Title: Lifesaver
Pairing: B/S
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: HBO owns Oz, Dick Wolf owns SVU.
Summary: Stabler intervenes in Beecher's life, keeping him from making a big mistake.

********

Toby eased up on the barstool and ordered his usual. It was delivered promptly, but he didn't touch it. The olive looked fresh, and it smelled good, and yet, he hesitated. The vodka shimmered in the light of the bar. He loved a good martini, and that one looked perfect.

"Are you gonna drink it or marry it?" The bartender laughed.

Toby paid for it quickly so the asshole would go away. He gently put one finger on the bottom of the stem, traced along it, and swallowed hard.

"Slug it back. What're ya waiting for?"

Toby flinched at the booming voice in his ear, and his hand jerked, almost knocking his lovely drink over. He steadied it and snarled,  "Elliot Stabler. Don't you have a job?"

"Not today. You wandered into a cop bar. I saw you come in and order that beauty." Stabler sat down next to him and took a drink of his beer.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd go away." Toby wrapped his hand around the glass - a perfect fit. His hand remembered how it felt. Stabler didn't leave. He was a stubborn, know-it-all Irish cop that was entirely too nosy. They'd met over at the courthouse and instantly disliked each other. Toby hoped a glare would get rid of him. "Now would be good."

Stabler laughed and drank some more beer. "I'm getting wasted. Hammered. Blind drunk. Stinking drunk. So drunk that they'll have carry me out to a cab."

Toby licked his lips. He hadn't thought that Stabler was the type to drink to excess, but occasionally the situation called for it. "Me too. Drunk never sounded so nice."

"How long you been sober?" Stabler grinned.

"Three months, six days, and about three hours." Toby didn't lift it to his lips. He wouldn't even hazard a guess as to how Stabler had known. Cops were great gossipers. "Genevieve expects me to stay dry, but . . ."

Stabler didn't seem to be listening. He was watching the TV intently. Toby didn't care. He was going to drink this. He'd earned it. He needed it. Wanted it. Craved it. Stabler shrugged. "Three o'clock in the afternoon and we're getting drunk. We're a couple of losers."

Toby didn't agree. He was going to have a couple of martinis, maybe three, and then drive carefully home. He'd cut through the residential neighborhoods to avoid cops. "You're a loser. I won today."

"Really? Good for you." Stabler put his bottle down and looked right at him. "Why are you drinking then?"

"Because they were guilty, and I won." Toby hated corporate law. Hell, he hated being a lawyer. He lifted the drink slowly. Just a sip. To wash away the pain of losing even when he won. He glanced at Stabler, leaning far too close and his breath smelled like beer. "Why are you here?"

"I messed up and a kid is dead. Dead. Dead." Stabler rubbed his face. "I don't know what I hate more - my job or myself."

Toby knew who he hated more, and the martini that he hadn't taken a drink of was whispering his name. He had to reply though. It was polite. "I'm certain it wasn't your fault."

"I sent him home. He's dead. My fault." Stabler drained his beer and slammed the bottle down on the bar. "Screwed up family. I should've done something!"

Toby had no answer for that. Stabler probably thought he could fix the world. Toby knew better. He was just marking his time. His lips reached for the drink.

"Gotta piss." Stabler slid off the barstool and stumbled into Toby. The drink was ripped from his hand, and Stabler's heavy body nearly knocked him off the barstool. The martini - the beautiful martini - hit the floor hard. For Toby, it seemed to take his entire lifetime to explode and splatter. He cocked his head to the side and watched each individual drop land on the wooden floor. It was gone. Gone. And so was his rampaging desire for it. He didn't need it, and getting drunk was the dumbest idea ever.

Stabler grabbed hold of him. "Shit! Sorry. I'll buy you another one."

Toby watched the olive bounce away to be squashed under someone's shoe. The bartender yelled, "Stabler! You asswipe! You're cleaning that up!"

Stabler pushed away from Toby, and it broke the spell he'd been under. He quickly got to his feet and shoved the him on his drunken ass. "Stupid cop!"

Stabler laughed like a fool and someone grabbed him by the arm. Toby used the distraction to get out of the bar before a dozen cops beat the shit out of him. He leaned against the side of the building and took several deep breaths. No booze. None. His life was more than alcohol and olives. Gary and Holly needed him, and poor Genevieve did her best. He was going home, and he'd take the freeway. Tomorrow was a new day, and he would pick his clients with more care. There were solutions to his problems. He didn't have to wash it away. He'd deal with it.

*********

"You okay, Elliot?"

Stabler straightened up and rubbed his butt. "Sure." He laughed softly.

Fin gave him a hard look. "You ain't drunk."

"No. Not yet." Stabler shook his head. He didn't think he would either, not after that. "I think I'll skip it tonight."

"Who was that guy?"

"Someone who needed some intervention, that's all." Stabler went to wash his hands, and then he'd clean up the mess he'd made. He had no doubt he'd done the right thing. Sometimes a man needed a helping hand - a push in the right direction.

*********

"Kathy! Come wash for dinner!"

"Okay, Mom. Let me put my bike away!"

********

Six months later

********

Toby checked his watch. He had an hour and a half before his last deposition. His stomach grumbled at him, and he had to get out of the office.

"Diane, I'm heading out to get some dinner," Toby said as he walked past her, just in case she was going to give him some paperwork or something. He didn't slow down until he was in a booth at Cavanaugh's. No martinis. No whiskey. He ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a club soda. This place was close to his building, nothing more. Making it home before ten seemed impossible today. He took a deep breath, leaned back against the squabs, and tried to relax. Things were going better. This case was one of several that he was determined to win, even if the odds were against it.

Toby looked over the crowd. The usual bunch of cops with a couple of lawyers thrown in the mix. He nodded at a few familiar faces. There was no one he wanted to talk to. The fact that he had no friends never bothered him. They were better off staying away.

A group of young people moved, and Toby recognized the Irish cop they had been crowded around. Elliot Stabler. Asshole. Toby averted his eyes and hoped he'd get out of here without a conversation. He hadn't seen him since, well, that time, and he didn't want to talk about it. Christ, no.

Food arrived, and Toby ate quickly. He did have to get back. Finished, he wiped his mouth and headed for the restroom. Keeping his eyes to himself, he got it done and turned to wash his hands. Shit.

"What're ya looking at?"

Toby instinctively took a small step back. "Absolutely nothing. I just wanted to wash my hands."

Stabler leaned against the wall and looked at him. Toby hated to step around him. He looked . . . dangerous. "Tobias, right?"

Toby simply nodded. He knew a drunk man when he saw one, and he knew a mean drunk when he saw one. His shoes seemed rooted to the floor. "Excuse me."

Stabler didn't get out of the way. "You drinking?"

"No." Toby felt like a fool. Gingerly, he took the steps to the small sink. He washed his hands and tried to breathe shallow. Stabler was far too close and he smelled as if he'd been swimming in whiskey - Jack Daniels to be exact. He rubbed his hands through his short hair and laughed. Toby didn't see anything funny about this. He felt trapped.

"My wife left me."

Toby would have had to practically step on Stabler's toes to get a paper towel, so he didn't. He let his hands dangle, dripping, unsure of what to say. "And hiding in the bathroom helps?"

Stabler's face turned very dark, and Toby wished he were less of a smartass and more of a compassionate soul. Stabler rubbed his eyes. "I hate lawyers almost as bad as perps."

"Which makes you a full-fledged member of the human race." Toby shook off his hands. "You're not driving, right?"

"I'm a cop." Stabler looked pissed.

"Got it." Toby edged towards the door. Stabler pushed away from the wall and opened it first. He went out, and Toby followed. Toby paid his bill at the bar and tried not to look at the slumped figure sitting there. Geez. Didn't the asshole have real friends? "I'm sorry, okay?"

"Don't need your pity," Stabler mumbled.

Toby wanted to kick him in the ass. Not too long ago, he would have sat down and commiserated drink by drink, but it would have been about the whiskey, not the pity party. He sat down next to him. "Could be worse. You know that better than anyone."

"I know, and that makes it harder. Can't even feel shitty without feeling guilty about it."

Toby choked back some laughter. "Being Catholic really does suck. You're not drunk."

"Not anywhere close, but I been nursing this long enough to get a dirty look." Stabler shrugged and took a drink. "Working late?"

"One more deposition and I'm going home." Toby checked his watch, thoroughly relieved that he didn't have to walk away from someone that was too drunk to drive. "You?"

"Nowhere to go." Stabler glared. "Get that look off your face. She asked me to get out for a couple of days until she could get moved."

"And you nodded and left like a good boy." Toby rubbed his forehead. "When it comes to dividing up the assets, are you giving her your shorts?"

"If she wants them." Stabler obviously didn't care. "I owe her."

Toby pulled out a business card and put it on the bar. "You need help. Seriously."

Stabler looked at it, but didn't pick it up. He drained his whiskey and pushed it away. "I'll sleep in the crib. Go to work."

"Good." Toby had no idea what Stabler was talking about, but it sounded like a good solution. He turned to go, but stopped short when a big hand caught him by the arm.

"Thanks." Stabler turned him loose.

Toby furrowed his brow. He'd done nothing but criticize. He gave a short nod and quick marched for the door. Getting out was a priority. It wasn't that he was tempted, but there was no reason to push his luck. He had no idea if Stabler would call him and ultimately, it didn't matter.

*********

Stabler pushed the card away before changing his mind and stuffing it in his pocket. He needed a lawyer, any would do. Tobias Beecher was one cynical son-of-a-bitch, but he was sober. He'd do, and Stabler could count on discretion because Beecher had no friends. None. Stabler had figured it was the booze, but Beecher was dry, and still, no one. It was a puzzle. Sure, he was socially inept, sarcastic, and occasionally had this look as if he wanted to kill people, but still, he had co-workers, and lawyers weren't picky.

"Drowning your sorrows?" Benson said lightly and sat down next to him.

"Pretty much." Stabler hadn't told her, and he didn't know how to. "You?"

"Thought I'd have a wine before I headed home." She ordered it, and he didn't order another one. If he got started again, he'd never stop. Beecher would understand that. Stabler glanced at his partner. She was secure in her world. She'd avoided the obligatory husband and children. Smart woman. "You look tired, El."

"I am." Stabler didn't like to lie to his partner. "I'm going. Later."

She smiled. "Bye."

Stabler looked back before he hit the door. She already had company, and she looked pleased to have it. He envied her. Her life was work, and the rest was no big deal. He'd tried to juggle work and family and failed miserably. Miserably. He went out into the night and back to work.

*********

Three months later

*********

Toby saw it on the news. Everyone in the tri-state area saw it on the news. His stomach clenched, and he wrung his hands together until he heard that Stabler was in ‘stable' condition. Stabler would be fine. Toby wiped his mouth. He'd given Stabler the divorce papers to sign two days ago, and now he was in the hospital.

"Are you okay, Mr. Beecher?"

Toby nodded, but he wasn't. "Yes, Diane."

"Your father is here."

Toby turned the TV off. He'd have to think about what his response was going to be. Flowers from his lawyer might seen strange, but silence wouldn't be kosher either.

"Tobias," Harrison said.

Toby shook his dad's hand and they sat down in the chairs to talk. He hadn't seen his father for a week or so, but they spoke often on the phone. "What's this about?"

Harrison frowned and shook his head. "There's no easy way to say this. Genevieve, well, she . . ."

Toby stopped breathing. "She what?"

"Pulled the car in the garage and left it running. Gary called 911." Harrison put his face in his hands. "God, I'm sorry."

Toby was glad he was sitting or he'd have fallen to his knees. Shock worked its way through him, and anger rapidly took its place. "Gary?"

"They found her after school."

"That bitch!" Toby got to his feet, grabbed a paperweight off his desk, and threw it into the television. The explosion satisfied some dark need inside him for violence. "She did this to hurt me!"

"Tobias!" Harrison grabbed him. "I don't think this was about you."

"You're wrong! Fucking wrong!" Toby wrenched away from him. "All she wanted was for me to stay sober and then she'd love me! It never happened! She hated me, and she was too big of a chicken shit to do more than take the easy way out!"

Harrison slapped him hard, and Toby nearly fell. He felt a trickle of blood at his mouth, and he wiped it off. His father looked as if he might do it again, so Toby shoved it all away. All of it. He'd deal with it later, or maybe not. "Where are my children?"

"With your mother." Harrison put his hands on his hips and glared. "I knew your wife better than you did, and this was not about you."

"Liar." Toby got his coat. "Let's go deal with the mess my lovely wife left me. She was always so perfect. Isn't this nice?"

"The important thing is the children." Harrison was right behind him. "Not your ego."

Toby shut up. He knew the truth. His father was clueless. All those months sober had been wasted, but he'd rectify that as soon as possible.

*********

Stabler shut the door behind him. He was out of the hospital, and he was damn grateful for it. He wandered into the kitchen to get something to drink and spotted the divorce papers on the table. Right where he'd left them. He sighed. It was time to sign them. Kathy's attitude in the hospital had made it clear that she wasn't taking him back from pity. Not that he'd want that. Much. He'd sign, and take them to Tobias. Maybe they could have lunch at Cavanaugh's. He checked the time. It was only five, he'd call Tobias at the office and set it up.

"Tobias Beecher, attorney at law, may I help you?"

"May I speak to Tobias, please?" Stabler sat down in front of the TV.

"I'm sorry, but he's unavailable due to a death in the family. Would you like to leave a message?"

Stabler bit the inside of his lip. "No. Thank you. Do you have his cell phone number?"

"I can't give that out."

"Thanks." Stabler shut his phone slowly. A death? He probably would have heard about it if he hadn't been in the hospital. Dialing quickly, he waited. "Hey, Casey."

"Elliot! You should be resting!"

Stabler knew that. "Yeah. Later. Have you heard anything about Tobias Beecher having a death in the family?"

There was a pause. "Well, yes. I guess I'm not gossiping since it was in the newspaper, and you've been in the hospital."

"So, what happened?"

"His wife committed suicide. The funeral was today. I didn't go, but everyone says he's a wreck."

Stabler wasn't sure what to say for a second. "Suicide. That's awful."

"Yes. Did you just call to gossip?" She teased him.

"He's my attorney. I was concerned when I couldn't reach him." Stabler had to defend himself. "Thanks."

"Bye." Casey clicked off, and Stabler rubbed his face. Damn. That was a tough blow for anyone, and Tobias wasn't exactly . . . strong. Stabler hated to think it, but it was true. Tobias was moody, given to outbursts that drove people away. He was a good lawyer though. Stabler made one more call.

********

Toby switched from martinis. It just wasn't enough. He dug out his wallet and pulled out a hundred. "Line ‘em up."

The bartender blinked, took it, and got a bottle of whiskey. He poured out six shots. Toby threw back three before coming up for air. It burned. Shit. It burned so good. Stupid bitch couldn't stop him now. He'd kissed her ass for nothing! And Gary and Holly, they'd cried so hard. It had nearly killed him to see his children grieve like that. His hand hesitated over the fourth one, but it went back smooth, and he instantly went for the fifth.

"Whoa there. Slow down. They aren't going anywhere."

Toby didn't look at him. The voice was enough. "I saw you on the news. Glad you're not dead."

"That's almost nice. Beecher, did you decide to like me?" Stabler laughed. He would.

"No." Toby drank the fifth one and set it down gently. "I was going to send flowers, but I got a little distracted."

"I heard." Stabler sat down next to him. "Lenny, can I have a Coke please?"

"Give me a damn break." Lenny - Toby filed the name away - rolled his eyes. "Wait, unless you're on pain medication."

"Got it in one." Stabler took the soda. "Thanks."

Toby had to look now. He nearly winced from the size of the cast. It looked painful. "Lenny, refill these."

Lenny did, and Toby went back to the beginning. He drank two more, but slower.

"I signed the papers." Stabler sighed. "I didn't want to, but she ain't coming back."

Toby nodded. He'd gotten that feeling. His wife wasn't coming back either, and the guilt vied with a dark joy at the thought. "You bring them?"

"They're in the car. I didn't know you'd be here." Stabler‛s eyes were on his soda.

Toby had a feeling that he was being lied to, but he didn't give a damn. Another one went down easy. "You should probably go home and rest."

Stabler took hold of Toby's arm, stopping him from his next drink. "Where are your kids?"

"With my parents. I couldn't face them one more minute." Toby choked back a sob. He was helpless in the face of their grief. "They were so sad."

"And this is making it easier on them?" Stabler seemed to look right through him. "Get drunk on your own time, not theirs."

Toby wanted to punch him and kick him while he was down. Stupid fucker. "You don't know!"

"And you won't either if you keep drinking like that! What happened is awful, but your children need you! You!" Stabler shook him.

"Shut up," Toby whispered. He took a deep breath and jerked his arm away. The whiskey about knocked him on his ass, but he caught himself at the last moment. "Leave me alone!"

Stabler sipped his Coke and looked completely unconcerned. "If you do this, how are you gonna live with yourself?"

"I'm going to spend every day drunk. It works for me." Toby stared at the last drinks. This was what he did. He was good at it. She never should have made him quit. "Bitch should've had the balls to get a divorce. She devastated my children."

Stabler nodded. "She did. So, are you going to pile it on? Make it worse? Or are you going to be a man? Suck it up and do what's right for them? When they're grown and gone, get drunk all you want. No one will give a damn."

Toby hated him. Hated him. Hated himself. "You make it sound easy."

"It'll be the hardest thing you've ever done." Stabler pushed his Coke away. "Come on. We'll share a cab."

Toby eyed the whiskey. If he drank it, he'd never stop. Fuck. Why him? "Why do you care? You don't even like me."

"How do you know?" Stabler pointed at the whiskey. "Stop now. Next time you want a drink, picture their faces."

"Fuck," Toby said softly. He got off the barstool and reluctantly made the decision not to have another one. Not now. "Keep the change, Lenny."

"Thanks!" Lenny cleared the shot glasses away.

Toby went out the door, and he managed not to look back. He was a little unsteady, but he was walking. Not drunk, but he'd been getting there. "You didn't drive!"

"No. I'm on pain medication - the good stuff." Stabler flagged down a cab. "Get in."

Toby hesitated, but he got in, and Stabler gave directions to his place in Queens. Stabler had gotten the house. Toby had made sure of it. "I'll go on from there."

"No. You'll come in and drink a lot of coffee and have a nap." Stabler shook his head. "You're more than half in the bag."

Toby was going to argue, but he didn't have the strength. The events of the last week were crashing on top of him. Pity. Guilt. Hatred. His father. All of it. He followed Stabler in the two-story brick house. It wasn't fancy, but it was very middle class, like Stabler. The coffee was black, and Toby only spilled a little of it. He sat at the kitchen table and burned his mouth.

"You came after me, didn't you?"

Stabler shrugged. "Lenny said you were there."

Toby shrugged off his jacket. He should have been angry, but he was just confused. "What the hell do I do now?"

"I don't know." Stabler sat down carefully at the table. He looked tired, but he should. Toby felt a trace of guilt. He was keeping Stabler from resting, and he‛d been shot. Stabler tapped the table. "Drink it! And start going to meetings, and get your kids a good therapist."

"So, you do know." Toby took a big drink and wanted to gag. His stomach wasn't enjoying the coffee piled on vodka and whiskey. "What else?"

"Hire a nanny, if you have the money, or work from home." Stabler shrugged. "Unless your parents are willing to provide a stable home."

Toby didn't know, and his head whirled around. "Where's the bathroom?"

Stabler pointed, and Toby went as fast as he could. His stomach forced him to his knees, and he swayed. God damn. He watched the spots in front of his eyes and flinched in surprise when Stabler handed him a wet washcloth. Toby wiped his face and tried to breathe. Fuck. Could he go any lower?

"Tobias, have you eaten today?"

"My friends call me Toby." Toby wasn't sure why that came out of his mouth. He didn't have any friends, not since college. Belatedly, he remembered the question. "I didn‛t eat today or yesterday."

"Damn, you trying to kill yourself with booze?" Stabler shook his head. "I'll go see if there's any food in the house."

Toby staggered up. "No! No! No! You're hurt. Just go lie down and I'll go to my parent's house. There's food there, and I can rest. Please."

Stabler sighed. "I don't like letting you out of my sight."

"Too bad." Toby straightened his back. He was going to make it. He could make it. For Gary and Holly. He loved them. So much. "I'll try to do those things you said."

Stabler steadied him. "You can barely walk. Listen to me - go sit on the couch."

Toby hated to do what he was told, but he stumbled to a barcolounger and sat down. He groaned and his head dropped back. "We're not friends!"

Stabler nodded. "I know. You keep telling me that."

Toby shut his eyes. He'd go home in a minute.

********

Stabler tossed a blanket over him. "Sleep it off," he whispered. He sighed and went to crash on the sofa. His arm hurt, but he wasn't going to take another pain pill, not yet. Beecher was right. They weren't friends, but that didn't mean they couldn't be friends. Stabler looked around his empty house. It sucked, and he hated it.

Right now, he had nothing, not even the job. Well, he had a lawyer sleeping in his chair, but not much else. He ran his hand down his face and tried to relax his shoulder muscles. Damn cast was heavy. Shots fired again in his mind, and he flinched. Too many dead and wounded. He needed a drink.

********

Six weeks later

********

Toby ducked into Cavanaugh's after work, hoping to spot Stabler. Phone calls had gone unanswered and Toby needed the addendum to the child support agreement signed. He didn't do divorce cases, and now he knew why.

"Hey, Lenny. Seen Detective Stabler?" Toby went right to the bar instead of poking into all the dark corners.

Lenny nodded, rolled his eyes, and pointed. Toby said thanks and followed the finger to a back booth. Stabler was hunched over a long neck. He didn't look up. Toby sat down and opened his briefcase. He pulled out the paper, pushed it over, and slapped a pen down on top. Stabler signed it without looking at him.

"Thank you, Detective Dickhead." Toby stuffed it away. He had to get out of here fast or he was going to drink the place dry.

Stabler chuckled. "You're still a prick, but hey, how are your kids?"

"They're coping." Toby didn't want to discuss it. Therapy shouldn't be for children. "Are you drunk?"

Stabler spun the bottle slowly. "Nope. I just don't wanna go to my empty house, and I'm sick of the precinct. Lenny is sick of me too, but he can't complain."

Toby was sick of him also, but mentioning it seemed crass. "You know, for a big, strong detective, you're a pussy. So, she left you? Big deal. At least she's alive. Go get laid. Forget the bitch."

Stabler looked at him now, and Toby wished he'd kept his big mouth shut. "Tobias, I noticed months ago that you have no friends. This conversation is a case in point."

Toby licked his lips. He was not scared, not much. "I was always polite and well-spoken, and then some stupid Irish cop talked me into staying sober. It sucks. This is the new me."

"Great. A lawyer with a crappy attitude - how original." Stabler shifted his eyes away, and Toby took a deep breath. Forgetting that Stabler was dangerous was stupid. "What are you doing tonight?"

Toby frowned and picked up his briefcase. "Are you asking me out?"

Stabler leaned back and laughed. Toby took the opportunity to get out of the booth and head for the door. He had the addendum. He was done. When Stabler fell into step beside him, Toby nearly winced from surprise.

"Are you going back to work or home?" Stabler asked, loud enough to be heard over the street noise.

Toby didn't understand why Stabler was pretending that he gave a damn about some lawyer. "I don't get you. You have cop buddies, remember? You hate lawyers, remember?"

Stabler shot him a glare. "Don't you ever get tired of that stick up your ass?"

Toby dropped his briefcase and took a wild swing at that fat, Irish head. He put months of frustration and anger behind his fist. The air burst out of his body when he slammed into the wall of the bodega. His face ground into the red brick, his glasses threatened to come off, and all he could feel was one big hand holding him there. An apology raced to his lips, but he bit it off.

"Are we finished?" Stabler whispered in Toby's ear. "Or would you like to spend an evening in lockup for assaulting a police officer?"

Toby swallowed hard. His temper drained away, and he confronted the fact that he was a pussy again. "I never even got started."

Stabler ripped him around and shoved him back. Toby secured his glasses about the same time his shoulders hit the wall. Protesting this treatment would gain him exactly nothing, but he wasn't going to forget it. Stabler smiled, but it was fake. "Better?"

"Yes!" Toby shuffled his feet and knew he was going to have bruises from this ridiculous display of Stabler's masculinity. "Are you finished harassing me?"

"Go home to your kids. Be grateful you can." Stabler took a step back.

Toby jerked away from the bricks. "You sanctimonious prick! Always preaching it! You need to shut the fuck up more often!"

Stabler shrugged. "And you need to be happy for what you got! Stop whining around!"

"Go fuck yourself." Toby sniffed and picked up his discarded briefcase. "Probably the only way you can get laid."

"Can I join your club?" Stabler turned away. His broad back, stiff with disapproval, receded down the sidewalk, and Toby watched him go. Stupid cop. Toby brushed himself off, tried to regain his equilibrium, and walked to his car. He was going home.

********

Stabler found a shadow to lean into and watched Beecher walk away. The lawyer didn't go back to his building. No, he went to his car. Good. Jerk needed to go home and kiss his kids. Stabler sighed and rubbed his arm. It still ached and playing the tough cop was hard on it. Beecher was a puzzle - a good guy, but a huge asshole. He took court cases that no one else would touch and usually managed a win for the victim against corporations that had money and lawyers to burn. He was also mouthy, unpredictable, and had this perpetual look on his face that even an idiot could read. Booze. Always the booze. What a whiner.

Stabler wondered why he cared, and he wouldn't lie about that. For some reason, he did. Beecher was right about one thing. Getting laid was impossible. Stabler groaned and got moving towards the crib. No reason to drive to Queens.

********

Two months, three days later

********

Toby rubbed his eyes and then his lips. He would not drink. God, he needed a drink. It was worse now than it had been right after the suicide. Maybe because his kids were doing better. They seemed happy. His mother had insisted on taking over that situation, and Toby had let her. He had hired another maid so she didn't have to deal with the laundry and mess. It was working out fine - one big, happy family. He reached for his cell phone and was surprised that his hand shook. Flipping through the memory, he searched for someone that he could call. There had to be someone. He licked his dry lips, his stomach cramped, and he pushed the button.

"Stabler."

Toby opened his mouth, but nothing came out. After all, what could he say? He pressed the phone to his forehead and wished he knew what he was doing.

"Beecher, say something."

"Sorry I bothered you," Toby said softly and hung up. He turned his phone off and put it away. Listing all the drinks that he couldn't have didn't make it any easier, but it was all his brain seemed to be able to focus on. He got to his feet and stumbled to the window. He leaned against it and wished he were as strong as his bitch of a wife had been. She'd gotten the last laugh. He pulled off his glasses and smashed them against the window. The crack and tinkle made him smile. He let them hit the floor. Grinding them under his shoe was also satisfying. Pressing his face against the cool glass, he giggled.

"Drunk again?"

Toby whipped around. He calculated distance and time quickly. Stabler had hurried, and he looked exhausted. His brow was furrowed in what seemed like a permanent expression on his face. Toby straightened his back, pushed his hair away from his face, and tried to look fine. "What do you want?"

"You called me!" Stabler marched over to him. "You look like hell."

"So do you." Toby felt trapped between the window, the wall, and Stabler. "Could you back up?"

Stabler raised his eyebrows. "I don't have time for your games. Why did you call?"

Toby considered three lies before reluctantly telling the truth. "I want a drink. Bad. I didn't know who else to call," he mumbled.

"How about your AA sponsor?" Stabler roared. Toby opened his mouth twice, shut it hard, and turned back to the window. He wrapped his shaking hands around his elbows and prayed that Stabler would go away. Just go away. Stabler didn't. He pulled him around, but Toby refused to look up the inch it would take to meet Stabler's eyes. "Toby, you never went to AA?"

"I did." Toby wanted to cower inside the strength of this man, and it made him tremble. He needed so much, and all he had wasn't nearly enough. "Once. Maybe."

"That's a terrible lie." Stabler wrapped his arms around him. "Just, take a deep breath."

Toby did and it scorched through his lungs. "You smell good." He was totally appalled at what he'd said, and he blushed.

"I didn't realize you cared." Stabler ran his hands up and down Toby's arms. The two inches of space between them seemed like too much, and Toby leaned closer. Stabler didn't shove him away. No, he held him. Toby's ache for whiskey eased away at the same time he noticed another kind of ache in his trousers. Now he pulled away, before Stabler realized it and knocked him down.

"I'm sorry. I know you like perps better than me. I just didn't know who else to call. You were right about that no friends shit." Toby looked everywhere but at Stabler's face.

Stabler sighed heavily. "Why did you wait so long? You're about ready to collapse."

Toby didn't know, and he didn't want to think about it. "I'm fine. Really."

"For a lawyer, you're a crappy liar. Come on. We'll go eat and talk." Stabler looked him up and down. "How much weight have you lost?"

"I haven't." Toby didn't think so. He ate. Sometimes. He shook his head. "Not Cavanaugh's or anywhere else that has booze."

Stabler slowly nodded. "Good choice. Get your coat."

Toby obeyed. He didn't think any further. His brain couldn't cope one more minute, so he got in Stabler's car and didn't even ask where they were going. It wasn't as if it mattered. When the car stopped, he got out and shakily climbed the few steps to Stabler's front door. Stabler unlocked it, and they were inside. Toby sat down in the closest chair and put his head in his hands.

"I'll get you some food."

Toby didn't argue. He wanted to lie on the floor and cry. A few tears trickled down his face and he wiped them away. Fuck. He was a mess. At some point, he looked up and saw Stabler staring at him. Desperate for something to say, he asked, "How are you doing?"

Stabler got a funny look on his face. "Better than you."

"Not by much." Toby looked around at the fine layer of dust over everything, even the TV remote. "You don't live here anymore?"

"I stop in for clean clothes. Kathy hasn't let me have the kids in . . . a long time." Stabler sat down and rubbed his face. "I ordered pizza."

"No food, huh?" Toby compared this house to where he lived and knew he was nothing but a whining bitch. "I really shouldn't have bothered you."

Stabler simply stared at him. "You need to get a sponsor."

Toby nodded, but he knew he wouldn't. "I won't call again. I promise." He pulled out his cell phone, opened it, and deleted Stabler's number. "There. You're erased."

Stabler cocked his head to the side. "Yeah. I have been."

Toby wasn't the smartest man on the planet, but even he could figure that out. "You still have this house, your job, your kids, friends, and more. What's the problem?"

"I have a house, not a home. My partner quit on me. My kids are farther away than ever, and I have about as many friends as you do." Stabler could have reading his laundry list. No emotion tinted his voice at all.

Toby found it all hard to believe. He had more than Stabler? How the hell had that happened? "Why aren't you a drunk?"

Stabler rubbed his face. "My father was a drunk, and so, while it should make it easier, it makes it tougher."

Toby nodded as if he understood, but he didn't. "Your partner was Olivia Benson."

"Yes. She got hurt. My fault, the way I see it, and she asked for a transfer. I don't blame her." Stabler tugged off his tie and tossed it. "I don't trust me. Why should she?"

"I'm sorry." Toby knew it sounded lame, but he didn't have anything else to offer. "Your life always seemed a hell of a lot better than mine."

"And you came to this conclusion while the maid got you some coffee and the butler got the door?" Stabler's scorn came through easily. Before Toby could think of an answer, the doorbell rang, and he got it. He gave the pizza boy plenty of money and put the pizza on the coffee table. Stabler handed him a plate and a napkin. They ate in silence. Toby had to admit that he felt better when his stomach was full. He didn't look at Stabler, and it made it easier to eat. With a start, he realized that his parents would wonder where he was, and he called them, speaking softly. They'd been worried, and his father sounded angry.

"I'm not drunk, Dad. I'm at a friend's house. I'll be home later." Toby figured it would be sooner rather than later. His dad mumbled something, and Toby ignored it. "Later." He clicked off, put it away, and met Stabler's eyes. "I should go."

"You ate one piece." Stabler pointed at the pizza. "Eat enough not to pass out."

Toby took another slice and forced himself to eat it. "This would be better with beer."

Stabler got up, went to the kitchen, and came back with a Coke. He handed it over. "Sorry, no rum."

"A real shame." Toby meant that, but he tried to sound like he was joking. He popped the top and took a drink. It wasn't very good without something in it. "You gonna be okay?"

Stabler just looked at him. Toby's eyes drifted to Stabler's ever-present gun and a chill went through him. Some cops did, and Toby shivered. "Don't. Promise me."

"We aren't friends," Stabler said flatly.

Toby winced. "Yes. We are. Probably you more than me."

Stabler leaned back and put his pizza aside. "I never did get your bill."

"Really? Must have been a computer error. I'll speak to Diane." Toby didn't smile. He had done it pro bono, but there was no reason to trumpet it. "So, we're friends?"

Stabler bit the inside of his lip. "You're rich. A lawyer."

Toby couldn't deny that, and he was out of words. He took his plate to the sink and finished his Coke. It was time to go home to his kids. He would stop bitching. There was so much that he had. Stabler was suddenly there, and Toby wanted to say something profound or meaningful to help him, but there was nothing. He was useless, as usual.

"Sorry. I haven't been sleeping." Stabler looked slightly embarrassed.

Toby made an impulsive decision. He would regret it, but he had to try. "Grab a change of clothes and come with me."

"Where?" Stabler's eyes were wide.

"My house. Well, my parent's house. You need a break. Something different. Put your gun away and come with me. Please." Toby didn't stretch out his hand. He wanted to but he had a feeling it would drive Stabler away. "Meet my kids."

Stabler bit the inner side of his mouth and seemed to sigh. "Okay, but don't tell anyone."

Toby nodded as if he understood that bit of nonsense. "You have the day off tomorrow?"

"Yeah." Stabler headed for the stairs. "Anything besides clothes?"

"Bathing suit?" Toby smiled at Stabler's slight reaction. "If you want." He shut the pizza box and pushed it in the fridge while Stabler was upstairs. His parent's reaction would be somewhere between flabbergasted and quizzical, but they had a guest house. They could use it for a change. Stabler came downstairs with a duffle bag and a look on his face that dared Toby to make a crack. Toby said nothing. He went out to Stabler's car and got in. Stabler was right with him.

"Where to?"

Toby gave him directions. It was funny. It felt as if his life was headed in a new direction also.

*********

Stabler had reached out to him because he looked wretched, so why did he feel like a loser? Beecher's quiet desperation mirrored his own. Two messed up guys - going nowhere fast. The drive took about forty-five minutes. It was late enough that the bridges weren't backed up. Beecher pointed twice, and they were there.

"Damn."

"I know. It's ostentatious and ugly as hell." Beecher shrugged. "I live here because my kids need a stable home. Otherwise, I'd go somewhere else."

Stabler wasn't sure whether to believe that or not. "You sure about this?"

"Yes. Come on." Beecher got out, but waited for him. Stabler felt like an idiot. The butler would probably try to dust him off. He followed him though, feeling as if he were in on vacation. The Beecher's obviously came from old money. Beecher opened the door with his key. "Good evening, Maria. Please tell my parents that I'm home and I brought a guest with me."

"Yes, sir." Maria hurried off.

Stabler wanted to sink through the floor. "I don't belong here."

"Neither do I, but if I can live here, you can stick it out for a day or two." Beecher pointed. "The booze is in that room. I never go in there."

"Prudent." Stabler looked around and made a vow not to touch anything. He might break it and owe them a year's salary. "Where are you putting me? In the kennel?"

"No dogs. Holly is allergic." Beecher waved. "Come on. I'll show you."

Stabler followed him around and finally outside, past a pool, to another house - more like a cottage. "All this for me?"

"It is the guest house. You're a guest, but I can put you up in the mausoleum, if you want." Beecher rolled his eyes. "Stupid place."

"No." Stabler tossed his duffel bag down. He was starting to think that Beecher didn't like this place at all. "I'm on vacation."

"I'd hoped you might feel that way." Beecher went through the place, turning on lights. "Clean enough."

Stabler sighed and slumped down on the sofa. He checked his watch - almost seven. Not even that late, but it felt as if he'd been up for days. Oh yeah. It had been awhile since he'd slept.

"Dad?" A young boy pushed open the door.

"Hey, Gary." Beecher came out from the back and smiled. Stabler was stunned to see a truly happy face on that sour lawyer. "Meet Elliot Stabler. He's staying with us a couple of days."

"Cool!" Gary came over to him, and Stabler held out his hand. They shook on it, and Stabler couldn't help but smile. Gary grinned. "You a lawyer?"

"Uh, no." Stabler censored out the curse word. "You ever get lost around here?"

"I did when I was little." Gary hopped up and down. "Dad, we have an hour before bedtime. Let's do something!"

Beecher laughed. "What? Video games? Movie? Pool? Games?"

"Elliot, do you want to go swimming?" Gary asked.

Stabler wasn't sure he did. "Is it cold?"

"It's a little chilly when we get out." Gary nodded.

"Dad!" A little girl burst through the door. "Oh, my. Sorry. I didn't know we had company."

Beecher picked her up and hugged her. Stabler got to his feet and smiled. "Is this Holly?"

"Yes. Holly Beecher, meet Elliot Stabler. A friend of mine."

Stabler shook her hand and didn't argue about the friend thing. Maybe they were. They shouldn't be, but maybe they were. "Gary wants to go swimming. You?"

"Yes!" Holly clapped her hands, and Beecher put her down. "Let's go get changed."

"I'll tell Grandma and Grandpa." Gary dashed out the door. Stabler smiled after them.

Beecher sighed. "I wish I had half their energy."

Stabler agreed with that. "Go on. I'll get changed and met you out there."

"You sure? You can sleep if you want." Beecher looked a little worried.

"Go." Stabler took his bag and went to find the bedroom. He stared at the king-sized bed for a moment. "Money." He shut the door and started to undress. He was tired, but a swim would be nice, and being here was far away from the stress of work and his ex-wife. And Olivia. Did he love her? He didn't know. He certainly cared for her - more than a partner should. It was a mess, and he didn't know what to say to make it better.

With a start, he realized that he hadn't changed, and he did, quickly. It was a little chilly in the air, but he'd bet his last dollar that the pool was heated. He dived in and went to the bottom. It felt good, and he didn't surface until he was out of air.

Gary was right there. "I thought I was gonna have to rescue you!"

"I'm a good swimmer." Stabler treaded water. "Coming in?" He laughed when Gary swamped him. And Holly was right behind him. Beecher finally came out of what was probably the pool house, and Stabler tried not to stare. When they'd met, Beecher had been a little thick in the middle. Soft. Pudgy. But now. Now he was nothing but skin and bone and muscle. He stopped at the edge and put his toe in.

"Nope. Way, way too cold!" Beecher shivered.

Stabler had to grin as Gary and Holly went to drag their father in the pool. This was nice. He'd needed to step out of himself. Beecher had it lucky.

********

Four hours later

********

Toby found himself watching, and it worried him. He wasn't sure what he was watching for - a hint of condemnation? Laughter? A real smile? He didn't know, but he couldn't seem to take his eyes off Elliot Stabler.

"He's spending the night?" Harrison asked softly, pulling Toby aside near the door to the recreation room. They‛d been watching a movie. Toby had given the kids an extra hour, but they‛d gone to bed a few minutes ago.

"Yes. Do you have a problem with that?" Toby furrowed his brow. He didn't want to fight with his father tonight, not in front of Stabler.

Harrison narrowed his eyes. "Is he one of your lovers?"

Toby was sure his jaw hit the floor. He made sure that Stabler was still watching the movie. "What the hell are you talking about?"

His dad grabbed him by the arm and took him out to the hallway, shutting the door. Toby wrenched his arm away, and his dad spat, "One of your lovers! Not in front of the children!"

"I've never!" Toby swallowed hard. He hadn't, but he'd looked, and it obviously hadn't gone unnoticed. "I was faithful to my wife!"

"No one is faithful." Harrison shook his head - scorn all over his face. "He can stay in the guest house. I'll allow that."

In that instant, Toby hated his father. "Were you banging Genevieve? Is that why she never wanted me?"

Harrison slapped him. Toby hit the wall hard, blinked, and wished he carried a gun. His father shoved his thick finger in Toby's chest. "The children are ours now. You're expendable. Don't forget it."

Toby had no idea what to say. He pushed away from the wall and waited for an emotion to pour over him, but there was nothing - nothing but hate.

"You okay, Toby?" Stabler asked softly. He was holding the door open.

"Yes. I'm fine. Why don't we go finish this movie in the guest house?" Toby glared at his father. "My father needs his rest."

Stabler nodded. "Of course. Excuse us, Mr. Beecher."

Toby made sure not to flip his dad off and walked with Stabler out to the guest house. Stabler took hold of him the instant the door was shut. "He hit you?"

Toby denied it. "Of course not. He's wealthy, refined, genteel." He didn't push the hand away though.

"Rich people kill and rape also." Stabler tilted Toby's face to the side. "Why was he angry? I can leave if it's causing a problem."

Toby wasn't sure what to say. He had provoked his father, again. It was his fault. It was always his fault. "It's not you. It's me. I'm not exactly what he wanted in a son. Thank goodness for Angus."

Stabler let loose of him and went to sit on the sofa. "I never did anything but let my father down."

"Hallelujah." Toby rubbed his face and wasn't sure whether to sit or leave. "If I had any balls, I'd take my kids and move to Queens."

Stabler raised his eyebrow. "That would be quite a come down. Think you could survive it?"

Toby laughed. "I'd probably die." He sat down on the other end of the sofa and desperately searched for something else to talk about, something men discussed. "Stabler, you managed to get laid yet?"

"My friends called me Elliot, or just El."

Toby knew his mouth was hanging open. "I don't have any friends."

"Yes, Toby. Yes, you do." Stabler pushed off his tennis shoes and put his feet up on the coffee table.

"Okay, Elliot. If you say so." Toby wasn't sure he believed it, but he was willing to give it a try.

"So, take your kids and leave. He can't treat you like dirt."

Toby slipped his hand through his hair. It was getting long. His father would insist that he cut it soon. Waiting for a direct order was the act of a juvenile, but he did it every time. "Yes. Yes, he can."

"No, he can't. You have money of your own, right?" Stabler frowned. "Don't bother to lie. One of your cases settled for millions. You get thirty percent."

Toby wished the television were on. Something. Anything. "I'm not sure we should discuss this. My father has me right where he wants me, and let it go at that."

Stabler had leaned his head back and shut his eyes, but now they popped open. "Oh shit. You work for him. He has you on salary!"

Toby sighed. "I didn't care about the money. He bought Genevieve and I a house for our wedding gift. It was enough, with my trust fund, for us to live comfortably."

"He's got you by the nuts." Stabler shook his head. "You did retain full custody of your kids, right?"

Toby nodded. "If I move out, he'll fire me and I'll have nothing but my trust fund."

Stabler rubbed his face. "Life is never easy. I guess he doesn't like cops."

"He had no idea who you were, and he didn't care. He thought - he thought -" Toby couldn't actually force the words out. "Shit."

"That we were lovers," Stabler finished softly. "Ouch."

"Yeah. I was faithful to my wife, but he refuses to believe it. He thinks I'm gay." Toby knew his father believed that. "The dickhead."

Stabler just looked at him. "Are you?"

"Are you?" Toby wasn't going to answer that question head on. He liked sex, and he wouldn't be picky about the sex of his partner, but he hadn't, not with a man.

"Not yet." Stabler wiggled his shoulders. "I have to sleep. We'll talk more tomorrow."

Toby got up. "Thanks for coming over. It helped."

"Stay away from the booze room." Stabler's eyes were shut. Toby opened the door and went out into the night. He eased down into a lounge chair and wished he were a better man. His own man. Drinking had made it easier to live with, but now, now, living here sober, he just choked on it. The water from the pool lapped against the sides and he wished he could drown himself. Stupid. Was he so dumb that he couldn't think of a way out? Apparently so.

"Tobias?"

Toby got up and faced his mother. One look at her face and guilt poured over him. "Yes, Mother?"

"No more lovers here. Do your ugly business at the office like everyone else!" Her hands were on her hips. She was clearly furious. "Do you understand me?"

Toby lowered his head. He had done nothing wrong. "If he were my lover, I'd be in there. He's my friend. I have one."

Victoria glared. "One too many! Your children don't need to know that their father is a pervert!"

"I've never slept with a man, but by God, I'm going to rush out and do it now!" Toby couldn't believe this shit. Guilt turned into anger so quickly. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

She slapped him so hard that he knew his father was a pussy. "Your mother! Do not forget it!"

Toby got up off the concrete, clutched his shame to his chest, and practically ran to his room.

********

Stabler heard the commotion and got up to make sure no one was being murdered. Beecher hit the concrete hard and then bolted away. Mrs. Beecher followed after him, but her manner was triumphant.

"Damn," Stabler whispered. He had taunted Beecher with having everything, but he'd forgotten that there was usually a price tag. No wonder the lawyer drank like a fish. It proved again that being wealthy didn't necessarily make life easy. He shut the door softly and went back to that ridiculously large bed. His own father had smacked him around, but not after he'd gotten tall enough to hit back. Beecher was still taking it, and from his mother as well. Shit.

Stabler stripped down to his briefs and got in bed. He laced his hands behind his head and made up his mind. They were friends, and he was going to help. His own problems could wait a minute or two.

*********

One week later

*********

Toby closed the file and looked over at his father. "They're guilty as sin."

"Yes, but even the guilty deserve excellent representation." Harrison nodded, sipping his drink. He looked calm, sitting there on the sofa. "Get to work on it."

Toby opened his mouth to say something, and his cell phone rang. "Excuse me." He snapped it open. "Can I help you?"

"I'm inviting you and your kids over for the weekend. I have two days off." Stabler sounded strong, firm. "Well?"

Toby met his father's eyes. Something stronger than guilt nudged at him. Fear, maybe. Hatred, definitely. "We'd be pleased to accept. When?"

"Tonight. Whenever you can." Stabler paused. "Bye."

"Thank you." Toby shut the phone and stood. "I'm not doing it."

Harrison got up also. "I've given you more leeway than any of our associates. Don't push me!"

Toby nearly backed down, but if he did, he'd be hip deep in martinis by the end of business. "Give it to one of your toadies. I refuse."

"Tobias, you don't have a choice," Harrison growled.

"There are always choices, Father." Tobias checked the time. He felt as if he were running out of it. "I'm finished for the day. The children and I are going on a small vacation. I'll catch up with you on Monday."

Harrison said nothing. Tobias cleared his desk, grabbed his briefcase, and headed for the door. He ignored the glare from his father and went past Diane without a word. He'd call her later. The ride to the big, ugly mansion seemed to fly by, and he was confronting his mother instead of his father. She was much tougher and much meaner.

"Where are you going?" She frowned.

"To a resort. I need a break," Toby lied effortlessly. His father had already called and ratted him out, but they were going. "Maria, help the children pack for three days. Casual clothes."

"Yes, sir." Maria looked at Victoria. Toby stepped in front of his mother. Maria blanched and dashed off. She'd do it.

"Where? I need more information." She sounded angry.

"Too bad. I'm winging it." Toby waggled his cell phone. "Call me if you need something."

Victoria put her hands on her hips. "No."

"Yes." Toby smiled tightly and kept an eye on her hand. He wasn't backing down this time. "I'm going to go pack." He went upstairs and got a few things together. If he had to, he'd buy clothes, but they were getting out of here. This week had been long, and he'd stood outside Cavanaugh's three times before walking away. Stabler had just thrown him a life preserver, and he was grabbing it.

Holly and Gary came dashing down the hallway. "Where are we going?"

"Away." Toby picked them both up. "Want to go?"

"You bet!" They laughed. He carried them down the stairs. His mother barred the door, but Toby pulled out the big guns.

"Kiss Grandma goodbye and tell her you love her."

Holly and Gary did a good job, and she gave ground, but slowly. Toby got them in the car and buckled correctly. Maria came out with bags, and he went to help her. Toby waited until the trunk shielded them for his mother's view.

"Maria, is my mother good to my children?"

Maria swallowed hard and went pale. "She tries hard."

Toby had his answer, and he didn‛t like it. "Do I have everything essential?"

"Yes." Maria nodded. She hesitated, and Toby knew she wanted to say more.

"Does she hit them?" Toby cringed and waited for the answer. A nasty feeling in his guts told him that he was a fool.

"Not very often," Maria whispered. Toby slammed the trunk and shooed her away as if he were angry at her. She ran. His mother started walking towards him, and Toby drove away before he had to speak with her again. His blood ran hot, and he wanted to knock her down. And kick her.

"Dad, are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Toby turned on the music for them. He breathed deeply until the worst of his rage passed. They weren't going back. No. If they had to live in a homeless shelter, it would be better than there. He managed to find Stabler's house, and he turned before getting them out. "Holly, Gary, we're going to stay with Elliot Stabler for the weekend. He doesn't have a pool or a maid, and I don't want to hear one complaint."

"Dad, we don't care about that stuff. We never had it when Mom-" Gary stopped. "Well, you know."

Toby did know. They'd had a nice house, but nothing special. His father had sold it after Genevieve died. He hadn't cared then, but he knew now that it was just a move to keep him under their thumb. He shook it off, got out, and opened the trunk. He handed Gary and Holly a bag each and took the rest. He was slightly ashamed that his breath came quick and he felt a little light-headed as he rang the doorbell.

Stabler pulled open the door and smiled at the kids. "I'm sorry. I gave at the office."

Toby laughed, and Holly and Gary tackled him. Stabler hugged them, and Toby started to breathe normally again. When the door shut behind them, he sighed with relief. Even if his dad did come here, Stabler had a gun.

"You okay?"

Toby pulled out his cell phone and shut it off. "I am now. Thank you."

"You look somewhere between desperate and furious." Stabler spoke softly. The kids were off exploring the house.

"We'll talk later when the kids are asleep." Toby wasn't sure what he'd say, but he wasn't going back. "How was work this week?"

Stabler shrugged. "I have a new partner. We'll see." He sounded very non-committal. "It's good not to be there for a change."

Toby felt the same. "And your kids?"

"Kathy's bringing them tomorrow. We'll have our hands full." Stabler threw him a grin.

"I better hire a maid fast." Toby laughed. He picked up the bags. "Give me the tour and tell me where to put this stuff."

Stabler nodded. Toby followed him. He was here. Not there. He wouldn't drink. Small steps. Small steps.

********

Stabler was glad that Holly and Gary were excited about the bunk beds. It wasn't like he had a pool. They seemed to think they were on a great adventure though, and that was all that mattered. Beecher looked upset, drawn and tired, but he'd come, and that was something. Between pizza, video games, and popcorn, the evening passed quickly, and Stabler let out a sigh of relief when both kids were asleep. Beecher echoed it, and then they grinned.

"Let's clean up the mess." Stabler rolled his eyes. ‘I'd wait for the maid you're gonna hire, but it might be a week or two."

Beecher laughed and helped out. It didn't take long, and they both collapsed again in front of the TV. Stabler turned on the news and cautiously said, "What happened to piss you off?"

"Where do I start?" Beecher sipped his Coke and grimaced. "That's awful."

"I drank the last beer before you got here." Stabler had done it on purpose, and he wasn't going to buy more until his houseguest was gone. "You gonna tell me?"

Beecher watched TV. "My dad gave me a case that I don't want to take right before you called. He threatened me."

"With what?" Stabler figured he‛d have to drag every word out of him.

"He'll probably fire me." Beecher rubbed his face. "I'm not sure I care. I'm not doing it."

"Man's gotta take a stand every now and again." Stabler approved of that, but that wasn‛t the source of the desperation he saw on Beecher‛s face. "And then?"

"Why are you sure there's more?" Beecher wouldn't look at him.

Stabler called on his considerable work experience and made a few guesses based on what he knew. "I know your mother hits you, and there's no one in that house that will stop her from hitting Gary and Holly when you‛re at work."

Beecher flashed to his feet. "God, I want to kill her." He clasped his hands together and went out the front door. Stabler followed but not too fast. He had to find out exactly what had gone on so he knew whether or not to start an investigation. These things were never easy, and he had to go slow. Beecher was sitting on the front step, his arms wrapped around his knees.

"How'd you know?"

"I saw her knock you down by the pool." Stabler sat down next to him, but was careful not to touch.

"She always hit me. Never too hard and never that often, but I knew it was coming." Beecher sounded angry now. "Maria told me the truth. I should've known. I should've! I didn't think."

"You‛ve just lost your wife. You weren't thinking clearly." Stabler pushed a little harder. Children of abuse usually minimized it. "Toby, she knocked you down. Did she when you were a child?"

Beecher looked straight at him. "Yes. We're not going back. I don't care what they do. I'll run as far as I have to, but we're not going back!"

Stabler put his arm around him. It was time to reassure him. "I'll help protect them. I promise."

Beecher curled into it. "I'm weak and stupid, but this time, I'm not backing down."

Stabler held him. There were no words to make it better. He knew from his own experience. "We'll protect them. That's what matters, right?"

"Yes." Beecher pushed away. "I've never raised my hand to them - drunk or sober."

Stabler heard the truth. "I believe you."

"You do?" Beecher stared at him. "Why?"

"You wouldn't lie about that. Not your kids. You love them. They're the reason you're sober. They're the reason you don't go inside Cavanaugh's after work." Stabler gave him a small smile. "Yes, I saw you this week."

Beecher groaned. "You're right. They've lost so much. I can't do it. You kicked my ass straight there." He gulped. "And now my mother's been hitting them. Shit. I'm a complete loser."

"You've done your best. It's just time to do that much more. You're a victim also. Your mother could intimidate anyone!"

"Not you." Beecher pushed his hair behind his ears. "You'd do something. I allowed it!"

"You didn't. Allowing it means that you knew and you turned a blind eye. I see a lot of that. You ran. Now, if you go back, it means you're as bad as she is." Stabler shook him a little, trying to make him listen. "You see the difference?"

Beecher nodded and sniffed. "I should've known!"

"But you didn't. Move on. Focus on what you can do for them in the future." Stabler kept his arm around him. "Listen to me. I do this for a living."

"I‛m listening." Beecher lowered his head. "I still feel guilty."

"Good. That means you'll see this through and not back down. Time and again, I try to help people and they run right back into the situation. Usually, someone ends up very dead." Stabler stopped talking when he saw Beecher's expression turn to horror. "Sorry."

"The truth is ugly." Beecher got to his feet. "We're friends enough that you'll help us?"

Stabler heard the abused child in those words, and his heart ached for him. "More than enough. If you think I could turn my back on Holly and Gary, you don't know me very well."

Beecher looked down. "I don't know you very well."

Stabler rested his hand on Beecher‛s shoulder. "Better than you think. Let's go watch the news and make a plan."

Beecher nodded, and they went inside together. Stabler gave him a quick hug when the door was shut. Beecher held on tight, and Stabler let him.

********

Forty-five hours later

********

Toby flinched at the sudden knock on the door. Stabler had gone into work for a couple of hours, and they were here alone. Cautiously, he answered it. He trembled slightly and lamented the lack of his manhood when he saw his father.

"It's time to come home, Tobias." His father was a big man, and he looked even larger right now.

Toby stepped out and shut the door firmly. He had to stay strong. "Did you track my phone or my car?"

"Phone." Harrison crossed his arms. "Get them packed and come on. Exposing them to any more of this filth with your boyfriend is despicable!"

"No," Toby said softly. He put his back to the door, and he wasn't moving. He wasn‛t. "We're safe here, and you need to leave."

Harrison scowled. "This isn't an argument. You'll do what I say!"

Toby shook his head. He wasn't going to bend this time. "Go back to your ugly mansion. We're not living with you and Mother any longer. The kids and I will find a place of our own."

"I'll give you one more chance. You're coming home and you're taking that case!"

"No." Toby had to cling to that one word. It was all he had. His father edged closer, and Toby could barely breathe. Harrison seemed huge.

"If not, I'll start proceedings tomorrow morning to declare you unfit. You're a drunk and a homosexual. The courts will beg us to take them!"

Toby had anticipated those words, but he was still surprised at how they struck at him. "No. That's not true."

Harrison laughed. "I caught you with your best friend when you were twelve! You're gay. Trust me! I thanked God when I was able to bully you into marrying, but I never fooled myself that you'd stay faithful to her. Those children belong to me and your mother. We earned them, and I have hopes that Gary will be a real man!"

Toby put his hand to his head. He didn't remember that, but . . .  it didn‛t matter if he was gay. There was a larger issue here. "Father. I'm not letting you can hit them like you do me!"

Harrison's hand seemed to block the sun and Toby flinched before it hit him. And again. Toby watched his spare set of glasses fly into the bushes. His father shook him and cracked him across the face with the back of his hand. "Now!"

Toby knew he deserved those blows, and he knew he was a weak fool, but he wasn't sending his children back to be treated this way. Not them. They were innocent. They were good. Toby straightened his spine and whispered, "No."

Harrison made a terrible noise and shoved him against the door. Toby's mouth fell open as Stabler appeared. Handcuffs glittered in the sun, and his father found himself in the grip of a man who wasn‛t scared of him. Toby didn‛t think that Stabler was afraid of anything.

"Mr. Beecher, you are under arrest for assault and battery. You have the right to remain silent-"

"I know my damn rights!" Harrison yelled. Toby sagged down, leaning back against the door. Stabler put Harrison in the car and made a phone call. Toby shut his eyes and breathed. Dimly, he felt blood trickle down his face, but he didn't care. His children were safe. That was what mattered.

Stabler got down close. "You okay?"

Toby nodded. "Peachy. Go check on the kids, please?"

"I'm going. I made a call." Stabler went inside. Toby sat and breathed. He saw the police cars pull up, and they took his father away. Stabler came back out and was right in Toby's face. "They're fine. They didn't see or hear anything. I'm going to leave a uniform here with them, and I'm taking you down to the station."

Toby didn't understand. His brain felt like mush, and the sight of his angry father being dragged away in cuffs was still right in front of him. "What?"

"You're pressing charges." Stabler tugged him up. "Let's go."

Toby resisted. He couldn‛t just leave them. They‛d be scared. "I'm leaving them with a cop? I don't think so."

Stabler frowned and rubbed his hand down his face. "I'll call Kathy. If she can come over, will you get in the car?"

"Yes." Toby didn't listen to him make the call. He wanted to go hug his kids, but he didn't want to scare them. "Well?"

"She'll be here in thirty minutes." Stabler put his arm around him. "Shit. You need a bus."

Toby swayed. He felt his knees go wobbly. "Sorry about this." He watched the world turn black.

********

Stabler kept him from hitting his head. Two uniforms came up the walk fast, and he sent one inside to stay with the kids, and the other radioed for an ambulance. Stabler figured it was the shock as much as the blows, even though Harrison Beecher could really pack a punch. Beecher had just stood there and taken it - a typical abused child. He might even excuse it away later.

The ambulance came in silent, and Beecher was mostly conscious by then. Stabler helped him inside, but he didn't need to go to the hospital. They got the bleeding stopped, gave him a cool pack for his eye, and checked him for a concussion. Stabler stayed out of the way. Kathy showed up before the ambulance was gone, and he filled her in. She was sympathetic and promised to take care of Holly and Gary. Stabler knew she would. She was angry at him, not these children, and anyone that saw Beecher would try to lend a hand.

"Take them home," Stabler whispered. This was going to take a while. "Trust me."

Kathy nodded and hurried in the house. Beecher stared groggily after her. "I trust her."

"Good." Stabler helped him out of the ambulance. "My car. Come on."

Beecher only stumbled once, and Stabler got them moving. They went through the precinct doors, Cragen didn't waste any time. "What's this about, Elliot?"

Stabler motioned to Fin. "Can you get pictures of Mr. Beecher, please? I'll catch up with you both in a moment."

Fin nodded. "This way."

Beecher hesitated, but he went. Stabler turned to his captain. "I went home, and Beecher's dad was beating the crap out of him. I arrested him before he moved on to the kids."

"Tobias Beecher was at your house? Why?" Cragen furrowed his brow.

Stabler wasn't sure what to say about that. "He‛s been staying with me, hiding from his parents. You can see why. They must have tracked him through his phone. Kathy has Beecher‛s kids."

"Harrison Beecher has juice behind him. This is going to get ugly fast." Cragen didn‛t look happy. "It's not really our department."

Stabler wasn't going to take that crap. "Beecher's parents have been hitting his kids."

Cragen glared. "And you didn't start a file?"

"Of course I did!" Stabler pointed at his desk. He'd started it earlier today, and he was glad he'd made time for it. "I'd hoped to do this quietly."

"From the looks of the blood, I'd say you're out of luck." Cragen shook his head. "I'll call Novak. Do this exactly by the book."

Stabler didn't need to hear that. He grabbed up the file and went to find Beecher. No, it was Toby. Toby was his name.

*********

Four hours later

*********

"Toby, you have to press charges!" Stabler slapped his hand on the table.

Toby jumped from the sound, but he didn't have to do anything. "It'll ruin his career. He'll be disbarred." He looked at Novak. "I can't do that to him."

"Mr. Beecher, technically, I don't need you to press charges. Detective Stabler witnessed the attack. I can compel you to testify and that's the end of it." Novak raised her eyebrows. "The situation with your mother is trickier. Maria is gone, and putting your children on the stand would be dicey. You never witnessed the abuse?"

"No." Toby rubbed his face. Couldn't they see that they'd just lose? Nobody ever won against his father. "Please. Just drop this."

Stabler said nothing. Novak shook her head. "I'll plead it out, but he assaulted you. Forget it."

Toby shoved his hair back. He was so ashamed. "Remind me to avoid you in court."

"Will do." Novak got to her feet. "Finish your statement with Detective Stabler, please."

Toby didn't feel much like cooperating at this point, but he could see that refusal would gain him nothing. "No jail time."

"I'm sure it won't come to that." Novak walked out the door.

Stabler sighed very softly. "You want something to drink or eat? Piss?"

Toby wanted to curl up and cry. He was exhausted, and he hurt from what had happened and what he was doing. "Kathy still has my kids, right?"

"They're asleep. She called me about an hour ago. Come on. I can lend you a clean shirt." Stabler got to his feet. Toby obediently followed him to a locker room. Stabler opened one up and dug out a sweatshirt. "Here. Put this on."

Toby unbuttoned his bloody shirt and took it off. He threw it in the direction of the trash. "I don't want to do this."

"I know, but he did this, not you. He's to blame, not you."

Toby slid into the shirt and was glad for the warmth. "I could've just done what he said," he muttered.

Stabler sat down next to him. "You took that beating because you couldn't just do what he said. You have to think of their future. Your father and mother will never gain custody if you do this."

"He never loses! Novak doesn't have a chance. He'll turn this around, and I'll lose them!" Toby took a deep breath, trying to steady himself and sound less insane. "He said I'm gay and a drunk."

"That doesn't matter, and Novak may surprise you. He can't assault you to make you do what he wants!" Stabler shook his head. "If you'd have gone back, someone would have died. That was your moment to say no. I'm proud of you. Not many have the guts to stand up."

Toby tried to believe but it was hard. He was always a screw up, and he'd destroyed his family. This beating would look like nothing when his father got hold of him again. "Angus is going to kill me."

"I'll speak to him when he gets here. He's on my list of people to interview." Stabler patted him on the knee. "Food?"

"No, but some coffee would be nice." Toby went to piss. He washed his hands and stared in the mirror at his face. Had he asked for so much? A sudden craving for whiskey made his hands shake, and he clasped them together. Could he blame his parents? He was a drunk. He did like men, well, as much as he liked women. They'd done their best with him, right?

"You're not to blame. They made their choices. You drank because they abused you. You were a child." Stabler looked him right in the eye. "You weren't gay and drunk at age four when this all started!"

Toby blinked in surprise. His self-condemnation commentary grinding to a halt. "How'd you know?"

"I guessed. It probably started earlier, but you remember it around age four." Stabler put his hand on Toby's shoulder. "Children of abuse blame themselves. You drank to forget it."

Toby nodded slowly. He believed, but it didn't leave him in a happy place now. "I'm gay?" He was surprised those words burst out of him.

"How can I know?" Stabler rolled his eyes. "Let's go finish your statement. It's going to be a long night."

Toby agreed with that. He had looked, sure, but he'd never touched. Twelve? His best friend? He tried to remember as he followed Stabler back to an interview room. He'd never had any close friends, not after Joey. He gasped softly. Joey had moved away. His parents had been nice. Toby didn't remember anything else, and he wasn't sure he wanted to dig up that repressed memory. His father had probably beaten the shit out of him.

Stabler picked up his pencil. "Start from the beginning. Tell me what happened."

Toby started again. He tried to disconnect his brain from his mouth. It was nothing but the truth and that was the problem.

********

Stabler winced when he sipped the coffee on his desk. It was cold. He put it down and sat for a moment to go through his notes. Toby was asleep in the crib. His father was at the tombs, and Angus would be here any minute now. What a mess, but he didn't have a chance in hell at getting charges to stick to the mother, so he could only pray that Novak did go after the father. It would ensure that they never got custody.

"Detective Stabler?"

Stabler stood slowly and looked him over. Taller than Toby, but he had the same blond hair and blue eyes. "Angus Beecher?"

They both nodded and shook hands. Angus frowned. "I have to admit. I'm stunned by all of this."

Stabler assessed him instantly. "Are you still in school?"

"Law school at Harvard. Yes." Angus nodded. "Dad's bail hearing isn't until the morning. Mother is furious, and I have no idea where Tobias is."

"He's upstairs asleep." Stabler tilted his head. He was going to have to handle this just right, and even then he might come up empty. "Let's go talk."

"Do I need a lawyer?"

"If you want one, we can wait. I was only going to fill you in on the case." Stabler waited. He remembered Toby saying that Angus was the good son. This was going to be interesting. "Your call."

"We can talk. I can always get one later." Angus followed him, and Stabler got them each a soda before sitting down. "I've never been in a police precinct."

Stabler shrugged. "Ain't much to look at. Okay, I'll start again. Toby is asleep upstairs, and his children are with my wife. They should be asleep too. In the morning, they'll be brought here and interviewed by our staff psychiatrist - Dr. Huang. He's great with kids. Like you said, your father will have a bail hearing, and I assume he'll make bail easily. Your mother has been interviewed and released."

Angus's eyes were bewildered. "I don't understand all this."

Stabler had figured that out early. "Your father assaulted Toby. Toby has a black eye, cut lip, and a bruised face. I witnessed it. Toby refuses to press charges, but it doesn't matter. ADA Casey Novak is charging your father with assault two with intent. It carries a maximum of three years behind bars. I'm certain that won't happen here. I have your brother's statement, and now I need yours."

Angus looked like a deer in the headlights. "Wow. Dad hit him? Not just a slap?"

Stabler wanted to reach across the table and slap Angus to see exactly how much he liked it. "You've seen your father hit Toby?"

Angus's eyes grew cagey. "Did I say that? Of course not. They argue occasionally, and Toby is really mouthy."

Stabler took a sip of his soda. No matter how many times he'd seen this, it never failed to disgust him. He smiled a little and made a show of finding his pen and paper. "What kind of lawyer are you going to be?"

"Corporate law. That's where the money is." Angus smiled.

Stabler nodded, but he didn‛t understand at all. "I deal with lawyers nearly every day, and let me explain one thing. When I find a maid in your house that has witnessed your dad hitting Toby, I can only hope they don't place you in the room as well."

"Why?" Angus looked confused.

"Obstruction for starters. I'm going to ask you a series of questions that I need you to answer truthfully. If you'd like a lawyer, we can wait." Stabler got up, circled him, and leaned close. "The truth is all I need, and if I get it, we're done very quickly."

Angus pressed his lips together. "You want me to trash my parents. Well, forget it. Toby is the problem. He was always a problem. He should be grateful they even put up with him!"

Stabler sat back down. He had heard this so many times before. "Have you ever seen your father strike Toby or his children?"

Angus looked right at him. His blue eyes pleaded for a way out. "I'm not saying anything."

"This interview is over then. Thanks for helping your brother." Stabler smirked. "Blood used to be thicker than water."

"My brother should've just shut up." Angus got to his feet. "I'm going home to be with my mother."

"Watch that right hand of hers." Stabler grabbed his soda and went out the door, leaving him behind. This case wouldn't go any further, and the only good thing was that no one was dead.

Cragen caught up with him. "Did the brother cooperate?"

"No. He asked if it was just a slap, and then he backpedaled and blamed Toby for being a smartass. Typical." Stabler sat down at his desk. He had to start the fives on this. "These families never seem to grow up."

"Too much guilt holding them back." Cragen sighed. "Do the paperwork and move on. We have enough open cases."

"I scheduled Huang to interview the children in the morning." Stabler leaned back in his chair.

Cragen nodded. "I agree. Just to cover our asses. The good news is that Toby's parents will never get custody of those kids."

Stabler nodded. That was the good news, but Toby was going to be dealing with this for years to come, and it wouldn't be easy.

********

Two days later

********

Toby stopped at Diane's desk. "What's the bad news?"

Diane flushed. "Your father terminated you."

"He sure as hell did." Toby almost laughed. He felt only a sense of relief. "I assume they boxed up my personal items."

"I'll get them." Diane got to her feet. She had a key, and the locks had certainly been changed. Toby watched her open the door. Her hands were shaking slightly.

"Are they really so worried that I'll try to take my clients with me?"

Diane shot him a nervous smile. "I don't know, sir."

Toby didn't go inside. He waited and wasn't surprised when security got off the elevator. Diane came out with a small box, and he took it from her. "Thanks, Diane. You're an excellent assistant. No hard feelings, I hope?"

"Of course not." Diane fumbled in her desk. "Here's a packet of things you'll need."

Toby took it and put it in the box. "Thanks. Take care."

"Take care, Tobias." Diane sat down and looked away. Her discomfort was clear. The security guys escorted him out of the building, and he stowed the stuff in his car. He looked down the street at Cavanaugh's and sighed. No more booze.

Toby's cell phone rang. He opened it and said, "Toby's not in right now."

"Funny," Stabler growled. "Where are you?"

"Staring longingly at Cavanaugh's." Toby smiled. He had nothing to smile about, but hearing the voice of Stabler made it happen. "Why?"

"I'll meet you there. It's lunch." Stabler clicked off without saying goodbye. Toby had a few minutes so he opened the packet that Diane had put on top. It had his last paycheck, a couple of miscellaneous pictures, and, he had to giggle, a complete client list with phone numbers. Diane had come through for him. He put it all away, locked the car, and walked the distance to the bar. His life was careening out of control and it felt damn good. He leaned against the bricks and waited for Stabler. Going in before was taking too big of a risk.

Stabler came striding down the sidewalk. Toby took the time to appreciate the view. He had before but this time he acknowledged that he was looking. Being gay was going to take some getting used to. He smirked at the rampant stupidity of his parents.

Stabler opened the door for both of them. "Where are the kids?"

Toby waited until they had found a booth and were sitting. "School. It took me most of the morning to make sure that no one will be picking them up but me."

"Good." Stabler nodded. "Holly is what, five?"

"Kindergarten. Yes." Toby licked his lips, squeezed his knees, and reminded himself that he didn't need a martini. "I stopped by work and enjoyed being escorted from the building by security."

Stabler didn't seemed surprised. In fact, he got up and left the booth. Toby watched him go to the bar before ducking into the restroom. Stabler didn't seem to be in a good mood, and Toby had to hope it wasn't him. He fidgeted with nothing until the waitress delivered the drinks, and then he played with his club soda - a pretend drink. He liked it better than Coke though. Stabler came back and sat down with a small huff.

"Are you mad at me?" Toby prayed that he wasn't whining.

"At a Beecher, yes, but not you." Stabler took a drink of what Toby figured was something non-alcoholic. "Your dad and his lawyer tried to hang me out to dry."

Toby wasn't surprised. He made a joke to cover his real feelings. "Did you shoot them?"

"They wouldn't let me take my gun in the room." Stabler rubbed his face. "I called because I was worried about Holly and Gary, and Dr. Huang wanted me to give you this." He dug in his pocket and pulled out a business card. "He'll send them his assessment."

Toby looked at it and nodded. "I'll call and make an appointment." He would do it. Watching that interview had been far worse than burying his wife. "I'll start looking for a place to live. We'll be out of your hair before the end of the week."

Stabler was going to say something but the waitress interrupted. The cheeseburger looked good. Toby wasn't exactly hungry, but he did pick up a fry. Stabler pointed. "Eat. You lose one more pound and you'll blow away."

Toby picked it up and took a bite. Some food might combat his need for whiskey, gin, rum, or anything fermented. "Would Kathy appreciate some flowers as a thank you?"

"She likes carnations, not roses. Strange woman, I know." Stabler was packing it in. He must be hungry, even if Toby wasn't. Toby stopped watching him long enough to take a few more bites. Stabler shrugged. "We have to go get the rest of the kid's stuff. I suggest tonight."

"Why?"

"They're still off-balance. Your mother was called in for questioning today, and Novak is considering charges against her. We need to get in and get out." Stabler was very serious. "You think you can handle it?"

Toby wasn't sure. He'd rather buy everything new than return for one item. He stopped eating and tried to breathe. "I'm not sure."

"I'll be there." Stabler was starting to eat Toby's fries. "Eat!"

Toby flinched and finished half of the burger before his stomach quit on him. He pushed it away. "You finish it."

Stabler did just that. "Any chance you have a cell phone number for Maria?"

"No." Toby hoped that Maria had run far enough away to find another good job. Looking at Stabler, gratitude swept over him again. He was lucky to have such a friend. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, but it's my job." Stabler dug out some cash. "Match that and let's go."

Toby looked, put down some money, and went out with him. "Where will I leave the kids tonight?"

"Kathy. It'll give you a chance to take her flowers." Stabler grinned. "You can't date my ex-wife."

"I'm more interested in-" Toby stopped. Completely. He couldn't and wouldn't say that. So he lied, "In meeting your kids. What? You have ten of them?"

Stabler raised his eyebrows. "I counted four, but I'm just a dumb, Irish cop."

Toby shook his head. "Stupid. Stupid, Irish cop." He laughed. Stabler growled something obscene about lawyers, and they laughed together. "Thanks, Elliot."

Stabler went off with a wave. He didn't look back. Toby forced himself to go to the car, the bank, and then the flower shop. By then, it was time to get the kids. Pulling into Stabler's driveway, he wondered how he could possibly thank Stabler. Toby swallowed hard. He knew what he wanted to give him.

*********

Stabler tried to catch up on paperwork. He was on ass duty for a few days until Cragen found him another new partner. Or at least that was the official story. The truth was murkier. He wasn't sure he minded. After the last case with Olivia, he needed to take a step away from the streets.

"Elliot, have you found anyone to corroborate the story the children are telling?" Novak asked.

Stabler hadn't seen her walk up. He needed to pull his head out of his ass. "The Beechers fired nearly their entire staff. I can't track them down because they were most likely illegals. All the addresses and phone numbers are bogus."

Novak sighed. "So I can put a five year old and a nine year old on the stand or I can forget it."

"It looks that way. Yes." Stabler leaned back in his chair. "I saw her hit Toby, but no one else."

"You did?"

"Oh yeah. She decked him." Stabler nodded. "It's why I got involved. A woman that will hit her grown son won't stop at her grandson."

"I could establish a pattern of abuse." Novak rubbed her forehead. "Tobias isn't exactly cooperating though. He would be a terrible witness."

Stabler wasn't going to comment on that. "Your call." He wanted to ask if she'd seen Olivia lately, but that would be a mistake. "We're going there tonight to pick up the kid's clothes."

Novak shook her head. "No. Don't. You'll look too involved. Mr. Beecher has already said some things that call into question your objectivity."

Stabler knew what that meant. "I was helping out a friend." Nothing more, and he didn't want to discuss it. "Toby was my divorce lawyer."

"I know. I've pounded that home." Novak pulled up a chair, sat down, and opened a file. "Take some uniforms. You stay in the car. The Beechers seem to think that money solves every problem."

Stabler didn't make any jokes. Money did make things go away in the legal system. "I could take another run at Angus."

"I don't think that'll work. If we could find Maria, we might have a chance. I'll leave it open. Maybe she'll call Toby for a reference." Novak made some notes. "You did the right thing."

"For a change." Stabler knew he sounded bitter. "Those poor kids have been through it."

Novak nodded. "I obtained a copy of the autopsy. Were you aware that Toby's wife was pregnant?"

Stabler groaned. "No. The homicide boys were certain that was a suicide, right?"

"It certainly looked that way." Novak frowned. "Of course, the car was never brought in. I need some leverage against Harrison Beecher. Something to make him crack and take the deal instead of taking this to court."

"I'll find out what I can." Stabler made a few notes. "Even the appearance of foul play would be useful, right?"

"Very. The press would love it."

Stabler didn't always like his job, but this time, he would do it with a smile. "You want this all yesterday, right?"

"Exactly." Novak smiled. "Olivia's doing well. She told me to tell you hello."

Stabler wasn't sure what to say. "Thanks. We all miss her around here." He started making calls, and she went to talk to Cragen.

*********

Three days later

*********

"Hello?"

"This is your father. We need to talk."

Toby wanted nothing less. "Why?"

"The police are making ridiculous accusations, and I need you in my corner."

"So now you need your gay, alcoholic son. I thought I was expendable." Toby made sure his voice was calm, when he wanted to scream out every word. "Dad, you're on your own."

"Just keep shacking up with your lover and I'll get out of this yet." Harrison laughed. "You're making this too easy."

Toby shut his phone. He hadn't thought of that, but he should have. Slowly, he made his way upstairs and packed everything again. He loaded the car and took a deep breath. No big deal. It wasn't as if he couldn't make it without Stabler. His phone rang again. "Yes?"

"Toby, we need to talk," Stabler said.

"I'll call you later. Did you know my father has a GPS tracker in my phone?"

"Yes." Stabler hesitated. "Don't do anything stupid."

Toby put the phone under the back wheel of the car, and went to pick up his kids from school. They were going to be disappointed, but it was the best decision for all of them. He was glad they liked Stabler. However, it had never been a permanent situation. After picking them up, he went to buy a pre-paid cell phone. The kind that wasn't traceable, and then, they vanished into the city.

********

"I need to interview Toby Beecher," Novak said firmly. She never yelled, but Stabler thought she might in another second.

"His phone is in pieces in my driveway. He moved out of my house, and I have an APB out on his car but no one has seen it." Stabler was upset also. He had been surprised at the ache that had come over him when he'd realized that he was alone again. No small children to climb in his lap. Toby gone. No more tentative smiles. It had thrown him off balance. "I have a feeling his father spoke to him, and then they disappeared."

Cragen frowned. "We can't exhume the body without his permission. How much time do we have to find him?"

"Not long. I'll stall. Find him!" Novak stalked away.

Stabler wanted to throw things. He didn't know where to look! The phone rang, and Cragen picked it up. Stabler didn't listen in. He put his head in his hands and tried to think.

"They found the car - abandoned down by the East River. It's been stripped." Cragen frowned. "You know him best. Where would he go?"

Stabler rubbed his temples. He would not believe that Toby was dead. Toby was hiding. That‛s all. "He has money. They could be in Bermuda by now!"

"I don't think he'd leave the city without speaking to you first." Cragen sat down on the edge of the desk. His voice lowered to a bare whisper. "His father seems to think-"

"I know what his damn father thinks!" Stabler interrupted loudly. "And how he can look himself in the mirror in the morning is beyond me!"

"Okay. Take a deep breath. A nice hotel maybe?"

"Toby would know his father would have them all called." Stabler tried to think. "I gotta take a walk. I'll make some calls along the way."

Cragen glared, but Stabler grabbed his coat and ran out the door. Walking to Toby's building was faster than trying to drive. He opened his phone and dialed Kathy's number. She hadn't heard from Toby but promised to get hold of him if she did. Stabler went in fast and took a good look before going around the last corner.

"Diane?"

She looked up at him, completely startled.

"Have you heard from Toby?" he asked softly.

Her eyes widened. She looked at the closed door behind her. "Of course not." She was lying.

Stabler had seen it a hundred times before. He palmed his business card and leaned into his hands on her desk. "He's in trouble. I have to speak to him."

"I can't help you." She glanced pointedly at the security camera.

Stabler frowned at her, made some noises about obstruction, and slunk out. The business card was left sitting on her desk. He walked back towards the precinct and prayed. Halfway there his phone rang. He didn't recognize the number. "Stabler."

"He called me at home and asked me if I was committed to the firm." She paused. "I told him I'd be receptive to a career change."

"He intends to set up an office?"

"I assume so. He's on a pre-paid cell. He's okay." Diane paused. "That's all I know."

"Thanks. I appreciate your help. If he calls you again, tell him to call me, fast." Stabler hoped Toby would just call him. "Bye."

They clicked off, and he went back to work. He hung up his coat, avoided looking at Cragen's scowling face, and his cell phone rang. Snapping it open, he barked, "Stabler."

"Whoa, um, is this a bad time?"

"Tobias Beecher, where the hell are you?" Stabler tried not to shout.

"Is it important?" Toby asked cautiously.

Stabler took a second to make sure his voice was calm. "Yes. We have to talk. Right now. I mean now."

"Okay. The kids are at school until three. I'll come there."

"Where are you? I'll come get you." Stabler wasn't going to turn him loose so easy. "Please."

"No." Toby hung up.

Stabler looked at Cragen. "He's on his way here."

"Let's hope he doesn't get stuck in traffic."

********

One hour later

********

Toby was worried when Stabler took him in Captain Cragen's office. This had to be something bad. Had his father skipped bail? "What's going on?"

Cragen folded his hands and gave him a look that might have been sympathetic. "We've recently uncovered some new information about your wife's suicide. We'd like your permission to exhume the body."

Toby almost automatically said no, but he hesitated, looking at Stabler. "Why?"

Stabler slid a chair over and sat down next to him. "Toby, did you know your wife was pregnant?"

Toby watched their faces. It was true. He tried to find some breath to answer, but had none. Stabler grabbed him by the shoulder and said, "Don't pass out on me."

"Exhume her," Toby said softly. He put his face in his hands and cried. He wasn't proud of his tears, but he couldn't stop them. She'd hated him so much. "The child wasn't mine," he whispered. He managed to look at Stabler. "My father?"

"We don't know. We have some questions," Stabler said quietly. "You made the right decision."

"I doubt it. I usually don't." Toby wiped his face and shivered. "My father called me and told me that he needed me in his corner. I took the kids and ran."

"We noticed." Stabler patted Toby's knee. "Coffee?"

"No." Toby looked around. "Where'd Cragen go?"

"To get things moving." Stabler spoke quietly. "I was very worried."

Toby sniffed. "He said I'm expendable. I'm no fool. And I had to protect you."

Stabler seemed stunned. "Me?"

"He said that as long as I was living with my lover, he'd win." Toby rubbed his face. He felt old. His wife had hated him. Hated him. She'd killed their child. No. She'd killed a child. "That bitch," he muttered. She'd been his father's tool. "I need to piss." He wanted to puke, but he'd take a minute alone in a stall.

"Come on." Stabler escorted him to the bathroom. Toby pissed fast and leaned against the door. He rubbed his arms and wanted to kill someone - his father. Slip a knife between his ribs and watch him bleed out. Toby shivered and went to wash his hands. He had to get a grip. Stepping out, he tried to straighten his spine and find some courage. He'd always found it in a bottle so it wasn't easy. It was time to be a man. Stand up and make sure his father didn't walk away laughing at him.

"Elliot, I'm going to press charges."

Stabler made no reaction but a quick nod. "Casey Novak wants to speak with you. Walk with me to her office?"

"Sure." Toby liked the way Stabler made it sound like he had a choice. He didn't, but it was nice of him. "I'm taking the kids out of school for now."

"Your call." Stabler walked a little faster. Toby kept up with him but hesitated before going inside. Novak didn't look happy, and she was no pushover. Stabler seemed to hesitate. "Casey, do you want me to stay?"

"No. Continue the investigation." She shook her head.

Toby checked his watch. It was two. "Wait. Detective, can you send someone to pick up my kids? Please."

Stabler looked at Novak, who nodded. "No problem. I'll send Munch."

"Thank you." Toby looked away before he begged him to stay. Stabler walked out, and Novak gave him a sultry smile. Toby frowned. It was time to do some damage control. "If that stupid, Irish cop screws this up and my father walks, I'm going to be pissed!"

Novak seemed stunned. "I thought you two were friends."

"Barely. I'm his lawyer. He gave me a hand when I had nowhere to go that was kid friendly. Don't make assumptions without clear cut evidence, counselor."

"I never do." Novak cleared her throat. "Your father-"

"My father is a filthy pervert." Toby would not let this screw up Stabler's job. "He lies, and then he lies some more. I'm about ready to cut and run here. If Stabler can't handle this, get someone who can!"

Novak's eyes were wide. "I have every confidence in Detective Stabler. You should to. He did help you when you had nowhere to go."

"I'm grateful, but not stupid." Toby snorted. He retreated into his lawyer persona and he wasn't coming out until it was safe to break down some where private. "Now, I'm pressing charges against my father, and I expect you to act as if you give a damn!"

"I'm glad to hear it, and I do. I do." Novak looked amazed, but Toby knew she'd recover fast and go after Harrison Beecher, fucked up father and fornicator, with a vengeance. Lawyers love to eat their own.

*********

Stabler kept after Dr. Warner until he got what he wanted. "Well?"

She sighed. "You're not leaving until I give you an answer. Are you?"

"Nope." Stabler grinned for her.

"I compared the fetus's DNA with the sample you got from Toby Beecher. It's not his, but it is a close male relative of his. Either his brother or his father. I can't know without more samples."

Stabler got out of her hair fast and back to the precinct. Novak had her leverage, and that was one interview that he was looking forward to.

********

Twelve hours later

********

Toby tucked the blanket around his children before going to slip out the door. The precinct was quiet, but he went no further than the corner. He slid down it and wrapped his arms around his legs. Quietly, he rocked and let the tears roll down his face. Playing the asshole lawyer all day was exhausting. Betrayed and cast out - that's what he was. It didn't matter whether it was his father or his brother. Either way, it was patently clear that no one in his family had one ounce of respect for him. Did they think he was a doormat? Or just a drunk?

"Hey, don't quit being a shithead now." Stabler put his back to the wall and slid down next to him. "You actually have Novak on the run."

Toby laughed between sobs. "I'm sorry about the things I said where you couldn't hear."

"Did you call me a stupid, Irish cop?" Stabler glared.

"Pretty much. I also questioned your competence." Toby sniffed and rubbed his face. He'd cried enough. His father wasn't worth it. "She was smirking at the thought that you and I were in a relationship. It made me furious."

Stabler nodded. "Your dad kept shouting it. She started to believe. I think she's passed it now."

Toby hoped so. "They can bend me over, but they aren't dirtying you. I refuse to allow it."

"My hero," Stabler said dryly. "Don't overdo it. I might cry."

Toby hated laughing when he felt so shitty. "Stop trying to cheer me up."

Stabler shot him a quick grin. "You got balls, Toby. Where you been hiding them?"

"In my dad's coat." Toby leaned his head back. He couldn't believe they were having this bizarre conversation. His father was finally coming to understand that he was in trouble. Toby had watched the interview from the other side of the glass. He'd been very impressed with Stabler's calm menace. His father had even looked nervous once or twice. That was a victory all by itself.

"Did you see Dr. Huang?"

"The kids and I spent about an hour with him." Toby shut his eyes. He was so tired. "He's incredibly calm. I wanted to slap him to make sure he was awake."

"He's good." Stabler's voice was quiet. "Where are you living?"

"No place special." Toby wasn't ready to divulge that information. His father couldn't be trusted, and if he got hold of the kids, he'd be out of the country before Toby could call the police. "We miss your home cooking."

Stabler laughed softly. "Will you come back?"

Toby almost missed the words they were so soft. He opened his eyes and really looked at him. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

Stabler said nothing. He looked away, and that was answer enough.

"But I'll consider it. Are the schools good there?"

"I thought so." Stabler shrugged. "No pressure. I just wanted you to know that the invitation stands."

Toby felt a rush of something slip over him. Gratitude? Love? He didn't know. "Thanks. And for the record - you're one hell of a cop."

"I'm a cop. The rest is up for interpretation." Stabler got to his feet. "Come on. You have to get some sleep."

"How about you?" Toby started to use the wall to get up, but Stabler gave him a hand. Stabler quietly opened the door, and they went inside together. Without a word, they took off enough clothes to get comfortable. Stabler rolled onto a bottom bunk, and Toby took the top. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but he was flat, and he could see his kids. They were safe. His universe had narrowed to that point. Keeping them safe and getting them any help they needed. It wasn't about him and the booze any longer. It was about them. He shut his eyes and drifted away.

********

Stabler hadn't minded Toby laying into him. It had been eye-opening. The lawyer did have balls. He just had to be pushed. His father had clearly pushed him too far. No one thought they were lovers now, and that was a relief. He didn't need it at work.

Toby made a soft sound and rolled over. Stabler refused to hope that Toby and his family would come back to Queens. It wasn't going to happen, but if it did, he'd be grateful. Both of them were too much alone, and the rest of it, the part their eyes avoided, it could be dealt with over time. Gary muttered something, and Stabler smiled. He shut his eyes and let the dark suck him down.

*********

Two days later

*********

Toby knew it wasn't normal to keep the kids with him every moment of the day and night, but his family had collapsed around him, and he had to know Holly and Gary were safe. School could wait a week. He wasn't sure he was going to send them back to that snotty private school anyway. His father had chosen it, and Genevieve had nodded her bitch head.

"Dad! We're hungry!"

Toby sighed. They were always hungry. His sudden immersion in fatherhood had been quite a wake up call, but he had been glad to discover that he liked his children as well as loving them. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed.

"Stabler."

"It's Toby. The kids are hungry. Any suggestions?"

"McDonald's?" Stabler seemed slightly amused. "Groceries?"

"No fridge. How's it on your end?" Toby wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Angus asked for your phone number. I was glad that I honestly didn't have it." Stabler lowered his voice. "There's a McDonald's with a playland over by the hospital. You know the one I mean?"

Toby thought about it. "Yeah. Thirty minutes?"

"Yes." Stabler clicked off, and Toby tucked his phone away. Calling Angus seemed like a bad idea. Very bad.

"Okay, kids. Let's go to McDonald's."

They cheered. They walked and rode the subway. His father would laugh in real scorn, but the kids thought it was a grand adventure, and Toby didn't mind the change. For the first time in his life, he felt a certain degree of freedom, and it was heady, almost better than vodka. Stabler was there when they arrived, and Toby laughed when the cop was surrounded and hugged by small children.

"Food and then play, okay?"

Holly and Gary nodded, and they ordered. Playland was busy, but they found a table. Toby made sure the kids ate enough not to be complaining within an hour and then turned them loose. Stabler grinned.

"You like being a dad?"

"It's different. Easier to be a lawyer." Toby smiled and watched them. "Is it me or does it smell like wet socks in here?"

"I was thinking gym shoes." Stabler laughed softly. "Are you doing okay?"

Toby shrugged. "I'm about ready to join the world again. Nice vacation, though I don't recommend it to everyone."

Stabler shook his head. "Not much fun. Your father took the deal, and so did your mother. Neither of them will see jail time."

"But the country club will bar the door, which is probably a worse punishment." Toby saw Holly fall, he almost got up, but she seemed fine. "I can't imagine they're very happy with me."

"They did it. Not you." Stabler finished his soda. "Do you want to know?"

Toby picked up a piece of paper that had fluttered to the floor to give himself an extra second to find words. "I know it was my father."

Stabler nodded. "I honestly believe that Genevieve wasn't murdered."

Toby would try to believe it too. "They have Angus. They'll be fine." He swallowed all the anger and bile that wanted out because they were in playland. Later, later, he'd find a wall to punch.

Stabler reached across the table and casually put his hand on top of Toby's. "It's safe to come in from the cold."

"I know." Toby stared down at Stabler's hand and tried to take the warmth of it into his heart. "I just need a little more time."

"You got money, right?"

Toby smiled. "That's the one thing I do have. I have to reorganize my life if I want to continue to be a lawyer."

"Diane would be willing to help." Stabler eased his hand away, but smiled back at him.

"Did you know she's a lawyer? My dad's law firm likes to employ lawyers as assistants. She wasn't stellar but a solid student. I guess she'd hoped to work her way up." Toby shook his head in disgust.

"Call her. Make her an offer. Say fifty percent." Stabler pointed. "Tell Gary not to run."

Toby blinked and looked. "Gary! No running!"

Gary grinned and slowed down. Stabler cleared the table before Toby could. "I have to get back. Don't be a stranger."

Toby got to his feet. The urge to embrace him was overwhelming, but they were in McDonald's. "I will call you."

Stabler stuck out his hand. "I hope so."

Toby shook it and didn't want to let go. "Thanks for all you did."

Stabler pulled him into a fast hug and went out the door before Toby could say a word. Toby sat back down with a thump. A stupid smile broke out over his face. He felt good on the inside instead of like shit. It was a new day.

*********

Stabler leaned back in his chair and chewed his straw. He was done for the day. The fact that he was actually considering going home surprised him. The house was still empty, but it was his home, and that counted for something. Kathy had called earlier and the twins were coming over this weekend. She wasn't as angry any longer, and Stabler actually thanked Toby for that. Helping him had made them put aside their anger at each other.

Fin leaned against Stabler's desk. "Olivia called today. She's doing good."

"I'm glad to hear it." He was glad, but he knew now that while he cared for her, he didn't love her. Not like that. He hadn't been thinking clearly. He'd mistaken his concern and caring for romantic love. If and when she came back, he would be able to partner with her again. "Hey, Fin. Want to go to Cavanaugh's?"

"Sure." Fin went to get his coat. Stabler shut off his computer, tidied his desk, and made sure he was ready for tomorrow. A beer and then he'd head home.

********

Two months later

********

Toby changed his mind three times, but he knew it was time to make a decision. They needed a home, and he had to have this conversation first. He'd have never guessed that ringing a doorbell could be so difficult.

Stabler pulled open the door. "Pizza delivery?"

Gary and Holly laughed, and he went to one knee to hug them. Toby maneuvered past them and put the pizzas on the coffee table. Stabler came to the couch with two kids under his arms.

"Can't eat if you're holding luggage." Toby couldn't seem to stop smiling. Holly and Gary bounced on the cushions and laughed way too loud.

"How about some soda?" Stabler went to the kitchen. Toby went to help, and they exchanged a look. Stabler smiled again. "Never thought you'd get here."

"I had a few things to do - like find the best pizza." Toby got his kids pizza and soda. He concentrated on them while they ate, instead of staring at the only other adult in the room. Stabler seemed to understand. When Holly and Gary were done, they dashed up the stairs, and Toby sat back with a sigh. "Maria called me about a month ago."

Stabler leaned forward. "Is she okay?"

"Yes. She's fine. I hired her. She needed a reference." Toby shrugged. "Their loss. My gain. She likes the reduced hours, so we're getting along fine."

Stabler nodded. "You're working again."

"Diane and I found an office. It's not much, but the money we make is ours." Toby smiled. "Tell me about your job."

"It's not any better, but I am." Stabler closed the pizza box. "Kathy is letting me see the kids more."

"Good." Toby had spoken to her, but he'd never admit it. Never. "If I said I missed your ugly Irish face, would you laugh at me?"

"Probably." Stabler grinned. "It's good to see your stupid lawyer face."

Toby laughed. This was weird, but he liked it. He wasn't sure how to broach the topic that had brought him here tonight. He'd have come anyway. "I‛m glad you missed me."

"Have you had any contact with your parents or brother?"

"No. I'm sure they're pretending that I was never born." Toby had resolved not to care. "I did hear through the grapevine that Dad is no longer a partner anywhere."

Stabler seemed to look right through him. "They'll lay low for a while, but prepare yourself. These types of families rarely turn loose."

Toby fought the shiver that climbed up his spine. "I'll be ready for them." He would. "Gary and Holly still love them, but never again."

"Glad to hear it." Stabler started cleaning up, and Toby helped. They said nothing until Toby bumped directly into him near the sink. It might have been an accident. Stabler reached, and they were holding each other. Toby let out a soft sigh that represented everything he held inside for months. It was just good to be here. Stabler brushed Toby's long hair back. "Coming home?"

Toby blushed. "You make it sound possible."

"It is. Maria can help us out. Where are you staying?" Stabler glared now. He wanted an answer. That was plain to see.

"Over at the Belmont." Toby didn't want to turn him loose, but he should. He did step away a little.

Stabler's glare went up to laser strength. "That's not that far from here!"

"Had to get the kids in the right school." Toby tried to act innocent.

"You jerk," Stabler muttered. "Why'd you wait so long?"

"I had to get my life in order. Me. Not you. You take any opportunity to boss me around." Toby rolled his eyes. "I've had enough of that."

Stabler still looked pissy. "And are you going to meetings?"

"The one down at the Catholic church. Yes, but I told them I already had a sponsor." Toby decided to go upstairs and check on the kids. They were playing some game that involved the bunk beds and blankets. He didn't interrupt them. This time, he really did bump into Stabler. "Oof."

"Did you ask them?" Stabler asked quietly, casually pointing at the bunk beds.

"No. I wasn't sure we'd be welcome." Toby stared into blue eyes and tried to find some truth. "Guys don't usually live together."

Stabler bit his lip. He did that. It was borderline cute. "Families come in all shapes and sizes these days."

"Point in your favor. If we did, would you ever be here?" Toby swiped some dust off a dresser.

"Some. More. Well, yeah." Stabler looked half-embarrassed. "I like to work."

"You like to hide at work. I know." Toby shrugged. "Well, we can try. If we never see you, you and I will have a long discussion."

Stabler nodded slowly. "You gonna cough up half of the mortgage?"

"I was thinking about paying it off so we could save our money for vacations in the Bahamas." Toby smirked. He might do it, just to piss Stabler off. "And where am I sleeping?"

Stabler raised his eyebrows. Toby blushed furiously, and then he blushed because he was such an idiot. Stabler was enjoying it too. "We'll work something out. Ask them and then we'll go get your stuff."

Toby took a deep breath. For some reason, this seemed like a commitment of the biggest kind. He pulled up a corner of the fort his kids had made and crawled inside to talk with them. This would be a family decision.

*********

Stabler left them to talk it out. He went back downstairs and took a moment to pray that he'd made the right decision. Inviting a man and his kids to live with him? A rich lawyer? He had to be nuts. The pressure of the job had finally pushed him over the edge. But. It was the right thing to do. They might never be anything more than good friends, but they wouldn't be so alone, and that was something. And it wasn't like he had to go into work tomorrow and tell everyone.

"Are you going to enjoy having a maid?"

Stabler turned. "Promise me you won't hire a butler."

"Deal. And Maria's not a maid anyway. She's more of a housekeeper, which pays more, I might add." Toby sighed. "I'm going to have to buy a new car."

Stabler had wondered about that. "Why did you ditch your car? I honestly thought you'd been killed."

"Sorry about that. Dad had a tracker in it. I just left it, and someone stole it. Leaving the keys in the ignition will make that happen." Toby didn't look apologetic. "I told you I'd call you."

"Waited long enough." Stabler still wanted to shake him. "Seriously. Are you doing okay?"

Toby glanced upstairs. "I have them. It's a lot. I discovered that the rest is just details."

"I'm glad." Stabler went to find his keys. "Let's get started. I have work tomorrow." He would come home though. "Gary! Holly! Come on!"

Toby rubbed his face. "I moved in with a drill sergeant."

Stabler had to laugh. "You didn't know I was in the Marines?"

"Did you ever tell me that or was I supposed to glean it from a tattoo or something?" Toby opened the door. "We're leaving! Move it!"

Holly and Gary came tumbling down the stairs and out the door. Stabler locked the door. He had lost his mind. He knew that now.

*********

One month later

*********

Toby nearly ate the olive first. He liked them, and he wasn't going to apologize for it.

"Gonna drink that?"

"Well, yeah, I bought it." Toby pointed at the seat next to him. "That's taken."

"Who are you waiting for?"

Toby nearly laughed at the puzzlement. "Big, stupid Irish cop. Always bossing me around. Drives me nuts!"

"I'll just take it until he gets here." Stabler laughed. "No wonder your parents smacked you around."

Toby laughed with him. The words didn't hurt now that he was free.  "Do not even think about dumping this drink. Club sodas aren't free."

"The way they taste, they oughta be." Stabler ordered a long neck. "And don't think I'll let you push me on my ass again."

"Let me?" Toby ran over that encounter again in his mind. "You weren't drunk!"

"Nah. Just lending you a hand." Stabler grinned. "I'm your sponsor, remember?"

Toby should've been pissed, but it seemed like another lifetime ago. "Yeah. Yeah. Diane and I won today."

"Hey, good for you. So, you actually got paid for this one?" Stabler cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Yes. Now, we have enough in the bank to relax a little." Toby hated dipping into his trust fund. He might need that money for the kid's colleges some day. He hadn't spoken with his parents, but he assumed that he'd been disinherited. "I'm celebrating with an olive."

Stabler sipped his beer. "I should leave you two alone."

"There's a pack of your cop buddies anyway." Toby smiled. "You coming home tonight?"

"Any reason I should?"

That calm question sent something thrilling straight down to Toby's groin. "Excuse me, Detective." He took his drink and walked away, stepping around Cragen to do it. "Hey, Captain."

"Beecher." Cragen nodded and then cornered Stabler.

Toby moved to the other end of the bar to finish his drink. They were operating under the ‘don't ask, don't tell' policy, and to do that, he needed to take his hard-on somewhere else. When his drink was gone, he went to piss. Shock at being grabbed when he went through the door made him give out an undignified squeak.

"You drunk?"

"I wish." Toby was tempted to try to push him away. Stabler cornered him and slowly lowered his face. Toby groaned. "You want to in here?"

"You avoid me at the house. I figure it's cause the kids are there." Stabler adjusted his hips. "Got any better ideas?"

"I didn't know you had this idea!" Toby ground into him. "You're straight," he whispered.

"Who said that?" Stabler bit him on the neck. "You're gay, you know."

"That's what I hear." Toby hadn't thought they'd ever get to doing this. He'd gone to bed with a rock hard dick for what seemed like forever. It wasn't necessarily his kids that had slowed him down. It was more like his fear of rejection. "I wasn't sure. You never said anything."

Stabler drew back a little. "The bulge in my jeans wasn't enough?"

"That could have been for Maria. How was I to know?" Toby was about ready to start panting. He felt like his temperature had shot up. "Kiss me."

Stabler did just that, grinding him against the wall. Toby nearly fainted from it. Damn. He was gay. It didn't last long enough, and Stabler was staring him in the eye. "You're right. Here is a bad idea."

Toby moaned. "No. It's fine. Please."

Stabler pushed Toby's hair back behind his ears and walked out. Toby nearly slid down the wall. His cock was about ready to pop. Forget peeing. Forget ever peeing again. He caressed his lips and groaned. "Tease," he muttered.

*********

Stabler finished his beer with Fin and John and didn't even glance when Beecher went out the door. They'd resume their conversation at the house. He'd made sure of that.

"Isn't that Beecher?"

Stabler nodded. "Still a lawyer."

"A lawyer with balls. I heard he took on Du Pont and won. The settlement was worth millions." John smirked.

"His dad got it all." Stabler was certain of it. "But, you're right. For a lawyer, he's got balls."

Fin rolled his eyes. "Let's talk about chicks instead."

Stabler laughed, drained his beer, and slid out of the booth. "Going home. See ya Monday."

"Two days off?" John frowned. "That's just wrong."

"Too much OT." Stabler got moving. He knew a shortcut that Toby didn't, and he managed to pull into the garage at the same time. Toby got out, hesitated, and Stabler moved fast. The groan was a nice reward, and Stabler held him tight. No more words. No more jokes. Just this.

"Kids," Toby panted. He tried to get away, and Stabler let him go as far as the door before kissing him again.  Stabler pressed his weight advantage mercilessly. Toby grunted. "Maria is right on the other side of the door."

Stabler knew it was locked though. He couldn't wait another minute, much less the two hours it would take to get rid of the Maria and the kids. Selfish? Yes. But he was going to live with the guilt. He rubbed and kissed. Toby fumbled with Stabler's shirt and his hands were hot. Stabler felt as awkward as a teenager but he kept digging for more skin. Their hands seemed to get where they were going at the same time, and they both gasped.

"Shit," Toby whispered, and he came. Stabler was right behind him, and they didn't stop kissing until they were both laughing, but softly. "Elliot, how did it all manage to get on me?"

"Sorry." Stabler dragged him back to the car and the napkins that he always had in the glovebox. Toby wiped up, and Stabler prayed his erection would go down now. "No one will ever know."

"I'll put my briefcase in front of my pants." Toby glared.

Stabler fixed himself. "Munch said you had balls. I was just making sure."

Toby wiped off his hands again. "Okay. We're going in. Do not look at me until the kids have been asleep for thirty minutes."

"Shit," Stabler muttered. He unlocked the door and went in first. Holly and Gary came to hug him, and he enjoyed it. He loved these little rugrats. Feeling responsible for six kids was probably an act of lunacy, but they needed it, and he gave it. "You have a good day, Sparky and Spanky?"

Gary looked disgusted. "Why does she get to be Sparky?"

"Because you're nothing but trouble, and you like it that way." Stabler rubbed Gary's head. "You eat?"

"It was good," Holly said. "Is Dad coming?"

Stabler scooped her up and kissed her. "Yep." He took her with him to the kitchen. Maria smiled. She was shy, but so very good with the kids, and Stabler was helping her get legal. He also appreciated the help with the laundry and the cleaning. Working out the money situation around this house had taken several arguments. He had only managed to win one. Damn lawyer.

"Elliot, what are we doing this weekend?" Gary asked. "Something good?"

"Mowing the lawn?" Stabler smiled. He was afraid for the day they asked to see their grandparents. Toby might have a breakdown. Nah. More like a screaming fit. Gary suddenly ran out of the kitchen, and Stabler knew that Toby had made an appearance. Holly wiggled. Stabler put her down, and she ran to her father. They loved him. For a smartass lawyer, he was easy to love.

********

Three hours later

********

Toby felt somewhere between stalked and flattered - maybe a little of both. He had avoided looking directly at Stabler and bath time had taken forever, but those blue eyes were on him. The back of his neck told him so. He was in the kitchen, trying to decide between one awful soda or another when he ran out of time.

"Move away from my beer."

"Like I would drink Miller." Toby made a face. "What are we doing this weekend?"

"Your son asked the same thing." Stabler shut the fridge and backed him up the length of the kitchen. Toby stopped when his butt hit the end of the cabinets. Stabler cupped the back of Toby's neck. "Are you ever getting a haircut?"

"I kinda like it long." Toby swallowed hard. He'd wanted this, badly, but getting it was still a shock. He had no experience with men. Hell, he'd barely gotten to fuck his wife. "Do you, uh, have a plan here?"

"Yes. I'm just trying to decide what room to do it in. The kitchen doesn't seem sanitary." Stabler put his forehead against Toby's. "Any ideas?"

"Your bed looks nice. Unless, uh, you don't want to." Toby was amazed at how much a fool he felt. He was a stupid teenager again. "I mean-"

Stabler laughed. "You're freaking out on me, aren't you?"

"Yes." Toby nodded to emphasize. "I know I'm gay and all, but I haven't even groped a man until you."

"We'll figure it out. Have I mentioned that I really don't like your father?" Stabler slid his hands down Toby's arms.

"No, but I assumed that." Toby leaned into him. "Did I thank you enough for saving my life?"

"Yeah." Stabler kissed him, gently. "Let's go upstairs, but quietly."

"No kidding." Toby would stuff a sock in his own mouth if he had to. "Holly and Gary love you. I can't figure it out."

Stabler laughed and started walking. His hand was wrapped around Toby's wrist, so Toby went with him. "I love them too."

Toby had figured that. They were almost at Stabler's room, and Toby pulled his arm away. "Let me check on them."

Stabler went on, and Toby stuck his head in the kid's room. They loved those bunk beds, and they were fast asleep. Thank God. Toby stepped in Stabler's room, clapped his hand over his mouth so he didn't gasp, and shut the door. Stabler went ahead and finished getting naked, and Toby could only watch. His mouth was dry and he noticed his hands were shaking, and this time it had nothing to do with booze.

"Gonna take your clothes off or fall over dead?"

Toby shut his mouth. "I feel like an idiot."

"Yeah, me too." Stabler walked over and pulled Toby's shirt off with one tug. Toby fumbled off the rest and tentatively put his hands on Stabler's chest. Stabler hugged him. "It's okay. We don't have to do anything."

Toby didn't think that was possible now that their bodies were pressed together. He made a move for the bed, and Stabler was right with him. Warm skin shoved at him, and he had no idea what they were doing, but he was enjoying every minute of it. They suddenly rolled over, he was on top, and Stabler's big hands were digging into his ass. He knew he was going to come any second unless they slowed down. That didn't happen. Stabler drove him right over the edge. It felt so good, and he knew this was right. Somehow, he'd found his way home.

********

Stabler nudged Toby off, and they lay together, breathing heavily. No words. Just air. Truth be told, he didn't know what to say. It hadn't lasted long enough, but the night wasn't over yet. Maybe if they put their heads together, they could think of something different to do.

"What are we going to do for the next hour before the news comes on?"

Stabler laughed and kissed him. "You went to Harvard. You tell me."

Toby shoved his hair away from his face. "I think I lost a few brain cells doing that."

"You got plenty left." Stabler relaxed and slowly began to rub him. Toby smiled, and it was nice to see. He kissed Stabler's chest. Stabler couldn't decide whether to get a towel or not. He was comfortable. "Think of anything?"

Toby laughed. "Yeah."

Stabler grinned. He hoped it lasted all night.

********
End
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