Arousal, part II

*********

"It's eight, Elliot."

Elliot pulled the pillow over his head.

"Never mind." The door shut.

Elliot checked his cell phone. No messages. He went back to sleep. When he woke up again, it was because he smelled coffee. Damn. He had to have some. Slowly, he stretched and sat up. The clock said noon, and he groaned. He spotted a pair of sweats at the end of the bed, and he put them on so he could get coffee.

"I thought maybe I'd have to call the coroner." Tobias was at the kitchen table with what looked like yogurt and some water.

"I'll laugh later. I gotta have coffee." Elliot found the mugs and poured himself some. He took it to the table. "What the hell am I doing here?"

"Please tell me you remember our conversation." Tobias sighed softly.

"Something about Dickie, or Harry. Holly?" Elliot searched his memory. He did remember driving here, but not much after that.

"Shit." Tobias pushed his hair back. Elliot noticed that it was getting long. He also noticed that Tobias had been lifting weights. There was a fine sheen of sweat on him. Tobias drank some water. "I'll do a fast recap."

Elliot listened and drank his coffee, getting up to get the cream because it was the real stuff. He waited until Tobias was completely finished. "So, what did you decide?"

"I hate cops."

"Yeah. You've made that clear." Elliot had to refill his mug. "And?"

"I should let him fail."

"Yep. He lied or cheated or something. Hell, I don't know." Elliot nearly laughed at the look on Tobias's face. "Didn't he?"

"No. He said he was considering either you or a friend of Angus's that runs a software business." Tobias groaned. "I thought I was being a good parent. Giving him a choice."

"Oh, he suckered you. He knew what you'd think." Elliot had to laugh now. "You been doing this dad stuff very long?"

"You know the answer to that." Tobias slumped in his chair. "Can I trust you?"

"Do you think I'd hurt a child? Your child?"

Tobias just looked at him for the longest time. "Chris asked me that once. I guess I could trust you, but what about everyone else that works over there?"

"I'll tell them what's happening. We won't post any brutal rape pictures that day. Easy."

"It's still murder, rape, and other things a young boy doesn't need to know about." Tobias shook his head. "Just because I've been in prison doesn't mean Harry is a hardened criminal!"

"No, but I'd warrant that he knows more than you'd like. Anyway, if Captain Cragen says no, Harry is out of luck. He'll fail." Elliot finished his second cup. "I need a shower."

"Me too."

Elliot was instantly hard. So hard it ached. So hard he wanted to rub it. Damn. His breath came a little short, and he wasn't leaving the table until Tobias was long gone.

"Elliot, I'm not gay."

Elliot looked at him. "I didn't ask if you were." He tried to look away, but he was caught in blue eyes. "Go shower."

Tobias got up slowly. "Chris and I didn't always get along. We fought, argued, and once or twice beat each other up."

Elliot stood, and they were so close. "But you still felt it."

"Yeah. It didn't make any sense. Neither do you." Tobias looked down. "I'm lonely. You're lonely. It's nothing more than that."

Elliot had to tell the truth. "You're the only one that my dick seems to give one damn about, but I won't be led around by my johnson."

"So go shower." Tobias smoothed his hand down Elliot's crucifix, and Elliot allowed it. Elliot didn't mind at all. Tobias reached up and touched Elliot's forehead. Elliot knew why - no scar. This was all about Chris. He was right between them.

"Toby, take a step away because I don't want to."

Tobias nodded and did it. "Too bad I didn't meet you first."

"You're not gay, remember?" Elliot laughed softly.

"Neither are you, but the only way not to want you is to not look at you." Tobias grabbed his water and left the kitchen quickly. Elliot didn't reach for him. The shower felt good, and he washed thoroughly, talking to his dick the entire time. His dick didn't listen. When he was dry, he put the sweats back on and went out to the fridge. He was starving, and Tobias could spare a little food.

"That's a sight I would have bet the family fortune on that I'd never see."

"I'm hungry."

"Aren't you supposed to go to work?"

"Can't. Put in too much overtime." Elliot shrugged. "Tomorrow." He dug out some leftovers and found a plate. "I'm going to eat this, okay?"

"Go ahead." Tobias sat down at the peninsula. "I really thought you'd bolt out of here at six a.m."

Elliot was sorry to have let him down, but he had to eat. When the food was hot, he took it over by Tobias and sat down. "You should have kicked me to the curb. I'd have made it home."

"Or not." Tobias got up and got him a Coke. "I'm sure you had a shirt on last night."

Elliot took a bite of food. "Sorry. I forgot."

"Right. You don't even notice." Tobias laughed. "Chris would walk around naked without a care in the world."

"I'm not that bad. I usually wear something." Elliot had to wear briefs. He had kids. He ate some more and thought about his life again. "I think I'm going to sell the house."

Tobias seemed surprised. "Why?"

"I can't handle living there. It's too damn lonely. I offered it back to Kathy, but she said she didn't want to live in Queens any longer." Elliot wasn't sure why he was telling Tobias all of this.

"Where are you going to live?"

"I'll find something cheap. Funny thing is: I don't really care." Elliot didn't. He had his work and visiting his kids, and that was it. It was enough. "The money would be nice. I'd like my kids to be able to go to college without racking up huge student loans."

"Sounds like you made up your mind."

"I guess I did. It's just hard to actually do it. So many memories. It was our home." Elliot stopped talking. He was saying too much and sounding more and more like a pansy every minute.

Tobias reached and touched him on the hand. "I'm sorry."

"Me too. I screwed it up." Elliot moved his hand, but not in such a way that it was an insult. The touch was almost painful. He finished his food and drank his soda. "Thanks. I'll get out of your hair."

"No rush." Tobias took the plate to the sink. "I'm not doing anything today either."

Elliot smiled. It was nice to hear that, but he had to go. "Thanks for not cheering wildly."

"El, I can't be nice to you." Tobias stroked his hand through his hair. "It'll lead to a bad place."

"I know, Toby. It's okay." Elliot knew it was wrong, even if it would feel good. "Anyway, if our kids found out, well, it'd be bad."

"No shit. Holly would insist that Richard be allowed to move in on principle." Tobias looked at him imploringly. "Can't you just disappear?"

Elliot was surprised how much hearing that hurt. It shouldn't have, but it did. It wasn't like they were friends, and he didn't care, but it hurt. Moving quickly, he went back to the spare bedroom and dressed. He tossed the sweats on the bed. His badge and gun were locked up at work, and he found his cell phone under a pillow. No calls. He double-checked his fly was zipped and headed for the front door.

Tobias was in the front room, watching TV, and he got up fast. "Hey, I didn't mean-"

"Send me an email with the details about Harry," Elliot interrupted. He knew Harry had found the address. It was posted at the website. He stepped around Tobias, opened the door, and shut it right behind him. Too damn bad he couldn't really disappear. This was all just too damn confusing, and instead of going home, he headed to Cavanaugh's. Easter had come and gone, and he could get a beer without feeling any nagging guilt.

The place was full of the lunch crowd, but he managed to get a long neck and a spot at the far end of the bar. He was still there when the lunch crowd left, and he hadn't moved much when the dinner crowd filtered inside. It wasn't as if he had somewhere to go. There was no one to see. It was Wednesday, or Thursday, whatever, but the point was, he could disappear and no one would notice.

"Hey, Elliot, your butt there permanently?"

Elliot shrugged. He didn't want to talk to Manny, the bartender, today. "Another one."

Manny brought it over, took the cash, and made a show of counting on his fingers. "I'm going to need your car keys."

"I ain't leaving." Elliot took a long drink, trying to wash away the sight of Tobias sweaty. It was going to take more beer, but he wasn't quitting until he'd forgotten everything. He ate some peanuts, watched the game, and listened to the people around him talk. They had friends, lovers, a life. What the hell was his problem?

"That you, Elliot?"

Elliot turned, a little slowly. The last thing he wanted to do was fall off the barstool at his boss's feet. "Yep."

Cragen frowned. "You're hammered."

"Nah." Elliot knew he wasn't. Sure, he'd been here awhile, but he could still see, so he was fine.

"Why don't you come eat dinner with me?"

Elliot thought about it. He wasn't really hungry, and he didn't want to sit through a damn lecture. Cragen was his boss, not his buddy. "No. Thanks. I'm fine."

Cragen made a rude noise. "Did Manny get your keys?"

Elliot sighed and gave up. He pulled them out and tossed them at the board. Manny turned and caught them effortlessly. He hung them up. Elliot smiled. "Happy?"

"I guess it's a start." Cragen shook his head, but he went to find a table. Elliot took another drink. He noticed that Cragen had no shortage of people willing to eat with him. Was that Lenny Briscoe? Elliot thought so. He shrugged and went back to his beer. The problem was him. He was definitely the problem. Chris had probably had more friends in prison, and he'd for sure had more wives - even a husband.

Elliot laughed softly to himself. Yes, everyone had loved Chris. Chris was the twin with the winning personality. Elliot was the surly one. He noticed his beer was getting towards the bottom, and he placed it down carefully. The TV droned on, and he ate some more peanuts. When his cell phone rang, he nearly dropped it, but he got it open. "What?"

"Elliot?"

"That's me." Elliot found his beer and took a small drink.

"I was thinking about what you said about the house, and I think we should sell it," Kathy said.

"I knew you didn't give a shit." Elliot nearly shut the phone, but it would be rude. "Any other complaints?"

"Are you drunk?" Her voice reeked of scorn.

"I'm disappearing for the day." Elliot laughed at himself, not her. "You want to grind your boot into my balls while ya got me down?"

"I'd hoped you'd stop drinking." Kathy sounded pissed. "You're a mean drunk, just like your dad."

"Love you too, babe." Elliot snapped it shut and put it away. He wasn't a mean drunk. Sometimes he cried and he wasn't angry today. Tonight? He picked up his beer and finished it.

"He's done, Manny." It was Cragen again.

Elliot noticed that Manny didn't argue about it. "It's beer. Not whiskey."

"You're in the bag. Let me pour you in a cab." Cragen put his hand on him.

Elliot pushed the hand away. He wasn't a damn baby. "No. I'm going to disappear." He laughed again and slid off the barstool. The floor was a long ways down, but he made it. When his knees were straight, he headed for the door. Time to find somewhere else. Vanishing here had been a bad idea. Everyone knew him.

"Elliot! Go home." Cragen's voice penetrated the length of the bar, but Elliot didn't answer. He didn't have a home and telling himself he didn't care was getting weak. Stumbling over the step, he leaned against the outside of the building and breathed deeply. The impotent rage he felt at his life got his feet moving, and he walked until he had to lean against another building. Had Chris felt this way? Had the drugs made it go away? Or did killing people help? Elliot rubbed his face and wished he knew. Tobias would never tell him. There weren't any more answers, just questions, and he hated that. He hated not knowing.

"Ten bucks for a blow," the pro whispered in Elliot's ear, running her hand all over his crotch. "How ‘bout it?"

Elliot didn't think he had ten bucks left. "I'm a cop."

She vanished. Elliot blinked and wondered where she went. He shrugged and tried to find a street sign. Where the hell was he? This disappearing stuff was easy in this city. Shit. A black and white slowly passed by, and he leaned against a pole. It stopped and backed up. The window rolled down.

"Stabler! What the hell are you doing down in this part of town?"

"Where the hell am I?" Elliot grinned.

"Shit. He's drunk."

"Just like his old man."

Elliot rubbed his face. He wasn't. "Keep moving, fellas. I ain't doing nothing wrong."

"You're going to get mugged."

Elliot turned and walked away from them. He could still walk, and if he ended up taking a beating, he wouldn't feel it until some time late tomorrow. His father? That asshole should have given him away. Chris was the lucky one. Even if he were dead. Ridiculous, but true. Had Chris hated himself? Elliot sat down on the curb to think about it. It made sense. Why else would Chris self-destruct like he had? Elliot understood it all too well. He wanted to screw up so they'd put him away, and he'd never have to think again. Didn't he? He rubbed his eyes, felt his stomach twist, and got ready to puke. The gutter had never smelled quite so bad.

"You finished?" Tobias crossed his arms and stayed way back.

"Probably not." Elliot wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "How the hell did you get to this end of town?"

Tobias glared. "From what I could tell, a sector car reported you to your captain, who called Kathy. I was there, picking up Holly, and she went fucking ballistic."

"I am so sorry I asked. I'm fine. Get in your damn limo and keep going." Elliot hoped to God that Holly wasn't in there. Cragen had called Kathy? He must have been trying to keep it quiet.

"You're just like him. He took everything to mean that he was shit." Tobias tugged at his hair.

Elliot leaned over and threw up again. When he could see again, he said, "He was right. I'm right. Hey, why are you still here?"

"Fuck if I know." Tobias put his hand under Elliot's arm and pulled. "Come on."

Elliot wasn't so drunk that he couldn't get a boner. He stared in amazement at his groin and pushed Tobias's hand away. "If you think I'm going with you, yer crazy."

"I promised Kathy that I'd get you home safe." Tobias came at him again. "Do you like making her cry?"

Elliot groaned. "I hate it when she cries." He resisted the hands pulling at him. "Is Eduardo driving tonight?"

"Yes, and I'm sure he's laughing his head off." Tobias came around to the front of him. "I left Holly with Sandy. Get your fucking ass up!"

Elliot stared up at him. "Did you mean it when you asked me to move in with you?"

"You remember that?" Tobias sighed. "Uh, well."

"I knew you were messing with me." Elliot stared at his shoes. He hadn't believed it for one minute, and he didn't want it. "Please, just, go away."

"So you can fuck up your life? I walked away from Chris and he ended up dead." Tobias slapped him. Elliot saw it coming, but couldn't get out of the way. It wasn't much of a slap. He'd done worse. He laughed before throwing up again. Damn. That was a lot of beer. Usually he started puking in the morning, but tonight, wait, was it the morning? He wasn't sure.

"Mr. Tobias, sir, he ain't getting in my limo!"

Elliot laughed. Tobias threw up his hands. "What do you suggest, Eduardo?"

"Leave him here. Fucker doesn't want help. Fuck him." Eduardo crossed his arms. He was thoroughly disgusted, that was obvious.

"He's a cop," Tobias said, and now he sounded pissed off.

"I hate cops! Leave him here!" Eduardo got in Tobias's face. "He ain't worth shit and you know it!"

Elliot leaned back on his arms to watch the show. Tobias didn't look scared. Eduardo had three inches and fifty pounds on him, but Tobias just looked pissed, and his forehead looked really strange. Elliot rubbed his eyes. "He's right, Toby. You know it. You wanted me to disappear. Well, I did. Now you get lost!"

Tobias spun around. Elliot staggered to his feet and headed down the block. He'd walk until he puked again. Sure was a big city. Quiet too. He tucked his hands into his coat, put his head down, and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. His stupid cock had caused all this trouble. If he had been a normal guy, he wouldn't have given a shit about Tobias. Tobias. What kind of name was that? He looked like a Toby, but not Tobias. Too damn biblical and Toby was a sinner. He'd killed a little girl, for Christ's sake!

"Elliot, stop! Please!" Toby yanked him around.

Elliot nearly shoved him on his ass, but his hands got tangled in Toby's shirt. "Toby. Toby. Toby. Haven't you learned your lesson?"

Toby stared, wide-eyed. "What?"

"Come on, To-by." Elliot pulled him close and breathed in his ear. "I'll hurt you. Just like he did. You want that? You like that?"

Toby groaned and shoved at him, but Elliot had him good. "Elliot, you wouldn't. You're not that man!"

"Never know." Elliot chuckled softly and shoved him. "Go away, Toby. Save yourself. Again."

Toby threw a fist at him. Elliot turned his back and it thumped into his shoulder. He started walking again. That had hurt, a little. Toby wasn't a wimp. Elliot looked both ways at the corner and crossed. He was feeling much better. His stomach growled and he knew that was bad. He found an alley and threw up again. Leaning against the wall, he hoped that was the end of it. His feet were starting to ache, and he yanked a cardboard box out of a dumpster, squished it flat, and sat down. Two seconds later, he had company.

"Honey, this box ain't big enough for the both of us."

"You're a cop? Are you sure?" Toby wiggled his ass until he had half of it.

Elliot shrugged. He wrapped an arm around him, just to get it out of the way. "My dad was a cop. Me, well, who knows?" He leaned his head back and shut his eyes. "Do me a favor and go home to Holly."

"How about you?"

"I got nothing to go home to, but you do. Don't fuck it up." Elliot was tired now. He fumbled out his cell phone and checked the time. "And Sandy likes to get home before midnight."

"Eduardo drove off." Toby laughed. "He said he didn't like faggots anyway."

"You aren't gay." Elliot put his phone away. "Call another one. Please, just, do it. Eduardo was right, and nothing is going to happen to me."

"You might get mugged."

"Might."

Toby groaned and rubbed his face. "How the hell did I get dragged into this drama?"

"Don't know." Elliot hated drama. This wasn't it. He just wanted to rest. Rest.

*********

Elliot felt like the underside of a New York taxi. No, that wasn't dirty enough. He pushed to his hands and knees, dry-heaved, and sank back down on the bed. Bed? Where the hell was he? He rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling. He was at Toby's house. He recognized that light fixture. His stomach roared at him, and he swallowed hard. Very slowly, he sat up. The fact that he had no clothes on registered, but he didn't care.

The door opened. "You alive?"

"When I can walk straight, I'm going to kick your ass for bringing me here. Holly didn't need to see it!"

"She didn't. I made sure of that." Toby came inside and held out a mug of coffee. "I thought about it for a long time, but I couldn't leave you passed out in an alley, somewhere in Manhattan."

Elliot took the coffee and ignored all that talk. He sipped, swallowed, and prayed it stayed down. "I gotta call Kathy."

"I did." Toby pointed to a dresser. "There are some clean clothes in there."

Elliot's cell phone rang and he put down the coffee before opening it. "Stabler."

"You're alive. Good. I expect you at work today."

"I'm getting in the shower right now." Elliot tried to sound sober. Cragen hung up on him, and Elliot shut it and tossed it. "I gotta go to work."

Toby had moved closer, and he squeezed Elliot's shoulder. "I moved you in last night. Your clothes are here, and your shaver, and anything else I thought you'd want."

"Well, take it all back while I'm at work and I won't beat the shit out of you."

Toby leaned and kissed him on the forehead. "I knew you'd say that." He walked out. Elliot drank some more coffee and staggered towards the shower. He had to try to think, but he'd killed so many brain cells that it wasn't possible. Maybe he should stop thinking and go with the flow. Just let it all slide away. He didn't really give a damn, did he? The water ran off his back, and he used a lot of soap. He shook his head to clear it, but it didn't work. Well, he'd stumble through the day. Everyone was going to be laughing at him anyway.

Elliot finished his coffee while shaving, organized his few bathroom items the way he liked them, and went to get dressed. He took the time to really look at this part of the house. It was down a short hallway off the kitchen: bedroom, bath, and the office where he'd put his gun. It didn't look used. Someone had set up this part of the house as an apartment. Why? He remembered that he wasn't going to think today and went to get dressed. He found some jeans and a sweatshirt he liked. No suit today. God no. Cell phone and wallet and he was going to try to face the day. He took his mug back to the kitchen and refilled it.

Toby was at the peninsula with a cup of his own. "Your car is out front."

"We're going to talk later about how much money you had to throw at my problem." Elliot hoped he'd have the ability to talk at some point today. Right now, he just felt fried. "Whose office is that?"

"Yours, now." Toby shrugged. "Mine is upstairs."

"I haven't made it up the stairs yet." Elliot wasn't going either. He leaned against the cabinets and tried to think of something to say. "Who lived back there?"

"I did, before I got married. This is my parent's home. Mine now." Toby pushed Elliot's car keys at him. "I put a house key on it."

"Don't need it."

Toby sighed softly. "I have to get Harry after school today. His career day is Monday."

"I may not have a job by then," Elliot muttered. He rinsed out his mug, put it in the sink, grabbed his keys, and went out the front door. Chris still looked sad, and Elliot understood why. Trapped in a hell of his own making with no way out - brothers, twins, it was all the same.

The ride to work took half as long as it did from Queens, and he wasn't happy about that because he could get used to it fast. He stopped at his locker, hung his badge around his neck, and put his gun on his hip.

"Elliot! My office!"

Elliot started that way. He had known it was coming, but the yelling made Cragen feel better. "I'm here."

"Better late than never." Cragen looked him up and down. "How you feel?"

"Fine." Elliot went ahead and sat down in the chair by the door. Dr. Huang was lurking in the shadows, and Elliot had a feeling he was going to be here until they had the answers they wanted.

"Would you care to explain what last night was all about?"

Elliot chewed his lip. "I got drunk. Plastered. Spent all day drinking. Started at noon. Quit when you made me. After that, I went home."

Cragen sat down at his desk. "Why?"

"I hadn't had a drink in months." Elliot made sure not to look at Huang. "I'm not a drunk. I just got drunk."

"What's the underlying reason, Elliot, the job? The divorce?" Huang asked softly.

Elliot tapped his fingers on his leg. It was time to come clean to his boss. Otherwise, he might be packing up his locker and going home. "Remember that personal time I took about two years ago?"

Cragen furrowed his brow. "Yes. You said you had a death in the family."

Elliot nodded. "Mind if I use your computer to show you?"

"Be my guest." Cragen looked confused. Elliot accessed his email and opened up the picture that Harry had sent him. Cragen and Huang both looked stunned.

"Things, well, everything has been difficult lately, but I have a grip. Yesterday, I just needed to blow off some steam."

Cragen looked away from the screen to him. "I can see where the last year has been stressful."

"Yes, but if you take this job away from me, I'm going to crack in half." Elliot hated speaking so honestly in front of Huang. "I lost my twin brother and my family. I can't lose this too."

"No more day drunks," Cragen snapped. "Promise me."

"No more." Elliot rubbed his face. "My word."

"Keep it or you're gone." Cragen looked at Huang. Huang nodded slightly.

Elliot had no idea what that nod meant. "Since you have my mail box open, please read that email I got from Harry Beecher."

Cragen took hold of the mouse and clicked a few times. "Is he serious?"

"Very. Boy's bright, not like my kids." Elliot had to smile. "Career day is Monday. Your call."

Cragen stared at the screen a little longer. "You'll shelter him from the worst of it, right?"

"Yes." Elliot was ashamed that Cragen had to ask. "He's a good kid. His sister is dating Dickie."

"Now it makes sense." Cragen nodded. "I'll approve it, but watch him, and you have the weekend off."

"You're ripping me?" Elliot had figured he would get one.

"Yes. One day. When I sit down to breakfast with the other captains, I take it personally when they're laughing about you."

Elliot felt that hit home. He nodded, got to his feet, and made it out the door without yelling. Huang would love to see him lose control.

Fin clapped him on the shoulder. "Still drunk?"

"I wish I was." Elliot lowered his voice. "Everyone still laughing?"

"Yes, indeed they are," John said from Elliot's other side. "I'm not sure if it was the hooker or the staggering or the fact that your ex-wife had to go pick you up."

Elliot didn't remember a pro. "Did I get laid?"

Fin and John exchanged a look. "Damn, boy, you got to drink less," Fin said.

"Or more." Elliot grinned. "Just for the record, Kathy did not pick me up. A friend of the family did."

"He still pissed?" John asked.

"If I puked in his limo, yes." Elliot saw Cragen come out of his office. John and Fin were laughing, and Elliot found his chair.

"Fin and Munch, get out there and start canvassing." Cragen pointed. "Elliot, you're on ass duty for the next two days."

Elliot didn't bother arguing. He'd been an ass. He'd do the time. The day slid away into phone calls, reports, filing, and making sure Olivia was up to date on the case she was working with John and Fin.

At five thirty, Cragen stuck his head out his office door. "Go home, Elliot."

Elliot didn't move. He still didn't have a home to go to. All that beer and nothing had changed. He'd wasted a lot of money. He sighed softly and opened a drawer to put away his open files. Chris stared back at him, and he slowly pulled it out. It was his own face, and yet not. Almost defiantly, he set it out by the photo of his kids.

Olivia came over to him. "Why don't you go see if you can have dinner with your kids?"

"I'm not going there unless I'm armed with flowers, and I'm broke from all the beer I bought." Elliot shrugged and went to get his coat. "We're going to sell the house. I have to get out anyway."

Olivia looked slightly alarmed. "Where will you live?"

Elliot dug out his keys. "That is the question, isn't it? I'm not sure I care." He left her there with her mouth open and went to his car. Sleeping up in the crib was out of the question. Cragen wanted him gone. Sheer stubbornness made him want to drive to Queens, but his toothbrush was at the Beecher's. He parked near the brownstone, walked up the steps, and hesitated. There was still time to run. Still time to find a crappy hotel. Still time to think of something.

Harry opened the door. "Sandy made clam chowder."

Elliot gave up. "We need to talk about your project." He went inside and walked back to his room, his apartment, shutting the door in the hallway for extra privacy. Sandy had smiled at him. At least she liked him. Elliot wasn't sure that Toby did. He went in the office and found the safe. There was a note from Toby on it. I took the code off. Just plug in yours and press enter. Harry knows your badge number. T.

Elliot read it, rubbed his forehead, and pushed his gun and badge in the safe. He used Maureen's birthday to code it. Harry was too damn smart for his own good. Elliot changed shirts, brushed his teeth again, he could still taste beer, and went back out to the kitchen.

Harry was sitting at the peninsula, waiting. Elliot sat down next to him and thanked Sandy for the tea she put in front of him. Harry swallowed hard. "Am I in trouble?"

"I don't know. Are you?" Elliot smiled.

"I didn't lie. I just wanted to do it on you. I'm sorry." Harry hung his head.

"Harry, you worked your dad into a corner, and you knew it. Apologize to him, not me." Elliot gave Harry a hug. "I talked to my captain today, and he approved it. You're lucky. If he'd have said no, you'd have failed because of lack of planning."

"I was being sneaky," Harry whispered. "Dad hates cops."

Elliot didn't believe that any more. "Harry, grownups are complicated. Your father doesn't hate cops. He hates violence and guns and people that solve their problems by hurting each other. He wanted to protect you from that. My job isn't pretty or shiny."

Harry swallowed hard. "Scary sometimes?"

"Even for me." Elliot drank his tea. He was finally starting to get hungry. "Think you can handle it or do you want to take the failing grade?"

"You'll be there?"

"Of course." Elliot caught sight of Toby, listening from the stairs. "You think about it. Let me know."

"Okay." Harry got down off his barstool and went upstairs.

Toby came up from the basement with a funny look on his face. "You're making me look bad at this father shit."

"Stop cursing, ya idiot." Elliot let Sandy refill his tea. "Did you take my stuff back to my house?"

"No." Toby sat down across from him. "I told the kids that you were living here for now."

"Did they scream and run from the room?"

"They seemed pretty happy about it. I can't imagine why." Toby pointed at him. "It's on you to tell Kathy and your kids."

"If it happens, I will." Elliot still wasn't sure. It couldn't be the right decision, and he had to know one more thing before he even considered it. "How much did you spend on me last night?"

Toby gave him a long, steady look. "The limo company got your car. They didn't mention if it was extra. I moved your things with the help of my new driver."

"If you get a bill, I'll pay it." Elliot wanted to snarl at him, so he did, "And don't you ever make that kind of decision for me again. It's my life and if I want to live somewhere crappy, I will."

Toby rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "I do hate cops."

"Not like Eduardo does. Did you fire him?" Elliot remembered that part of the evening clearly. He wished he remembered the hooker.

"Of course not. I just requested another driver. The company doesn't care." Toby smiled and shook his head. "Sandy, did you burn his suit?"

"Took it to the dry cleaners along with your shirts." Sandy shook her head. "Smelled like, well, things a lady doesn't discuss."

Elliot put his head in his hands and rubbed. He had to think, and it hurt. "Please get me that bill. I'm going to go lie down until dinner."

"I'll call you." Sandy smiled. Elliot shut the hallway door and went back to the bedroom. He pushed off his shoes and stretched out on the bed. It was nice just to be flat. If he stayed here, he wouldn't be alone. Not alone. Of course, he slept in the crib a lot, so it wouldn't be all that often. It was closer to work, and Sandy was a great cook. He knew he was talking himself into it, but if he were honest, and he didn't want to be honest, he'd admit that he didn't care where he slept. The things he loved the most were gone, except on Saturday nights and sometimes Sundays. He shut his eyes and rested.

"Supper!"

Elliot got up with only a small grumble. He was hungry. Not eating all day would do that to a person. He hoped he could face food now, and he tried not to slink out to the kitchen table. Holly pushed the chair back next to her, and he took it. "Did you tell Richard I moved in?"

"Dad told me that if I did, I'd be grounded for a month."

"Good." Elliot was glad to hear it. Sandy served the chowder, and he was relieved that he didn't gag. It smelled good. He found his spoon and ate a little. Yes, he was going to live. Toby was doing his usual not-eating thing, and Elliot had to say something. "You'd be able to lift more than fifty pounds if you ate occasionally."

Toby wiped his mouth. "Is that an insult?"

"No, a suggestion. Man can't live on yogurt." Elliot noticed that Sandy was smothering laughter.

"Usually, you're not going to be here, right?"

Elliot didn't laugh or smile. He had the feeling that he was supposed to, but for some reason it wasn't funny. So, he was an asshole. No wonder he was alone all the time. He ate some chowder, but not as much as he would have on a good day. When the kids excused themselves, he did too, and he thanked Sandy.

"Elliot, are you going to watch TV with us?" Toby reached for him, but Elliot slid farther away. He just shook his head and went to his office. He'd had it hammered home that he wasn't wanted here or anywhere. Tobias wanted him to disappear, and yet, he'd moved him here. It just didn't make any sense. Elliot felt as if he were treading water, waiting to drown.

Elliot pushed away his extreme frustration, turned on the computer, and sat down in front of it. He'd send Kathy an email and do some research on the housing market in Queens. If they were going to sell, it was going to be a huge job. Just cleaning out the garage would take weeks, and if he were living over here in the lap of luxury, it would never get done.

His mailbox was full, and he started with the one from Kathy.

I hope you're feeling better. You scared me, but I apologize for dragging Tobias into your mess. Give me a call when you can. Your brother, Robert, called and wanted to know if we'd consider selling the house to him. I didn't know what to say. Take care, K

Elliot leaned back in the chair and sighed. She was too good to him. He deserved a good cursing out. Of course, she might have counted on Cragen to get that job done. His brother, Robert, was a good solution, if he had the money. Elliot wasn't going to give his house away, not even to family. He found a real estate site, typed in the search parameters, and dialed Kathy while it pulled the information up for him.

"Kathy, I got your email," Elliot stupidly said.

"You're okay?"

"Embarrassed, but fine. I guess I lost my grip on things." He hesitated. "You can yell, if you want."

"It won't do any good." Kathy sighed. "Just don't hurt yourself. The kids and I, well, we count on you."

Elliot didn't think so. "Is Robert serious about the house?"

"Very. Said he had the cash. Said he was tired of living in apartments. He is nearly fifty. Maybe he's going to settle down."

"Hard to believe." Elliot smiled. "What about all the junk we have left over there?"

"Let's pick a weekend and take care of it." Kathy was quiet a very long moment. "Where are you going to live?"

Elliot rubbed his forehead. "Kath, I don't know. It's hard to care."

"Don't do this to me. You know we were finished." Kathy's voice was hard now. "Find some place the kids will like."

"I'll think about it and let you know." Elliot figured he had one day, maybe two, before Holly told Dickie. They clicked off, and he heard a small knock out at the hallway door. He almost ignored it, but he went, and it was Harry.

"What's up, little dawg?"

Harry gawked and then laughed. "I made up my mind. I want to do it."

Stabler nodded, refusing to smile and make light of it. "Okay. We'll do it then. Monday, you can go to work with me."

"Thanks. Are you - are you - going to live here?" Harry stuck his hands in his pockets.

Elliot saw Sandy turn, and he had to be honest. "Let's sit down and talk." They moved to the table, and he spread his hands. "You're a smart kid, so I'll tell you some of the truth. I have to sell my house, and I don't know where to go."

"Some?"

"Hey, even I don't know everything." Elliot winked at him. "Your dad said I could bunk here for a few days until I figured it out. No big deal. Okay?"

"Okay." Harry tentatively reached out and touched him on the hand. "I like you."

Elliot grinned. "Thanks. I like you too."

Harry seemed to have said all he could, and he ducked his head and raced down the stairs. Elliot smiled after him. Sandy put a glass of ice tea down in front of him and sat down. "He's a good boy."

"He is. Toby is lucky." Elliot took a sip. "If I stay, are you gonna wait on me hand and foot?"

"I might. Tobias sure don't let me." Sandy smiled. "I like to earn my wage."

"How long have you been with the family?" Elliot asked casually. He was just curious.

"The Beechers bought this house in the late seventies. I was twenty-two, and this was my first job. I was glad to hear they weren't going to sell when Mrs. Beecher passed away, and when Tobias moved in, I finally had plenty to do again. Nothing like children in the house." Sandy seemed happy to discuss it. "Mrs. Beecher passed recently. Sad. I miss her."

"I can tell." Elliot hooked his thumb at his rooms. "How much will I owe you?"

"Don't be ridiculous." Sandy frowned at him. "No way one man can make that much more work."

Elliot frowned back at her. "Irish don't take charity."

"And don't I know that!" She laughed now. "Well, we'll discuss it with Tobias then, won't we?"

Elliot nodded. "The clam chowder was great. You make a good meat loaf?"

She gave him the eye. "That was a challenge if I've ever heard one. Well, I'll let you decide. Tomorrow night. Be here."

"Deal." Elliot laughed. "I gotta go putter on the computer." She waved him away, and he took his tea back to look at housing prices. He liked her, and he liked Harry and Holly, but Toby. Well, Toby, Tobias, was something else. That wasn't ‘like.' That was . . . something he'd rather not face sober. It took him awhile to settle on a comparable price, and he emailed Kathy the page. She knew more than he did about the condition of the house. When he finished that, he went back to his mail and opened up the one Harry had sent him with the picture of Chris in it. Chris would laugh about this. He would. He'd probably ask if Elliot intended to steal his bitch, and Elliot would have to punch him.

"Got a minute?"

Elliot turned. "I'm not saving the world back here, so yeah."

"I want your word that you'll take care of him." Toby was dead serious. "No crime scenes, no women sobbing, no dead bodies, no visits to the morgue."

"I was going to take him over to forensics. The lab is pretty cool, but the morgue is definitely out." Elliot smiled, yawned, and stretched.

Toby put his hands on his hips. "You're listening to me, right?"

Elliot got to his feet fast. "Don't you talk down to me. I was helping children when you were rotting in a cell for killing one. I've been trained to handle traumatized children. I know my job!"

Toby didn't back away, but he looked stricken. "Like my kids."

"Not really. Your children obviously still had a loving environment, beyond the trauma of losing their mother to suicide and their father to prison." Elliot made sure his voice was quiet. "I will take care of him."

"I believe you." Toby sighed. "I did rot in a cell."

"Cop talk. It doesn't mean anything." Elliot backed away. He didn't want to fight now that he'd made his point. "I just don't want you thinking I'm some ignorant cop that barely graduated high school and kicks down doors for a living."

Toby raised his hands. "I never thought that. It's just - he's my son."

"And your oldest, Gary, is dead." Elliot watched Toby silently grieve.

"Yes." Toby slumped down in a leather chair, and Elliot sat back down also. "Chris tried to help,
but-"

"There isn't anything that makes it better, not even time." Elliot put his hand on Toby's knee. "I'm sorry for your loss, but don't wrap Harry too tight."

"I tell myself that every time I let him walk out that door." Toby put his hand on Elliot's and squeezed. "He's lucky I don't homeschool him, and Holly too."

"Now that I understand, Toby." Elliot didn't take his hand away. "I appreciate you letting me stay here while I get my head on straight."

"But you'd never consider staying." Toby nodded. "I hear you. If you need anything, I'll help."

"Why?" Elliot cocked his head to the side. He had a feeling that he wouldn't get the truth.

Toby got to his feet. "Go with the ‘Tobias is a nice guy' theory."

Elliot laughed softly. "Even if I know it's bogus."

"Are you going to continue to call me Toby?"

Elliot rubbed his hand down the length of his face. "Somewhere between puking in the gutter and sitting together on a cardboard box, you became Toby. Tobias just . . . doesn't fit."

"It's my name!" Toby put his hands on his hips.

Elliot shrugged. "Sorry. I'll try to switch my brain back, but I'm still dealing with that Dickie Richard thing, so don't hold your breath."

"It was not my fault you called your son Dickie!" Toby burst out laughing. He lowered his head and laughed some more.

Elliot laughed with him. Some of the pressures of the week eased away from him. He got out of his chair, and he would claim later that he didn't do it, but they were in each other's arms. They did nothing but hold each other and breathe, and it was enough to make the world a better place.

"Let go," Toby said softly.

Elliot did immediately, moving away also. "Sorry. I didn't mean anything by it." His dick laughed at him.

Toby pushed his hair away from his face. He took a good look at Elliot's groin and walked out of the room. Elliot adjusted his package and sat back down. This twin thing really sucked, and he blamed Chris. Chris smiled at him from the computer screen, and Elliot flipped him off. It was juvenile and satisfying.

********

Elliot reached over and slapped his alarm off. There was no way he was going to be late to work today. He showered, shaved, dressed in blue, wrapped a tie around his neck, and went to find coffee. Sandy was putting breakfast on the table, and he went ahead and sat down. She served him fast, and he stared at the plate full of food. He'd skip lunch, and he'd hit the weights.

"Holly, what's the plan with Richard tonight?" Toby asked.

"Well," Holly said slowly and shot Elliot a look, "he wanted to hang out here. Is that okay?"

Elliot smiled at Toby. "How long were you going to ground her for?"

"A month." Toby pointed at her. "Did you talk?"

Holly swallowed hard. She studied her plate. Elliot kept eating. Teenagers didn't have the capacity to keep secrets - something in their brain chemistry. "I only said that Elliot was coming over for dinner tonight. So, Richard thought we could be here, and he'd get some extra time with his dad."

Elliot listened for the lie, but he didn't hear it. "We'll see. I might have to work late. Holly, let me tell him, please?"

"Sure." Holly blushed. She ate faster.

"Bus - ten minutes." Toby checked his watch. Elliot cleaned his plate, finished his coffee, and watched Toby get Holly off to school. Toby came back in the house, but hit the sofa in the front room. Elliot thanked Sandy and went to get his gun and badge. Toby waited until Elliot's hand was on the doorknob, and then he said, "Have a good day at work."

"I'm on ass duty." Elliot shrugged. "What are you and Harry doing today?"

"We'll think of something."

Elliot noticed that once again Toby wouldn't look or smile at him. Well, it was no surprise. He got moving instead of standing there. First, he made a call to Kathy.

"Hello?"

"Are the kids still there?"

"I'm getting ready to take them. Why?"

"Would it be okay if Elizabeth goes with the Dickie after school?"

"You're asking me? Shouldn't you be asking Tobias?"

Elliot started the car. "He said it was fine. I'm going to meet them there for dinner. Okay?" It was a lie, but he'd fix it with Toby later.

"Sure. I'll tell them." Kathy paused. "Everything okay?"

"Going to work. Bye." Elliot shut the phone. He'd send an email. It was funny that he lived with the guy and still didn't know his cell phone number. He ran that through his brain again - he lived with a guy. Throwing the car into gear, he shook off the sinking feeling that he didn't know what he was doing. That was a given. Right now, he'd get through this day. He'd find a way to slide through it. He'd visited a lot of prisons, and he'd seen the looks on their faces. They were just letting it happen. He had to do the same. Chris would understand.

********

"Elliot, go home," Cragen said.

Elliot saw that it was five thirty and looked over his shoulder. "Still mad, huh?"

"You set for Monday?" Cragen neatly avoided the question. That was answer enough.

"I think it'll work. Everyone has a head's up." Elliot nodded. He would make sure it was interesting, but not traumatic. "You sure I can't come in for a half day tomorrow?"

"Positive. If I hear you're drinking, I'll have your badge."

Elliot shut down his computer and let it roll off his back. He didn't care. Damn it. He still had his job, that was the important thing. His kids and his job were the two big things in his life, and the rest of it was all negotiable.

"Going home?"

"I'm going to have dinner with Elizabeth and Dickie." Elliot put on his coat. "You?"

"Got a date." Olivia grinned. "Handsome lawyer."

Elliot smiled. "I might have to get me one of those." He blushed after the words slipped out because it was Toby he was thinking of. He tried to dig himself out. "Well, pretty, not handsome."

"I was wondering if the world had tilted the other way on its axis," John said slyly. "Elliot, you seem to prefer blondes. Olivia likes her men with dark hair. Interesting."

"Please, no black helicopters tonight," Fin said. "We going out for beer?"

"Olivia has a date. I've been sent home by Cragen. You two go ahead. You're a cute couple." Elliot grinned. Fin shot him a nasty look. John just laughed. Elliot got his stuff and went out the door. He did like blondes, but he wasn't against brunettes. Of course, sex wasn't on his agenda. He'd have to hire a pro to get laid, and he wasn't wasting his money on that.

Suddenly, he was in front of Toby's house, and he parked the car. It was Dickie that opened the door for him. Elliot smiled and hugged him. Elizabeth came out of the kitchen and joined them. It was nice. These kids were his life. He didn't matter.

"How was school?" he asked quietly.

"Good," they said at the same time, "I got an A!"

Elliot laughed. "I'm proud of both of you. Tell me, what are the plans for tomorrow night?"

"Maureen wants to go to the movies. Again. Kathleen wants to go to Times Square. Again," Elizabeth said and sighed dramatically. "We don't care."

"Well, you get an extra evening." Elliot kissed them one more time over their protests. He gently tugged them over to the sofa and made them sit. He sat down with them. "Listen, I have to tell you something."

Dickie and Elizabeth instantly sobered. "We know you're selling the house," they said together.

"Would you two stop that?" Elliot rubbed his forehead. He started over. "Your mother and I are talking about selling the house. It's not a done deal. You know that, well, work has been tough lately."

"You always say that," Dickie said. "Are you moving away?"

"No!" Elliot made sure to look them in the eye so they knew he was telling the truth. "Toby, well, he offered to let me stay here for a couple of nights until I straighten things out."

Dickie's eyes were huge. "You're living here?"

"For a little while. Yes." Elliot swallowed his spit. "Is that okay?"

Dickie couldn't seem to form words. Elizabeth asked, "This is about selling the house?"

"Yes," Elliot said. That much was true.

"Mom is going to freak out!" Dickie stared at him. "That is so cool. Can I move in too?"

"No," Elliot said firmly. He'd known that was coming. "Elizabeth, it's not a big deal."

Elizabeth shrugged. "I'm glad you're not alone. It worries me." Her eyes drifted down to Elliot's gun. "A lot."

Elliot hugged her. "Don't worry. I'm fine. I just need to work things out."

Dickie got in his own hug. "Wow, this is great."

"Dickie, I am moving out." Elliot grabbed him by the ear and twisted. Dickie yelped, Elizabeth laughed, and the conversation was over. They scooted off, and he went to put his gun away. He stared at it a long moment before locking the door. Elizabeth shouldn't have to worry that he'd eat a bullet. He wished she didn't know enough to be scared. His badge, he put on top of the gun, and he shut the safe. He had a weekend, and he was going to enjoy it, even though it cost him money. Everything but his kids could wait.

Quickly, he changed into some sweats and a ratty T-shirt that said NYPD on it. No reason to dress up, and he hadn't had time to work his biceps and triceps during lunch, so he was going to fix that now. He smiled at Sandy and went downstairs to the fun part of the house. Harry was on the computer, Dickie, Elizabeth, and Holly were playing video games, and Toby was nowhere to be seen.

"Where's your dad?" Elliot asked quietly.

"Upstairs?" Harry shrugged. Elliot didn't push it. He went over to the weights, found what he wanted, made a few adjustments, and sat down on the bench to do curls. The second set he did standing, and by the third, he was hurting. That was good. He took a break, sat down, and smiled at the look on Holly's face.

"What?"

"You're strong," Holly said.

Elliot shrugged. "Richard, come show Holly what you got."

"Dad!" Dickie complained. "That's embarrassing."

"Girls like a guy with a little muscle." Elliot laughed softly. Holly went back to the game. Elliot knew that Dickie lifted weights sixth hour, but obviously, he was still shy about his body. Thank God. He might keep his pants on. Elliot adjusted the weights again and started on his triceps. He didn't quit until muscle failure, and it felt good in a painful way. He sat down, breathed, and watched the clock. Toby came down the stairs, stopped halfway, looked right at him, turned, and left. Elliot lowered his head, took a deep breath, and made his arms burn. Burn. Burn. He wasn't going to think, or worry. It didn't matter.

********

"Thank Mr. Beecher before I take you home." Elliot spoke quietly so his kids didn't feel one inch tall. They went to do that, and he found his keys. He waited for them in front of the fireplace. Chris stared back at him. The twins went past him and out the door, and he took them home to Kathy. Instead of going in and talking, he kissed them goodbye, waited until they were inside, and drove away. He got out on the interstate and let the road slip away under his wheels. He was absolutely sure that he was at a crossroads in his life. Left or right, but not both, and there was no going backwards. Kathy wasn't going to come back to him. His kids were almost grown, and his parents were dead. If he wanted, he could keep going until he hit a different ocean, find a job, and live quietly.

And he'd never do that. Maureen and Kathleen might be older, but he still wanted to be part of their lives. And the twins would need more guidance in these next years, not an absentee father who might send gifts on their birthday. He'd sell the house and the money would go for college expenses. It was the best thing to do. A sign for a roadside café made him look, and he pulled in to piss. Lord knew he wasn't hungry, not after eating Sandy's meal. He leaned against the hood of his car, took a deep breath, and let himself think of Toby. That was the real dilemma. Could he walk away from that blond lawyer? Chris's friend?

"Damn it all to hell," Elliot muttered and rubbed his face. At that instant, his cell phone rang, and he answered it. "Stabler."

"You bullied Tobias into letting you live with him! Just so you could see your kids more often!" Kathy's voice was so loud that he pulled the phone away from his ear. "Elliot! That's-"

Elliot shut his phone off and pressed it into his forehead. He hadn't done that. His sin, and it was a sin, had been reaching out when he should have gone the hell home. If he hadn't been so damn lonely, he wouldn't have made that mistake. And Toby? No matter the attraction, Toby couldn't even look at him. Elliot squeezed the phone hard. He got back in his car and drove back to the brownstone. There was a light on upstairs, but the downstairs was dark, and he had to use the key. He went through to his room. His room? No, but he'd been comfortable here, even when he was drunk. Wow, he was an idiot. Cragen wasn't going to forget that any time soon.

"Are you leaving?"

Elliot whirled around, his heart in his throat. "Scare the shit out of me!"

Toby put his hands up. "Thank God your gun is in the safe."

"I wouldn't have pulled the trigger," Elliot grumbled and sat down on the bed. "Didn't your mother teach you to knock?"

"I did, but you didn't answer, and for some reason, I was worried you were drunk." Toby backed up another step.

Elliot glared. "What I can't believe is that you bothered to walk down the stairs. You haven't even looked at me tonight, much less said two words."

Toby pushed his hair back. "Don't you have a clue? You were in a tiny torn shirt and sweats for half the night!"

"What? Why the hell would you . . ." Elliot let the sentence die away. He sure as hell hadn't intended that reaction. His own dick twitched. "Sorry. I didn't think."

"For some reason, I believe you. You're not a flirt." Toby groaned. "I'm sorry too. I thought, well, that I wouldn't care, and I was just helping you out because you‛re Chris's brother but-"

Elliot put up his hand. "Stop. Right there. You don't care, and I'm just freeloading because I want to see my kids."

Toby stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I'm glad you have all the answers."

"Well, Kathy does, but she could be right." Elliot looked away in the hopes his dick would give up. "Yeah, I'm leaving."

"Why?"

Elliot could have named off ten good reasons, but there was only one that was making him leave. "Because you won't look at me, and I can't take it. You, just, go on with your life, and I'll go somewhere else."

"Come on, El, you don't want me looking at you!"

Elliot bit the inside of his lip. Crossroads? Definitely. Left or right. John had said it. The world was about to switch around on its axis. "I'm not Chris."

"No one knows that better than me." Toby moved closer. "Would you like to see the pictures I have of him?"

"Yes." Elliot did want to see. "He gave up, didn't he? It was all just too damn much."

Toby nodded slowly. "I thought I was the one breaking, but it was him. Give me a minute."

Elliot shrugged, pushed off his tennis shoes, and put his back to the headboard. Some part of him knew he should move this conversation to the office, where he'd be safe, but he didn't do it. Was it hours or minutes later when Toby came in the room with a box?

"Kids asleep?"

"Yes. I checked." Toby sat down across from him, tucked his feet under his knees, and opened it. He pushed it so Elliot could see inside.

Elliot looked, dipped his hand in, and pulled out the first picture. Each one was in its own protective cover. "How'd you get all these?"

"I'd buy a disposable camera off O'Reily, snap them, and pass it to my mother or father when they came to visit." Toby smiled. "I lost a couple to shakedowns, but all in all, I was pleased with the results."

"Really?" Elliot looked at one after another. They weren't just of Chris. Other men stared back at him, and they all had that same look - life without the possibility of parole. "Doesn't it hurt to look at them?"

Toby scooted a little closer. "Yes, but it was my life. Oz didn't make me the man I am today, but it sure did strip away the layers."

"The layers that society forces us to wrap ourselves inside." Elliot nodded. "Considering where you've been, it's a miracle that you're here."

"I say that nearly every morning." Toby pointed to the picture that Elliot had in his hand. "That's Ryan O'Reily - he could get anything, for a price."

"A friend?"

"Maybe. Sometimes. A man of shifting alliances. He ran the Irish." Toby laughed softly. "Only man I knew that could score pussy in the joint. Well, except for Chris, but that was Chris."

Elliot wasn't entirely sure he wanted to hear the story. At least, not now. "You didn't?"

"Had a girlfriend, but no." Toby got his own picture out. "Think I look good in a beard?"

"No." Elliot took it and looked. "You look insane."

"I was. It was . . . different. Heroin will make you crazy." Toby nodded, and Elliot found that he was staring at him instead of the picture. Toby was clean, but beating heroin was almost impossible. Elliot had seen it time after time.

"Are you gonna stay clean?" Elliot asked softly.

"Most don't, but yes. I don't want it. Getting clean in the hole brings an entire new meaning to the word ‘hell.'" Toby tossed the picture in the box. "You ever do drugs?"

Elliot wasn't sure he wanted to discuss it. "Officially, no. I'm a cop, remember?"

"So, just some marijuana in the Marines. Got it." Toby grinned. "Was the Marines fun?"

"Difficult. The kind of thing that makes you realize who you are, and who you're not." Elliot had just told Toby more about his military service than he'd ever told anyone, even Kathy.

"Sounds like prison." Toby found one of Chris and passed it over. "Chris should have gone into the military instead of Lardner."

"No birth certificate. He had a fake social security card and driver's license." Elliot had been surprised Chris's parents hadn't dummied up a fake one, but they hadn't. "Chris grew up in Jersey, from all I can tell, and his father was killed early - probably working for the mob. We're Irish, but Chris's family was Italian and German."

"How'd you find out all this stuff?" Toby looked amazed.

"That cop thing. Opens doors." Elliot smiled at him. "I've had time to dig around."

"So what happened to Chris's mom? He'd never say."

Elliot slipped his hand over his hair. "She was a pro. Got sent to jail a couple of times. She died about four years ago - complications from tuberculosis. She probably picked it up at Rikers."

Toby made a soft sound. "Poor Chris."

"If only, huh?" Elliot had been so angry for so long about it. Chris had deserved better. Chris had become the man Elliot might have been, but for some reason, he had dodged that bullet. It had been close though. His father had nearly driven him wild. Only the love of his mother had saved him. Toby suddenly reached for him, and their hands banged together and held tight.

"Don't leave. Please. You need something, and so do I." Toby's blue eyes were big.

"It'll look awful, and I ain't no freeloader." Elliot just couldn't see it, but he didn't turn him loose.

"What's your mortgage?"

Elliot hesitated. Now that was personal information, so he reluctantly lied, "About fifteen hundred a month."

"So, give me half. I'll give it to Sandy. She needs a raise." Toby didn't turn him loose either. "No free rides around here."

Elliot laughed softly and held on tight. "Seven hundred a month? Can I use the garage?"

"Of course. It's empty. I sold my parent's Benz." Toby smiled now. "I've got you, don't I?"

"Yeah. For now. I just can't face that big, empty house. I'd rather sleep in lockup." Elliot put the picture of Chris away. "Think Chris is laughing?"

"Hysterically. And he's gloating. He always knew he was too handsome to turn away." Toby got up, but didn't turn him loose. "Coffee?"

Elliot stood with him. "No. Let's just watch TV."

"Deal."

Elliot went out with him, and they let go of each other. He took the big chair, and Toby got comfortable on the sofa.

"That plasma screen is nice."

"It was Harry's idea to have it come down from the ceiling."

"He got it off the internet." Elliot was sure of it. He'd seen it before. "Now tell me he did the wiring and I'll be impressed."

"He helped. The electrician just shook his head. I enjoyed watching it." Toby laughed and turned it on. He tossed the remote in Elliot's lap. "Warn me when you're going to lift weights."

"Will do." Elliot found some news and left it there. He wanted to sit here and pretend that everything was okay.

*********

"Coffee?" Toby hesitated before grabbing an extra mug.

"Yeah." Elliot rubbed his eyes. He'd slept like he was exhausted, and he hadn't thought that he was. "No Sandy?"

"She doesn't work on weekends. I insisted."

"I could gain fifty pounds living here." Elliot noticed that Toby added cream before handing it to him. "Thanks."

"She does tend to overdo it. We live on leftovers for two days, and that cleans out the fridge." Toby sat down across from him. "I wasn't going to ask you, but what the hell. I have tickets to the Lion King for tonight. Want to go?"

"I have four kids," Elliot said tiredly. He was considering going back for a nap. "But thanks."

"I have ten tickets. I know it's weird, but Angus got them, and now he can't go, so I'm asking you and your children." Toby smiled at him.

"How many kids does he have?"

"Three." Toby nodded. "And they were inviting friends, but it all fell through because of some school function. I didn't buy them. So don't offer to pay. Either say yes or no."

"I'll call and ask." Elliot had no idea if his kids wanted to see it. "Is it good?"

"That's what I hear. I haven't been. The thought of all those people makes me slightly uncomfortable."

"You live in your head too much." Elliot drank some coffee. He'd call Maureen on her cell and work it that way. He did not want to talk to Kathy, not until she settled down. "Kathy is furious with me for moving in here."

"I got that impression." Toby brushed his hair back. "Why?"

"I'm using you. I'm an asshole, and I'm a loser. Those are my best bets." Elliot leaned into his hand. He was definitely sleeping some more today. "Where're the kids?"

"One's up and one's down. I'm going to lift around noon. If you're going to lift, please pick another time." Toby was very serious.

Elliot didn't argue about it. It was hard to lift with a boner, and he'd have one if he saw Toby sweaty or half-dressed or breathing hard. Oh shit. He sighed and abandoned his coffee. "I'm gonna go sleep some more."

Toby seemed surprised, but he said nothing. Elliot got out of the room without banging his dick into any furniture, but he knew Toby saw it. Shit. He was such a loser. His cell phone was on the night stand, and he dialed Maureen. "Hey, sweetheart."

"Hi Dad. Wow, is Mom pissed at you."

"Yeah, I know. Would you guys like to go to the Lion King tonight?" Elliot wasn't holding his breath. Kids were weird. Silence. That usually meant no.

"A Broadway show?" Maureen sounded confused. "Us?"

"One time offer. Ask the rest of my crew and call me back." Elliot hung up,  had a thought, and padded back out to the kitchen. "What time will we pick them up?"

"Around four? Dinner and a show?" Toby didn't turn around in his chair.

"Sounds good, if they agree. I'll let you know." Elliot checked the time. It was only ten in the morning. He could sleep some more once he found out. Back to his bedroom, his phone rang. That was fast. He opened it. "And the verdict is?"

"Three squeals of joy and one cool man." Maureen laughed. "It's a Broadway show. What did you think we'd say?"

"I had no idea. Kids are weird." Elliot laughed. "Tell your mom I'll be by around four to pick you up. We'll go out to eat and then to the show. Okay?"

"More than okay." Maureen was smiling. "We'll be ready."

"Sounds good. Bye. Love ya." Elliot turned his phone off so Kathy couldn't call and yell at him. He crawled under the covers and shut his eyes. It took some doing, but his dick gave up, and then he slept.

*********

Elliot finally got up, showered, dressed in nice but casual clothes, and went to find some more coffee. The kitchen was empty, but there was coffee, and he took it to the table. The house was quiet. He might be alone for all he knew. Pulling out his cell phone, he turned it on and saw that Kathy had called twice. He was in deep shit there, and he had no idea what to say to make it better. Whatever he said, she'd think he was lying.

He drank a full cup before going back to what he guessed was now his office and turning on the computer. His inbox was still full, most of it spam, but he did have one from his brother. He read it quickly. Robert was putting together a bid. Kathy was handling the paperwork. No real estate agent, and it would save them thousands. That was good news. The bad news was that he was going to have to find a place for everything that was left in that house. Salvation Army? Storage? He rubbed his face and hoped his job was calm enough that he'd have time to deal with it. Otherwise, he'd have to throw money at the problem, and he hated that.

"You awake?" Toby asked from down the hallway.

"I'm in the office!" Elliot yelled, but not too loud.

"Are we on for tonight?"

"Yes. I was surprised, but apparently they want to go." Elliot smiled. "Okay?"

"Holly will be happy to hear it. She's been on pins and needles. Apparently whether Richard goes has some bearing on what she wears." Toby sat down and laughed. "Ah, to be young and in love."

"Were we ever?"

Toby laughed. "Not me. You?"

"Horny yes, but love? That's a tough one." Elliot had grown to love Kathy, and then it had faded away from neglect and anger. "Think you'll ever re-marry?"

Toby gave him a funny look. "I should show you my ass. It's a deal breaker."

Elliot immediately flashed back to the file he'd read. "No. Reading about it was bad enough. But thanks!"

Toby glared for two seconds and then laughed. "I knew you'd read my file. What I didn't count on was you actually speaking to me afterwards."

"I was pretty damn rude if I remember right." Elliot was still ashamed of that. "You're lucky they had no proof that you'd shanked Chris or you'd still be in there."

Toby turned a funny shade of white. He swallowed hard and looked away. "I'll take the fifth on that."

"Good idea." Elliot had been furious when he'd connected the dots, but prison was prison, not Park Avenue. "And Schillinger? You knifed him but good."

"Chris switched a prop for the real knife. Stupid play." Toby just sounded tired now.

"And then there's your arms and legs." Elliot deleted some spam. "Toby, I work sex crimes. I've seen it all."

"Well, now I feel better." Toby was good at the sarcasm. "Schillinger pragged Chris too, back in Lardner."

Elliot understood the intent, if not the slang. "I guess Chris owed him then." He raised an eyebrow and smiled tightly. "You forgave him for breaking your arms?"

Toby nodded, but not enthusiastically. "I did. He was backed into a corner. Schillinger had him by the balls. Listen, as much as I'd love to sit around and reminisce about all my old injuries, I gotta go take a shower."

Elliot nodded. "You still want me to live here?"

"Yes. You're not afraid of the dark places I've been." Toby walked out fast. Elliot stared after him for a second before going back to his email. That was true. He wasn't afraid, but he was going to be careful. Toby might still have a shank around the house.

At three-thirty, Holly came downstairs. She yelled, "Let's go! Now!"

Elliot burst out laughing. Toby rolled his eyes and said, "I think she's ready."

"Ya think?" Elliot got his keys, cell phone, and wallet.

Toby looked out the window. "The limo is here." He opened up the front door and bowed. "Your carriage awaits, my lady."

"Cut the small talk and move it," Holly grumbled.

Elliot threw his arm around Toby's shoulder. "Let's sit between them."

"She might hurt us." Toby grinned at him. "Harry! Time to go!"

Harry came flying down the stairs, and they all went out. Elliot had put his car in the garage earlier when he realized that driving would be stupid. He got in the limo last and was reminded that his life was out of control. Every day seemed to be stranger than the one before it.

"Who's your new driver?" Elliot asked after taking a look.

"Felipe." Toby shrugged. "He seems nice enough. Not much English yet."

Elliot was so tempted to run a background check on him. "Can't you get someone that's legal?"

Toby smirked. "It seems prejudiced to ask. Felipe might be third generation. How can I know?"

"As long as you don't trust him," Elliot said with a smile. "This limo seems newer."

"It is. I asked for a newer one. Extra space. You have long legs." Toby gave Holly a pat on the knee. "Does Richard know we're all going together?"

"I called him." Holly nodded. "Was that okay?"

"Sure," Elliot said. He wasn't sure he believed that long legs excuse.  "Hey, if Kathy comes out with a skillet, I'm getting behind you."

Toby laughed. "My skinny ass won't save you. Oops. Sorry, kids."

"We've heard it before, Dad," Harry said. Elliot watched Toby's face light up like a Christmas tree. Was that the first time Harry had called him Dad? Elliot thought maybe so. Elliot got out of the limo and went to the door.

Richard yanked it open and practically fell out. "I love you, Dad, and you better run."

"Get in the limo." Elliot stood his ground. "Kathy! I'm here!"

Girls came piling down the stairs and kissed him before going on out. Kathy was in the kitchen, but luckily, she put her knife down. "I still think what you're doing is wrong. Tobias doesn't deserve your shit!"

Elliot didn't have an answer for that.

"Kathy, I asked him to move in, and I had to talk him into it. I have a back apartment at my brownstone, and he's going to pay rent." Tobias put his hands on his hips. "We'll work around the kids, but I know he'll be at the precinct most of the time. Did you expect him to live in a homeless shelter?"

"It was his decision to sell the house!"

Elliot opened his mouth, but Toby jumped in first. "And you never mentioned that you needed the money? Give me a break. Fight fair or don't bring it to the field."

"Toby, that's not-" Elliot didn't think that was completely true.

"He's using you, like he used me!" Kathy pointed. "Out. Both of you."

"Kathy, he's not using me. I like him. God knows why." Toby stepped closer to her. "Let it slide - for the kids."

"He said that for years." Kathy seemed to slump. "The schedule can stay like it is, but Elliot, I don't want to hear any complaints about selling the house."

"You won't. I give up." Elliot moved in front of Toby. This was his fight. "You can have all the money. I don't want it. I quit, Kathy. Just like you did."

Kathy turned and went back into the kitchen. Her silence said it all. Elliot turned and poked Toby in the chest with his finger. "You need to stay out of things that aren't your concern!"

"You need someone to stand up for you. Lying there like a damn doormat. Shit, Elliot, all the money? What the hell are you supposed to do?"

Elliot lowered his head. "I just don't care. Come on, let's go see a show. Maybe Scar won't kill Mufasa this time."

Toby rubbed his face, but he followed Elliot out to the limo. The kids were dead quiet when they got inside, and Elliot cracked a small joke. "Harry, do I have a knot on my head?"

They all laughed. Toby forced a smile, and Elliot hugged Maureen. She smiled weakly. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Let's have a nice night. How many times have we gotten to ride in a limo?"

"Like, zero." Maureen smiled. "Introduce me to your new friends?"

Elliot made all the introductions, and she was right. Toby was a friend. More than.

********

"Harry, you're sure?" Toby got on one knee and hugged him. Elliot saw Harry's mortified look and left them alone, going out to get the car from the garage. Harry was ready. Toby wasn't. When they came out, Harry got in the car fast, so Elliot strolled over to Toby.

"Got my cell number?"

Toby shook his head. He looked miserable. "If I get it, can I call?"

"Once, at lunch." Elliot gave him the number. "Trust me. He'll be fine."

Toby shut his phone and went back in the house. He didn't answer about the trust thing, and Elliot made sure not to smile. Toby might be watching. Harry was already buckled, and Elliot did the same. "Ready?"

"Yes, but Dad is freaking out."

"He'll get through it." Elliot hoped Harry didn't feel responsible for everything Toby did. "He's a grownup. Don't worry."

Harry nodded. "I got my video camera and my notebook."

Elliot put the car in gear and got them moving. He didn't want to be late, even if it was just ass duty and making sure Harry had a good experience. Cragen was mad enough.

"Elizabeth is nice," Harry said quietly.

"She's too old for you." Elliot grinned at him. "Older women are for later in life."

Harry grinned back at him. "I didn't mean that way! I just meant she doesn't treat me like a baby."

"She better not. I'll smack her around." Elliot was sure Harry knew he was joking. "When we clean out the garage, you should come see if there are any bits and pieces that you want."

"Like what?" Harry suddenly looked eager.

"Radios, televisions, old stuff, you know." Elliot thought about it. "I think I have an old computer out there."

"I'm there." Harry nodded. "I'll help too."

"Thanks." Elliot hoped Toby didn't mind. It was probably a good idea to consult him before asking his kids to do things. Elliot didn't want to piss him off, at least not right away. It had only been two days. Now, on to the business of the day. "Harry, there might be a situation today where I'll need you to stay in the car or walk away to a safe zone. Can you do that?"

Harry serious. "Because I might get in trouble?"

"Yes, but also because I have a responsibility to the people that are injured and the people that I arrest. They have feelings too." Elliot wasn't sure about the latter group, but he had to make a point. "Do you understand?"

"You mean, I might make it worse for them?"

"Yes." Elliot patted him on the shoulder. "Just promise me that if I ask you to walk away, you will."

"I promise." Harry was very serious, and Elliot heard the truth. Elliot parked the car, got out, and smiled. Harry took a deep breath. "I don't hate cops."

"Good. They're people too, ya know." Elliot put his arm on Harry's shoulder. "Come on, I'll show you the sedan."

********

"Stabler."

"How's Harry doing?" Toby cut right to it, not even offering a hello, and it made Elliot smile.
Elliot looked over at Harry, busy interviewing John. "He's doing very well. I'm impressed with him."

"About done?"

"I get off at five tonight. We'll be home then." Elliot made sure to sound firm. "Thanks for checking in with us."

"Let me talk to him."

"He's occupied. Ease up there, Toby." Elliot wasn't going to interrupt Harry and make him feel like a child, even if he was one. "Bye."

"Bye," Toby grumbled.

Elliot laughed and shut the phone.

Benson spoke up. "Nice boy. Where are we taking him to lunch?"

"Our usual place." Elliot glanced back at Cragen's office. "Think I'm out of the dog house yet?"

"Getting there." Benson nodded. "You'll be in the field by tomorrow."

"I hope so. My ass is getting big." Elliot got up and stretched. He went over to John's desk and listened. "John, enough with that. It's time for lunch."

"Just trying to educate our youth." John smiled. "Harry here is remarkably perceptive."

"Let's go to lunch, Harry." Elliot smiled. "You can stow the video camera in my locker."

"And then we'll see the lab and lockup?"

Elliot nodded. "And I want you to meet our technical assistance team."

Harry gawked. "Wow."

Benson grabbed her coat. "Elliot, your turn to buy."

"Good enough." Elliot got his coat and Harry's. "Harry, the next half hour is the most important part of being a cop."

Harry put his coat on. "Shooting practice?"

"Hot dogs," Fin whispered in Harry's ear. Elliot smiled, and they took Harry down to the corner for a hot dog and a soda.

********

"Elliot! My office!"

Elliot nearly cringed. Another ass-kicking. "Harry, hang out with Olivia."

"You bet. Olivia, can I see the interrogation room again?"

Elliot didn't ask why. He went to get his ass chewed. "Yes, Captain?"

Cragen sat down at his desk. "Doing okay?"

"Yes." Elliot put his hands on the back of the chair, but didn't sit down. He also didn't feel the need to elaborate.

"Olivia tells me that you don't have a place to live." Cragen furrowed his brow. "Reassure me."

"Kathy and I are selling the house, very quickly. I moved into an apartment in Manhattan this weekend." Elliot bit the inside of his lip. He wasn't going to lie, but there was a thing called discretion also. "I'll get you my new address."

"Good idea. Closer to work?"

"Thirty minutes." Elliot thought that was nothing. "I'm fine."

"I doubt that." Cragen pointed at his computer. "Remember that problem I was having with Word?"

"Uh, no." Elliot had missed that.

"Well, Harry fixed it. We may have to put him on retainer." Cragen smiled. "Nice boy. Leave at four. He's starting to look tired."

"Thanks." Elliot almost asked whether or not he'd be back on the streets tomorrow, but he bit off the question. No reason to push his luck. Cragen picked up a file, and Elliot got out fast. He felt as if he'd dodged a bullet, and that was stupid, but it was the guilt working at him. He felt guilty for getting blind drunk. Cragen expected more from him.

"Elliot, are you taking Harry down to central booking?" John asked.

"Well, I was thinking we'd skip it. Kinda rough for a kid." Elliot thought Toby would freak out about that.

"He'll want to see the new fingerprinting technology." John frowned. "I'll call and see how busy they are and if the place is full of pros."

"Good idea." Elliot checked the time. It was almost three. If they hit central booking, they could call it a day. He sat down, organized a few files, and checked his email while Harry was with Olivia. He had one from Toby, and he opened it.

I trust you, but don't make me shank you. T

Elliot burst out laughing. He hit reply and typed - Threats by email are a class C misdemeanor, just so you know. I'm going to lift weights when we get home. That's your only warning. E - Elliot hit send and shut down his computer.

Harry and Olivia came back into the squad room, and Elliot looked over at John. John put down the phone and said, "It's fairly quiet. I say we give it a try. I'll run interference."

"I always need backup." Elliot smiled. "Harry, get your camera. We're going to central booking."

Harry smiled up at Olivia. "Thanks. That was fun."

"You can fix our equipment any time you like." Olivia laughed. "Good news - the intercom is working in room three again."

Harry blushed. Elliot grinned and got his coat. Today had been a good day, and hopefully, Toby would see that. The tour through central booking went without a hitch, and it wasn't until John had gone back to the squad room, that Harry pulled Elliot aside and whispered, "Can I see the cells?"

Elliot almost snapped no, but he thought about it instead. "Sit down right there and let me ask the sergeant."

Harry sat down fast. Elliot didn't think it was a great idea, but he had a feeling this was about more than a school project. "Are we full tonight?"

"Practically empty. Slow night. Tomorrow, all hell will break loose." The sergeant smiled. "He wants to see the cells?"

"Yeah, but I'm not taking him unless they're empty!" Elliot grinned. "He's nine, not fifteen."

The sergeant looked at his sheet. "Row three is completely empty." He dug in a drawer. "Here's the keys. Have fun."

Elliot took them and sighed. Toby might shank him for this. "Come on, Harry."

Harry nodded and moved fast. Elliot unlocked door after door until they were at the cells. They stretched on the right down a long hallway that was a dead end. Harry swallowed hard, walked the length and then back again. Elliot watched him videotape, and then go inside one. He didn't come out right away, and Elliot went to find out what was going on.

"You okay?" Elliot made sure he had the key and pulled the door shut with a clang.

Harry flinched. He wasn't filming. He was sitting on the cot, staring into space. "How did my dad stand it?"

Elliot leaned against the wall across from him. "Well, I think because he knew that you and Holly were on the outside, waiting for him."

"The stink, the small area, nothing to do. I'd go crazy!"

Elliot nodded. "It would be very hard. Your dad found out how tough he really was."

"Very damn tough," Harry whispered.

Elliot didn't fuss at him for cursing. "Harry, was this what today was all about?"

Harry shrugged. "Some of it, yes. I wanted to know a little bit of it. It's not like he's going to take me to Oz to see his friends!"

"Oz is hell, Harry." Elliot went ahead and cursed. "This place is much nicer. Think about that."

"I will." Harry got up slowly, walked to the bars, grabbed two and squeezed. "I never saw him in Oz. Holly did."

Elliot moved closer to provide him with the comfort of having someone near. "You'd have seen him in a room that's bright, colorful and looks somewhat like a classroom. Not his cell."

Harry put his head down. "I still feel like I let him down."

Elliot had suspected those words would be next out of Harry's mouth. He gently put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "I know."

"But?" Harry turned and glared.

"There is no but." Elliot shook his head. He was glad he hadn't said it."However, let's say your dad was still in prison. Would you go visit him now that you're nine?"

"Of course!" Harry looked indignant. "I'm not a baby!"

"Exactly. You've grown."

Harry lowered his head and sighed. "You're smart."

Elliot didn't agree with that, and he figured no one else would either. "Not very often."

"Do you think the reason he loved Chris was because he had nothing?"

That question was unexpected, and Elliot wasn't sure he wanted to think about it, but he answered honestly. "Some of it, but I also like to think that Chris wasn't all bad, even though he was in prison."

"Sometimes, the other kids make fun of me - call my dad a dirtbag convict." Harry looked straight at him. "What do you think?"

"I think your dad made a mistake, and he paid for it. Harry, some men would have run away, but your dad faced it. It means something." Elliot thought it did at least. "Your father deserves respect for that."

Harry slowly nodded. "I think so too. You have the key, right?"

Elliot chuckled and opened the door. "Let's go home."

"My report is gonna kill."

Elliot grinned and got him the hell out of there. It was four by the time Elliot got his car moving towards the brownstone, and Harry sat quietly. After they were parked in the garage, Harry turned to him. "Thank you, Elliot."

"You're welcome." Elliot reached in his pocket. "I think you earned this."

Harry took the ID badge and smiled. "Is it real?"

"Of course." Elliot nodded. "You're an official member of SVU now. Captain's orders. I think he wants you back next week to work on his computer again."

Harry laughed and clipped it to his coat. They got out of the car, and Toby met them at the door. Toby looked worried, relieved, and more worried. "Well?"

"I'm hungry," Harry said.

"Me too." Elliot grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "Being a cop is tough work."

"It is." Harry nodded. He hugged his dad, and Elliot kept moving so they could have a moment. He was hungry, but he wanted to work out first. Sandy smiled and waved, and he gave her a kiss on the cheek for fun. She gaped at him and then swatted him with her spatula.

"You!"

"Yep." Elliot laughed and went to change into some sweats and a T-shirt. Ten minutes later, he was making the weights go up and down. Toby wasn't around, and neither were the kids. That was fine. Elliot enjoyed the quiet. Nothing in his life had changed. He was still divorced, lonely, and overworked, but for some reason, today, he didn't feel it.

"Hey."

Elliot turned, put the weight down, and sat on the bench. "Hey."

"Thanks." Toby looked away. His eyes were everywhere but on Elliot. A long moment of silence passed, and then Toby went to sprawl on the big couch. He turned on the TV. Elliot shrugged and went back to his workout. He did some squats and finished up with enough crunches to make him want to cry. When his back refused to come up off the carpet, he collapsed back flat and laughed. Holly and Harry were staring down at him.

"What?"

"Are you nuts? I can't even count that high!" Holly exclaimed.

"Gotta stay in shape or I can't run down the perps." Elliot managed to say between gasps. "Two weeks ago, I had to chase a guy about ten blocks!"

"And working your abdomen muscles helps?" Harry didn't look convinced. "Shouldn't you go jogging?"

"No fat around the middle helps." Elliot sat up and smiled. "Not much of a jogger." They helped pull him to his feet. "I need a shower."

"No kidding." Holly wrinkled her nose and went to sit by her dad. Toby was studiously watching TV, and Elliot refused to think otherwise. The shower felt good, and by the time he got out, he could smell dinner. He put on jeans and an old sweatshirt. Dinner was almost ready, and God help him, he was glad to have a family to sit down with. It might be wrong, and it might be pitiful, but he needed it.

Toby was already in the kitchen. He looked at him now. "Ready to eat?"

"Definitely. Don't expect me home at this time from now on. I think the boss is putting me back to work tomorrow." Elliot hoped so.

"I don't expect anything." Toby came over to him and said softly, "I'll be grateful for what I get."

Elliot blushed and hoped no one noticed his instant boner. "Well, according to Kathy, that'll be damn little."

Toby shrugged and went to sit at the table. Elliot grabbed a diet soda from the fridge before Sandy could get him some tea and went to join him. Toby whispered, "Watch." And then he raised his voice. "Sandy, Elliot and I have been talking and we think you deserve a raise."

"A big one," Elliot said in agreement.

Sandy came over to them. She shook her head and said, "No, I don't. Had one two years ago. I don't work during the day or weekends!"

"Well, with Elliot hanging around, you are going to have more responsibility, and the food budget might go up." Toby wasn't smiling. "Sit. We'll negotiate."

Elliot nodded. "There's my laundry, cleaning my bathroom, changing the sheets, dusting, and vacuuming. That's a lot of work."

"Nothing at all!" Sandy protested.

"And I'm sure he'll have dry cleaning." Toby tapped his lips with his fingers. "How about a thousand extra a month?"

"Tobias! Absolutely not!" She honestly looked appalled. Elliot made sure not to laugh.

Toby frowned. "Doesn't your husband need a new car? You could have a down payment in one month."

"Yes, but, no, that's far too much!"

Elliot went ahead and nodded. "It is, Toby. Most of the domestic help in Queens get by on far less."

Toby narrowed his eyes at him. "This is Manhattan. What's your suggestion?"

"Well, Sandy, am I going to make the food budget go up?"

"Not really. I already make too much. Tobias never eats!"

"That is a problem. Toby, you should eat occasionally. You're making me look bad." Elliot grinned at him. "How about eight hundred? With a hundred of it earmarked for groceries. Who does the shopping around here?"

"I do." Sandy blushed. "It's still too much."

Toby sighed loudly. "Okay, seven hundred, but it's all yours. The food budget stays the same. You'll have to eat less, Elliot."

"I can do that." Elliot nodded. "Sounds fair to me."

Sandy blushed, looked down, and then shrugged. "I give in!"

"I knew you'd see reason." Toby smiled at her. "Irish people make me crazy."

Elliot patted her hand. "He's probably English." He rolled his eyes. "Saints save us."

Sandy giggled behind her hand. "Thank you, Elliot and Tobias. I'll work hard."

"Not too much harder. You're wearing out the carpet." Toby managed to look glum. Sandy bustled off to check the food, and Elliot drank his soda. That had gone well. Toby had known exactly how to play her.

Elliot heard his cell phone ringing back in his room, and he went to get it. It was Kathy, and he opened it, praying she wasn't angry. "Stabler."

"Elliot, Robert and I have drawn up a contract for the house." She paused. "You do still agree that we're selling?"

"Yes." Elliot waited for the rest of it. "And?"

"I'll drop it by tonight. When we got a divorce, the courts divided the house as an asset in half."

"I remember." Elliot did.

"My half was already assessed to me." The line went very quiet, and Kathy didn't even seem to be breathing, but then she rushed out, "But you said-"

"I know what I said," Elliot interrupted. "Bring the paperwork over. I'm not going anywhere." He shut his phone fast, stuffed it in his jeans, and went out to dinner.

********

"Need some help?" Toby waved his hand at the paperwork that Elliot had spread out on the coffee table.

Elliot frowned at him. He hadn't gone back to his office because he'd thought that Toby was in bed. "Do I need to have a lawyer look it over?"

"What is it?" Toby didn't sit down.

"Real estate contract." Elliot went ahead and scooted over. He had a feeling that Toby was going to sit next to him. It happened two seconds later.

"You should." Toby nodded. He picked up the first page. "Of course, since you're just giving her the money, maybe you should sign and not look at the profit you'll be missing out on."

Elliot rubbed his face. "She's worried about that. Seems her half of the house was assessed during the divorce. I'd forgotten."

"Legally, the house is yours." Toby put it down, leaned back against the sofa, and said, "If you give it to her, how do you know she won't squander it?"

"I don't. I mean, I trust her not to. She was always good with money." Elliot couldn't believe Kathy would do that to him and his children.

"She's pissed at you. I'm still not sure why." Toby reached, and Elliot had plenty of time to get away, but he just watched the hand land on his shoulder. The touch was almost delicate, almost gentle, and it made him hard as stone. "Elliot, don't just hand her a check."

"I said I would, and I don't give a damn about the money. I don't really care if I do live in a homeless shelter!" Elliot let it burst out of him. "All I wanted was to live with my kids, and I can't do that."

"A prison of your own making." Toby rubbed him. "Good news. You get to see them every week."

"It'll have to be enough." Elliot wanted to pout, but men didn't do that.

"Tie it up in trust funds. Each child gets a quarter of the profits." Toby edged closer. "You don't pay a mortgage, do you?"

"No." Elliot nearly blushed at being caught in a lie. "Paid it off with that big bribe I took last year."

Toby laughed. "Very funny. Okay, so the money is all yours. What are you going to do?"

Elliot wasn't sure. "I could play the ponies and see if I could double it."

"Right." Toby suddenly took his hand away and started going through the contract. "You make me very, very horny, and I'm sure that's a bad thing."

Elliot was glad to hear he wasn't the only one about ready to pop a button. "Is there a way to earn a little money and preserve the balances for the kids?"

"Of course. Easy. In a year or so, you'd have enough for a new car, which you're going to need. I noticed that Kathy has a nice, new SUV."

"She needed it." Elliot shrugged. "I don't suppose you'd let me pay on the bills here."

"Not likely." Toby shook his head instantly. "Unless I see a huge increase, and then I'm taking away your shower privileges."

"Guess you're the warden." Elliot watched him closely, but Toby just nodded. Apparently, prison humor didn't bother him. "Okay, guide me. I trust you."

"Me? Have you been smoking weed again?" Toby grinned.

Elliot reached for him, and Toby didn't move, so his hand wrapped around Toby's neck and into long, blond hair. "You need a haircut."

"Yeah. Maybe so. It grows fast." Toby slowly settled into him. Elliot held him. Toby sighed and said softly, "I'm such an idiot."

Elliot nodded. He was too. They looked over the contract together, and Toby pointed out a couple of things that Elliot made notes on. Elliot refused to be liable for any repairs for the next two years. His brother was crazy. When it was finished, he glanced over at Chris's picture. Was that a smirk?

"It's getting late. You better hit your bunk, you have work tomorrow."

Elliot nodded, but didn't move. "Thanks for your help."

"You're just lucky I do a lot of pro bono work now." Toby rubbed his eyes. "I think I'm worn out from worrying all day."

"Harry was a big hit at the station house. He fixed the intercom system in interview room three and the captain's computer. He also listened to John's conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy." Elliot had to laugh. "He's a good kid."

"Where'd you go for lunch?"

"Hot dog stand on the corner." Elliot yawned. He was tired, but he didn't want to leave, not yet.  "It's where all the cops eat."

Toby somehow seemed to get closer. "He was most impressed with the technical assistance team, whatever that is."

"They're the guys that look for evidence of the crime on computers or cell phones. I had to drag him out of there." Elliot paused to say these next words just right. "You gonna be disappointed if he goes that route?"

"Disappointed? In Harry? Hell no. It's up to him. He'd be good at cyber crime." Toby sighed. "The only person I'm ever disappointed in is me."

"I hear you." Elliot wasn't sure whether to pull away or try to take him to bed. It was time to be honest. He wanted that. He wanted Toby. "Okay, so go on."

"I thought you'd move first." Toby laughed. "Sorry. You're comfortable. Like a big pillow or something."

"You're bony. Gain some weight!" Elliot didn't push him away. "Who knew that prison could give a fellow an eating disorder?"

"Oh, shut up." Toby pushed at him. Elliot caught Toby's hands. So fast that his heart nearly burst, they were kissing, and his only thought was that they should take this elsewhere. The drapes were open, for God's sake. Toby yanked his face away. "God damn it. God damn me. Shit!"

And he left. Practically ran upstairs. Elliot sat, more than stunned, on the sofa - his entire body ached for more. He slowly picked up the housing contract, stuffed it away in its envelope, and started shutting off lights. The door was locked, and he went back to his apartment. He wasn't sure if he should be embarrassed or angry that Toby had run out just as things had been getting interesting. Of course, the kids were upstairs. Elliot rubbed his face. He'd been going to let things slide away. Not care. Just get through each day. He laughed softly. He would never be able to do that without the benefit of beer - and lots of it.

Elliot stripped off his clothes and climbed into bed after setting his alarm. For some reason, he didn't think Toby would boot him to the homeless shelter for a few kisses. Even if they had been really good kisses. He rubbed himself, but refused to masturbate. His dick could get over it. Maybe a pro wasn't such a bad idea. He could afford it now.

********

Elliot thanked Sandy for breakfast and beat it out the door. He was running early this morning because he wanted to return the papers to Kathy and still make it on time to work. Halfway there, he changed his mind. It was his damn house. He'd deal directly with his brother. What was he? Some kind of wimp? He took an exit, got moving the other direction, and made it into work thirty minutes early.

Cragen gave him a look but didn't say anything at first. Elliot felt like holding his breath. He worked at his desk for about an hour before Cragen said, "Olivia, Elliot, this one's for you."

Elliot controlled his reaction, but he wanted to cheer. He was back on the street, and he wasn't going to screw it up. No more drinking until the rest of his life was stable, if that ever happened.

********

"Elliot, I'm running over to pick up Holly. Want to go?" Toby was coming out the door as Elliot came up the sidewalk.

Elliot turned and looked at the limo. He would like to see his kids, even if it was only for a minute, but that meant being alone with Toby. In a limo. In a dark limo. He waited one second too long.

"Forget it. I can see you're thinking with your dick." Toby shut the door and started walking.

Elliot used his longer legs to catch up with him. "I had a long day!"

"It's been two days since we've seen you. Did you come home last night?" Toby opened the door to the limo, and Elliot had the uncomfortable feeling that Toby wanted to shut it on him. Elliot got in before that happened. He immediately took off his tie and rolled his shoulders. Suddenly, he realized that Toby was waiting for an answer.

"Um, no." Elliot rubbed the back of his neck. "We had three cases come up right in a row. Turned out it was the same guy. Took us two days to track him down. We were actually lucky. He got sloppy or we'd have never caught him."

Toby drew back a little and turned on the light so they weren't in complete darkness. "So, you haven't slept in two days?"

"Not that I remember." Elliot smiled and went ahead and pushed off his coats. It was warm in the limo, and he had to unwind a little. "Don't remember much food either. Is Sandy cooking dinner?"

"It'll be ready when we get back." Toby leaned forward and touched him on the knee. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"Well, I was thinking with my dick." Elliot raised one eyebrow and gently pushed the hand away. He didn't want his johnson to get any ideas. "These things are made for, um, well, you know."

"Yeah. I'm starting to think that you know more than I do." Toby laughed.

Elliot rotated his neck and listened to it pop. "That guy was sick. Sick! I don't want to see anyone naked for a day or two."

Toby instantly quit laughing. He looked away. "I never thought of that side effect of your job."

"Thank God for normal sex between two consenting adults, not that I ever see any of that!" Elliot realized he was getting loud, and he shut his mouth firmly. He was still wired. That last interview had gotten him going.

"Well, okay." Toby reached across the seat and pulled open a tiny fridge. He took a good long look. "I think you need this."

Elliot took the beer, but he almost didn't. "Just one. Right?"

"I think one's enough, don't you?"

"I do." Elliot unscrewed it and took a drink. It was good, and he did need it. "Wait, this is illegal."

"I don't think so. Don't these limos always stock champagne and stuff?" Toby looked again. "Well, mine has diet drinks and that beer, but I'm almost sure." He glanced up. "Well, don't throw it out!"

"Yeah. I might hit the cop behind us." Elliot stifled a laugh, but it was funny. He drank it anyway and asked when he was finished, "Did you order that for me?"

"Uh, no." Toby shook his head. "Strange." He hit the intercom. "Felipe, no more beer, okay?"

"Si, Mr. Tobias. It was left from before."

Toby turned it off. "I'm not to blame."

"Good to have an alibi." Elliot tucked the empty in the trash. "I could fall asleep in here."

"Don't. I'd leave you." Toby pointed. "We're here anyway."

Elliot got out first and walked towards the door. Toby was right behind him, and Kathy opened it. She didn't even try to smile. "Did you bring the paperwork?"

Toby looked at Elliot. Elliot shrugged. "My house. I'm handling it."

"Now you have time. Figures." Kathy left the door open and went to the bottom of the stairs. "Holly, your dad is here!"

Elliot noticed the omission so he let out a little frustration. "Kids! Your dad is here!" It boomed through the house. Toby actually covered his ears. Elliot grinned. Kathy got out of the way, and Elliot thoroughly enjoyed the attention and the hugs. Everyone was home, and they were all happy to see him, and it made two tough days bearable. He didn't drag it out. Kathy was glaring, and Holly hadn't eaten, but it was nice.

Dickie walked them all back out to the limo. "I'm glad we got to see you, Dad." He hugged him again. "Mom's still angry," he whispered.

"I know. I'm sorry. You're going to have to let us work it out and not worry about it. We're the adults. Not you." Elliot knuckled his son's head. "Got it?"

Dickie laughed and struggled, pushing him away. "Got it!"

Elliot let him loose. "Don't be afraid to email me at work." His kids never did, and he didn't understand why.

"Well, I hate to bother you." Dickie smoothed his hair down.

"Bother me? Right. You getting thrown in detention was a bother. Email is nothing." Elliot grinned. "See ya."

Dickie waved, and Elliot shut the door. More than anything, he wanted to stay. He'd be willing to sleep on the couch or the floor, if only he could stay. Holly changed sides and sat next to him.

"I know it's hard, but they love you," Holly said.

Elliot looked in her eyes and saw the years of searches and restricted visitations to a father that could never just drop by for a hug. "Thanks. I have to be grateful for what I get, not grouch about what I don't."

"Exactly." Holly nodded. "And let the rest of it slide away."

Elliot knew his eyes widened. She did understand. He gave her a hug. "You're smart - for a girl."

She stuck her tongue out at him and went back to her father. "Can I hurt him?"

"He carries a gun." Toby kissed her on the cheek. "Did you get your homework done?"

"Sure did." She smiled. "We want to go to the movies on Friday. Is that okay?"

"We'll see. Harry and I might go with you." Toby laughed. "I promise to pretend we don't know you and Richard."

"Then, that's okay. I could ask Elizabeth too. I like her. She's a good friend." Holly kept on talking, and Elliot didn't really listen to the rest of it. He rubbed his forehead and let it all slide. Dinner was good, and he concentrated on eating and not falling asleep on his plate. Once he relaxed, sleep wasn't far behind.

"Elliot!"

"Whoa - what?" Elliot put his fork down.

"Your eyes are half-shut." Toby smiled. "Why don't you go to bed?"

"Where'd Holly go?" Elliot asked before realizing that he'd gone to sleep for a few minutes. "Never mind. Thanks, Sandy. It was great."

"Go to bed, crazy Irish!"

Elliot pushed away from the table, stood, and yawned. "Toby, I need to ask you something before I go to sleep. Office?"

"Sure." Toby wiped his mouth and followed him back.

Elliot sat down hard, accessed his email, and opened the one from his brother. "Can you look this over before I sign it?"

"Of course. Print it out."

Elliot pointed and clicked, printing the attachment. "Thanks. You have a plan for the money?"

"We'll discuss it when you're awake." Toby reached, grabbed him by the hand, and pulled him up. "Go."

"Well, okay." Elliot didn't turn him loose. He leaned. Held him. Breathed him deep into his lungs and shoved away any guilt. "Thanks."

Toby didn't push him down. "Do you have the day off tomorrow?" he asked softly.

"No." Elliot wanted to kiss him, but didn't. "Sorry about this."

"What?" Toby took him by the shoulders and leaned away so they could see each other's faces.

"The twin thing. I blame Chris. You see, if he'd have kept his pants zipped, I might have gone through life without wanting to kiss a man." Elliot shrugged. "Ah well."

"You're half-asleep." Toby turned him and tried to get him moving towards the bed. Elliot resisted, locked his gun and badge away, and then went to his bedroom. He was both disappointed and relieved that Toby stayed out. Dimly, he could hear the printer, and he stripped before he fell asleep fully dressed. The bed felt good, and he was out.

*********

"Stabler."

"Are you coming home?"

Elliot smiled. It was Toby, and for some reason, it felt good that he cared enough to ask. "Why?"

"It's Friday, if you hadn't noticed, and Holly, with a lot of help from your daughter, organized about ten thirteen year olds to go to the movies." Toby sighed. "If you don't come home, I'm the only chaperone."

"Shit, dawg, you're burned!"

"You're so lucky that Harry is looking at me," Toby growled.

Elliot laughed and leaned back in his chair. He checked the time. "I'm about done. I'll pick you up. The rest can ride in the limo."

"Thank God." Toby did sound relieved. Elliot said goodbye and clicked off. He noticed Benson was staring at him, and he raised his eyebrow.

"Got a date?"

"Uh, no." Elliot finished up the fives quickly. "Dickie and Elizabeth want to go to the movies with some friends. I'm the chaperone."

"A limo?"

"It's a long story, but Holly Beecher uses a limo service." Elliot got everything organized and filed. He'd be in tomorrow. "Is the interrogation over?"

"Well, sure." Benson shrugged. "Just curious. Her dad's the skel, right?"

Elliot nearly flinched from thinking of Toby like that, and then he nearly groaned from the change that had come over him. "Toby's on my side against the kids, and I need all the help I can get."

"Okay." Benson stood. "I just hope he doesn't get high around them."

Elliot didn't answer, but that wasn't going to happen. He turned off his computer and went to Cragen's office. "Captain, I'm outta here."

"Got your fives done?"

"Yep." Elliot smiled. "Got a date with my kids."

"Good. Be in at noon tomorrow. You need to burn off some overtime."

"Damn." Elliot would have liked the money. "I'm gone." He got his coat and got out of there. If he were eager, it was because he'd get to see his kids. When he pulled up, there were kids piling in the limo, and he left the engine running when he got out.

"Lock and load, Elliot," Toby said, meeting him in the driveway. "Wait, you can go put your gun away."

"We may need it. Did you fuss at Holly?"

"I yelled at her. Yes. She has to tell me a month in advance before she does this sort of thing!" Toby threw up his hands. "Even Harry invited a friend, and they're drooling over the girls!"

"Okay, settle down. I'll go lock up my gun." Elliot was trying not to laugh. "Felipe driving?"

"Yes." Toby rubbed his face. "I'm too old for this."

Elliot went inside fast, locked up his gun, changed clothes, and trotted back outside. "Okay, send them."

Toby went to talk to Felipe, and Elliot got in his car. Was there room in that limo for all those kids? The door opened, and Toby got inside. "I can't believe their parents trust me with them. Me? The ex-con? Have they lost their minds?"

Elliot buckled up and pulled out into traffic. "Most of them probably don't know. What's the schedule?"

"Two movies and then Felipe is taking them home one by one." Toby ran his hand through his hair. "We just need to guard the gate."

"I should've kept my gun." Elliot grinned at him. "Hey, cheer up. This is better than say, well, um-"

"Prison?" Toby glared at him.

"Wasn't going to say that, but yeah. Let it slide, Tobias." Elliot let the limo get a good distance in front. He'd sold the house today, and for some reason, it didn't feel bad. He'd ensured that his kids could go to college, and that was more important than anything else. His brother had paid extra for most of the furnishings, so all he had to do was clean out the riff raff and get anything he really wanted. He could do that. Kathy had quit yelling, and his job was manageable. All in all, it had been a good week.

"I let it slide for years. Kinda feels good to get worked up about something." Toby sniffed. "What are we going to do while they watch movies?"

"Watch a movie?" Elliot stopped at a light and teased him, "Make out in the limo?"

"The seats will be sticky. Trust me." Toby punched him in the arm. "Not that you mean it."

"We might get caught." Elliot knew he had to stop talking about it. His dick was starting to take it seriously. "I have to buy some food. Breakfast was a long time ago."

"There was some in the limo, but who knows what‛s left." Toby suddenly laughed. "This is surreal."

"Damn odd too, but I don't mind." Elliot pulled in behind the limo and counted the kids as they got out. Twelve of them, counting Harry and his friend. Dickie and Elizabeth took the time to hug him and then dashed up the stairs.

Toby just shook his head. "We're nuts."

"Yep." Elliot got back in his car and parked. That done, he locked up and went to the limo. They had a clear view of the front door from it. He got in and stared. "Wow."

"Yeah." Toby had a towel and some spray and was wiping off the seats. Elliot eyed the amount of trash, collected it, and took it to the container in front of the movie theater. When he got back, Toby had the fridge open. "Luckily, they didn't touch the food. They were just thirsty."

Elliot got in, sat down, and took a look himself. He found a sandwich, some chips on the dry side, and snagged a soda. "It's enough. I'm surprised there are any chips left."

"All the candy bars are gone." Toby laughed and sat back across from him, stretching out his legs. "I ate already, so don't be shy."

"Never." Elliot ate his food, but kept an eye on the door. "Is Holly a popular kid?"

"I guess." Toby shrugged. "She says she has friends and likes it. When we moved into the brownstone, she refused to return to her private school - absolutely threw a fit."

"Holly?" Elliot had a hard time picturing it. "Why did she wait so long to complain?"

Toby got a soda from the fridge and then answered. "I think she was punishing herself."

"You mean, you were in prison, so she had to be miserable too?" Elliot could believe it, but it made his heart ache for her.

"Exactly. Not a little bit of guilt there!" Toby took a drink. "Angus swears that she never complained."

Elliot sighed. Kids were difficult on a good day. "You should send Felipe to the movies." He saw Toby react to the change in topic. "It'd be nice of you."

"Good idea." Toby used the intercom, gave Felipe some money, and they watched him walk away. He seemed happy enough to be doing something other than sitting. "Okay, what about the next four hours?"

Elliot wasn't sure, but he wasn't going to worry about it. He finished his food, cleaned up after himself, and relaxed back. "Never thought I'd hang out in a limo."

"It's dull. I'd rather drive." Toby had said that more than once, so Elliot believed him. "Glad you like it though."

"Like it? No. It's like a sin. I feel guilty about it! I'm a cop. Any hint of wealth is probably a bad idea." Elliot smiled at Toby's expression. "If you took me to work once, IAB would start an investigation before the door was shut."

"I'll make a note." Toby finished his soda and tossed the can in the trash. He licked his lips, and Elliot found himself staring. When it washed over him, it was familiar and still a mystery, but he was through arguing with his dick. It knew what it wanted. Toby shifted in his seat. "I don't get you."

"I don't either." Elliot was glad the windows were darkened because he was about ready to yank Toby over and rub up against him. "You forgive me?"

Toby frowned. "What for?"

Elliot hated to explain, but he did. "Acting like an asshole that time at Kathy's, but also for wanting you when I shouldn't."

Toby took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I already forgave you for acting like a shithead, and I'm not sure about the rest of it."

"I know it bugs you. You're still in love with Chris, and here I am, bulging in my jeans." Elliot made sure his hands didn't reach and pull. "Admit that you find it annoying."

"Elliot, Chris is gone. I miss him, but he and I, well, we were never enough or maybe we were way too much, I don't know." Toby rubbed his forehead. "That bulge has been a shock more than anything. At first, I thought I was hallucinating again."

Elliot didn't ask about the first hallucinations. "But you did love him?"

"I did, yes. I'd have forgiven him anything." Toby glanced out the window. "I've never dated twins before, but I'm willing to give it a try."

"Ugh. Put it like that and I'm staying over here." Elliot was half-joking. He wasn't sure it counted since he hadn't known his brother. "Anyway, I'd hate for you to compare us."

"I'm too busy trying not to pass out from shock." Toby grinned. "Elliot, have you been gay before?"

"I'm not gay." Elliot raised his eyebrow at the joke. "Not sure you are either."

Toby smiled. "The gay lifestyle? No. But men? Yes. I've had my fair share. I don't mind saying that mostly I enjoyed it."

Elliot thought about that and skidded his hands down his thighs. He should shut up, go watch a damn movie, and forget about it. Force his dick to forget about it. It was the smart decision. Toby had engaged in sex while he was prison. He could have any number of STD's, including HIV. Elliot took a drink of soda. When was he smart lately?

"I don't have any diseases. I've been tested - twice." Toby said that almost defiantly. He raised his chin and sniffed. "You?"

Elliot bit the inside of his lip. "I'm clean. I was tested not too long ago. Fact of my job that I come in contact with fluids occasionally."

Toby actually winced. "Poor fuckers."

"I think that, but I never say it that way." Elliot put his empty can in the trash. "How was Harry's week?"

Toby brushed his hair back. "Changing the subject, huh? Well, okay, for now. Harry has decided to live full-time with me. He moved in completely Thursday night."

Elliot opened his mouth to congratulate him, but changed his mind and shut it. Toby smiled at him in a way that let him know it was okay, and Elliot cautiously said, "I'm happy for you."

"I have to admit that I nearly squealed like a girl." Toby laughed. "I know he loves Angus, but . . ."

"He's your son." Elliot understood that perfectly. "I thought maybe he was at a tipping point when we talked in lock up."

Toby's eyes narrowed, his face flushed, and a vein emerged on his forehead. "You threw my son in a cell?"

Elliot edged closer to the door. He might have to make a break for it. "Haven't you see his report?"

"No! He's not done!" Toby had clenched his hands together.

"Shit," Elliot whispered. He should have kept his fat mouth shut. "Toby. Tobias. Um, I didn't throw him. He wanted to see. The cellblock was empty!"

Toby lunged at him, and Elliot quickly made the choice not to fight back. A fist connected with his chest, and he did his best to wrap Toby tight. Toby wiggled away and slugged him again. "You fucker!"

"Toby! He needed to see it! He needed to understand a little of what you went through!" Elliot took a deep breath and caught Toby by the wrists. Slowly, he forced Toby's arms back behind him. Toby lifted his knee, but Elliot blocked him. Chest to chest, they strained, pushed, and Toby cursed at him about a thousand times. Pissed didn't begin to describe it. Elliot made a big push, managed to get Toby down flat on the other seat and on top to hold him down. "Settle down!"

Toby squirmed. "I am gonna kill you. Understand?"

Elliot thought he did. He made sure not to turn him loose. "Listen to me! Harry told me that he didn't understand why you survived. When I told him it was for you and Holly, he believed. He finally believed." He took a breath, but didn't let go. "Toby! Harry needed to own it."

Toby went limp. "Stupid fucker. Putting my son in a six by nine. I should shank you like I did your brother!"

Elliot slowly turned him loose and quickly sat across from him again. They were both breathing hard. Toby was damn strong. He just wasn't strong enough. Glaring blue eyes made Elliot feel guilty, but he'd known it was the right choice, after he'd done it. "Maybe so, but it was what he needed to make up his mind."

"Is that what all your training with traumatized children told you?" Toby sneered.

"Well, yes. Harry doesn't remember ever visiting you in Oz. Did he?" Elliot thought he knew the answer.

"Never. He threw a fit whenever they asked him." Toby shoved his hair back. "You're saying that he felt guilty, and he needed to understand what I went through."

"Yes, a little. I made sure he understood that lock up is much, much nicer than Oz. You see, Holly came to see you. She knew. She felt your pain. Harry never did." Elliot hoped he was saying enough to get out of being shanked. "Your son didn't really believe it. He does now."

Toby blew out a huge breath. "That's not necessarily a good thing!"

"No, but it's honest and it's real. He needed to come to grips with it so he could hold his head up when the kids at school call his dad a dirtbag convict." Elliot watched his words hit Toby hard. When Toby said nothing else, Elliot changed the subject. "So, how are you getting him to school?"

Toby frowned. "We're still discussing it. It's quite a distance from the house."

Elliot nodded. "Still gonna shank me?"

"I might. I trusted you!"

"And I did right by him. Him! Not you. You're an adult. You can handle it." Elliot let him have the truth. "I'm not the business of playing nice with skels."

"No shit. You rip my guts out and smile." Toby rubbed his face. "Just like Chris always did."

"Maybe he thought you were tough too." Elliot slipped out of his leather coat and tossed it to the other side of the limo. He was hot from wrestling. "I'm going to get some popcorn. Want something?"

Toby just glared. Elliot got out and took a deep breath of fresh air. He needed to get away from those angry eyes for a minute or two. He'd done the right thing, and Toby could get over it. Elliot loaded up with popcorn and candy and went back to the limo. Luckily, Toby hadn't locked the doors to keep him out.

"All that?"

"I figured the kids would eat what we didn't." Elliot pointed at the TV. "Get it on."

Toby sighed and found the remote. "I think the car has to be running." The TV came on. "Maybe not."

"Separate battery. Should last us a couple of hours." Elliot started on the popcorn. "Put it on CNN."

Toby did that and took his own tub of popcorn. "I'm still angry."

"So?" Elliot shrugged. "I spend half of every day pissed off. Doesn't mean anything."

Toby huffed. "You could care about me. Wouldn't kill you."

Elliot felt a big stupid grin spread out on his face. "So, you care about me, just a little?"

"Not very damn much." Toby might have meant that. Who could tell? He rubbed his wrist. "I think I have a bruise."

Elliot lifted his shirt and looked. "Well, I do too."

Toby glanced over. "I assaulted a police officer. Felt damn good too."

"You don't hit very hard. Sure, you're strong, but you lack the weight to put behind it." Elliot laughed as a handful of popcorn rained down over him. "Think how happy you'd make Sandy if you ate occasionally."

"I lost my appetite in Oz. Haven't gotten it back yet." Toby shrugged. "Next time, I'll aim for your face. That'll make up the lack of weight."

"It might. Yeah." Elliot hoped there wasn't a next time. "Hey, can I ask you something?"

"No." Toby was pretending to watch TV.

Elliot laughed. "Did you go out with my wife?"

"What the fuck?" Toby gaped at him. "Are you nuts? You'd kill me!"

"You're both adults. I'd have gotten over it, eventually." Elliot ate some popcorn before finishing, "She said she might ask you out."

Toby just shook his head. "That's borderline gross, as Harry would say."

"Hey, you dated my brother, what's my wife?"

"I didn't date him!" Toby seemed like he might start hitting again. "I loved him. We shared something in a very bad place. Oz won though. It beat him down too far."

Elliot thought about it. "And he couldn't face it without you."

"I guess not." Toby shut off the TV. "If you want to blame me, go right ahead."

"Nah, I figure you do enough of that without my help." Elliot didn't care about the TV. Toby was more interesting than the news. "Was he a good kisser?"

Toby stuffed his mouth full of popcorn and mumbled something. Elliot laughed. He wasn't getting an answer to that, but he knew it already. Toby put his popcorn down and fumbled past Elliot to get another soda out of the fridge. Elliot used the distraction to adjust his dick in his jeans. He was hard again. Hell, he was nothing but hard.

"I saw that."

"Yeah. Well, no big surprise." Elliot blushed when Toby laughed. "Okay, it is a big surprise."

"Too late. I guess identical twins aren't always identical." Toby smirked. "You got the short end of the stick."

Elliot had heard worse insults. He smiled. "How would you know?"

"I stripped you and put you to bed when you were drunk. Wow, shrinky dink." Toby was really pushing his luck.

"I was drunk!" Elliot was glad he didn't remember it. "I thought maybe Harry had security cameras posted in my room."

"I should check on that. I wouldn't put it past him." Toby seemed serious now. "When are you going to clean out your house?"

"Next weekend. Oh, and um, shit, Harry wants to come help." Elliot rubbed his forehead. He should have mentioned that a few days ago.

"I've shanked men for stealing my towel. What do you think I'll do to you for stealing my boy?"

Elliot finished his popcorn, wiped his hands on a napkin, and refused to laugh at the threat. He stuffed the candy bars he'd bought in the fridge and grabbed another soda. "Oh, did you want an answer?"

"Asshole. So, I never shanked anyone for that." Toby looked out the window. "We can all help. Someone has to save you from Kathy."

"My hero," Elliot said sarcastically. He changed the subject again. They were alone. "A couple of times, I tried to picture you in bed with Chris, but I can't seem to do it."

Toby's mouth fell open. "You are all over the map tonight! Good! Don't think about it!"

"You see - he's always me, and that's when I get thrown out." Elliot didn't quite understand why his brain did that.

"Elliot, if you don't stop, you're going to be gay by Christmas," Toby growled.

Elliot tried hard not to laugh, but he did anyway. "Well then, maybe I'll be good at decorating for a change."

Toby tried to frown, but burst out laughing. Some soda dribbled out on the seat, and Elliot grabbed the towel to wipe it up. Toby put the can down and reached for him. Elliot knew instantly that he was in no danger of being punched. Kissed, yes. He casually hit the door locks and let it happen. Expecting it to end after one or two, he was surprised when Toby pulled away just enough to whisper against his lips, "He was a better kisser than you."

Elliot felt as if he was being backed into a corner, but he didn't go. "So? Kathy was better than you. No stubble."

Toby kissed him again. Elliot didn't mind. It was different, but not bad, and he wanted to do it again. Some part of him had needed it since that first night they'd chaperoned a dance together. Toby slid his hands under Elliot's shirt and found some skin to caress. "For a cop, you're amazingly tolerant."

Elliot shrugged and tried not to shove against him. "I've never had a problem with any kind of sex. It's pervs that piss me off."

"That must be why you work sex crimes." Toby turned him loose and moved away, but not much. "I have to stop or I'm going to pull you down."

"That would be wrong." Elliot tried to sound convincing. "Did you think I was a gay basher?"

"Most cops are. Except the gay ones." Toby licked his lips and picked up his soda again. "CO's too. Man, they hate faggots."

Elliot had a feeling that he wasn't getting anymore tonight unless he made a move. No matter what Toby said, prison had thoroughly stomped on him for loving Chris, and that sort of thing was hard to forget. "Toby, any men since Chris?"

"Of course!" Toby was a good liar. Elliot had to hand it to him. Well, shit. He checked his cell phone for the time. Two more hours until they were free to go. Toby said, "We should go inside and make sure our kids still know we're here."

"Good idea." Elliot agreed they needed to get out of the limo. It was time to step away. He unlocked the doors and got out. He waited for Toby and they went in together. Sure enough, the kids were coming out and queuing up for another movie.

Dickie and Holly came over to them. "We thought you guys had bailed on us!"

"No such luck," Elliot said. He put his arm around Dickie's shoulder and whispered, "Keep it zipped or I'll ground you for a year."

Dickie looked up at him and swallowed hard. "Well, okay."

"Glad we understand each other." Elliot smiled. Harry and his friend came pounding up, and they were talking a mile a minute.

Toby laughed with them, and Elliot heard him promise to go to the next movie. Elliot caught Elizabeth's eye. She was whispering with a girlfriend. Hopefully, everyone was behaving. Felipe came out also, and Toby got with him. Elliot wasn't surprised to see Felipe go out to the limo. Well, that was over, whatever it had been. He might as well see a movie, but he wasn't sitting by Toby. They might accidentally hold hands or something.

"Elliot, are you going with us to see King Kong?" Harry asked intently.

"Sure." Elliot got out some money. "Wait, is your dad buying?"

"I think so." Harry laughed.

Toby just shook his head, but in the end, he bought four tickets. Elliot smiled.

*********


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