Title:
Time Served
Pairing: B/S
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: HBO owns Oz, Dick Wolf owns SVU.
Summary: Set after Toby's release and Season Seven in SVU. Toby struggles to deal with parole, and life has a few surprises in store for him, like Elliot.
Beta: Suespur!
Author's note: Thanks to Colleendetroit for the lovely banner.

*********

Chapter One - I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

"Hey, Beecher!"

Toby stopped in the long hallway lined with doors that led to courtrooms. He couldn't see anyone right off hand that he knew. Men and women in suits streamed past him. High heels clicked on the marble floor and every other hand held a briefcase. Cell phones seemed to be almost permanent  appendages in several ears. Still, he didn't see anyone that sparked a memory.

"Tobias Beecher?"

Toby dug his shoes firmly into the floor because for a split instant he could feel the world revolving. He'd told himself again and again that this wouldn't happen. The odds had been against it, but Lady Luck loved to fuck with him. "That's me. Can I help you?"

"Elliot Stabler." Stabler didn't smile or stick out his hand or make nice. He hooked his thumb at a bench in an alcove. "Can we talk privately?"

"I have an appointment." Toby did. He didn't have to lie. The world had settled into its normal place, and he saw a thousand tiny differences. The mirror was cracked. "Walk with me or I can give you my cell phone number."

Stabler fell into step beside him. He nodded, but didn't smile. "You give that away to anyone?"

"You're a cop." Toby pointed at the obvious badge. He was trying to get his lungs to work fully again. This was a shock, but he wasn't going to show it. "If I can't trust you, I'm in real trouble."

Stabler quirked an eyebrow at him. Toby stopped at the elevator and pushed the button. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and wished he could run away. Stabler waited until they were inside and the doors were shut. "Can we meet for dinner?"

Toby managed not to gasp in surprise. "You're asking me out on a date?" He saw the flash of irritation, the shifty eyes, and he even noted the slight shuffle of nervous feet. "I'm flattered."

"No!"

The elevator doors opened, and Toby exited quickly. He spotted his lawyer and waved. "Look. I'm due in front of a judge. Being late is not an option. We can make out later." He grinned at the combination of anger and chagrin that was on Stabler's too-familiar face. Quickly, he dug out a business card and handed it over. "Here's my number. Call me."

Stabler took the business card, but his lips were pressed tightly together. Toby turned completely away from him to focus on his lawyer. "Steve! Good to see you!"

"You stupid fucker! If we're late, you'll be fucked for another ten years!"

Toby didn't argue with that exaggeration. He cast one look back at the imitation of the man he'd loved so blindly. Stabler was already walking away. Chances were good that he wouldn't call.

Steve tugged on Toby's arm. "Pull your head out of your ass!"

"I like the dark." Toby smiled. "I'm ready to kill in there. Don't worry." He pushed away a myriad of worries and emotions that he didn't want to deal with. Whatever Stabler had wanted, he could wait.

*********

Elliot went back downstairs. He crumpled the business card, but he didn't throw it away. It lay in his pocket in a ball, slightly accusing.

"Detective Elliot Stabler!"

Elliot breathed a sigh of relief. He'd gotten back in time. When he'd spotted Beecher, he'd taken a chance - a risk - and it hadn't paid off, but at least he hadn't screwed up this court case. Casey Novak gave him a confident look as he settled into the witness box. She must be winning, and he set about to do his best to help her.

Much later, he leaned back in his chair, stared at the computer screen, and tried to make up his mind. He wanted some answers, but he wasn't sure he wanted them badly enough to hurt him.

"How'd it go in court today?" Benson asked quietly.

"Novak won. He won't be bothering any more young boys in this lifetime." Elliot hoped a few guys in prison took it upon themselves to teach the perv all about being ass raped. It wasn't all that much to ask. The thought only brought him back to Beecher again though, and he rubbed his chin. "You and John any closer?"

"Slogging through phone records is not my idea of police work," she grumbled. He leaned, yanked his straw out of his soda from lunch, and stuck it in his mouth. It helped him think to chew on something. Beecher was a smartass ex-con. No doubt about that. It could be an act, but Elliot doubted it. The bravado hadn't seemed forced. Beecher had known about him. That also had to be true. There had been no shock or surprise on his face. Just resignation, followed by remarks that had been slightly inappropriate.

Elliot rubbed his face. Had Beecher gotten his parole set aside? Or had he violated it in some way? It was tempting to track the information down, but Elliot hesitated. He wasn't sure that he was going to call him.

"You're lost in thought," Benson interrupted him.

Elliot flipped the straw with his tongue. He knew it made her crazy. "Remember when I told you about my cousin?"

"Sure." Benson didn't take her eyes off the phone records. She was a woman. She could multi-task.

"I saw his cellmate today over at the courthouse. The one that they said didn't kill him." Elliot raised his eyebrows as she was now looking at him. "I tried to talk to him, but he blew me off."

"Does he know you want to hurt him?"

Elliot grinned. "Obviously not." He didn't want to hurt Beecher, just get him to confess. Tune him up and get his ass back in prison where it belonged. But Elliot wasn't sure. He was hesitating, and he didn't know why. "He knew about me. Not even a blink of surprise."

Benson had her head back in the phone records. "He doesn't deserve to be walking around in society."

Elliot agreed, but he felt off-balance now. He'd met the enemy, and the look in his eyes had given him pause. Beecher might not have done it. Elliot dug out the business card and snapped open his phone. It wasn't that he wanted revenge, it was that he needed answers.

*********

Toby paced in the small confines of his room in the halfway house. It had gone well today, and he'd find out tomorrow whether or not he'd won. It wasn't as if he'd asked for the moon. All he wanted was to get the hell out of this shithole. Nine months here had been completely unfair. He wasn't even able to see his kids! Angus refused to bring them, and Toby did his best to understand.

A hard knock on the door interrupted him, and he answered it immediately. Probably another damn search, but it didn't make sense to piss off his parole officer. His hand seemed to freeze on the knob, and he felt his jaw tighten.

"What? No jokes?" Stabler brushed his coat back with one hand.

Toby's eyes flashed to the gun, and even though he knew he was being played, he swallowed hard. "Can I help you?"

Stabler smiled, but it was patently false. Toby had seen enough of those fake smiles to know. Dark, blue eyes seemed to bore right through him. Stabler tilted his head to the side. "I think you can."

Toby still heard that dangerous voice in his dreams, and he took half a second to marvel at the wonder that was genetics before turning loose of the door and backing away. He wasn't inviting him in, but that badge gave him the right.

"I don't want any trouble, Stabler."

"Where's that jackass I was talking to earlier today?" Stabler's mouth still smiled, but his eyes were flat, deadly.

Toby listened to the quiver in his guts that told him that he'd played it wrong. This was probably a great time to kiss ass. "I'm sorry if I was rude. I was nervous about seeing the judge."

"You are a liar. I knew it, but it's nice to see it confirmed." Stabler hadn't crossed the threshold yet. "I asked your parole officer if I could speak with you privately, he said yes."

"That was good of him." Toby backed up another step. His legs almost brushed the bed. He wanted to snarl, but he had to play it cool. Stabler was a cop. They'd talk, and he'd leave.

"An ex-con with business cards?" Stabler tossed it at him.

Toby didn't bother to catch it, and he watched it hit the floor. "I'm looking for work. It seemed smart, but I guess not."

Stabler reached for his back pocket, and Toby felt his panic go up a notch. It had been stupid to never consider that Chris's cousin would want revenge. Stabler's face was a study in anger. It was clear now. He wanted to fuck Toby over.

"Hands against the wall," Stabler said softly and flipped the handcuffs.

Toby shifted into convict mode at the words. He wasn't proud of it, but he'd learned his lessons well, and he hadn't had time to forget them. "Fuck you," he said as he assumed the position. "Just blow my ass away and get it over with."

"The walls are thin in this place." Stabler patted him down, removed the cell phone, and tossed it on the bed. Toby resigned himself to a bullet in the brain. He probably deserved it. Stabler cuffed him tightly and took him out the door.

"I should have run," Toby said quietly. Skipping out on parole would be better than being dead. "I was sucked in by the confusion on your face."

Stabler said nothing, but he didn't turn loose of Toby's arm. Too soon, Toby was shoved into an unmarked sedan. Of course he hit his head. Stunned, he didn't notice where they were going. That old shit about his life flashing in front of his eyes was more true than not. He hoped Stabler had the decency to shoot him, and he hoped his kids never saw his body.

"Did you bring a shovel?"

"Standard equipment," Stabler said. He didn't look over his shoulder. Toby sighed. He was dead.

********

Elliot didn't take any pleasure in the stark fear he could see on Beecher's face. He only wanted to talk and since the jerk wouldn't have dinner with him, they'd do this somewhere private. The halfway house was not an option - too many ears. He had been surprised at the lack of jokes and witty comebacks. Beecher had gone from smartass to scared shitless in record time.

"I guess you thought I'd never find you." Elliot probed for a little information.

"I had hoped not. It's a big city." Beecher was resting his head. He was going to have a bruise. Elliot hadn't done it on purpose. He'd been in a hurry to get away. He wasn't wasting his time on feeling guilty about it though. It might loosen Beecher's tongue. They were almost there, and he parked the car legally. The last thing he wanted was to draw attention tonight. He got Beecher out and started walking. The pier was deserted, as it should be, and he could almost taste the fear coming off Beecher's body.

Elliot stopped at the farthest distance from the shore and released him. They'd talk here. Beecher could only swim back because he wasn't getting past. Beecher slowly turned to face him. Elliot didn't even consider taking the cuffs off. They were leverage.

"Are you ready?"

"Just do it." Beecher looked sick with the knowledge. "Make sure no one finds my body, okay? My kids have been through enough."

Elliot picked his next words very carefully. He'd been thrown for a second by the mention of Beecher's kids. Christ, they must have gone through hell. "Do you deserve it?"

Beecher's face twisted. He gulped in a mouthful of air. "Chris promised me that he'd see me in heaven. I'll tell him that I saw you."

"That won't get you out of this!" Elliot wanted to slap him for speaking as if he'd cared for Chris.

"You look a lot like him." Beecher dropped to his knees and then sat down awkwardly. Maybe his body had given out from fear. "I should've run."

Elliot nodded. He stared down at the man before him. Beecher was scared, but resigned to it. A lot of men would have jumped or fought or yelled for help. This ex-con hadn't. He'd crumbled. Was that guilt all over his face? Stabler put his hands on his hips. He'd loved his cousin, and he wanted answers, but . . . this was wrong. He was a better person than this. He hoped. In that instant, any taste for revenge drained away. It didn't seem worth it. Chris had made his own decisions - mostly. Elliot squatted down and took the cuffs off. Beecher rubbed his wrists, but made no move to get up. He still expected to be shot. That was obvious.

"When Chris and I were kids, we'd come here. Smoke a cigarette, tell a lie about tits we'd seen, and laugh." Elliot remembered it so clearly. It had been before he'd learned about life. "My father and his mother were twins, but people thought that Chris and I were the twins." He smiled slightly from the memories that were good. "Hard to believe that he's dead. Seems like yesterday."

Beecher shoved his long hair behind his ears. He looked as if he might make a break for it. "He always made it sound like no one loved him."

"I did." Elliot wasn't surprised at how quickly the anger came bursting back, and now it was stronger than before. He ached to hit him, hurt him, shove him down and kick him. "You killed him! Now stand up and take it like a man."

"Shit," Beecher whispered, but he got to his feet. "I don't suppose you're interested in the truth?"

Elliot unclenched his fists. He had lost so much, and losing Chris had forced him one step closer to eating a bullet. Was this man responsible? The water lapped gently against the wood, and the moon shone brightly in the sky. The air was crisp with fall, and he shook himself slightly. He would not do this. No amount of grief condoned terrorizing this man. He rubbed his face and backed away.

"Stabler?"

Elliot had known dirty cops his entire life, but he never thought he'd be so close to being one himself. Shame surged through him, and he hated the all-too-familiar feeling. "Just go home."

Beecher didn't move. "I can't now. I'll be in violation of my parole. They'll ship me back to Oz."

Elliot nearly smiled. That was all he'd wanted - for Beecher to suffer some more. It had turned out remarkably easy to get his wish. "Good."

Beecher made a soft sound of what had to be pain. "The first time I was paroled, Chris wrecked it. He lied to me, and I went right back to Oz and him. This time, you did it. I can't believe it!"

Elliot glared and got back close. "You don't deserve to be out! Chris is dead! And you did it!"

"I tried to stop him." Beecher looked as if he might cry. "I'm not going back. You can shoot me!"

Elliot saw clearly the moment that the desperation turned to anger. He wasn't worried about his personal safety. Had Chris done it to himself? A board of inquiry had cleared Beecher, but that didn't mean shit in prison. Beecher's family had money. They'd made it go away. Elliot looked out over the water again, lowered his head, and prayed for guidance. God had a way of blowing him off lately, but it was worth another try. Everyone was gone. Even Benson had walked away. Sure, she'd come back, but not because of him. The job was under her skin, not him. He had to stay focused here. Chris was dead, and there was going to be some kind of payback.

"When I was growing up, I had Chris. No one else understood. No one. Are you going to stand there and lie to me?" Elliot turned fast and saw him flinch.

Beecher clenched his hands together. "I begged him to leave me alone. Stop manipulating me. Stop thinking he owned me. He kissed me and threw himself over the rail. I tried to catch him. I did."

Elliot had listened to people lie for years, and that was the truth. He didn't much like it. "So, you didn't kill him, but he's dead because you blew him off."

Beecher took three fast steps, and they were in each other's face. He growled, "Yes."

The pain of that honesty was all over Beecher's face. He was guilty, and he knew it. Elliot was glad to see it. He narrowed his eyes. "Serve out the rest of your time in Oz, and I'll walk away."

"That's condemning me to death." Beecher didn't back down. "Get over the guilt you feel because you didn't keep him on the straight and narrow and take me go back to my shitty room in the halfway house."

"How long are you there?" Elliot would not affirm or deny his guilt to this low-life skel.

"Nine months. This morning, I petitioned to be released early. I can't even see my kids!" Beecher threw up his hands.

Elliot could tell that Beecher missed them, but there was a larger issue here. "Nine months isn't that long. You should be in Oz!"

Beecher whipped away from him, going out to the farthest point on the pier. "Damn you," he whispered.

Elliot wiped his forehead. This hadn't gone as he'd expected. He should have remembered that life was never simple or easy. Chris had probably killed himself. But that didn't excuse Beecher. Elliot raised his voice. "Did you get out on a technicality?"

"The entire prison system is collapsing under the weight of too many prisoners. Non-violent offenders are being shown the door. I was paroled under strict conditions." Beecher's voice echoed off the water.

Elliot could believe that. He made a concession. "Fine. Stay in the halfway house for your nine months, and I'll leave you alone."

Beecher turned. "You just backed down."

"That's my last offer." Elliot was bluffing, but he had on his best poker face, and he wasn't worried.

Beecher lowered his head and laughed. It was definitely laughter. "Here are your choices: take me back or shoot me."

Elliot lifted his chin and almost against his own volition, his hand drifted to his gun. He was tempted to do just that. Chris deserved to rest peacefully. He'd screwed up, but his mother and his priest had put him on the path, and Beecher had put the last nail in the coffin.

"Chris loved you, didn't he?" Elliot didn't say it loudly.

"He said he did." Beecher shoved his hands in his pockets. "We couldn't have a life. No matter how many times we forgave each other, we were never going to have a life!"

Elliot took his hand away from his gun. He wasn't that kind of cop - that kind of man. "Give me nine months."

"I forgave him everything! And he fucked me over. You aren't getting a damn thing!"

Elliot watched him shout. Beecher was angry too. Well, he'd been right about one thing. Chris had been in Oz to stay. No parole. No life outside. Elliot had hated that. He shrugged. "If you won't give it, I'll take it. Get in the damn car."

Beecher didn't look relieved. He walked to him, turned, and put his hands on his head. "Cuff me or I'm going to try to kill you."

Elliot cuffed him. He never ignored that kind of honesty. Back at the halfway house, he deposited Beecher at his door and left him.

********

Toby made it to the bed before collapsing. He landed on his cell phone, but he didn't care. Air seemed to come back into his lungs, and he knew he was screwed. Stabler would find a way to fuck him over. It was coming. Oz might be safer than New York with Stabler around.

"Fucker," Toby whispered. He tried to muster up some hate for Stabler, but it fell flat. Stabler had loved Chris too, and Toby certainly understood the need for vengeance. Why Stabler hadn't shot him was a mystery. It hadn't been compassion. Chris had talked a lot about his cousin. Toby felt as if he knew him, which was ridiculous.

Toby's cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"I got a call. We're to meet with the judge again at ten a.m. and for shit's sake, don't be late!"

It was Steve - high strung fucker.

"Got it. Ten. I'll be there." Toby clicked off before he said something rude. He got off the bed and went to piss. He'd read and while away the hours. Sleep would probably be impossible. Time slowed way down over the course of the night, and he slept, but he woke up in a sweat. Chris had been breaking Toby's arms, but it had been Stabler that had broken Toby's legs. Toby washed his face, trying to catch his breath. God had been laughing His head off the day He'd made two of them, and sending them both after Toby was nothing short of cruel.

When nine came, Toby set out for the courthouse. He took the subway and walked. He was worried, nervous, but surely the judge would be reasonable. Toby kept a sharp eye out for Stabler and breathed a sigh of relief when he made it there without spotting him. Steve was outside, pacing, and they went in together. Toby watched his heart fall right through the floor.

"If you won't give it, I'll take it."

The words echoed in Toby's head. Steve opened his big mouth. "Good morning, Judge Allen. My client and I are eager to hear your ruling."

Toby watched Stabler. Stabler was gloating. He had already fucked it up. It was over. He'd gotten a little revenge. Steve was still blabbing away, and Toby found a chair that faced Stabler and the judge.

Finally, the judge held up his hand. "The petition has been denied."

Toby saw the small smile on Stabler's face. He had to say something, but only one thing came to mind. "Shut up, Steve."

Steve fell silent. Stabler got to his feet. Toby had one chance, and he took it. "Judge, I'm not going to contest this ruling, or protest that perhaps Detective Stabler is prejudiced against me, but if he is going to take such a direct hand in punishing me, I want to know what he's going to do to aid in my rehabilitation."

The judge's eyebrows went through the roof. Steve's mouth fell open, and Stabler seemed to freeze in place. Stabler was the first to find his voice. "If he's not rehabilitated, he shouldn't be out."

Toby nearly smiled. That was weak, and the judge knew it. Toby gently rubbed the bruise on his forehead for effect. "Detective Stabler has no motivations beyond revenge. He wants me back in Oz. I expected better from NYPD."

The judge frowned. He was buying it. "Detective, I believe Mr. Beecher has a valid point. If you are so concerned, you should be willing to do more than complain."

"A man with his record doesn't deserve to walk the streets," Stabler growled.

Toby wasn't going to attempt to argue that point. He had to keep talking. Keep pushing. "I've been unable to secure employment. Perhaps, Detective Stabler could help me out. Doing nothing but sitting around the halfway house, watching everyone else get high, isn't much of a day."

The judge and Stabler gave him a look that might have killed lesser men, but Toby stayed calm. They were listening, so he had a chance. Steve pushed himself back on center stage. "Stabler obviously has a grudge against my client. Reconsider the decision, Your Honor."

Stabler's frown grew deeper. Toby held his breath. This might turn around. The judge was waffling. He leaned back and rubbed his chin. "One moment. All of you step out."

Toby went out first because he knew that Stabler would wait. Steve was cursing under his breath, and Stabler found a wall to lean against some distance away from them.

"What the fuck did you do to piss off that cop?" Steve was not quiet. People on the first floor probably heard him.

"I had a fling with his cousin." Toby brushed his hair back and told his stomach to calm down. He was in no danger of going back. That was the larger picture. Stabler hadn't shot him, so he probably wouldn't. It was just a matter of time. Sooner or later, the New York Corrections System was going to turn him loose. He had to hang on until then.

"Beecher, after this, we're done! I'm not representing a screw-up like you again!" Steve did look a little angry.

Toby nodded. He agreed completely. "Go now. I don't like you, your attitude, or your mouth. I'm not your bitch!"

Amazement dropped over Steve's face. He gripped his briefcase that much tighter. "Your brother-"

"My brother must be in the dark about how much of a moron you are!" Toby spotted a water fountain over near Stabler and started for it. "Go fuck yourself, lawboy."

Steve cursed vividly and stormed away. Toby got his drink of water and laughed softly.

"You're laughing?" Stabler's eyebrows were up. "He blows you off, and you laugh?"

"I don't need that prick." Toby shoved his hands in his pockets and found some wall to lean against. He noticed that Stabler wasn't moving away. "Looks like you're getting your revenge."

Stabler smirked. "This is better than a bullet, I suppose."

Toby looked Chris's cousin up and down. "You're a lot like him, without the fangs. He'd have killed me and laughed about it."

"It was close," Stabler snarled. "Tell me - how long before you kill someone else?"

"Keep harassing me, and you'll find out." Toby felt his phone vibrate and he reached inside his coat pocket. He noticed that Stabler casually put his hand on his gun. Toby looked at the caller ID, decided that he didn't want to talk to his brother, and put it away. Stabler was close enough to see the lines on his face, and Toby had to breathe him deep. "You smell like him."

Stabler reacted as expected. "I don't play on your team."

"Oh, really?" Toby rubbed his nose, trying to drive the smell away. He had almost a surreal moment of lust. It made him want to snort with disgust. He was still thinking with his dick when it came to Chris, and apparently, his lookalike cousin too.

Stabler's eyes were hard as stone. Whatever he was going to say or do was interrupted by the judge's secretary poking her head out and calling them back inside. Toby went without smirking. He'd had a rational moment where he realized that Stabler might come back and finish the job tonight. His only real chance of survival might lie in running away.

"Where's your lawyer, Mr. Beecher?" The judge frowned.

Toby clasped his hands together and tried to look wretched. "He told me to find another lawyer. Apparently, Detective Stabler intimidated him."

Stabler snorted, but it only made him look guiltier. The judge went from a frown to a scowl, and Toby contained his giggles.

"I've modified my decision. Mr. Beecher, you are free to find a residence elsewhere in the city."

Toby grinned. He'd won. Stabler got to his feet fast, but the judge glared and continued, "However, you must work the job I've located for you. If you quit, for any reason, you will be remanded back to the halfway house, and if you don't comply with that order, you will be in violation of your parole."

The secretary handed Toby a stack of papers. Toby only glanced at them. "How long do I have to keep the job?"

"Nine months, of course." The judge never lost his scowl. "At that point, you will be free to seek other employment. I think it's a fair compromise."

Toby didn't agree, but he got to move out, so he'd do it. "Thank you, Judge. I miss my kids."

"I'm sure the Rockwells still miss their child also." The judge pointed at the door. "Your first day of work is tomorrow at nine a.m. Be on time."

Toby didn't even flinch at the judge's condemnation. He'd spent years piling the guilt on, and today was no different. He bolted out the door before Stabler could make this worse. Stabler's eyes were dark and he looked angry. Toby went home to pack and get moved before he was taken out to the pier again. He didn't have all that much. It had seemed silly to buy things that he didn't have room for. His parole officer, Craig Lennon, came in the door right as Toby was getting ready to leave.

"I want your new address by tomorrow, and keep your appointments."

Toby nodded. He'd do that, but there was a larger issue at stake here. "I'd appreciate it if you would not share the information of my whereabouts with Detective Stabler."

"He's a cop, and he's looking at you hard for a murder." Lennon glared. "I'll cooperate with him to the fullest.

Toby nearly gasped. If Stabler was talking it up, Toby was halfway to Oz already.

"Tomorrow." Lennon went on down the hallway to harass someone else. Toby got the hell out of there. He'd have one night to make up his mind - take his chances with the job or run for his life.

*********

Elliot made the weights scream for mercy before taking a quick shower. When he came out, Benson was perched on the bench. She didn't smile. She didn't lately.

"What's up?" They'd cleared the case.
 
"Did you whack Beecher?"

Elliot didn't want to discuss it. A few jokes would be enough. "Cement shoes, baby."

She rubbed her forehead. "Tell me. I need to know."

"Why? You gonna ask for a new partner? Again?" Elliot let his anger at her color his voice.

"I might," she snapped right back at him. "Getting him put away is one thing. Iced is another."

"He's fine." Elliot rolled his eyes. "He even managed to win his petition to get out of the halfway house."

Benson seemed relieved to hear it. "I've never seen you so angry."

Some of that anger had been at her, but she didn't need to know that. He opened his locker and glanced back at her. "Beat it, will ya?"

Her eyes widened. He'd never asked her to leave before, but she retreated gracefully. He dried a little more thoroughly and found some clothes. Beecher had lied his ass off and worked that judge. It had been a bunch of bullshit, but this wasn't over. Elliot was going to find out where Beecher was living and working and keep a close eye on him. Beecher would screw up again, and Elliot intended to be there to escort the skel right back to Oz.

*********

Toby flexed his financial muscles - they were flabby from disuse - and rented the penthouse in a hotel. The view was acceptable. It had room service, a maid, and a spare bedroom so his kids could visit. It was also fun to throw money around. He had it. It was his responsibility to help out the economy. He didn't listen to that tiny voice inside his head that said he was being an asshole. The first thing he did after unpacking was go out on the tiny porch and watch the sun go down behind the skyscrapers. One night of freedom and a decision to make. He called his brother.

"Toby, where are you?"

"I'm out of the halfway house. I'll send you an email with my new address." Toby made a note to buy a laptop, but he could use the business computer downstairs for now.

"Wow! That's great! Steve was babbling about some detective and I was afraid you'd been denied."

Toby found a comfortable chair and plunked down. "Detective Stabler did his best, but the judge let me go anyway." He was going to gloss over the job. It was only nine months. "A couple of years on parole, and I'll be free."

Angus hesitated. "What are your plans regarding Holly and Harry?"

Toby wasn't sure he understood the question. "Angus, you have custody. Are you wanting me to come get them?"

"No!"

Toby winced at how quickly his brother said that.

Angus wasn't finished. "I love them. They're like my own. But . . . they're your kids."

"Not according to the state of Connecticut," Toby said dryly. "Can you bring them to visit me this weekend?"

"Of course!" Angus said fast enough to placate Toby's fear. "Send me all the information. We'll be there. I promise."

"Thank you," Toby said softly. He had to get off the phone before he started crying. "Bye."

"Bye." Angus hung up, and Toby sat there quietly. His kids were growing up, and the only stable family they'd ever had was Angus and his mother. Toby was not going to take it away from them. But a few visits? What could it hurt? He loved them. He wanted to show them that he loved them.

Toby put his phone down. He was going to go to work in the morning, and he'd do his best to avoid Stabler. Running away wasn't an option. He loved his children too much.

Stabler would get over it. Right? Toby hoped so. He hadn't done it. Sure, he still felt guilty about it, but he hadn't committed murder. Not Chris, at least. Toby ordered some food, watched some TV, and tried to wallow in the luxury. He tried. It stuck in his throat though. Chris was dead. His kids were still gone, and four walls made a prison, even if they were decorated with the latest nouveau artwork.

When the wake up call came, he took his hand off his dick to answer it. He hung it back up and didn't bother to finish. Lately, it was a waste of time. After his shower, he picked up the papers and started to really look at them. If he were going to an auto-mechanic shop, he wouldn't bother with nice jeans. The information scurried around in his brain, and he forced himself not to punch holes in the walls. This had to be too close for comfort. He went back to his closet and threw up his hands. His nicest jeans weren't nice enough, and his suits were in Connecticut. It wasn't as if he hadn't any choice though. He put on his best jeans, a nice shirt, casual shoes. It would have to be good enough. Hopefully, if he got fired, the judge wouldn't hold it against him.

Today, he caught a cab and was in the building a little early. He asked directions and walked faster. Knocking on the office door, he waited until he heard the okay. He pushed the door open. "Captain Cragen? Tobias Beecher."

*********

Elliot hung up his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He felt like a punching bag. It was only nine a.m. and Kathy had already let him have it. He gave her everything she wanted, and it wasn't enough. Everything was his fault. If steam had come out his ears, he wouldn't have been surprised.

"My mother warned me. I should've listened!"

"Kathy, please," he'd whined. It still rankled.

"Can't you do anything right?"

Her words still echoed in his head, but it was his heart that had heard them so clearly. He did his best, but he never did anything but suck. Benson gave him a look, and he shrugged back at her. He noticed someone crouched over his desk.

"Hey, buddy. Go fondle someone else's desk!" He tried to smile, but it drained away as he realized exactly who was picking up the files on his desk. Before his good sense kicked in, his blinding anger grabbed a fistful of Beecher's shirt.

"Elliot!"

Elliot saw something on Beecher's face that gave him the right and he hit him. Dimly, he felt a fist slam into his guts, but it didn't slow him down.

"Elliot!"

Hands grabbed, and he struggled until he was forced to quit. Emotions that he'd swallowed for years refused to go back down. "What the hell is he doing here?"

Cragen got right in Elliot's face. "Meet my new office assistant - the guy with the bloody nose."

"I know exactly what he is!" Elliot shrugged them off.

"Good. Go clean up and come to my office." Cragen pointed. Elliot obeyed. He usually did. Sitting down hard on the bench in the locker room, he put his head in his hands and tried to settle down. His heart raced and he wanted to go finish the job he'd started on Beecher.

"You fucker! Let's finish this!"

Elliot jerked his head up and was on his feet instantly, his fists ready. "You asswipe!"

"This was not my fucking idea! You fucked me over with the judge and here we are! He thought you could keep an eye on me!" Beecher's anger didn't scare Elliot one bit. "Revenge is sweet, huh?"

Elliot pulled his fist back. "This time I'm aiming for your mouth."

Beecher grinned. "Do it!" He got very close and looked in Elliot's eyes. "I can take it. I can take it all. There isn't one damn thing you can do that hasn't been done before."

Elliot stopped. He quit. This situation was his responsibility. And Beecher's calm expectation of abuse made another punch impossible. "Go wash the blood away."

"Pussy!" Beecher laughed at him. "Chris wouldn't stop."

"Lucky for you, I'm not Chris Keller." Elliot went to the sink and washed his hands. He had lost control so many times before, and each time he'd promised himself to do better. Apparently, he couldn't. He was everything Kathy said he was and more. Leaning against the sink, he looked into his own eyes and hated himself. Chris would understand. Elliot caught sight of Beecher in the mirror.

"No, you're not him," Beecher said quietly. Elliot thought he heard a slight note of relief in Beecher's voice. He straightened his tie and shirt, trying to find some semblance of calm. Cragen was going to have Elliot's ass for breakfast again and this time he might be suspended.

"Are you going to press charges against me?" Stabler didn't look right at him.

"For this?" Beecher sounded confused. "I figured you'd just throw me in the hole for a week or so."

Elliot shook his head in bewilderment. It was becoming clear that any assumptions he'd made about Beecher should be tossed out the window.

Suddenly, Cragen was behind them. "My office. Both of you."

*********

Toby was glad he'd enjoyed one night of luxury because he figured he'd be back at the halfway house before lunch. He took a chair in front of Cragen's desk, but it wasn't lost on him that Stabler stood behind him.

"Elliot, I agreed to this arrangement because Judge Allen asked it of me. He seemed to think that you wanted it." Cragen paused. "Beecher, you certainly don't have to work here if you don't want to."

"I don't have a choice if I want to see my children," Toby said firmly. He wasn't quitting, even if his face did hurt like hell.

Cragen looked at Stabler. "Your decision, Elliot. I'm not losing a detective for a minimum wage ex-con."

Toby winced. "Minimum wage?"

"He was a lawyer," Stabler drawled. "He expects three hundred an hour."

Cragen rubbed his eyes. "One more incident and Beecher, you're gone, and Elliot, you'll be on ass duty until I retire."

Toby got to his feet. "I'll get the files."

Stabler opened the door for him. "We can always continue our discussion after hours."

Toby rolled his eyes and went back to work. His face hurt, but he was going. He didn't expect to have friends at this job, and it was a good thing because no one gave him the time of day. They did grace him with three shoves and a trip or two - all accidents, of course. By lunch, he was ready to quit. Cragen told him to take thirty minutes, and he went outside to catch a fresh breath of air.

"You're Beecher, huh?"

Toby glanced at her. She was Stabler's partner. "Yeah. Wishing I wasn't doesn't get me very far."

"Just leave him alone," she said and walked away. Toby thought that was good advice. He walked down to the corner, bought a soda and some chips, and ate them. Nine months? Impossible. Unless he declared a truce with Stabler. Then the other cops might leave him alone. The back of Toby's neck prickled, and he turned to face Stabler's angry eyes. No truce. This was war.

*********

Elliot tried not to take juvenile enjoyment from watching his co-workers push Beecher around. It didn't work. By lunch, Beecher looked pissed off. He'd quit before the end of the day, and he could take his sorry ass back to the halfway house.

Benson bought him a hot dog, and Elliot wished she'd quit looking at him as if he was a murderer. He hadn't done a damn thing, except punch the skel in the nose. That bruise on Beecher's forehead didn't count. Everyone else had the right attitude, but she went to talk with Beecher.

"You sure he did time in Oz? He looks like a yuppie lawyer to me," Munch said.

Elliot sighed softly. "I'm sure."

Munch and Fin were gone on a case soon after that, and Elliot eased his way over until he was right behind him. Beecher turned, and their eyes crackled as they met.

"Quit," Elliot snapped.

"No. I was gonna, but you can forget it." Beecher swept his too-long hair back. "Eat me."

"Clever." Elliot wasn't going to hit him again. He wasn't. "Where are you living?"

Beecher suddenly looked nervous. "Crappy hotel. Listen, you did this. Quit bitching about it!"

"You killed Chris," Elliot hissed. "And God only knows how many others. Why don't you crawl back in a cell where you belong?"

"Ouch," Beecher drawled. "Chris talked about you often. Things you two did and said. We had plenty of time to discuss everything."

Elliot nearly punched him again. "I won't allow you to dirty my memories of him." He walked away at that point, going back to the squadroom. Whatever Beecher thought he knew, it didn't matter. No one was going to believe a skel. Chris should have kept his damn mouth shut, but it was possible that Beecher was lying. Elliot hoped so.

*********

Toby called his P.O. as soon as Stabler was gone. Instead of giving an address, he gave a lame excuse about being in a hotel. He'd find a place today. He promised. His P.O. grumbled but gave him another couple of days. Toby smiled and clicked off. He wasn't sure where he wanted to live, but the penthouse was too far from work, and quitting wasn't an option.

Cragen called him in the office as soon as he got back inside. "Any computer skills?"

"Plenty." Toby gently touched his face and winced. "Stabler packs a punch."

"Don't forget it. Stay out of his way." Cragen gestured at his computer. "Take a look at it. It's driving me crazy."

"Sure." Toby was happy to hide in here, and he took his time. When Cragen stepped out, Toby sent a fast email to his brother, explaining the situation. If Toby turned up dead, Angus would know who to go after.

"Did you find out what was wrong?" Cragan asked when he came back.

"Needed defragged and you had a pile of cookies slowing things down. I also re-loaded your word processor program. It had some flaws. Give it a try." Toby got out of the way.

"Thanks, and pull the cold cases from '03."

"Sure." Toby had no idea what that meant. He went out and looked around the squadroom. It was  deserted. Some guy named Fin, who looked like a gangbanger, Stabler, and a guy built like a moose. Toby groaned softly and went to Stabler. "Cragen wants the cold cases from '03. Can you elucidate?"

"No," Stabler said. He didn't even look up.

"You should try acting like an adult." Toby stepped away. "Fin, help me out?"

Fin looked at Stabler and then him. "Don't think so."

Toby rubbed his forehead. "Why am I blamed for Stabler's actions?"

"Because you're a skel." Fin got to his feet and swaggered over. "You part of the Aryan Nation?"

"What the fuck?" Toby wasn't going to let that slide.

Fin gave him a lazy shrug. "Your file says your only tat is a swastika. You ran with the Nation. Around here, that doesn't carry any weight. In fact, it's another mark against ya."

Toby found a chair and sat down hard. Everyone had read his sheet. He was going to end up taking a bullet or a beating or both. For a moment, he held his breath and then he let it out slow. There was a computer on Benson's desk, and Toby went to use it. He Googled 'cold case,' sighed at his own stupidity, and went to find them. They had to be somewhere. The longer it took, the better. It gave him time to curse himself thoroughly.

The first time he'd been paroled, he'd gone home. They'd let him. He'd been so happy, and then Chris had torpedoed it. This time - this time - the penal system hadn't been so trusting. McManus had made it pretty clear that they expected him to re-offend. Drugs. Alcohol. Something. So Toby had ended up here, dealing with Stabler. It was damn unfair.

Toby absentmindedly straightened as he went. These were a mess! He figured out the system quickly and took the cold cases to Cragen.

Cragen took them and looked at him. "Go find something to do."

"You bet." Toby went back to the files. He'd putter with them until five and then he was out of here.

"A swastika? Cragen hired a Nazi?" That was the guy called Munch. Toby kept his head down. He wasn't sure what was worse - the truth or a lie. Two seconds later, he was looking right at Munch. Munch looked pissed. "That true? You're a Nazi?"

"No," Toby said shortly. He could see Stabler watching. "It's not a tat."

"What the hell is it?" Munch must really hate Nazis because he wasn't walking away.

"It's a brand." Toby lowered his voice to a bare whisper, "They branded me. Okay? No one on the planet hates Nazis more than I do."

Munch toned his glare down. "They usually just kill men who don't cooperate."

"They tried. Repeatedly." Toby wasn't going to say anymore than that. "I can't go back."

"I think I understand." Munch glanced away. "I better not find out you're lying."

Toby put his face back in the files and acted busy. This had been such a bad idea. He could have worked at McDonald's - anywhere. Why the hell had he opened his big mouth and argued? His children's faces popped up in front of his eyes, and he nodded. He'd do this for them. It couldn't be worse than Oz. Cops were all assholes, but they wouldn't kill him.

"So, let's see it," Stabler growled. He was too close.

Toby slammed the file cabinet and checked the clock. Ten more minutes and he could run away. "Absolutely not."

Stabler leaned against the cabinets. He had a toothpick in his mouth. "Munch, you want to see it, right?"

Munch nodded. Fin nodded. Toby shook his head firmly. "No, and it'll take three more guys if you plan to strip me."

"I'm pretty good at strip searches. How about you, Fin?"

"They give a class at the Academy." Fin looked tough. Toby hoped the guy stayed sitting down. He took the small scrap of his pride that he had left and went to Cragen's office.

Cragen looked up. "You're done for the day. Tomorrow, I'll get you a desk. I honestly didn't think you'd show up."

"I wouldn't if I'd have known this was Stabler's unit." Toby told the truth. "He's a dickhead."

"Well, if you're here, I'll find you a desk." Cragen obviously didn't care. "I couldn't afford a real assistant, so here we are."

Toby didn't react to the insult. "I'll decide in the morning." He got his coat and headed for the door. No one glanced at him, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he was out. Hailing a cab, he went to find a meeting. He'd been pushed too hard today, and he wasn't taking any chances.

********

Elliot followed him. He hadn't intended to, but he was curious as to where Beecher was living. Beecher had lied about the hotel. Elliot didn't question his need to know. The judge wanted him to keep Beecher out of trouble, so he would do it. That was all. The cab stopped in front of St. Mark's, and Elliot watched him go inside.

Finding a place to park took a minute, and then he went in. He stood outside the door of the AA meeting long enough to hear Beecher say, "My name is Tobias, and I'm an alcoholic."

Elliot didn't go inside. He went back out to his car. The meeting would last an hour. Some part of him was glad that Beecher had gone. Today would challenge anyone's sobriety. His name was Tobias, huh? Elliot wondered very briefly what Chris had called him. Chris had loved him. Why? What did 'Tobias' have that made him special? Elliot didn't see it. Not yet. But he wanted to understand it.

"Chris, you stupid bastard," Elliot said softly.

********

Toby came out of the meeting feeling a little better. He still would've licked whiskey off the sidewalk, but it was under control. Another cab took him to his hotel, and he reluctantly packed. He'd find something closer to the precinct. He'd been stupid not to look at his place of employment before getting this. He marked it down to giddiness and shrugged.

When there was a knock on the door, he answered it. He'd ordered one last meal, and then he had to go. It wasn't room service. Stabler nudged his way inside. "Damn, this is quite a step up!"

"You followed me?" Toby put some furniture between them. "Can't you leave me the fuck alone?"

"We need to talk." Stabler dropped his coat on a chair. "More and more, I can't picture you with Chris at all. Putting aside the fact that Chris wasn't gay. He never liked rich boys or lawyers, and you're both."

Toby had no idea what to say. He did not want to sit and 'talk.' Going to the bedroom, he dragged out his luggage and put it by the door. "Leave. Now. Or I'll call the police."

"He did have a thing for blondes though." Stabler smiled.

"Fuck," Toby whispered. There was another knock, and he let the waiter inside. He gave him a good tip and sat down to eat. "I didn't order for you."

"I ate while you were at St. Mark's." Stabler didn't sit at the table, and Toby was relieved. The food should've tasted good, but Toby just ate it. He had to get the hell out of here. Stabler laughed softly. "That was a good punch today. I might have a bruise."

Toby didn't dignify that with an answer. He ate.

"Chris is the reason that I work Special Victims." Stabler sounded angry. "He was molested when he was a boy. His mother basically pimped him out to the local priest. She wanted to be a bigwig in the church, and she used Chris to get it done."

"Damn," Toby whispered. It explained a lot. "Where were you during all of this?"

"Sitting by my father, nursing a black eye." Stabler shrugged as if he didn't care about that part. "When did you get branded?"

Toby wasn't going to discuss that. He shoved the food away. "I'm leaving. Don't follow me."

"Sounds good. I'll give you a ride." Stabler took out his cuffs and spun them. "Right?"

Toby was trapped. He didn't like the feeling of wanting to snarl and snap, but it raged inside him. He was so fucked up the ass. "Why are you doing this?"

"Chris was important to me. I want to know why he loved you, and why you killed him." Stabler raised a single eyebrow. "And the judge wanted me to check on you."

"Let's go," Toby said quietly. He didn't have a choice. Maybe if he told some lies, Stabler would get bored and leave him alone.

When the luggage was stowed, Toby got in the front this time. "I want a place closer to the squadroom. I don't care where."

Stabler put on his seat belt. "I got a buddy who rents apartments not far from work. He might have something."

"Sounds fine. Price doesn't matter." Toby didn't relax. He was keenly aware of Stabler's hand, his gun, and the bulge down below. It was embarrassing, but true. Toby made a promise to get laid soon. He was a slut for Chris, and Stabler was the same package. It made it hard to even look at him. The anger only seemed to make it worse.

Stabler parked the car after a short drive. He got out, and Toby followed him. They were let in, and Toby let Stabler do all the talking. He was brutally honest. The landlord looked Toby over.

"Got cash for the first month?" He didn't look hopeful.

Toby got out his wallet. "How about two months in advance with the deposit?" He counted out the bills. Stabler's eyes were wide. His buddy nodded and took the money. They signed some forms, Toby took the key, and he went to get his luggage. Stabler stuck close, and it was annoying.

"Why don't you go home?" Toby tried to convey his disdain, anger, and hatred.

"We ain't done." Stabler turned on all the lights. "Not bad. Do you always carry that much cash?"

"No. I hit the bank this morning early." Toby was glad that he had. He looked around at the empty apartment and gave up on getting rid of Stabler. He'd leave when he was finished torturing him. Toby sighed. "I guess I have to get some furniture."

"It's that or sleep on the floor." Stabler went to look out the window. "Why you? He was married to three different women!"

"He loved Bonnie the most. She kept her faith in him no matter how much he hurt her." Toby opened a closet and looked inside. He would need everything. He'd call Angus and see what could be done. The extra room could be for the kids, if they stayed over. He'd put a bed in there. "This place is safe, right?"

"Perfectly." Stabler turned and nodded. "Mostly cops live here. You lost faith in him, didn't you?"

"I'd have forgiven him, but he took my children from me, and I was very angry." Toby hated talking about it. He'd acted like a prick. "My love wasn't enough. I had to be there too."

"He took what he could get." Stabler sounded as if he understood. Maybe he did.

Toby was suddenly very tired. It had been a long day. His face hurt, and tomorrow he had to do it again. He sat down on the floor. "I wish I were home."

"Me too," Stabler said softly. He walked over and looked down at him. "One more thing: tell me about the swastika."

Toby tilted his head to the side. "My first week in Oz, I was sodomized and branded by a Nazi named Vern Schillinger. He made me his prag - his bitch."

Stabler furrowed his brow. "You didn't fight back?"

"I was a lawyer. Out of shape. Pudgy even. He had no trouble beating the shit out of me, and he seemed to enjoy doing it." Toby leaned back on his arms. He really didn't want to discuss this, but there was no sense in lying. "It's on my ass. Now, run back and tell all your cop friends so you can laugh when I come to work tomorrow. That was the plan, right?"

"No," Stabler whispered. He might have looked horrified, but it could have been disgust. "We'll talk more later."

"I can't wait." Toby lay back flat on the floor, and Stabler let himself out. What a fucking bad day - and tomorrow would suck also. Eight months and twenty-nine days to go. This would be better than the halfway house - he hoped.

********

Elliot went downstairs to his own apartment. It was small, but it was enough. Kathy and the kids had needed the house. The swastika was on Toby's ass? That had to have hurt. Elliot rubbed his face and went to bed. It had been a long day for him as well. If he were a good man, he'd offer Beecher the couch, but he wasn't.

Ten minutes later, he knocked on Beecher's door again. Beecher pulled it open. He looked like shit, and Elliot forced himself to sound something other than angry. "You can have the couch, if you want."

Beecher - Tobias - frowned. "What?"

Elliot sighed. "I live downstairs. You can sleep on the couch."

Tobias looked away. "I don't get you."

"Ain't nothing to get." Elliot took a step back. "I'm in four. You decide."

"No."

Elliot went back to his apartment. He'd given ground again. His father had always said that he was weak. Stupid. Not even close to being a man. Chris's father had run off, and Elliot had wished that his would. Chris had hated his mom. Elliot rubbed his face and got in bed. He had to stop thinking all the damn time. Finally, he slept.

His alarm jolted him out of bed and he got moving. Shower, shit and shave and he was on his way to work. He didn't even glance upstairs. Today, he wanted to think about work and his family, not Tobias. Elliot groaned slightly. Chris had been Elliot's family, and this was all about him.

***********
Chapter Two - Judge not according to the appearance. John 6:12

Toby tried not to slink in the door of the squadroom. He had to stiffen his spine and be a man, not a prag. No one said a word to him, and Stabler wasn't even around. That was slightly reassuring. He knocked politely on Cragen's door and waited before opening it.

"Oh! You're back." Cragen shoved away from his desk. "Okay, well, let's find you a desk, and I'll dig out the list of things that you're responsible for doing around here."

Toby didn't nod. His face felt puffy and sore today. It looked bad too. He'd made up his mind on the way over here that he was going to treat this like a prison job - keep his head down and do the work. If he were lucky, no one would beat him up today. Damn it, he was not going back to the halfway house.

"That okay?" Cragen pointed at a small desk near some stairs.

"Sure." Toby didn't care. "Where do the stairs go?"

"Lounge. One of your jobs is keeping it clean." Cragen shrugged. "I think that's the reason my last assistant quit."

"It was the wages." Toby was certain of that. He threw his coat over the back of the chair.

Cragen put his hands on his hips. "Munch!"

Toby actually flinched. He had to get a grip, and he tried to take a deep breath quietly. Munch strolled over. He didn't look upset today. "Cap?"

"Give Beecher here a tour - a complete one. If I have to send him to interview room three, I don't want him lost in lockup." Cragen stared at the desk. "He's gonna need a computer," he muttered and strode away.

"Glad to have you on board, Beecher," Munch couldn't be serious, not after yesterday. "I won twenty bucks off you."

Toby pushed his hair back. "You bet that I'd come back."

"I did a little research. There was no way that the man who took on Vernon Schillinger was going to be intimidated by a few rude cops." Munch barked a strange laugh. "Come on. I'll show you around."

Toby followed, listened, and made a map in his head. He was reserving judgment on Munch until later, but he was intelligent, sarcastic, and suspicous - all good things. He kept up a steady patter of explanations, mixed with comments about Nazis and their newfound power in the prison system. Toby grunted in the appropriate places, but said nothing that could be used against him in a court of law.

"Got it all down?"

"Yes. Thanks." Toby meant that. He appreciated being treated like a human. He only had one question to ask. "Did you hack into the computer system at Oz?"

"Hack?" Munch grinned. "I'm a cop."

"Oh, yeah." Toby was back at his desk. He sighed at the jumble of computer parts that had been put on it. "Excuse me, I have shit to do."

Munch went off without another word, and Toby sat down in front of a pile of junk. This was just peachy.

********

Elliot told himself not to glance at him, but that only lasted about thirty minutes. Benson must have noticed because she piped up, "Why don't you kill him and get it over with?"

"Cragen needs help with the paperwork," Elliot drawled. "Anyways, it'll be more fun to beat on him."

"Funny." She snatched up a pile of papers and walked off. He didn't stare after her. She was like PMS on steriods lately. Something else that was probably his fault. At least Kathy hadn't called today. Not yet. Considering they were divorced, they sure did talk a lot. Well, they yelled a lot.

"Should we get one of the guys from TARU to come help out Beecher?" Fin asked softly.

Stabler threw him a grin. "Hell, no. Did you make sure he had a mouse?"

"Couple of them."

"Motherfuck!"

Half the squadroom started laughing. Elliot joined in with no guilt.

"Duck, Elliot!"

Elliot ducked and a dead mouse sailed over him to land on Benson's desk. He whipped around. "Now that's cruelty to animals!"

"Fuck you!" Tobias shot him the finger before crawling under the desk. Elliot left the mouse there. Benson always said she wanted a low-maintenance pet.

"Elliot, take Fin." Cragen waved a piece of paper in the air. "And stop picking on the mice in this place."

Elliot grinned, grabbed the paper, and got his coat. Fin was right behind him.

********

"Did you have enough of everything?"

Toby plugged the keyboard into the tower and got to his feet. "I really don't need two monitors."

"Well, put it somewhere." Cragen handed him a list. "These are your primary responsibilities, and of course, if I need anything else, that's you."

Toby put it on the desk. "I'll memorize it. That printer needs to go in the trash."

"Do it." Cragen raised his eyebrows. "Got a mouse?"

"More than I need," Toby growled. He didn't appreciate cop humor. "Do I get internet?"

Cragen answered as he walked away. "No more personal emails on my time."

Toby wanted to curse and throw things. He blew off that energy by taking the broken printer and a broken monitor to the dumpster out back. The crash and tinkle made it all easier to live with. He ought to track that judge down and beat the shit out of him. This was not funny. Checking his watch, he went back inside, grabbed his coat, and went to lunch. He had phone calls to make.

Stabler was coming in as Toby went out. "Could you believe that apartment? Mouse turds everywhere!"

Toby kept on walking. Five more hours of this shit and he was going to need two meetings. He snapped open his phone and called Angus, finding a good spot on the steps to sit.

"Hey, Angus."

"How's the job?"

"Wow, does it suck." Toby took a deep breath. "Give me the bad news."

"You are having a bad day. There is none. The truck will be there around seven. They'll unload. I paid them in advance, but they'll expect a big tip." Angus was probably smiling. "The kids and I will come check it out on Saturday. Okay?"

"Okay." Toby was glad to hear it. "Are they bringing me a computer?"

"Yes." Angus seemed to hesitate. "Are you sure this Stabler guy isn't going to come after you again?"

"I think he's gone to Plan B, which is making my life hell." Toby switched ears. "No wonder people skip out on parole."

Angus didn't laugh. "I gotta go. Take care, Toby."

"Will do. Thanks. I'll call tonight." Toby hung up, shoved the phone away, and closed his eyes. He leaned his head against the bricks and let the press of it remind him of where he'd been. This was better. He was free. He was. And if he didn't have everything he wanted, well, no one did.

"Dreaming of better days?"

Toby got to his feet. He was two steps up from Stabler. Cursing at him would be a mistake and so would nailing him in the balls. "Just wishing I was drunk or high again." He went around him and spotted the hot dog cart. The next thing he had to do was buy some groceries. He could not survive on hot dogs. Stabler stuck with him.

"You buying?" Stabler grinned.

Fin and Munch were there, and they gave him a steady look.

"Is it a tradition or something? New guy takes shit all day and then buys lunch?" Toby tried to make a joke, but he wanted to stuff hot dogs somewhere they wouldn't like it.

"Yes," Munch said. "Definitely. And if it wasn't before, it is now."

"Fine. I'll buy." Toby didn't care. "It's not like I can take you out for a beer." Not that he'd even consider such a thing. He got his own food, paid the bill, and went to eat on the stairs, away from the cops. Munch wasn't that bad, and Toby didn't mind buying him lunch. The sun was out, and he took time to notice it as he ate. This was better than Oz. It was. Much better. A car horn rang out not too far away, and he flinched.

"How long have you been out?" Stabler sat down next to him.

Toby didn't look right at him. "A month. I hated every minute of it, but after so long . . ."

"You're not sure what to do or where to go," Stabler finished for him. Toby wanted to deny it, but he couldn't. Part of his brain was waiting for the horn, waiting for lockdown, waiting, always waiting. It made the day very long. Stabler seemed to understand. "Chris was never going to get out."

"No," Toby said quietly. "Did you ever visit him?"

"I did a couple of times. The second time he told me never to come back, and he meant it." Stabler looked right at him, maybe through him. "He said that he was shit, and it was time I faced that."

"Sounds like him." Toby sighed. He wadded up his trash and got to his feet. This long day had barely begun, but there were a few unanswered questions, and it was easier to ask out here than inside. "I miss him. Why do you believe me?"

Stabler frowned and eased up.

"You never even questioned that he loved me. You thought I'd killed him, and yet you never considered that I was lying?" Toby knew he was missing something.

"He sent me a letter. I got it after he died." Stabler's voice was low, but full of suppressed anger. "I know he loved you, but I sure as hell don't know why."

Toby was not going to discuss this further. It hurt too much. He went to the trash can before going back inside. Of course Stabler didn't see it. How could he? What made sense in Oz was nothing but madness out here. Toby had no way to explain it. He'd fallen in love, and that love had been merciless. It had taken no prisoners, and it had nearly killed them both. Well, it was over. Finished. All he had left was a few very sweet memories and a pissed off cousin. With those thoughts uppermost, he went to clean the lounge. What a shit job.

*********

"Beecher! Get your dead mouse off my desk!"

Elliot wiped his mouth to hide his smile. He couldn't help it. It was damn funny. Tobias didn't hurry to the scene of the crime, but he wasn't dragging his feet either.

"That's Stabler's pet mouse." Tobias grinned. "He must have staggered out of Stabler's pocket, crawled across the desks, and died."

Benson pointed at it. "Off! Now!"

Tobias threw up his hands. "Not in my job description!"

Elliot laughed aloud. He shouldn't be enjoying this, but he was. Benson was furious, and Tobias had the balls to play right along.

"Beecher, take your pet mouse back to your desk." Cragen was trying not to smile. Elliot had seen it before.

Tobias sniffed and picked it up by the tail. "I do not get paid enough for this!" He took it away, and Elliot had the feeling that it would show up in his desk later. Well, he'd started it.

Cragen put his hands on his hips and demanded an update on all their open cases. Elliot put his head back into work and kept it there. He might have noticed a few times that Tobias wasn't a slacker, but it was a busy day. It was Cragen that got in the last word of the day. "No more OT this month. Find a stopping point and go home."

Elliot nodded obediently, but leaned back in his chair. He had nowhere to go. It was then he noticed that Tobias's coat wasn't on the back of his chair. That meant that he was gone. "Hey, you think Beecher is gonna work out?"

"He's done more work today than I got out of my last assistant in a week, and he built a working computer from parts. I hope he stays." Cragen shrugged. "I know he's a skel, but he was a lawyer. It was the booze that got him."

Elliot had to step carefully now. "Oz probably wasn't the place for him."

"A white lawyer? He was eaten for lunch, you know that." Cragen was gently telling Elliot to back off a little.

"Okay. I'm headed home." Elliot started cleaning off his desk. He opened the drawer to put away his pencil and jumped. "That asswipe!"

Cragen left laughing. Elliot threw the mouse in the garbage. That joke was over, but it had been funny, and he'd been right. Tobias didn't quit. He did his best to get the last word. Elliot shrugged into his coat and headed for his apartment. He had to step around some guys hauling furniture inside, and he had a feeling he knew who was moving in. Nosy and willing to admit it, he went upstairs to Tobias's apartment. The door was open, and he was helping two big guys from Jersey put things where he wanted them.

"All this shit is yours?" Elliot stepped around a coffee table.

Tobias put his end of the couch down. "I did own a few things before I went to prison."

The Jersey guys both looked surprised that Tobias had done time. Elliot got out of the way as they went back out the door. "That couch is better than mine. I may have to borrow it."

"Right." Tobias rolled his eyes. "Hey, I have an idea. Why don't you go away? Just seeing you makes my teeth hurt."

Elliot heard the truth in that, but he wasn't ready to leave. "But I brought your pet mouse. He was lonely."

"Shithead." Tobias moved a floor lamp. "I took less shit working in the mailroom with a bunch of Nazis!"

Elliot wasn't sure what to say to that. He was willing to help, but he wasn't welcome. Good thing he was naturally pushy. "Pizza later?"

"I wish you had a life," Tobias muttered. "Sure. Why not, and then you can hit me some more!"

"It's a plan." Elliot went downstairs to change. If someone had asked him why he was doing this, he'd have had a hard time answering. But he knew it was something about Chris's last letter. The words had been impossible to forget.

Hey Cuz,

Still in Oz. Still fucked. It ain't getting better, and I seem to be taking the one guy I care about down with me. Hell, I love him. It's fucked up. Toby deserves better, but I ain't got it in me. Don't ever come here, but maybe you'll see me soon.

Chris

Elliot hadn't understood until he'd gone to claim the body. He had seen him soon. Chris had known he was in over his head, but Elliot had resisted the idea that Chris had killed himself. However, Tobias had convinced him of that. Did Tobias deserve better? Elliot didn't know, but he wanted to find out what made him tick - what made Chris love him.

Dressed in jeans and a blue wife-beater, Elliot went back upstairs to help. One thing he did know: if Tobias was tough enough to love Chris, he was tough enough to put up with him.

*********

Toby nearly groaned when Stabler came through the door looking so much like Chris. The urge to drag him down and kiss him was almost impossible to shove away. Fuck. It was just wrong. Stabler didn't start talking. He helped. Toby hated to admit that he appreciated it. He hadn't owned more than a green shirt and a pair of socks in years. All this shit was slightly overwhelming.

"You want me to unpack these dishes?" Stabler asked.

Toby nearly jumped. He'd been too far inside his head. "Dishes? My mother must be losing it."

"Maybe she thought you'd need to eat." Stabler pulled out a plate and stared at it. "My wife would have liked these."

"Women do love dishes. Genevieve had three sets, that I knew of." Toby smiled slightly, remembering. "They don't understand that paper plates are the way to go."

Stabler laughed softly. "I hear that. Okay, I'll do the kitchen. Now that we have plates, we can order pizza."

Toby was tempted to sigh loudly and act like a brat. Instead, he found his cell phone and ordered pizza. The movers were long gone with a hunk of his cash. They'd smiled, and Stabler had nodded approvingly. Toby went to putter in the closet. It was nice to have all his clothes. Of course, he wasn't sure they'd fit, but they were his. Done with that, he went to reassemble the computer his brother had sent him. Tomorrow, he'd get cable internet and TV.

"Cragen was impressed that you built a computer from all those parts." Stabler flashed him a grin.

"You guys just piled all the leftovers on my desk, didn't you?" Toby put the tower on the floor next to the desk that he vaguely remembered from his office at home.

"He said to find you a computer. We were just following orders." Stabler was so full of shit. "I had a broken keyboard to contribute."

"I got it to work." Toby smiled sweetly at him. "Too many donut crumbs had gummed up the works."

Stabler laughed. The pizza arrived, and Toby paid for it. Stabler put two plates on the small table, and they eyed each other warily. "I'm going to go get a beer. Want something?"

Toby wanted a vodka martini. "A soda or anything that's not beer is fine."

Stabler nodded and went out the door. He was back in record time, and they were facing each other over a supreme pizza again. Toby thanked him for the soda and popped it open. That long neck looked damn good, and Stabler seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Toby took his eyes off it, swallowing hard. He ate instead. He'd go to a meeting soon. It wouldn't help much, but it was better than nothing.

"My brother wants to know if you're taking me out to the pier again." Toby kept his eyes on his pizza. He was curious as well about Stabler's plans.

Stabler choked. He chased it with beer, coughed again, and put his pizza down. "Only if we need to have a private talk."

"We can do that here." Toby was forced to admit that he didn't understand Stabler at all. His motivations were murky, his actions suspect. "Were you going to shoot me?"

"No. I wanted answers." Stabler looked slightly embarrassed, which was a surprise. "A scared man is an honest one."

"Sometimes." Toby had learned that lesson in Oz. "Sometimes a scared man lies his ass off."

Stabler gave a short nod of agreement. "A cop knows the difference. You were ready to die. It didn't scare you. So you told the truth."

Toby drew a sharp breath at that accurate assessment of his character. "Proud of yourself?"

"No. I've never come so close to the line." Stabler went back to eating. Toby watched him. This was a man that lived with guilt - kept it close by him.

"The line?" Toby wanted to know what that meant.

"The line between a dirty cop and one that does his best. There ain't no going back." Stabler finished his beer.

Toby thought about that. "You loved him a lot."

"I did." Stabler got up and went back to unpacking boxes, wiping his hands on his jeans. Toby alternated between the computer and the pizza. He was hungry. When he had it up and running, he turned to find Stabler staring at him. Their eyes locked for two seconds, and then they each found something else to look at, but Toby had a feeling that he was in trouble. He'd done that before with a man, and it had led to long nights and sweaty sheets.

"Thanks for your help," Toby said lamely. He brushed his hair back and almost winced. His face still hurt.

"Sorry about your face." Stabler might have meant it. He looked sincere, and he seemed to notice everything. "I lost my temper."

Toby thought that was the understatement of the decade. "Chris and I fought a lot. I wasn't surprised when you hit me."

"You came right back for more, I noticed." Stabler gave him a tight smile. "Okay. I'm done."

Toby nodded. He went to open the door. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Maybe so." Stabler grabbed up his empty bottle and one more piece of pizza. "Later."

Toby locked the door behind him. He leaned against it and came to the conclusion that the only way to get rid of Stabler was to go back to the halfway house, and even that might not work. Probably the only way to ditch him was to skip parole and go to California, and that really wasn't an option. Toby crashed on the couch and resigned himself to eight months and twenty-eight more days of Stabler.

*********

Elliot ate his pizza and slumped down on the couch. He'd caught a glimpse of it. He was sure of it, and it worried him. For one second, the air had sizzled between them, and he'd seen what Chris had. Tobias had something. Elliot didn't know what it was, not yet, but Chris, so needy, had been caught like a moth to the flame. He'd always talked big and shoved everyone away, but not Tobias.

"Fuck," Elliot whispered. He'd figure it out so he could sleep at night, and then he was running before his wings were singed off, just like Chris's.

*********

Toby shifted on his knees and flipped quickly through the file drawer. In another ten years, if everyone stopped filing today, he might have everything in its proper place. It was annoying as hell.

"Here."

Toby looked. He regretted it instantly. Making absolutely sure that his mouth didn't drop open, he took the file. "Whatever." It was rude and heartfelt. Staring into Stabler's crotch would make anyone bitchy.

"Want to grab lunch?" The words were low and even.

"No." Toby forced his eyes back down into the file cabinet. Drooling over that would only lead to trouble. Damn. Was Chris somewhere giggling about this? Toby could believe it. He waited until the legs were gone before moving to the next drawer - this one was on top. Chris had liked to top. Toby rubbed his eyes and prayed for strength. He had to stop thinking about rubbing and kissing and gently-

"Beecher!"

Toby jerked around. "What?" he snapped. It was Captain Cragen. Toby immediately apologized, "Sorry. I was . . . elsewhere."

"Well, pull your head out and run this over to Casey Novak's office. You know where that is?" Cragen was frowning.

"Yes." Toby took the file. "Can I break for lunch after that?"

"Not a problem." Cragen disappeared back into his office. Toby put the file in front of his slightly tented chinos and got out of the squadroom. He needed a break - a long one. A year would probably do - maybe not. The walk got rid of the problem in his pants, and he tapped politely on Novak's door. She said something that he couldn't make out, and he went inside.

"Captain Cragen sent this over," Toby said and held out the file when he got to her desk.

"Thank you." She took it with a look that assessed him from top to bottom. "Beecher, right?"

"Right." Toby smiled slightly in an effort to be polite. He'd seen her around the squadroom and heard her speaking to the detectives. He wasn't sure how he felt about her. She seemed competent, and several guys thought she was hot. He disagreed. She wasn't attractive to him, not in the least. He edged for the door. There was no reason to hang around.

"You were disbarred?" Novak had a strange look on her face that Toby couldn't decipher.

"Yes." Toby had the feeling he was caught now. "Anything else?"

She frowned. "Quite a comedown to officer gopher. Your father was a legend."

Toby was well aware of that, but he wasn't his father - had never been his father. "Right now, I don't have any real choices. Judge Allen saw to that."

"He always comes up with innovative solutions." She still looked confused. "Are they giving you a hard time over at the one-six?"

"I'll take the Fifth." Toby didn't intend to stand here and be interrogated any longer. "It's my lunch. Nothing to take back?" He couldn't spell it out any clearer than that.

She raised her eyebrows. "So you aren't available for consult?"

"Absolutely not," Toby said firmly. "I fuck up everything I touch." He left before she could answer and before he could feel guilty for cursing. His poor father had put up with his screwed up eldest son, and it had gotten him killed. He had deserved a long life enjoying his grandchildren, but all he'd received was a shank. Toby choked back another wad of guilt, went out the front door, and escaped down the sidewalk. He didn't want to eat. He just wanted to walk and pretend that he'd never gotten anyone that he loved killed.

**********

Elliot wandered up to the lounge, poured his fifth cup of coffee, and rotated his neck. He was strung tight today, and he wasn't sure he wanted to think about why. Going to sit, he rubbed his forehead and tried to drive away the image of Tobias on his knees.

"Shit," Elliot muttered. How was he supposed to work with a damn porno movie playing behind his eyeballs? It wasn't easy, and he cursed his cousin. Chris was to blame here. If he'd have stuck with girls, Elliot wouldn't be having these thoughts.

"Long day?"

Elliot blinked in surprise. He hadn't heard the door, and he flashed a fake grin. "Hi, Casey. You slumming?"

Novak smiled and went to the rail to look down on the squadroom. "Not funny. I met Tobias Beecher today."

"And?" Elliot wasn't going to offer his opinion. Not unless he was cornered.

"He should be bringing in millions at the firm his father helped build. Not making coffee."

"For a bunch of cops," Elliot finished for her. He was used to lawyers thinking they were better. "He messed up his life. If anything, he's lucky."

She turned. "Lucky?"

"Oz kills a good portion of people every year." Elliot wished the damn place hadn't killed Chris. "Tobias got out alive."

Novak slowly nodded. "He's a lawyer. Use it if you have to."

"Shouldn't you be telling Cragen that?" Elliot wanted to make sure he understood what she was implying.

"He doesn't sit in the interrogation room. You do." She raised her eyebrows. "He's a Beecher. He's good, whether he knows it or not."

Elliot watched her leave on the tail end of that statement. He didn't have an answer anyway. She was right though. Tobias might be useful from time to time. Elliot would keep it in mind. But just that, nothing else.

*********

Toby took out his red magic marker and crossed out another day on the calendar that he'd found discarded. Four x's so far. Not that many, but he'd get there.

"Keeping track, huh?" Stabler laughed softly. "Serve your time and get out."

"That's the plan." Toby shoved the calendar in the drawer and picked up a stack of mail that he had to drop off. "Did you get your fives finished?"

Toby watched Stabler's eyes flash to angry. His jaw would clench soon. Toby suppressed the urge to giggle. "If you'd have learned to type with more than two fingers, it wouldn't take so damn long."

Stabler stalked away. Toby had won that engagement, and that's how he tried to think of every encounter. Every time he turned around, Stabler was there, and Toby was sick of it. They weren't going to be friends. They sure as fuck weren't going to fuck. He had to go away. Toby had spent part of last night praying that Stabler would suddenly be transferred, and it had only been four days. Fuck.

"Headed to the mailroom?"

"Yes." Toby liked Munch. Munch was cynical, well-educated, and he never believed anything without two kinds of proof. Toby smiled slightly. "Got something?"

Munch tossed him a couple of letters. "Blood money for my wives."

"I thought you couldn't get blood from a turnip." Toby made a straight pile.

Munch looked disgusted. "You could have done better than that old joke. We're all going out to Cavanaugh's. Want to come?"

Toby blinked in surprise. "Me? The geeky ex-lawyer?"

"I was thinking hippie ex-lawyer. It's the hair." Munch was drier than a good, white wine.

"No, but thanks. I have to hit a meeting." Toby didn't want to be pleased that Munch had asked him.

Cragen came out of his office. "Here's another letter, and can you call the vending company to complain? The machines have been empty for three days."

Toby nodded, took the letters, and headed for the mailroom. He'd pick up and deliver on the way back. Just one more of his shit jobs at the one-six. He had wondered what they'd done before the judge had sentenced him to work there. Someone had done it. Not Stabler, that was certain.

*********

"Good thing he said no," Elliot said to Munch. "I can't buy a round if I'm not there."

Munch raised his eyebrows. "I like him. Well, as much as I like anyone."

Elliot couldn't believe it. "He's not only a lawyer but a skel and an addict. Get a grip, John."

Cragen hadn't gone far enough. "You have a problem with addicts, Elliot?"

"Only when they run over little girls, Captain." Elliot should've kept his mouth shut. He was frustrated as hell. Every time he tried to stick out his hand to Tobias, Tobias bit it off. The skel should be grateful that anyone would talk to him. Munch went back to his desk, and Cragen walked away after a short glare. Elliot was glad they were dropping it. Tobias had made up ground this week. Less people disliked him on principle alone. He worked, and he didn't complain, and he made good coffee. Around here, all that counted for something.

Elliot shut down his computer and organized the paperwork on his desk. He was done with his fives, damn it, and Tobias had no right to even ask the question.

"Ready?" Fin asked.

"More than." Elliot needed a beer or three. It had been a long week.

********

Toby was glad the squadroom was emptying when he got back. He could deliver the mail without worrying that someone would try to trip him. A couple of the detectives really seemed to dislike him, and while he didn't blame them, it made his job harder. When he was done, he shut off his computer and went to check in with Cragen.

"I think I'm done for the day," Toby said. He hoped he was.

Cragen nodded. "You did good work this week. I'm glad the judge sent you our way."

"You mean sentenced me to work here." Toby wasn't going to sugarcoat it.

"Whichever." Cragen shrugged. He cared about results. Toby liked that about him. "And Beecher, stay out of Detective Stabler's face."

Toby knew his little exchange hadn't gone unnoticed. "He needs to back off."

Cragen had been fiddling with some paperwork, but he gave Toby full attention now. "You were implicated in the death of one of his family members. He isn't going to forget that. He's going to keep coming back at you until he's convinced of your guilt or innocence. I gave you the option to leave, remember?"

"I didn't kill Chris Keller," Toby ground out, but he got the point. "So, I just put up with it?"

"Yes. Or confess and go back to Oz." Cragen was distracted again. "You attend the meeting at St. Mark's?"

Toby nearly flinched in surprise. "Yes."

"There's one closer." Cragen held out a slip of paper. "Here's the address."

Toby took it. He slipped it in his pocket and tried to find words. "Um, thanks." He awkwardly shifted the subject to safer ground. "I don't work this weekend, right?"

"Right. Unless you want to put in some pro bono work." Cragen smiled and pointed. "There's the door."

Toby used it. He was almost starting to like Cragen. The guy was no fool, and if he didn't like him, he kept it to himself. Toby walked home. He was glad that it was close enough, but not so far that it wore him out. The meeting would start at seven. He had time to eat and call Angus. Tomorrow, he'd get to see his kids, and that would make the whole world right again.

"Hello, Beecher."

Toby had to control a sigh as he walked up to his parole officer. "Hey, Lennon."

"Glad to see you happy." Lennon smiled. "I need to see your new place."

"Of course." Toby led the way upstairs. "Detective Stabler helped me find it."

"I wondered how you got in a building full of cops."

Toby opened the door. He hated parole. "I have a meeting at seven."

"Keep your curfew. Eventually, I'll check."

Toby sat down and watched him search the place. It was annoying, but part of parole. He never had anything, and if he did, he wouldn't keep it here. How stupid did they think he was?

"You're not even thinking of buying a car, right?"

"Wouldn't dream of it." Toby rolled his eyes. He didn't have a license. "Is Stabler still looking at me?" It seemed a smart question to ask.

His parole officer shrugged. "If he is, you might as well confess and go back. He never quits a case."

Toby was so reassured by that. "Great." He felt the earth slip away again. Stabler was pretending to be nice so he could get a confession. It was just like something Chris would do. And Toby would have to smile because Cragen was watching. Toby put his head in his hands. He should've known that Stabler wouldn't turn it loose. Not after almost shooting him. Stabler was a liar, like Chris. A manipulator, like Chris, and they could both kiss Toby's ass.

"Good enough. Cragen tells me you're doing a good job. Keep it up."

Toby got the door and said some stupid shit to get rid of him. Stabler was coming after him. That was the thought that kept pounding through him. Toby knew enough to be scared. Stabler was a good cop. He cleared a healthy percentage of his cases. If he wanted to know what crimes Toby had committed, Toby was in trouble.

"Ah, fuck," Toby whispered. He wasn't hungry any longer.

********

Elliot only made it as far as his couch. His head twirled and the slight euphoria of too much beer was making him grin. Things were going better. Kathy hadn't called in three days - a relief - and he hadn't dreamed of Chris lately. Work was hell, but that was normal. He laughed softly and rubbed his crotch. It was nice to have his dick back. He wasn't sure where it had been, but he'd missed it. Some sex would be great. Where the hell he'd get it was a mystery, but he needed it. He took his hand away and shut his eyes.

"C'mon Cuz," Chris said with a big grin. "He wants it."

Elliot swallowed hard. "Not so sure, Chris."

"It'll feel good, and that's what matters, right?" Chris winked at him. "Can't get him pregnant either."

Elliot rubbed his face and then wished he hadn't. His father's fist had left a bruise. The pain made him feel defiant. His father would hate this. "You done this before?"

"Trust me."

Elliot did. He bolted awake, rolling off the couch and hitting the floor. The impact brought him back to the real world. Quickly, he popped open his trousers before he messed himself. Deep breaths and he fumbled. Yes. His brain cast about for someone to make this better, and he groaned. Chris was getting him into trouble again.

*********

Toby had learned how to shove his emotions aside in Oz, but there was no way he could do that now. His heart ached, his mistakes pounded into him all over again, and the cautious happiness on their faces made him want to weep. They'd hugged him, and he never wanted to let go, but he had, and they'd gone home with his brother. Home.

He stood on the sidewalk and shattered into ten thousand tiny pieces. For some reason, this hurt more than walking away from them in Oz. This did more than hurt. This made him want to give up. Who the fuck did he think he was fooling? He was still a goddamn loser. In Oz, he'd told himself over and over again that there was still time to love them. Still time to be part of their lives, but seeing them today, he knew that was nothing but another lie. A lie that had helped get him through the night in the darkest place on Earth. It was done now. He was out, and they would never love him. Not really. He'd let them down, betrayed them, and they'd never forget it.

"What's up, Beech?"

Toby heard Chris, but when he turned it wasn't him. The earth under his feet shuddered from more grief than a man should be asked to bear and it was a long moment before he could speak. "You're not him."

Stabler's eyes widened and he said something, but Toby didn't hear it. Toby walked down the sidewalk and tried to find something inside himself that might get him through this night. Some lie, some bit of nonsense, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing.

*********

Elliot frowned, but wasn't going to follow him. Tobias had looked devastated. His blue eyes had been full of unshed tears. Elliot wasn't sure he wanted to know why. He needed to put these groceries away, and he was going to see if there was a Saturday game on. Sighing, he watched Tobias nearly bump into some teenagers. They cursed at him, and he just hunched his shoulders.

"Shit," Elliot said. He had wanted to know what made Chris love Tobias. He still did, but he also wanted to hunker down and ignore the whole damn thing. It was the weekend. Moving quickly, he went to stuff his groceries in the refrigerator. Back out on the street, he spotted Tobias about two blocks away. Elliot followed him. He was on parole. He might hurt someone. Elliot had a responsibility to the public. He did, and it sounded good too.

*********

Toby didn't lash out at them. He didn't have it in him. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he headed for the bar that he knew was three blocks away. The fact that he knew about it was proof enough of his continuing addiction. The place looked like it had been there since the last war. He stood outside long enough to make a few people stare, and then he went in. It smelled good - beer, peanuts, unwashed tables, and men that needed to go home to their families. It was perfect. He sat at the bar and gripped the stained, old wood tightly.

"Ain't seen you before," the bartender said.

"Just moved in up the street," Toby replied. His mouth was watering. "Nice place."

"Hasn't been nice for twenty years. Alkies like you always lie." The bartender laughed, showing off the fact that he didn't have all his teeth. "Beer? Whiskey? Shooters?"

Toby tried to think. He tried to walk out, but his willpower was nonexistent tonight, and his ass was planted like a tree.

"Hey, Manny," Stabler said and clapped Toby on the shoulder. "Get us some cheeseburgers, fries, and Cokes, will ya?"

"You working?" Manny frowned.

"Usually am." Stabler sat down next to him. Toby had winced from the touch, but he hadn't had the balls to say anything or demand a bottle of whiskey. He didn't even want to look at not-Chris.

"Fuck." Toby wanted to say something meaningful. He wanted to ball him out. Tell him to fuck off. Force Stabler to leave. Nothing but a muttered curse word came from Toby's mouth though. The TV droned in the background. People were talking about their lives, and he wanted to get shit-faced drunk.

"What happened?"

"Nothing." Toby told the truth. "I'm a drunk. I need a drink. Move away if you can't watch."

Stabler cracked some peanuts. "How long you been sober?"

"Too long." Toby rubbed his lips. They tingled for it. He should've been stronger. From the very beginning of his life - he should have been fucking stronger! Always needing something more than he should. Booze, drugs, Chris: it was all the same. He leaned, smelled the beer-stained wood of the bar, and wanted to lick it.

"Shit. Let's go." Stabler got up and took a hold of him by the shoulder.

Toby resisted the pull. His craving for a drink spiraled quickly into anger, and he ripped his arm away, nearly falling down, and slamming into the man sitting next to him.

"Asshole!"

For a bare instant, Toby went somewhere else. The whiskey splashed against his shirt, the guy was up and angry, and Stabler looked thoroughly disgusted. Everything snapped back, and he was on his ass. Stabler got in the guy's face, and Toby took the chance to stumble out the door. He'd find another bar, one that didn't have Stabler in it. He smelled so good. He wanted to suck his shirt dry.

"Beecher, you stupid fucker."

Toby watched his small amount of freedom drain away. It was gone - like the love of his children. He'd broken his parole - again.

*********
Chapter Three - As you think in your heart, so are you. Proverbs 23:7

Elliot bought the guy a new drink, helped Manny clean up the mess, and got the food to go. He wasn't wasting these cheeseburgers. Tobias was long gone by the time Elliot made it out the door and headed for home. Tobias hadn't taken a drink. He might make it. Hopefully, he'd headed straight to a meeting.

There was a game on, and he settled in, ate some food, and tried not to worry. Tobias was an adult. He would get through this - whatever it was. At halftime, his phone rang.

"Stabler."

"I need some advice," Fin said in his slow way. "Just saw Beecher go through booking. Should I tell Cragen or not?"

"Shit!" Elliot grabbed his coat. "No. Don't tell him. Go stall. I'm on my way."

"I thought you wanted him gone."

"If he's gone, we have to file again!" Elliot slapped his phone shut and ran to his car.

*********

Toby didn't try to defend himself. He didn't say a damn word. None of it mattered. He was guilty, and he was going back where he belonged. The fact that he wasn't drunk didn't come into it. He'd served the rest of fifteen this time, and that might be long enough to see him dead. Putting his head down on his cuffed hands, he tried to muster up the strength to care.

"You sure messed up my weekend!" Lennon snapped. "If you were gonna get drunk, you should've picked a bar that I don't own half of!"

Toby didn't mention that no one had warned him. He rubbed his eyes. Booking didn't take long. The orange jumpsuit was next, and then the long walk to lockup. He saw Fin on the phone along the way and was a little surprised at the lack of a smirk. Cragen was going to have to find a new office gopher. That would never happen - not at minimum wage.

Fin shut his phone and caught up with them. "What's the charge?"

Toby didn't answer, but Lennon was happy to. "He's drunk. Violated his parole. Again!"

"He don't look drunk. He's walking steady." Fin got in front and stopped them. "Did you give him the test?"

"He reeked! He staggered out and nearly knocked me on my ass!" Lennon needed to get over it.

"Craig, Beecher here is a lawyer. You know he'll sue your ass if you don't give him the test."

Toby sighed. Now was his chance to jump up and down and protest his innocence. Fuck. "Stop it, Fin. Go away and gloat with Stabler. Play with some dead mice."

Fin glared. Lennon groaned. "He sure don't sound drunk. Crap." He threw up his hands. "Get him a damn test and then shove him in a holding cell."

"You bet," the officer said. Toby went along, did what he was told, and was relieved that the holding cell was empty. No chair, no cot, so he sat on the floor and let the concrete underneath his ass give him anchor. This was what he knew. This was what he'd become. The alcohol had numbed him, cursed him, and taught him what he really was - shit. He was shit. His kids knew it too. They knew it, and they'd never forget it.

Toby rocked back and forth slightly. There had been so many places where he could have made different choices - better choices. Chris might be alive. His father and son might be alive. If only . . .

"You sure about all this?"

"Craig, I wouldn't cover up for a skel. We were waiting for cheeseburgers, some guy spilled his drink on Beecher and pushed him on his ass. While I was cleaning up the mess, he stumbled out the door." Stabler should shut up and go home.

"Why didn't he say something?" Lennon yelled.

"Dunno. Maybe he figured he was screwed so he shut up." Stabler had it right, but he didn't know it.

Toby didn't move. He knew they were staring holes through him.

"I wasted Saturday on this!" Lennon wasn't happy.

It was Stabler that threw the locks on the cage door. "Come on. I got some clothes in my locker."

Toby had a brief, irrational desire to insist they send him away. He deserved it for Metzger - Nazi prick - if nothing else. But Stabler pulled him up to his feet, took the cuffs off, and herded him down the hallway. Toby went. He wanted to rip away, act like an ass, and maybe let Stabler hit him again, but his heart wasn't in it.

"Take that off." Stabler opened a locker.

Toby caught a glimpse of pictures of Stabler's family. He sat down on the bench, instead of obeying. "I thought you wanted me gone."

"Changed my mind." Stabler didn't look at him. He was digging around.

"But you think I killed him. You know I'm guilty. Why did you do this?" Toby rubbed his wrists.

Stabler hit him with some sweats and a T-shirt. "It won't bring him back, and I don't think you did it."

Toby still didn't move. "Everyone says you're just biding your time. I have to admit I'm confused."

"People are stupid. I see it every day." Stabler straddled the bench. "If I wanted you gone, you'd be gone. What the hell happened today?"

"I saw my kids," Toby said softly. He looked him right in the eye now. "They've given up on me. I always had these fantasies about the day I got out - the smiles, the laughter, the love. I never dreamed of the hesitation, the almost fear, the worry in their eyes, and the constant need for reassurance from my brother."

Stabler nodded. "And?"

"And nothing I do will ever make it right." Toby didn't fight the sob. "I threw it all away for booze, for Chris, and there isn't any way to get it back."

"So crawling back in the bottle will make it better?" Stabler made a disgusted noise. "You have to give them time. They're probably still in shock."

Toby pushed his palms into his eyes. Part of him wanted to blame the cop sitting across from him. He'd been on track until Stabler had shown up and fucked him over. Slowly, he pulled the zipper down. He should just give up.

"Tobias, don't quit on them. Not now. You managed to stay alive in the worst prison on the eastern seaboard. You beat the booze, the heroin, and the Nazis. Christ, man, now you have a shitty job and a halfway decent apartment. Don't quit now!"

"Now that's a pep talk. You coach Little League in your spare time?" Toby had to hide behind a joke because he knew Stabler was right. "If you'd have just shot me, I wouldn't feel so crappy!"

Stabler opened his mouth to retort, but Toby saw him freeze. Toby got to his feet and nearly cringed.

"Would you care to explain that, Beecher?" Cragen asked.

Toby shoved off the jumpsuit and dressed. "That time in the squadroom, if you remember, things did get a little out of hand. That's all."

"I hope that's all you meant." Cragen looked them both over. "I bumped into Craig Lennon in the hallway. He filled me in. Beecher, I suggest you go to a meeting."

"I will." Toby put his shoes back on. He looked ridiculous, but he didn't care. "Thanks for covering my ass, Stabler."

Stabler looked surprised. "Let's go get your wallet from booking."

Cragen nodded in apparent satisfaction. "You two almost sound like adults." He went out the door. Stabler breathed a small sigh of relief. Toby heard it, but he wasn't commenting on it. They got his wallet, and he took Stabler up on the offer of a ride. Toby didn't want to talk. He'd go to a meeting and then get some sleep. Things would be different tomorrow, if not better.

"How'd they look?" Stabler asked right before Toby went up the stairs.

Toby couldn't help but smile. "They're beautiful."

"Go to a meeting, Beech." Stabler went to his apartment. Toby didn't nod, but he was going. It didn't take long to get into some real clothes. He folded Stabler's and tried not to notice the smell. It was a good smell. Chris's smell and it made Toby ache. He forced it away and went downstairs.

"Come in!"

Toby pushed open the door. "Here. Thanks."

"Sure." Stabler was in his kitchen area. "You want your cheeseburger? You look hungry."

Toby put the clothes down on the arm of the sofa. He knew he should get the hell out of this apartment, but he was going to ignore his good sense. He usually did. "I am."

"Sit down. I'll heat it up. Manny makes the best cheeseburgers." Stabler grinned. "Thanks for not jamming me up with Cragen."

"The whole thing would sound like something from a Godfather movie anyway." Toby sat down at the small table. He was going to let Stabler be the waiter. "Not to mention that considering you had just saved me from going to Oz, it would have been rude."

Stabler brought him a soda. Toby thanked him and opened it. Their eyes met again, and it was Toby that looked away. He couldn't handle those eyes tonight. Stabler asked in a tone that wanted answers, "Why didn't you call me?"

Toby blew out a deep breath. "It's all I really know. I'm a skel. You said it, and it's very true. Don't even consider trusting me."

Stabler brought him a plate with a burger and fries on it. "I wouldn't."

Toby was glad to hear it. "Thanks for the food. I'd feel guilty, but it was your turn to buy."

"Keeping score, huh?" Stabler laughed and sat down across from him. "What drugs did you take in Oz?"

"Everything and anything I could put up my nose, even lint." Toby started eating, hoping to forestall further conversation. The burger was good. It made him feel less hollow on the inside. He took a drink of soda and asked a question of his own, "You're divorced?"

"Yeah." Stabler looked down at his wedding ring. It was telling that he still wore it. "I don't blame her."

Toby knew that was true. Stabler blamed himself. He was Catholic too, and that made it harder. Chris had explained it once. Toby told a little truth. "Chris was proud of you. Bragged about his cousin, the cop."

"Don't lie to me," Stabler snapped.

"I'm not. Chris trusted me. He knew I wouldn't tell anyone." Toby hadn't really believed it. "After lockdown, there's plenty of time to talk. Of course, Chris also told me that you hated him."

Stabler frowned. "I wonder why."

"Oh, he liked the pity on my face. I'd hold him and tell him that I loved him, even if no one else ever did." Toby had enjoyed that also. It had made him feel powerful, as if his love meant something. He finished the burger and watched Stabler worry about stories told. On any other day it would have been funny. Toby pushed the plate away. "Thanks. I feel like maybe I'll live now."

"You're going to a meeting, right?" Stabler took the plate to the sink.

Toby sighed and checked the time. "There's one in ten minutes. I'll only be a little late." He got to his feet. "And Stabler, you shouldn't worry about Chris's big mouth. No one is going to believe a skel with an ax to grind."

Stabler got his coat. "Come on. I'll drive you."

That wasn't an answer, and Toby knew he should say no, but he didn't. He went along for the ride, got out at the curb, and said, "Thanks."

"Stay out of trouble." Stabler clearly meant that. Toby went inside and downstairs. He was not going to drink today, and he was going to call his kids tomorrow. The rest of his life was optional.

********

Elliot drove away and made the impulsive decision to go see if his kids were home and if Kathy was still spitting mad about whatever had her panties in a twist lately. He should have been reassured by Tobias's talk about no one believing him. Elliot wasn't. He didn't like it that anyone knew about the times with Chris. It wasn't that he was ashamed. He squeezed the steering wheel. Yes, he was ashamed. He'd been young and foolish and he wanted it left in the past - not smirked over by Chris's boyfriend.

Tobias had nearly screwed himself over today. Elliot hoped he'd done the right thing, keeping him out of Oz. If Tobias killed someone now, it was Elliot's fault. He forced his hands to relax and turned on the radio. Chris had been proud of him. It was something to smile about, and he hoped it hadn't been another lie.

********

"How was lockup, Beecher?"

Toby rolled his eyes. He didn't even have his coat off. "Cozy. Needs more furniture though."

Munch laughed. He was having a great time. Toby hung up his coat next to Stabler's and refused to wonder where Stabler was lurking. He'd show up.

"Beecher! My office."

Toby went to get his ass chewed. He deserved it, but he didn't get paid enough to listen. Stabler was already in the office, and he looked pissed. Toby sat down to hear the bad news.

"Novak wants to borrow you for the day. I agreed. Take your coat." Cragen glared at Stabler. "Okay?"

Toby nodded. He didn't care. "Of course." He got to his feet. "Now?"

"Move on it."

Toby left before they started yelling at each other. He got his coat and went, but Stabler caught up with him in the hallway. Stabler said nothing until they were in the elevator. Toby prepared himself for yelling.

"You're going to Oz with her. Cragen won't let me go, and Novak seems to think you might come in handy," Stabler spat. "This is my damn case!"

"Fuck," Toby whispered. "Hey, you go. I'll stay here."

"My point exactly!" Stabler yelled. He took a deep breath. "You'll watch her back?"

"Of course. I'm not going to date her however." Toby wanted to make that clear. He understood Stabler's frustration, but Stabler would be killed in Oz. "It is too dangerous for you."

Stabler said nothing, but his glare was enough.

Toby got out of the elevator ahead of him. "If I don't come back, I have a will in my apartment."

"Not funny," Stabler growled. Toby left him in the hallway. He hadn't been joking, but it probably didn't matter. Novak was ready to go, and they were on their way. She drove. He read over the case file and tried not to pass out from anxiety. This was the last place he wanted to go.

"I don't get paid enough to do this kind of work."

"I'd imagine not." Novak didn't smile. Did she ever? "Think of it as pro bono."

"I do about thirty-nine hours of that a week." Toby flipped through the pages. "Are we going to do this often?"

"You work for Cragen. He works for me. Ergo, you work for me." She kept her eyes on the road.

"Clever. I bet you're a lawyer." Toby dug out his cell phone. He scanned through the memory until he found the number that had been pushed on him. The one he'd never wanted to call. He hit dial. "Sister Pete, it's Tobias."

"Tobias! How are you?" She sounded happy to hear from him.

"I'm doing okay. Listen, I'm coming to Oz today." He pretended not to hear her gasp. "Can you meet me at the front gate with any information you have on Nigel McFadden?"

"Yes, but you have a lot of explaining to do." She was pushing her glasses up her nose. "Soon?"

"About an hour. Thanks." He shut his phone and smiled. It was good to talk to her.

"Who was that?" Novak asked.

"Staff psychologist. She'll help in whatever way she can." Toby scanned the information again. "Do you know what cell block he's in?"

"No. Does it matter?"

"Well, I'm on terms with a few of the CO's." Toby shut the file. "You brought me for a reason."

Novak shot him a fast grin. "I did."

Toby didn't even try to relax back. It was going to be a long day, and if he got out alive, he'd be grateful.

********

Elliot tried not to worry, but he did. Novak could handle herself, and Tobias threw a good punch. They'd be fine. Unless they were shanked. He groaned softly and rubbed his face. It was his damn case. He should be there.

"Elliot, get with Fin and redo this canvass," Cragen said from behind him.

Elliot got to his feet. It was going to be a long day.

********

Toby kept telling himself to keep breathing. He knew now the depths of his stupidity on Saturday. Getting sent back here was the worst possible thing in the world. He'd never drink again, and he'd never break his parole, and he'd work wherever they told him to. He would be Lennon's bitch, if only he didn't have to come back.

"You don't seem to be breathing," Novak said.

"It's hard. This place . . . is hell." Toby had no other word to describe it. "McFadden knows your perp. I'm sure of it."

Novak nodded. "I am too. How can we get him to flip?"

"Have them get Ryan O'Reily." Toby nearly smirked. He had the solution to this problem. "Let me talk to him alone."

"Is it safe?" Novak frowned.

"Yes." Toby got to his feet. "You wait in Sister Pete's office."

"Sounds fine. Don't get shanked. Stabler will kill me." Novak picked up all the files and joined him.

Toby stayed slightly behind her as they went to Sister Pete's. "I think he'd jump for joy."

She didn't have time to answer, and Toby wasn't going to worry about it. It was ten minutes before O'Reily came through the door, and they were shaking hands.

"Beech, you stupid fuck, coming here!" O'Reily laughed.

Toby saw Novak's eyes widen. "Come on. We'll talk in private."

"Where?" O'Reily opened the door, and they were out in the hallway fast. "You with the bitch?"

"She's my boss." Toby rolled his eyes. He had to play this right, but it was good to see that nothing could kill the Irish. O'Reily grinned, and they were walking.

********

Elliot left out his frustration. "They should've been back by now!"

"She called about a half hour ago. They're fine. Beecher has a plan to flip him." Cragen shook his head. "She was laughing, but wouldn't tell me why."

"Great," Elliot grumbled. "They better call with the name."

"She will. Go find something else to do besides glare at me."

Elliot took his glare back to his desk. He hated waiting, and he should've gone, and he hoped that Tobias wasn't so traumatized that he ran out and got drunk.

"Settle down, El."

"Yeah, yeah," Elliot grabbed his straw to chew while he found something else to do.

********

"Call Stabler and give him all the details." Novak cleared the metal detector. Toby was right behind her. They were headed back, and he wanted to heave out a huge sigh of relief. He didn't. She would notice.

"Beecher, you can breathe again."

"I was fine," Toby lied. "It was good to see Sister Pete."

"She's clearly fond of you." Novak dug out her car keys. "Call him."

Toby checked his reception. "As soon as we get past the fence."

She nodded. "Good work in there. I may see about getting you a raise."

Toby wasn't getting his hopes up. "I'm just glad we're not dead." He checked again, saw that he had enough juice to get a call back to Stabler, and dialed. Stabler sounded irritated. Toby gave him the information quickly and concisely.

"I'm on it. Good work." Stabler clicked off. Toby put his phone away and tried not to smile. It felt good, but strange, to be on the right side of the law for a change. The ride to the city was quiet. Novak was not chatty, and Toby was glad. He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to relax. They'd let him leave. He was fine.

By the time they got back to the squadroom, the perp was in a room. Cragen pulled Novak aside. "What did you have to give McFadden?"

Toby wasn't sure if he should head to his desk or stay with Novak. It was nearly four. That was the good news. He could go home and have a small breakdown in an hour.

"We didn't give McFadden anything. Beecher took care of it." Novak smiled. "Is Stabler getting anywhere with our suspect?"

"He's ready to make a deal." Cragen nodded. "He's waiting on you."

"Excellent." Novak glanced over her shoulder. "Beecher, you want to be in the room?"

Toby instantly shook his head. "No. I'm sure Cragen has things for me to do." He was slightly flattered that she'd ask, but he had no business in there. He and Stabler would probably get in an argument. Novak left them, and Cragen took another step so they were close.

"What did you threaten him with?" Cragen was almost frowning.

Toby shrugged. "Prison is tough. Being in a gang is the only safe place to be. I simply explained the social structure and how he could fit into it."

"And he flipped?" Cragen's eyes were wide.

Toby nodded and headed for his desk. He didn't want to hash over the details or the fact that he owed O'Reily a favor and a hundred bucks. The money was nothing. He'd wire it tomorrow, but the favor could come around to bite him in the ass. O'Reily had a way of working things. Toby sat down at his desk and sighed at the pile of files. Everyone had decided that tossing them on his desk was much easier than attempting to file them. As if he didn't have a lounge to clean. He smothered a laugh, pushed his coat off, and stretched before starting on them. It was mindless work, and that was fine by him.

*********

Elliot set his alarm a little early so he could catch him before work. Tobias always walked, but this morning, he was getting a ride, whether he liked it or not. Elliot went upstairs, but before he could knock, Tobias pulled open the door.

"What?"

"Let's go get some donuts and talk for a minute," Elliot said with a smile that he knew was a charmer.

Tobias's shoulders slumped. "New guy buys?"

"Nah. I'll buy. Come on." Elliot laughed softly. He waited outside the door while Tobias got his coat. They went down the stairs shoulder to shoulder, and Elliot let himself really look at him. Chinos, comfortable shoes, long-sleeve shirt that he never rolled up, and an expensive leather coat: that's what covered the outside, but Elliot was starting to become fascinated with the inside. Tobias was mouthy, smart, impulsive, a neat freak, and right on the edge of being depressed. Elliot had seen it enough in his own face to recognize the symptoms.

"Stop staring at me," Tobias growled.

Elliot didn't react to that. If he did, he'd look guilty. He got in the car, buckled, and waited until Tobias was settled. "You impressed Novak, and that ain't easy."

Tobias looked straight at him. "It doesn't matter, Elliot. It's not as if she's going to hire me. This shit job is probably the best it's going to get."

"So the regard of other people means nothing to you?" Elliot didn't turn the key. He wanted to understand this. "Is it all about what you can get from them?"

Tobias flushed and shifted on his seat. "I can walk."

Elliot started the car and drove towards the nearest bakery. He should've kept his mouth shut, but he wasn't that kind of man.

"It used to mean something, before I came to understand that everyone wants to use me. It's nothing but words, so they can bend you over later." Tobias looked angry.

"Damn. No wonder you like Munch." Elliot thought he was a fairly cynical guy, but Tobias had him beat. He parked in front of the store. "Coming in?"

"Fuck."

Elliot chuckled and opened the door for him. "Did you get donuts in Oz?"

Tobias gave him the look of death. Elliot took that as a no. He ordered enough to fill Tobias's arms with boxes. Tobias gave a small grunt. "They'll make a huge mess with these!"

Elliot grinned. He paid the bill, picked up the coffees, and got the door again. When the donuts were stashed in the back seat, he handed Tobias the coffee. "You got him to flip. Thanks."

"Why was this case so important to you?" Tobias put on his seatbelt.

"They're all important, but that guy was running a child pornography ring. I hate that shit." Elliot didn't wait this time. He started for the house. "And I don't want anything from you."

"Really?" Tobias looked only out the window.

Elliot decided to tell the truth, but it didn't come easy. "Nothing that you wouldn't give."

Tobias said nothing, and Elliot didn't either. They took the donuts in the squadroom.

*********

Toby got the boxes up to the lounge without being torn apart by hungry cops. When he had everything in a semblance of order, he got one for himself and took it to his desk. Coffee and a donut - damn, this was living. He didn't even pretend to work.

"You look like a happy man," Munch said and laughed.

Toby swallowed. "The most heinous thing about being in prison is the lack of coffee. I would have shanked someone for the right to lick a discarded cup."

Munch rubbed his forehead. "The horror."

"Exactly." Toby did turn on his computer. He still didn't have internet, but he was seriously considering asking for it again. Munch wandered off, and Toby caught himself glancing over at Stabler's back. Stabler did want something. Toby knew it. His groin told him so. It didn't make any sense, but it was true.

Toby wiped his mouth and took his coffee to Cragen's office. "What's up for today?"

Cragen looked up at him. "No one told me there were donuts." He walked right past him. Toby went to wipe his face again.

*********

Elliot leaned back in his chair, propped his feet up, chewed his straw, and considered going home. It had snowed, and that always slowed the crime rate down. He'd never understood it, but it happened. Maybe people were just pissed at the snow, instead of each other.

Benson had left about an hour ago. The squadroom was as quiet as it ever got, and his thoughts drifted to his family. Kathy had quit calling. They had a schedule now, and they followed it. He got the kids on Saturdays after five, and that was it for the week. Kathleen and Maureen knew that if they wanted to see him, they had to be there. So far, he hadn't missed a Saturday. It was coming, but he hoped it could wait.

Elliot caught a glimpse of blond hair over his shoulder. "You're working late."

"I had to take an hour to see my parole officer." Tobias didn't come close to talk. Elliot turned a little to see that Tobias went to his desk. They hadn't exchanged anything more than shop talk in two weeks. Elliot had left him alone - backed off. Oh, he'd watched him, but nothing else. Tobias suddenly looked at him. "You got a problem?"

"Nope." Elliot grinned. "I like your new glasses."

"Right," Tobias said sarcastically. He was a master of it.

Elliot flipped his straw into the trash.

"What's the verdict?" Tobias got out his calendar that he marked every day. Elliot didn't pretend not to understand. Tobias had known he was being watched - being judged. He was no fool. Elliot put his feet on the floor and turned off his computer. He wasn't sure he wanted to answer that question.

"Jury is still out." Elliot put his pen away, straightened the mess, and stood.

Tobias did the same. He pushed his hair back. "I've always found genetics fascinating. You look like him, but you are so very different."

"I've done my share of crappy things." Elliot was willing to live with the guilt, and he had a feeling that Tobias understood that perfectly. "Want a ride? It's snowing."

Tobias seemed to think about it. "St. Mark's is having this thing tonight. I'm going there."

Elliot almost offered to take him, and then he bit it off. "You Catholic?"

"Uh, no. I don't think they'd take me, but it seems to be the religion that I'm most comfortable with." Tobias went to get his coat, and Elliot followed him. They went out the door together, and Elliot was forced to admit that he liked him. Liked him.

"Tobias, I don't blame you any longer." Elliot tried to control the blush that wanted to creep up his neck.

Tobias stopped on the stairs. "Well, I probably blame me enough for both of us. You going home?"

Elliot shrugged. That little apartment wasn't his home, but he wasn't going to bitch about it. He went towards his car and didn't look back. He'd said enough. It'd had taken a while but he knew why Chris had loved Tobias. He knew it all too well.

*********

Toby helped Father Michael put the chairs away. It was a small thing. Everyone else had places to go and people to see. He didn't. The less time he spent in his apartment the better. It was nice and all, but it was too close to Elliot's.

"Thanks for your help, Tobias."

"No problem, Father." Toby racked the last chair. "Anything else you need done?"

Father Michael laughed softly. "You've done enough. But, we will see you on Sunday, right?"

"Of course." Toby had started helping out with the dinner St. Mark's served on Sundays to the homeless. It was something to do, and he'd rather do than sit around. He'd sat around for years. He picked up his coat. "Just out of curiosity - do you know Detective Stabler?"

"Yes. Good man." Father Michael shut off the lights, and they went out together. "Is he a friend of yours?"

Toby told the truth. "I don't think he likes me. I work in his precinct."

"Really?" Father Michael looked slightly stunned now. "I had no idea."

"It's part of my parole." Toby hadn't told his 'story' yet. He'd spoken in broad generalities when asked. "I'm an ex-con, Father."

Father Michael stopped walking. "I see."

Toby stuffed his hands in his pockets. He was ashamed, but it had been important to tell the truth. "I haven't been out very long."

"I have the feeling that you're not Catholic so I won't burden you with a lecture about penance and confession." Father Michael frowned.

"Well, I've heard it all before so I'll just fill in the blanks." Toby shrugged. "You still want me to come on Sundays?"

"Now more than ever." Father Michael nodded. He sighed. "Tobias, it's what you do today and tomorrow that's important. I'm not going to condemn you for past sins."

Toby raised his eyebrows. "That's a first. Thanks, Father. I'll see you Sunday." He trotted up the stairs and out the door. The snow was still swirling, and he started walking. The city was beautiful, but it was cold, and he zipped his coat. These last couple of weeks, he'd found a small routine. He worked, he went to group, and he helped out at St. Mark's. It wasn't much, but the best part was Saturday. Angus hadn't missed a Saturday yet. A snowflake landed on Toby's face and he got the message. Tomorrow, he was out of luck. Emails and phone calls would have to be enough.

"Hey! You trying to freeze to death?"

Toby stopped and looked at the car. He sighed and got in. No use arguing about it. "Hey, El."

"You nuts?"

Toby laughed. "Snow is fun. Haven't seen it in a very long time." He shivered into his coat and stuck his feet closer to the heater. "What the hell are you doing? Stalking me?"

"I was heading home when I saw your frozen ass." Stabler - Elliot - laughed as if the idea was ridiculous, which it was.

Toby looked him over again. A little taller than Chris and stronger on the inside and handsome, even when he was tired. Elliot was . . . nice. It was disconcerting. Sure, he was stubborn and opinionated and a cop, but he was one of the good guys. That trip out to the pier had been a case in point. He should have shot him.

"Stop staring," Elliot growled.

"Sorry," Toby muttered. "My eyeballs are frozen."

Elliot drove faster, and they were at the apartment building quickly. They both checked their mail, and Toby was surprised that he had a letter, not just a bill. He smiled. Holly was a great kid. Elliot walked away without a look back.

Toby almost reached for him. "Thanks," he said softly.

"You got lucky." And Elliot was gone into his apartment.

Toby went up to his with a small smile. He flipped on the lights, brewed some coffee, and read his letter. It made him warm on the inside. He hung it up with magnets on the fridge, got his coffee, and went back to his bedroom. Quickly, he changed into some sweats and a sweatshirt. It wasn't too early for bed, and while he was tired, he couldn't face the solitude of it. Not now. Later. He slept on the couch with the TV droning in the background more than he'd ever admit. Sitting down on the couch, he reflected on the irony that was prison. He'd always felt so alone, surrounded by hundreds of men, but this place, this place was solitary. He told himself that he liked it, but it rang a little false. It was a relief not to have to worry hourly about being shanked. However, he now understood why some men went straight back to prison. They couldn't deal with this - this - silence. He clicked on the TV at the same time there was a knock on the door.

"Come in!" Toby knew who it was.

Elliot pushed open the door. He looked . . . unsure of himself. "Coffee?"

"Have some. I was cold." Toby tucked his feet under his knees and turned on the news. He didn't ask why Elliot was here. He honestly didn't care. Just the sound of someone else breathing was welcome. With coffee, Elliot settled into the other end of the couch. He held out a picture. Toby took it. It was Chris, and he looked happy. "How old is he?"

"It was after he got out of Lardner." Elliot took a sip. "It's the day we got our tattoos."

"No shit?" Toby looked closer. Sure enough, there it was, all shiny and new. "That fucking liar. He told me he got it in Vegas!"

"Who said we weren't in Vegas?" Elliot raised one eyebrow. "I was just out of the service. Chris just out of prison. Kathy was mad as hell, but I went."

"Wow. I'd have murdered you." Toby looked up and flushed. "If we were married."

Elliot laughed. "I think she wanted to, but I came home with more money than I'd left with, and that settled her down."

"Wait. You have one too?" Toby hadn't seen it.

"Yep. Wanta look?" Elliot was teasing him. Toby was sure of it. He shook his head and tried not to picture it. Elliot and Chris seemed jumbled together for a second, and he couldn't decide if he should be ashamed that he found them both so damn attractive.

Toby focused on Las Vegas again - to get his mind out of the gutter - he knew that Elliot had won his money fairly, but Chris had been running ponzis. Chris hadn't mentioned that Elliot was there, but since they'd been fighting, he wouldn't have. It had all been so fucked up.

"He's so handsome," he said softly.

"You sure that ain't me?" Elliot looked extremely amused.

Toby looked again. Now he wasn't sure. He flipped it over. Chris Keller was written on the back. He smiled. "Where's your picture?"

Elliot shrugged. He was concentrating on his coffee and the news now. Toby put the picture down between them. He'd loved that man so damn much, and he didn't regret it, but it had ended so horribly. A big part of him never wanted to love or trust again, and that was a problem with Elliot in the picture now.

"What happened to Bonnie?" Toby asked softly. It was a loose end that had bothered him for longer than he'd care to admit.

Elliot gave him a funny look. "Why?"

"Chris told me she was sick - cancer." Toby shouldn't have believed him. "I went to buy her some drugs and was arrested. Chris had called the police."

"I bet you were pissed." Elliot tilted his head. "That's why you were arguing with him."

"Yes." Toby wasn't going to lie about it now. "Bonnie - is she dead?"

Elliot bit his lower lip and then nodded. "Yeah. She had ovarian cancer. Never really had a chance by the time they found it." He hesitated. "You were doing a good thing for all the wrong reasons."

"Drugs are drugs." Toby wished he'd have been smarter. Chris had manipulated him so easily. Toby stared at the young man in the picture. "I'm over the anger. Now, I just . . . miss him."

The silence was as awkward as any he'd ever sat through, but he didn't know what else to say. They drank their coffee and exchanged a few small glances. He was sorry that Bonnie was dead. It was barely possible that her illness had pushed Chris to make a decision that he wouldn't have otherwise. Toby knew cutting him slack was stupid, but he couldn't stop doing it.

"You like working at the house?" Elliot asked quietly, interrupting Toby's thoughts.

"It's not bad. Not exactly mentally challenging, but it's got to be better than working in fast food." Toby liked it more than he'd tell. "Cragen's a good guy."

"Usually, but don't cross him." Elliot sounded as if he knew. "Anyone still giving you shit?"

Toby tilted his head to the side. "Why? Are you going to beat them up?"

"Just a short conversation." Elliot grinned. Toby laughed like he was supposed to, but a tiny shiver skipped down his spine. Elliot finished, "Nowhere near water of course."

"Of course." Toby slipped his hand through his hair. He would be a fool to forget that Elliot was a dangerous man, like his cousin. Elliot operated on the right side of the law, but he was still capable of violence. Toby was very certain that he didn't want to involve himself again with that kind of man. "You lonely?"

Elliot's grin slid away. He drank some more coffee. "You want me to leave?"

"Elliot, you scare me," Toby said the first words that came to him, and he could see they'd struck hard. "I don't know what you want and I don't know what you'll do to get it."

"That's honest." Elliot put his coffee down. "Keep the picture."

"Thank you." Toby wasn't going to turn it down. He didn't have anything of Chris's except a twinge in his right wrist when it was cold, like now. "I do like you though, and it worries me."

Elliot got to his feet, brushing his hands down his jeans. "I'm worried too. I should hate your guts, but I don't."

Toby had no words to answer that. He was glad that Elliot didn't hate him. He'd live longer. Elliot went to the door, but hesitated slightly. Toby couldn't smile. It wasn't in him.

"Thanks."

Elliot gave him a short nod and was gone. Toby got up, locked the door, and went back to sit. He stared at the picture instead of the TV. It droned on.

*********

Elliot finished watching the news before he went to bed. He tossed and turned, wishing that there was a warm body next to him.

"Damn," he breathed into the dark. He was a fool.

*********

Toby felt a prickle at his neck and turned in his chair. Elliot, Munch, and Cragen were staring at him from over near Elliot's desk.

Elliot shook his head. "We usually use Fin."

"He's worshipping the porcelain god." Munch shrugged. "Toby's all we got."

Cragen sighed. "He's too preppy."

"He's got the mouth," Elliot said.

Toby got to his feet and went to them. "Guys, I can hear you."

Elliot rolled his eyes. "We need someone to go in lockup with our suspect. Pump him for information."

"Fin is usually the guy for that." Cragen put his hands on his hips. "Isn't Rodriquez here today?"

"Vacation," Munch said. "Toby can do it."

Toby rubbed his face. "Do I have to?"

Cragen shook his head and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "No. If you don't want to help, go back to your desk and that's the end of it."

Elliot said nothing. Munch stared at the floor as if he'd found something interesting. Toby knew he could do it, but he wasn't sure he wanted anyone to see that side of him.

"Do I have your word that you'll let me out?" Toby was worried about that.

"Those files aren't putting themselves away," Elliot drawled - the smartass. "Trust me. I'm coming to get you."

Toby caught the look of reassurance from Cragen. That helped him make up his mind. "I'll do it, but I want combat pay."

Cragen laughed. "I'll bring donuts tomorrow."

"Good enough." Toby took his glasses to his desk, pushed his hair back, and shook out his shoulders.

Elliot was suddenly right behind him. "You sure?" The words were soft and low and sent a shiver down Toby's spine to lodge in his groin.

"Fill me in while we walk." Toby trusted him, and it was more than scary. He listened to the run down on the way to the locker room. "So, you just want me to find out if he did it? That's all?"

"Sarcasm is ugly." Elliot leaned against the wall. "You look too preppy. You mind if I get you a jumpsuit?"

"Yes." Toby wasn't doing that. He opened his locker. He'd appropriated one without asking when he'd started lifting weights after work. "I have some scruffy clothes here."

"Unbelievable," Elliot said with a laugh. "We can only hold him twenty-four hours without some evidence to book him. I need some leverage to help me in the room with him."

"Hello. I was a lawyer." Toby stripped down to his boxers. He folded everything neatly and stowed them in his locker. "Why will he talk?"

"He's nervous. I think he'll want to blow off some steam."

Toby put on his black wife-beater that he lifted weights in and his gray sweat pants. "Where the hell is his lawyer?"

"He hasn't asked for one."

"I wonder why not? Hasn't he seen a cop show or two?" Toby tied his tennis shoes and looked at Elliot. "You read him his rights?"

"Of course!" Elliot looked mildly insulted. "Some perps are dumb. Trust me on that."

Toby wasn't convinced. "Okay. This is as bad as I get without skipping a shave or two."

"Now you look scrawny, but still clean." Elliot rubbed his face. "I ain't got any other options."

Toby flexed his arms. He was ready, and it was fun that Elliot didn't have a clue what was about to happen. They went out, and he waited until they had one corner left. He stopped. "Elliot, are you ready?"

"What for?" Elliot looked confused, and Toby nearly giggled.

"Your job is to get me in that cell. Think you can do it?" Toby smiled. This was a change from filing and answering the phone. "You pussy bitch."

Elliot's eyes blazed, and the fight raged around the corner and down the hallway. Toby gave no quarter and asked for none. He cursed and fought until Elliot literally threw him into the cage. The door slammed hard, and Toby rushed back to rattle it.

"You fucker! I'll get you for this!" Toby whipped around to curse at his cellmate. "Who the fuck are you?"

"Shit." The guy, Leroy Butler, backed up. "Settle down. I ain't the enemy."

Toby rubbed his nose and sniffed. "Got any blow on you?"

"No!" Butler shook his head fiercely. "What are you here for?"

Toby kicked the door again. This guy did want to talk. He paced back and forth. "Broke my fucking parole. I'm fucking screwed now. Fucking Stabler!"

Butler sat on the cot and put his back to the wall. "I didn't do shit, but here I am."

Toby laughed. Cursing at Elliot was fun. He pushed futilely against the fencing. "You think I'm some stupid fuck? We're all guilty."

"No. No. No. You're smart. I can see that." Butler burrowed into his coat. He was scared. Toby knew a pussy when he saw one. Butler dropped his eyes. "I didn't do nothing. They ain't got nothing, and they have to let me go."

Toby didn't answer. He glared and paced some more. This might be easy. "You're the one who's a stupid fuck. Let you go? Right. Sheesh."

Butler nodded. "It's the law."

"Cops do whatever the fuck they want since nine eleven." Toby heaved out a huge sigh and slid down to sit on the floor. "Fuckers. God damn, I hate cops."

"They keep us safe."

"From pricks like me? Is that what you mean?" Toby flashed to his feet and got right in Butler's face. "You ain't no better than me!"

Butler practically cowered. "I didn't do shit. I didn't! My wife up and disappears with some guy. She winds up dead, and they beat down my door."

"Of course they did." Toby rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. "You did it!"

"I didn't kill the bitch. I didn't even want to. She was gone, milking some other guy for all his money." Butler wiped the sweat from his forehead. "I finally have two cents again."

"That's why you killed her." Toby did his best to look disgusted. "So she'd stay gone, like forever. Hey, I understand. I killed my fair share of fucks who wanted my money. No big deal."

Butler bit his lip. "I didn't do it."

Toby sighed. He believed him. "You need a lawyer, ya stupid fuck."

"I ain't giving him my money!" Butler put his head in his hands. "They have to let me go. They have to."

Toby groaned. "Damn. You're screwed, buddy."

Butler was about ready to cry. Toby let it drop. He knew the truth. Ten minutes turned into thirty, and finally, Elliot came down the hallway, unlocked the door, and said, "Come on, Butler. We need to talk."

Toby crossed his arms. "Go fuck him good, Stabler."

"Shut yer yap, Beecher." Elliot pointed at him. "Stay back or I'll kick your ass."

Toby laughed. "Kiss it instead."

Elliot slammed the door hard and locked it. Toby went to stretch out on the cot. His work was done.

*********

Elliot put Butler in a room, left someone with him, and stepped out to talk to Cragen. "Well?"

"Go get Beecher."

Elliot nodded. He opened the door and said, "Wake up, sunshine."

Tobias got up and stretched. "I think I'm going to have a bruise."

"You ain't the only one. Come on." Elliot glared. They went back to Cragen without discussing the case.

Tobias didn't waste any time. "He didn't do it."

"You're sure?" Cragen asked.

"That guy still has faith in the justice system. Trust me. Get out there and find the real perp." Tobias hooked his thumb at the window. "He can probably tell you who she was dating, but he didn't whack her."

Munch came up to join the conversation. "Toby's right. He didn't do it."

Elliot believed. He went in the room to get some information of him and get moving. The real perp was out there somewhere. It took the rest of the day and part of the night, but they cleared the case, and he was sitting at his desk yawning when Cragen came in with donuts. Tobias claimed the boxes, taking them upstairs, and Munch leaned his hip against Elliot's desk.

"Toby can trash talk with the best of them. And he looked insane." Munch laughed. "He's better than Fin."

Elliot had found time to watch the surveillance tape. His curiosity had gotten the better of him. "Butler about shit himself."

Munch nodded. "You got bruises?"

"A couple," Elliot growled. "Tobias has really done the time. It wouldn't pay to forget it."

"True." Munch didn't look worried. "Want me to get you a donut?"

"Nah." Elliot just wanted some sleep. He'd wavered between alarmed and amused, watching Tobias on the tape. Tobias had shown a completely different side of himself. Someone who was slightly crazy. Elliot would bet anything that Chris had found that a turn on. Chris loved wildness. He loved people who weren't afraid to be crazy. Tobias came down the stairs with a donut and coffee.

Elliot raised his voice. "Tobias, did you enjoy kicking my ass?"

"I've had less fun." Tobias came over to Elliot's desk. "You thought I was a wimp."

"Ya are a wimp." Elliot smiled to see a spark of anger in Tobias's eyes. "Munch calls you Toby."

"I noticed." Tobias frowned. "Nuns and my mother call me Tobias. Oh, and Nazis."

Elliot didn't want to be grouped with nuns or Nazis. "So you prefer Toby?"

"I'd prefer you didn't talk to me." Tobias - Toby - grinned like a crazy man and walked off. Elliot rubbed his face and decided to go home. He needed about ten hours of sleep. "Hey, Cap, I'm headed home."

Cragen nodded. "Good. Take tomorrow. OT is killing me this month."

Elliot cleared his desk. He had some files so he took them to Toby. "Good job with Butler."

"Was Munch in the cell next to us?" Toby slapped the files down on a stack.

"Two cells down. Yeah." Elliot grinned. "You ain't a cop."

Toby stood, and they were face to face. "Go get some sleep. You look like hell."

"Thanks." Elliot wanted to say something else, but the words stuck. He picked up Toby's donut and took a bite.

"I don't want that back." Toby looked slightly disgusted, but then laughed softly. "Go home, El."

Elliot took the donut and left. They hadn't really said anything, but he knew Toby didn't hold the tussle on the way to lockup against him. It seemed important. Elliot went home. He was too tired not to sleep.

"Chris, I like girls."

Chris grinned in his way. "So do I. But this ain't so bad."

"It's a sin!" Elliot wanted to dash out the door. His aunt wasn't home, and Chris was up to his usual tricks. "We'll go to hell."

"Going there anyway. Might as well have fun today." Chris laughed. "Don't worry. He won't tell anyone."

"How can you know that?" Elliot did not want a reputation as a butt lover.

"I told him I'd kill him." Chris's eyes were wide - crazy looking.

Elliot was more scared than he'd ever been in his life. "I gotta go. My dad's gonna beat my ass."

Chris shrugged. "Better hope he never fucks it."

Elliot hurried home. He hid in his room. Chris was headed for trouble, and Elliot didn't have the balls to go with him. His dad was right. He was a wimp.

Elliot thrashed awake; his breath coming hard in the dark. He sat up, rubbed his face, and got himself under control. It was a sin. He was going to hell. Shit.

********

Toby didn't see Elliot until the next evening. Group had ended early on account of the weather, and he went back to his apartment because he had nowhere else to go. He stopped dead right inside the door, wishing the earth would swallow him up.

"Just wait one minute." Elliot fumbled for his keys. "I wanna check my mail."

"C'mon, honey." She was tall, like Elliot. Pretty. Blonde hair. Legs long enough to wrap around a man's waist. Toby swallowed hard - his cock hardened fast and his legs were so damn jealous.

Elliot got his mail. "All right. Now where were we?"

She fondled and kissed him right there, and Toby pressed his back to the door. Maybe they wouldn't notice him.

"Hey, Beech." Elliot pulled his lips away.

"Uh, hi." It was Toby's turn to bumble his keys out. He tried very hard to focus on his mail, not her hand groping Elliot's groin. Elliot took her down the hallway, and Toby breathed out a sigh of relief. Toby's cock pulsed and he grabbed his mail to hurry up the stairs. He slumped on his couch and tossed his mail away. That lucky bitch.

********

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