not him." Toby quivered. He needed so much right now.

Stabler sighed in Toby's ear. "I'll go with you."

"No. Angus will say things that you will not want to hear." Toby turned around and opened his eyes. He didn't think that was a good idea at all. It would be hard enough. "He already thinks I'm obsessed with you because of Chris."

"He doesn't know you well enough any more. Looking like Chris Keller was not a point in my favor." Stabler rubbed Toby's back. "How about I take you and pick you up."

Toby thought about it. It would keep him from hitting a bar or scoring some smack if Stabler was driving. "Okay. Thanks."

Stabler kissed across Toby's jaw. "Could we?"

Toby suddenly felt the bulge. He nearly laughed. "I'm sort of in the middle of a personal crisis here."

"You don't need to be alone right now." Stabler wasn't giving up, and Toby realized that he didn't mind the idea at all. They hadn't, not since the blowjob in the shower, and it might be very nice. Hell, it would be great.

"You sure you feel up to it?" Toby didn't doubt it, but he wanted to ask.

Stabler raised his eyebrow at him. That was answer enough. Toby leaned his head against the strong chest in front of him. Stabler held him. "When are you moving in the house?"

"Never." Toby might joke about it, but he'd never do it. This was Kathy and Elliot's house. He didn't belong inside it. And anyway, the garage felt right. "Sorry."

"Okay. I'll deal with it my way." Stabler pulled out a pair of cuffs from his back pocket. "Slip these on, will ya?"

Toby flinched in surprise. For him, cuffs weren't fun or toys, and Stabler knew it. Toby slowly shook his head and backed up. "We'll talk later." He took two fast steps, but Stabler was faster. Damn it! Toby struggled as Stabler grabbed him and started for the stairs. "Elliot, take these off!"

Stabler smiled. "Settle down. You wouldn't want to hurt my arm. It's already throbbing. I might pass out from pain. Of course, I'd cuff you somewhere safe first, before I called Benson to give me a hand."

"You fucker." Toby stopped resisting. This was completely not fair. It was even a dirty trick. Stabler pushed him inside the master bedroom and shut the door. Toby didn't like the gleam in Stabler's eyes. "This is dirty pool, Stabler. I'm not going to forget it."

"Good." Stabler shoved him towards the bed. "Tonight, for once, you're sleeping with me. Yes, you're actually sleeping, instead of catching a few quick hours out in the garage and then getting up early to take care of my every need."

"You could have just asked!" Toby tried not to panic. He hated being grabbed and shoved. Hated it.

"It didn't work last night or the night before or the night before or-. Well, you get the idea." Stabler smiled. "Tonight, you're sleeping with me."

"I can't believe a member of the panty police would coerce and abuse someone to get sex!" Toby loved that smile. Being wanted was almost as good as tits, but first he wanted the cuffs gone.

"Abuse? Never. Coerce? Certainly. It's the only way to get you what you need!" Stabler pointed. "Lie down."

Toby sighed. "It's not even eight. Can't we wait until after the news?"

Stabler chuckled softly. It was a bad sign. He was feeling much better, and he had an agenda tonight. First time that had happened. Maybe it was signing those divorce papers. Toby didn't know, but he was a little bit frightened, and he might come in his jeans.

"Okay. You're right. Turn around." Stabler rotated his finger. Toby could hardly believe it, but he turned, and one of the cuffs came off. He was completely surprised when Stabler clicked it to the spindle on the headboard.

Toby didn't tug it. That would hurt. He sighed. He was screwed. Yeah. He grinned. "What if Benson shows up?"

Stabler smirked and left the room. He left! Toby sat down on the bed and pushed off his shoes. This was one way to keep him from getting high, and he didn't much like it. He should've have kept his vulnerabilities to himself. Slowly, he lay back against the pillows and got comfortable with one arm over his head. It was a nice bed, but it held too many memories of Kathy that he didn't like to compete against. Stabler had to know that.

Toby began to relax his brain as well as his body. He didn't need a hit. He'd go, and at least he'd see his son. See him. Maybe Holly would be there. Just a look would help him get through the next six months. Of course, Angus wouldn't talk to him, so he could do it. He'd go, and it would be fine, and if he repeated it enough, it might come true.

"Okay. The house is locked up, the lights are off, and I told Benson that I was going to bed early because I was tired. I even turned off the phone." Stabler came to him and smiled down at him. "I can see you've relaxed a little."

"I'm chilling." Toby faked a yawn. "I have been getting up early and working all day."

"Oh yeah. I told Karl that you were sick and needed tomorrow off."

"What?" Toby couldn't believe it. "You are not my wife!"

"You were too sick to come to the phone. Shame." Stabler must be high on something. That was the only explanation. "While you're here and listening. I have two other topics I want to discuss. First, I'm doubling your rent, and secondly, I bought this bed new because Kathy took ours."

Toby's brain reeled. He sat up fast and shoved his back against the headboard. "New?"

"Yes. We had a sleigh bed. I hated it. She took it. I like spindles with no footboard. I'm tall. Have you noticed?" Stabler had this shit-eating grin on his face that Toby wanted to smack off. "Double. Okay?"

Toby sniffed. "I thought we were discussing it."

"I need the money. You have it." Stabler was serious. He was. Toby would give it to him, of course. He'd give him any amount.

"How much do you need?" Toby grabbed Stabler's forearm and held it tight. "How much?"

Stabler just smiled. "Double. It's still reasonable for the neighborhood."

"You could triple it, and I wouldn't complain." Toby had thought it was too low to begin with - pity rent, and he'd hated the idea. The one thing he had was money.

"Okay. Triple." Stabler moved away and gingerly pulled off his wife-beater. Toby watched him closely. Stabler still hurt, but he was doing much better. He'd probably go back to work on Monday. Toby caught a fast breath when the sweats and underwear hit the floor. He remembered why he was cuffed to the bed. Stabler eased down next to him. "Each of us has a bad arm."

Toby rattled the cuff. Sleeping all night with Stabler wasn't an option, but this situation was going to require finesse. He sure as hell wasn’t going to tell the truth. "I won't leave."

Stabler narrowed his eyes. "I don't believe you. You lie. You don't mean to, but your Harvard brain gets to thinking and all the sudden you're worried that you ain't good enough to shine my shoes, and you're gone and my back is cold."

"That's the most words I've ever heard you put in a sentence." Toby was stunned. It was all true, but how did Stabler know? "I don't mean to lie."

"I know. I'm sure it's some sort of mental defect." Stabler was being an asshole now. "So the cuffs stay. One night won't kill you."

"Fuck." Toby felt his cock go limp. Being desired was one thing, but being railroaded was another. All night? It could be disastrous. There was a good reason he never spent the night, but Stabler didn't need to know. Toby tried to look pitiful. "I never got used to wearing cuffs. I don't think Chris even noticed them."

Stabler kissed him under the arm. "Keller was a career criminal. You aren't. I've been cuffed and stuffed a few times. Ain't fun."

"You? I'm shocked." Toby was. This conversation wasn't going where he wanted, and now he was curious. "It must have been a mistake."

"The FBI didn't think so." Stabler adjusted his body and kissed Toby again. "I was held in contempt of court once too."

"Now that doesn't surprise me." Toby enjoyed the kissing. He began to hope they'd get with it, and the cuffs would come off. "Any other times?"

"I was undercover once and this dirty cop cuffed me, threw me in the back of his car, dragged me out, and beat me."

"Wow." Toby was glad he'd decided against being a cop. Being a crappy lawyer had been much safer. "I bet you were pissed."

"I wasn't real happy, and killing him cost me my badge for a few days." Stabler slid his hand Toby's shirt. "He pointed his gun at me."

Toby had no idea what to say. He knew Stabler well enough to know that the whole experience had been terrible. "Elliot, take the cuffs off, please."

Stabler reached up and released him. Toby grabbed them before they hit the floor behind the bed and tossed them towards the door. Stabler sighed. "I know I'm not much, but could you stay, just once?"

Toby pulled his shirt off and threw it. He was going to stay. He might regret it, but that was later. "You're everything, and no one is getting me out of this bed tonight."

Stabler laughed softly. "I knew the cuffs would work."

********

"Fuck!"

Stabler bolted awake and hit him again.

"Motherfuck!" Toby grabbed a pillow and hid behind it. "No more please. I'll talk!"

Stabler tried not to laugh. He carefully moved away, making sure not to hit him again. "You okay?"

"My face is broken, but I'm fine." Toby peeked from behind the pillow. "I am not sleeping with you again!"

"You might have a point." Stabler smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."

Toby rolled off the bed and padded to the bathroom. Stabler didn't see any blood so he wasn't worried. Toby groaned. "I knew this was a bad idea."

Stabler leaned back against the headboard. He felt pretty good today. "It was fine, right up until you banged your face on me."

Toby came back to the bed and pointed at him. "Me?"

Stabler grabbed for him, but Toby was gone out the door. Damn. Toby would get dressed and make coffee. Stabler rubbed his morning problem and sighed. He should've cuffed him. The cat jumped up on the bed, and Stabler stroked him. "Is it so wrong to want to get laid in the morning?"

The cat had no answer for that. He flopped down and rolled to his back. Stabler was in no rush to get up. Another day of lying around, wishing he could do something besides ache. He curled around the cat and shut his eyes - a few more minutes.

"That's just wrong," Toby said.

Stabler opened his eyes and stretched. "If you're done being mad, come here and rub my back."

"I liked you a lot better before you were an invalid." Toby sat down on the bed next to him though. Stabler tried to roll to his stomach, but Toby stopped him. "Let me rub your front."

Stabler stretched out and waited. Toby lightly skipped his fingers over Stabler's ribs and began to rub. It felt strange, not tickling, but close. Stabler tried not to squirm. "Coffee?"

"Later." Toby moved his hands lower.

Stabler shut his eyes and tried to relax. Everything was fine, and he felt pretty good. Toby's tongue joined his hands, and Stabler reached down so he could run his fingers through Toby's hair. Toby kissed him on the hip, and Stabler twirled a curl around his finger.

And the doorbell rang. Stabler groaned. "Shit."

Toby pulled away, but slowly. "Never enough time." He strolled out the door. Stabler got his feet on the floor and set about finding some clothes. He knew who was here, and he'd have to talk to him.

********

"Stabler here?"

Toby knew a general contractor when he saw one, but he also thought he recognized this guy from the pizza party. "He'll be down. Want some coffee?"

"I never turn it down. Steve Ortalini." Steve stuck out his hand.

"Toby Beecher." Toby shook the offered hand and shut the door. He poured him a cup of coffee. "Aren't you a cop?"

"Yep. Homicide." Steve nodded. "You work over at Victim's Services, right?"

Toby nodded. Stabler grumbled his way through the door, and Toby knew it was time to make an exit. "Later." And he beat it out to his room. Normally, he'd be at work by now, but Stabler had called him in sick. "Shit." Stabler needed to mind his own business. Toby rubbed his crotch and considered jacking off. He wouldn'thave a chance for the rest of day and tonight. Toby swallowed hard. He was going, and he was going to play it cool. He'd pretend that it was no big deal, and he didn't care that Angus hated him. He put his head in his hands and wished it were true.

"Hey Beecher! Is it okay if I come up?"

"Sure." Toby went over to the stairs. "You mind if I ask why, Steve?"

"I don't mind." Steve walked around, made some notes, and took measurements. "Looks good. Thanks." And he went back downstairs. Toby had that itchy feeling that meant he was in trouble. He waited until he heard the van leave before hunting up Stabler. "Elliot, what the hell is going on?"

"What?" Stabler sipped his coffee, adjusted his arm in his sling, and smiled at him.

"Just spill it." Toby poured himself a cup and sat down across from Stabler.

"Steve's a good guy. He was my old partner's partner before I was his partner."

Toby didn't even try to figure that out. "There are easier ways to kick a man out!"

Stabler grinned at him. "When's the game?"

"Seven." Toby wanted to pace and maybe throw things. "I should be at work!"

"I get the feeling you don't want to spend the day with me. I think my feelings are hurt."

Toby glared and drank some coffee. Choking the shit out of Stabler was a bad idea, but it had some appeal. "It's ten o'clock in the morning. What the hell do you suggest we do all day?"

Stabler gave him a long, slow smile. Toby knew what that meant. He hadn't seen it very often over these last months, but he recognized it instantly. "Again?"

"Once I go back to work, I'll go without for weeks at a time."

"Whose fault is that?" Toby slicked his hair back. "Fine. Let's fuck like convicts with a conjugal all day."

Stabler laughed. "When are you getting a haircut?"

"Do I need one?" Toby smirked. "Just because mine is longer than a half inch doesn't mean it's too long."

"Your kids might not recognize you." Stabler was serious now.

Toby hadn't thought of that. He'd always cleaned up before seeing Holly at Oz. He slid his fingers through his hair again. He liked it long. It was silly, but true. "I'm not going to pretend, and I doubt I'll get to talk to them."

"Just thought I'd ask, since we have the day off." Stabler drained his coffee mug. He probably thought Toby looked like a hippie or a junkie.

Toby slid out of the chair, rinsed his coffee cup, and headed for the garage. For some reason, he needed to be in a smaller area. He knew it wasn't normal. Scooping up the cat, he made himself comfortable on his bed and tried to talk himself into a calm state again. If he were being honest, he'd admit that he needed some sort of chemical high, but he couldn't do that. Admitting it was one step closer to getting it, and he didn't need it. No. Would he spend the rest of his life wanting tits? Sister Pete would say yes, and she'd be right.

"Hey, I'm sorry if I'm pushing you too hard today." Stabler was at the top of the stairs.

"It's okay. The stress is bringing out a host of behaviors that I'd rather gloss over." Toby didn't get up. His cat was comfortable. "Remember that bone clenching moment when Kathy walked out and you realized that you couldn't see your kids any time you liked any more?"

Stabler came all the way inside the small space and sat down on Toby's old trunk. "Yes. I thought I might puke."

"But you knew you'd see them." Toby licked his lips. "I always knew I'd gotten what I deserved, but the hell of it was that my kids hadn't earned any of that, and they got it too."

"They were victims of your crime also, and no amount of punishment can fix that." Stabler leaned forward slightly. "You have to try to give them some peace."

"How is that possible?" Toby didn't understand how he could. "Am I better off dead? If they buried me, would they have closure on all this?"

Stabler didn't answer for a moment. "You have to find out what they need and do that. Holly remembers you as her father. Beyond her anger she may feel responsible. You have to address that."

"And Harry? How do I fix that?" Toby didn't think any of this was possible. "I honestly don't think Angus will ever let me in their life."

"I don't have the answers, but neither do you. You have to talk to them and listen. I think Angus will come around eventually. You're all the family he has left."

"Poor guy." Toby brushed his hand down his cat's long body. "Okay. I'll go. Why was Steve here?"

Stabler chuckled. "You never quit. I'm having the house renovated. That's why your rent is going up. I was informed that this arrangement isn't code, and I could be fined, so I'm fixing it."

Toby looked around. "But I like it."

"It sucks, and you know it. I thought you'd basically live in the house. How was I supposed to know you'd hide out here for days at a time?" Stabler got up and stretched. He crawled on the bed and made room for himself and his cast. Since it was a small bed, Toby was thoroughly squished.

"Meow!"

"No shit, cat." Toby wiggled until he was comfortable. Everything skipped around inside him, and he brought up an old subject that he hoped some day to lay to rest. "Elliot, was Chris your long lost brother?"

"Maybe. My dad wasn't exactly faithful." Stabler kissed the back of Toby's neck. "I know it bugs you."

"It does, but you're not him. Not at all." Toby wasn't sleepy, but he was pinned down, and Stabler seemed to be nodding off. "Put a six by nine in the corner, will ya?"

"Why? You carry one in your heart."

Toby blew a raspberry at that ridiculous statement. It was not true, not much and not every day. Stabler gently bit him on the neck, and tingles raced down Toby's body. "You're going to hit me with your cast again, aren't you?"

"I might." Stabler licked the spot he'd bit. "Your stress levels are making me horny."

Toby sighed. "You are definitely ready to go back to work."

"That's what I'm thinking." Stabler lifted Toby's shirt and ran his hand over and up. Toby stopped protesting and started participating, carefully. That cast was a pain in the ass.


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