Time Served, part II


Chapter Four - Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. Acts 20:35

Elliot worked the streets all morning, caught some lunch on the sidewalk, and ended up back at his desk by one. A pile of paperwork was waiting on him, and he glanced over at Benson. "I'll give you a twenty to fill out the fives on this one."

"Forget it. I have to get ready for court tomorrow." Benson didn't even look up. "Make Beecher do it."

Elliot was tempted. He looked over his shoulder. Toby wasn't at his desk. Elliot sighed. He was out of luck. Then he noticed the stack of files. It was higher than usual. Curiosity got the better of him and he wandered into Cragen's office.

"Is Toby around?"

Cragen shook his head. "Called in sick."

Elliot didn't quiz him further. Toby might have caught the flu from Fin or he might be drunk on his ass. Elliot went back to his paperwork. He'd check on him later. The judge had wanted him to after all.

*********

Toby went to pack three times, and each time he chickened out. His stomach roiled again, and he dry-heaved in a convenient trash can. It might have been the flu, but he thought it was stress. Going to work and facing Elliot had been impossible. The leggy blonde still lingered in Toby's eyes. Toby didn't blame him, but it had reminded him so much of Chris and his adventures.

Chris. Toby swallowed hard and lowered his head into his arms. He was such a damn pussy. A real man would have gone to work, clapped Elliot on the back, and let him brag about the length of her legs. Maybe he could have done it before Elliot had forgiven him. That's what it had been - forgiveness. Toby had sucked it up like only a drunk could. He had pretended not to care, but it had been a lie. His stomach ached and he tried to sip some Sprite.

His luggage was still out on the bed, and he curled up around it. He was going to give up his children and a measure of freedom because Elliot had gotten laid? It seemed ridiculous. It was stupid. He put his arm over his eyes and tried to rest.

A pounding on the door jerked him awake, and he stumbled up and to the door. He yanked it open. "What the fuck do you want?"

Elliot narrowed his eyes. "I'm checking on you - like a good neighbor would."

"You mean like a nosy cop would." Toby felt his stomach lurch, and he abandoned the door for the bathroom. He couldn't hear or see for a moment, and he sagged when his body had finished betraying him. "Fuck," he whispered. He knew he had the flu now, but Elliot definitely wasn't making it any better.

"Damn. You're sick. Here I thought you were drunk." Elliot handed him a wet towel.

"No such luck," Toby said and sat on the floor. He wiped his face, leaning his head back. "I have money. Take some and leave."

Elliot laughed. "You're bribing me?"

Toby groaned. He shut his eyes and prayed for death. "Yeah."

Elliot helped him up and took him back to the bed. "You're moving out? Today? While yer puking?"

"Shut up. Just shut the fuck up." Toby tried to hide his head. He also wanted Elliot to leave and never come back. "If I throw a donut out the door, will you chase it?"

"Got any donuts?" Elliot leaned against the wall, his hands in his pockets and a slight smile on his face. He looked good, and Toby thought he couldn't be too sick if he could still notice. Elliot zipped the luggage back up and tossed it in the closet. "You're not moving out."

Toby wished he had the strength to curse him.

"I'm gonna go change clothes. I'll be back." Elliot must have left, but it seemed as if he were back quickly. "Can you keep anything down?"

"Go away," Toby muttered. He just wanted to rest. Elliot made a funny sound. He felt Toby's forehead, muttered something, and left the room. Toby's shoulder was shaken. "What?"

"Take these."

Toby managed to sit up, take the Tylenol, and sip the water. "Nurse Rachted, please smother me."

Elliot laughed at him. Toby didn't argue as he was manhandled under the covers. He held his aching stomach and tried to breathe shallow. Elliot pushed Toby's hair off his face.

"Fin said it was a twenty-four hour thing."

Toby tried to be comforted. Even in his dazed state, he was keenly aware of how Elliot's fingers had felt on him. "You get laid?"

Elliot coughed. "We ain't discussing my sex life."

Toby took that for a yes. He'd been stupid to ask, but it had been all he'd thought about since his seen that blonde stroking her fingers across Elliot's bulge. Damn. "I haven't had sex in years," he said softly. "Two or three. I don't know."

"You might as well be married." Elliot sounded close, and Toby opened his eyes to see him in a chair near the bed. "Sleep instead of talk."

Toby shut his eyes again. "I have seven months to go."

"I know."

Toby was surprised by that. Elliot knew? Was it possible that he cared? Toby hated to even guess about that. The fucker had gotten laid after all. His thoughts finally slowed down, and he slept.

********

Elliot wandered out to the television after Toby fell asleep. Toby was clearly exhausted from puking all day. He'd sleep all night. Elliot turned on the news and got comfortable on the couch. He hoped to hell that he didn't get this damn bug that was going around.

The cell phone on the coffee table rang, and Elliot decided to answer it. He saw that it was Angus Beecher before he opened it. "Hello, Angus. Toby's sick."

"Who is this?" Angus sounded confused, but nothing like Toby.

Elliot hesitated, but he was an honest man. "Elliot Stabler."

"What the hell are you doing to him?" Angus went right to being pissed off. "I'm calling the police."

"I am the police." Elliot made sure his voice was calm. "He's fine. Got this bug that's going around the precinct. I came over to check on him."

"And kill him? Make it look like an accident?" Angus was not settling down.

Elliot sighed. "Give me a damn break."

"No. You're an awful person, just like Chris Keller," Angus spat. "Get the hell out of there."

Elliot nearly shut the phone, but something held him back. "Don't bring the kids tomorrow. He's too sick and probably contagious."

Angus took a deep breath. Elliot heard him. "If he turns up dead, I will come after you."

"Good to know. Later." Elliot turned off the phone. He slowly put it back on the coffee table. Angus might make the drive into the city. Elliot sighed softly and rubbed his face. He had treated Toby badly, but that was behind them. They were friends. Weren't they? Sure, Toby didn't like to look at him, and he was rude a lot of the time, but that was nothing. Unless he really didn't like him. Elliot figured he probably deserved some hatred and scorn. Shit.

Elliot checked on Toby on and off throughout the night, forcing Tylenol on him twice more. Toby had a fever, but he seem to be through puking. That was good. He muttered some curse words each time Elliot woke him. It was no surprise. He had to feel like shit.

"Damn blonde groping you," Toby muttered. "Who the fuck does she thinks she is?"

Elliot got a washcloth and wiped Toby's face. Toby was half-asleep, fevered, and exhausted. He didn't know what he was saying. Elliot told himself that twice. He would not feel guilty about finally getting laid. He'd used a condom. It had felt pretty good. He was a man, damn it. Not a pansy. Not a butt lover. He groaned and leaned his own face into the washcloth.

Toby patted him on the knee. "It's okay."

Elliot looked up quickly, but Toby's eyes were shut. "Go to sleep."

Toby smiled. When he really smiled, it was handsome on him. Usually, he faked it or looked pyschotic just to mess with people. Elliot left him to sleep some more. The night crawled, and Elliot fell asleep some time after the TV finally went to snow.

********

Toby had no idea where he was when he opened his eyes. Not his pod. Not his cell. Definitely not the hole. What the fuck?

"Think you could eat some toast?"

"Chris?" Toby's brain clanged with shock. It kicked in two seconds later. "Elliot."

"Got it in two tries." Elliot didn't look amused. "Toast?"

"No. Thanks." Toby threw the covers back and put his feet on the floor. He was surprised when the room spun once before settling. He knew where he was now. The sheets smelled of sweat, but he thought his fever was gone. He felt as weak as a kitten. "You're here?"

"Yes." Elliot caught him when he stood up. Toby was ashamed that he clung to him, but Elliot didn't push him away. "Got it?"

Toby locked his knees. "Yeah. Thanks." He managed to get moving towards the bathroom. "I'm sorry."

Elliot was right with him. "You were sick."

"Guess so." Toby straightened his spine. "Okay. I'm not going to pass out. Let me clean up."

"And then you can try to eat." Elliot didn't follow him in the bathroom.

Toby cringed. He'd try. First, he brushed his teeth. And then he took a shower, leaning against the wall part of the time, but it felt good to be clean. Wrapping a towel firmly around his hips, he made it back to his bedroom. The sheets were gone. Clean ones were on, and Toby let his legs give up.

"At least you're clean." Elliot smiled.

Toby stared at the face he'd loved. He'd loved Chris. He didn't feel anything for this man. Not one thing. He was empty. Fuck. He was a damn liar. "I just need some more sleep," he said stupidly.

Elliot tossed him some boxers and waited. Toby stared down at them. Finally, he sighed, stripped off the towel and put them on. Elliot had seen the entire package now. Not that he'd care. Toby crawled under the covers. He shoved his hair back and shut his eyes.

"I'll be here," Elliot said, scooping up the towel.

Toby kept those words close. He wasn't alone, and he slept again, exhausted.

*********

Elliot got the door quickly before it woke up Toby.

"I'll be damned." The tall, blond man's eyes widened. "Chris Keller in the flesh."

"Not exactly." Elliot didn't like the look on this guy's face. "Who are you?"

"Angus Beecher." Angus put his hand on the door. "I'll give you five seconds to get the hell out."

Elliot couldn't resist the bait. "Or what?"

"Or I'll shoot you dead with the gun that I'm licensed to carry." Angus meant it. Elliot was smart enough to see it.

"I'm a cop. Not a smart choice."

"A cop that's trespassing and has a grudge against my brother and attempted to murder him once already." Angus wasn't pulling his punches. "I'm at three."

Elliot didn't rush. He made sure he had his cell phone. "He's asleep. Don't wake him."

"Two."

Elliot waited another second and then left. Forcing a confrontation would be stupid, and Angus was clearly angry. Whether or not he had a gun, he was dangerous. Elliot went to his apartment. He wasn't due at work today. He'd sleep for a few hours. Toby was going to be fine. He was. Elliot would see him at work.

*********

Toby stretched and woke up again. He felt stronger. "Angus?"

"How are you, big brother?" Angus moved from the chair to the bed. "You look like shit."

"Thanks." Toby fought to sit up, and Angus helped him. "You're here?"

Angus laughed. "Of course. You should've called."

Toby felt slightly ashamed. He timidly told the truth. "I didn't want to bother you."

"Tobias, you're my family. You're not a bother." Angus shook him. "You're stuck down here in the city alone, and we all worry about you."

"At least I'm not in Oz," Toby said tiredly. "Where's Elliot?"

"I told him to get out or I'd shoot him." Angus was fierce, angry.

Toby stared at him. When had his brother become so grown up? And stupid? "Shoot him? He's a cop."

"He was trespassing," Angus growled.

"You carry a gun?" Toby couldn't believe it.

"Yes." Angus nodded. "He's nothing but another Keller. Toby, we have to get you out of here now that he knows where you live."

Toby remembered that he'd neglected to tell his brother a few things. "He lives downstairs. He found me this apartment."

Angus stared. He moved back to the chair and stared some more.

"I have to piss." Toby got up shakily and went. He took care of his business, washed his hands, and wished he could stay in here and avoid his brother. When he came out, he found some sweat pants and a shirt before hitting the couch. Angus brought him some coffee. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Angus sat down close by. "Why are you living here?"

"Angus, there's nowhere I can hide. My parole officer told me as much. Elliot's a cop. He can bend me over any time he likes. At least this place is close to work and nice enough." Toby blew on it and took a sip. His stomach didn't protest, and he sighed happily. That was better. "And I can't buy a gun."

"Shit." Angus got up and began to pace. "You call him Elliot. Do you like him?"

Toby wasn't sure what to say, but he had to think of something. "I work in his precinct. He's not that bad of a guy. Stubborn, opinionated, and inclined to have a temper; but he's a good cop."

"He tried to kill you." Angus sat back down.

"He wanted answers. He never intended to hurt me. I didn't know that until later." Toby was too tired to be hashing this out, but he had no choice in the matter. He drank some more coffee and waited for his brother to ask more questions that he'd rather not answer.

Angus got back up, fixed him some toast, and brought it to him. "Try to eat."

"Thanks." Toby nibbled it. He hoped it stayed down. "Angus, I'm doing pretty well. I haven't had a drink, and I don't hate my job. Father Michael at St. Mark's is a good guy, and frankly, I live for Saturdays."

"Your life in a nutshell." Angus came to sit down with his own coffee. "They should have let you come home."

Toby didn't answer right away. He ate a little bit and drank some coffee. "They didn't. I'm stuck." He took a deep breath and asked the question that he'd never had the courage to ask on the phone. "Do you think Mother will ever come see me?"

Angus looked at him sharply. "You know she hates the city."

"I know." Toby resolved to drop it. He'd spoken to her on the phone. It was enough. "How's the job?"

"It's good. I may make partner before I'm forty." Angus crossed his legs. He looked uneasy. "Do you need to go to a doctor?"

"No." Toby felt a small amount of energy now that he'd eaten. "I know it's hard to come every week."

"It is. I can't promise every weekend. You need to convince your parole officer to let you come to Connecticut on weekends." Angus spoke calmly, but his eyes shifted, and Toby knew that he was about out of weekends with his kids. Angus was a busy man. Toby hadn't really seen it before today, and it made him ache again for years lost. He sipped at his coffee. His life wasn't really his. His parole officer owned most of it, and Angus the rest.

"Fuck," Toby whispered. He noticed Angus's quick look of surprise. "If I petition for custody, will you fight it?"

Angus put his coffee down and leaned forward. His eyes were very blue. "Yes. I will. Don't."

Toby heard him loud and clear. If he pissed off his brother, he was shit out of luck. "Sorry. I just really miss them."

"I understand. They're starting to trust you again. Holly wants you to get a webcam." Angus looked uncomfortable again. "I promised her one for her birthday."

"Let me get it for her." Toby was about ready to fall sleep again. "Please."

"Fine." Angus shifted and got to his feet. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Yes." Toby stood. "Thanks for coming to check on your fucked up brother."

Angus gave him a quick hug and started for the door. "My job. I'll call."

Toby clenched his jaw and did nothing more than wave. He would not curse out his brother - the prick. Angus had gone from worried and helpful to helpful and patronizing very quickly. He no doubt felt a burden. Toby sat back down on the couch. He'd sleep here. There had to be a way to see his kids without making his brother do all the work. He fell asleep before he thought of a good argument for his parole officer.

*********

Elliot checked his watch. It was ten p.m. He'd had a nice evening with his kids - all of them for a change. Now he was back at his apartment, and he couldn't help but wonder if Toby was doing better. He went upstairs, hesitated, and then knocked. No answer. Nothing. He knocked again, but when he still heard nothing, he became worried. Slowly, he opened the door. It wasn't locked.

"Toby?"

Toby was on the couch - sound asleep. He'd curled up with the TV on, and Elliot would admit some relief. He shut the door quietly and went to him. Toby suddenly opened his eyes. He stretched. "Hey, El."

Elliot looked around the apartment. "Is your gun-toting brother around?"

"He left a long time ago." Toby sat up and yawned. "He wouldn't really shoot you."

"Right." Elliot brazenly put his hand to Toby's forehead. "No fever. Did you vomit today?"

"Nah. I'm fine, just wiped out." Toby rubbed his face. "Go home, bang your girlfriend, and forget about me."

Elliot sat down instead. He wasn't leaving. "I don't have a girlfriend, and I think you need to eat."

********

Toby groaned dramatically, but he was a little hungry. However, he didn't want to ask to be waited on hand and foot and shuffling to the fridge would take too much energy. "I'm about out of time," he said to himself, thinking of his children. Every waking moment of this day, he'd worried about that situation.

Elliot raised his eyebrows. "Why were you packing?"

Toby shook his head. "We're not discussing it. Believe or not, I have shit in my life that you don't know about."

"So tell me. Maybe I can give you a hand." Elliot got to his feet and went to the kitchen. "You need to drink lots of fluids. That's what Kathy always says."

Toby listened to him bang around. The longer he lived here, the more he'd have it rubbed in his face how much he wanted him. If he was out of weekends, the halfway house would be fine, except that it sucked. Maybe, just maybe, Lennon would be reasonable and let him go to Connecticut. He could see his mother and apologize again for things he'd done that had hurt her.

"Tell me." Elliot handed him some juice.

"Thanks." Toby sipped it to stall for time. "Angus is pretty fed up with me. I'm the wastrel brother."

Elliot went back to the kitchen. "That means no kids on the weekend, right?"

"He has full custody." Toby had signed it away, and it had been the right thing to do, but now he regretted it.

"You could fight it." Elliot brought him a mug of something that smelled like soup. "Drink all of that."

"Yes, ma'am." Toby enjoyed the spark in Elliot's eyes. "I'd lose."

"So you were going to snatch them and run." Elliot sat down in the chair across from the couch. "I see a lot of that."

Toby hadn't even considered it. He put the juice down and sucked up the chicken noodle soup. It was warm and helped fill the ache in his belly. "Sure."

"That wasn't the plan." Elliot sighed. "You don't lie very well."

Toby didn't lie very well to Elliot, and he didn't want to analyze why. "I didn't think of it is all. I should've talked to you earlier. Now you'll report me."

"Don't make me." Elliot stretched his long legs out and laced his hands across his stomach. "So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know." Toby wrapped his hands a little tighter around the mug. The warmth felt good. "I do understand why people skip out on parole. No one bothers to look for them."

Elliot groaned. "But if you're caught, your ass will be shipped back to Oz."

"Good point." Toby did want to avoid that. "And I can't visit my kids if I'm living in the Bahamas."

"No. You can't." Elliot leaned up. "You have to serve your time, Toby. That's what it comes down to. When you're done, you can go home to your kids."

Toby nodded to give Elliot some satisfaction, not because he agreed. "It sucks. I'm so close and yet I'm still in prison."

"At least your chances of getting shanked are less." Elliot pointed. "Drink your soup. The stack of files on your desk is about over my head."

"Shit." Toby didn't talk again until the soup was gone. He was full, completely. "I'm going to bed. Thanks for dropping by."

Elliot stood. "You mean that? Or are you being a smartass?"

Toby shrugged. "I appreciate you helping me while I was sick. I owe you one."

"Let's hope you don't have to return the favor." Elliot opened the door. "And lock the door."

Toby nodded and did just that. He grabbed his juice and went to bed. Comfortable and feeling much better, he relaxed in the dark. It was all about time served. Elliot was right. Toby just had to figure out if he could serve it staring at Elliot's ass.

*********

Elliot went to early Mass the next morning. It had been awhile, and the ritual made him feel better about his place in the universe. There was no communion, and he was glad because he didn't want to go to confession. That never went well.

Father Michael caught him near the door. "Elliot, it's good to see you."

"Nice sermon, Father." Elliot went with that. "How's the building fund coming?"

"Good. Good." Father Michael pulled him slightly aside. "I need to ask you a question."

Elliot nearly groaned, but he raised his eyebrows and waited for it.

"Is Tobias Beecher a friend of yours?"

Elliot's jaw nearly dropped open. The truth unexpectedly popped out. "Yes. Is he giving you trouble?"

"No." Father Michael laughed and seemed relieved. "He spends more time here helping than some of our parishioners. He mentioned your name. I was just concerned."

Elliot was curious now. "You mean because he's an ex-con?"

Father Michael nodded.

"Toby works hard at the precinct. I don't think you have to worry about him." Elliot pushed for one answer. "Did he say we were friends?"

"Quite the opposite. He's sure you don't like him. It concerned me."

Elliot was at a loss for words. He'd thought that Toby had been name dropping. But, obviously not.

Father Michael gave him a pat on the arm. "Good to know you trust him." And he went to greet someone else. Elliot almost went after him to say that trust might be taking it a bit far, but he didn't. Toby wouldn't hurt anyone, right?

Elliot headed for work. He'd check on Toby later.

*********

Toby slept most of the morning and then dragged himself to the shower. He'd promised Father Michael that he'd be there, so he was going. He did feel better, just tired, but well enough. If he worked a little slower than usual, no one seemed to notice, and he was very glad that they put him to serving Jello, not the meat loaf. His stomach felt fragile.

By the time he got home, he was tired. The couch was far enough, and he kicked off his shoes. The knock at the door was annoying. He just wanted to hide.

"Go away!"

Elliot pushed open the door. "You must be feeling better."

Toby leaned his head back and wanted to cry. It seemed to be his destiny to be harassed by dark-haired men. "Really, go away."

"Why do you smell like meat loaf?"

Toby had to laugh. He looked at him. "I helped serve at St. Mark's. I didn't have any of the meat loaf though. I stuck to the bread and Jello."

Elliot frowned. "You're barely well enough to stand!"

"I made a promise. I kept it." Toby smelled his shirt and decided to peel it off. The pants were next, and he shucked them off without thinking. There was a blanket on the back of the couch, and he pulled it over himself and lay down. That was better. He might live now. He glanced at Elliot.

Elliot looked away, cleared his throat, and went back to the door. "I'll leave you alone."

"Thanks." Toby shut his eyes. He had to sleep. Elliot shut the door. Toby sighed. He refused to interpret that uncomfortable look as anything hopeful. Elliot didn't play on Toby's team. Toby nearly laughed. He knew better, but Elliot was a man now. It made a difference. Sleep wasn't in any rush, and Toby wished he knew what to do.

*********

Elliot got out of the apartment early the next morning. He waited at the bottom of steps. Toby stopped at the top. Elliot nodded. "Come on."

"If the other guys find out, there'll be talk." Toby smirked.

Elliot smirked back at him. "There's always the pier."

"Don't tease me. At some point this weekend, a bullet would have been a mercy killing." Toby came down one step at a time. He looked a little pale, but he'd make it. Elliot was sure of that. He stopped and got them good coffee. Toby took it with a smile. "Thanks."

Elliot nodded and drove to work. They hung up their coats and went to their desks. Elliot didn't look over his shoulder. He worked. Later, up in the lounge, he bought a soda and sat down to go through some phone records.

"Toby looks a little green around the gills," Munch said, pouring himself some coffee.

"I hope I don't get it." Elliot searched for his pen and found it. He started marking.

Munch sat down across from him. "I know he killed your cousin, but I get the feeling you like him."

Elliot shrugged. "He's all right, and he didn't kill Chris."

"If you say so." Munch tapped the table. "You know which team he bats for?"

"What?" Elliot looked up and caught the wicked gleam in Munch's eye. "Ask him."

"And get punched in the nose? I don't think so." Munch took his coffee and left. Elliot put his attention in the phone records and tried not to think about baseball.

*********

Toby was tired at the end of the day. Five o'clock found him with his head on his arms, resting on his desk. His only thought was breathing.

"Go home, Beecher," Cragen said as he walked past.

Toby raised his hand in acknowledgement. He got out his calendar, marked off the day, and check for appointments. Tonight at six, he had to meet with his parole officer. Shit. He heard his stomach growl and sighed. Food was necessary now. He'd skipped lunch. Maybe he could make it on a breakfast bar.

Walking out to the hallway, he bought one from the snack machine. He leaned against the wall to eat it. Benson and Elliot came by, deep in conversation, and he watched them. They weren't lovers, more like brother and sister, but he did wonder if Elliot had ever given it a try. She wasn't friendly to Toby, not that he cared. As long as she wasn't beating on him, it didn't matter what she thought.

"He broke the restraining order," Benson hissed.

"He swears it was an accident." Elliot shook his head. "I think the guy's trying to get his head on straight."

"You always take the side of the guy."

"You always think I'm wrong."

Toby swallowed. He had to say something. "Did you get him a lawyer?"

"Shut up, Beecher," Benson snapped and glared.

Elliot rubbed his hand through his hair. "Easy, Olivia. Toby's right. Let's give the guy his phone call and let the courts deal with it."

Benson was very pretty. Toby had noticed it, but she could look very mean, and she did right now.

"And when did you get all cozy with a drunk who's responsible for killing a child? Not to mention your cousin in a lovers' spat? And God knows who else?"

Toby went back to his desk. He wasn't getting in the middle of this argument, even if it was about him. Shoving in his chair, he went to get his coat. He went out the door into the last remains of the day. It was January now, and it grew dark early still. Here in Manhattan, the sun was barely able to squeeze down in the crevices that the skyscrapers made. He took a deep breath of city air. Wet. Cold. Burrowing into his coat, he looked up and down the street for a cab. The words didn't hurt, not really, he'd known that Benson didn't like him. The curl of her lip had made that clear.

A light mist began to fall, and he spotted a cab. It stopped for him, thank goodness, and he gave directions. He was a little early, and he found a magazine to read. There were two other guys still waiting, and they looked a hell of lot tougher than he did. Lennon came out, looked around, called one of them, and Toby stuck his head back in his magazine.

"Beecher!"

Toby tossed it aside and went in the office. "Hey, Lennon. How's the bar business?"

"You're a funny guy." Lennon rubbed his beard. "Going to your meetings?"

"Yes." Toby knew that Lennon checked up on him. "I'm staying out of bars too."

"Good idea." Lennon didn't looked amused. "How's work?"

"Fine." Toby took a chance. "Can we discuss the possibility of me going to Connecticut to see my kids on the weekend?"

Lennon looked stunned. "You think I'm going to let you leave the state?"

"Just for a few hours. I'll be back the same day." Toby tried not to look pathetically eager, but he was. "Please?"

"I don't think it's a good idea." Lennon flipped through Toby's file. "Same address, right?"

"Yes." Toby suddenly had a thought. "You could have Stabler check on me. Make sure that I'm home on Saturday nights."

"Why the hell would he want to do that?" Lennon shook his head. "Forget it. You stay sober another couple of months and I'll consider it."

Toby knew that was as much as he was going to get. "Thanks."

Lennon made a few notes before pointing at the door. "Go on, and Beecher, if you quit that job, you can forget it."

Toby nodded and felt like slinking out the door. He had a glimmer of hope, if he put in his time at the precinct. Back out on the street, he walked in the rain until he found an overhang in front of a bodega. He ducked under it and watched the puddles grow in the street. Blaming Chris for all of this was slightly irrational, but he was tempted to do just that. He rubbed his hand through his hair, took off his glasses, and cleaned them. Damn, he was tired, and to get to his kids, he'd have to face Elliot every work day. Fuck.

********

Cragen came over to their desks. He looked somewhere between angry and fed up. "Olivia, Elliot, I don't care if you fight about Beecher, but do it where he can't hear."

Benson tapped her pencil. "Why?"

Elliot thought she was slightly crazy to ask. Cragen put his hands on his hips. "Beecher's doing a good job and trying to stay sober. I'd appreciate it if you didn't humiliate him in front of the entire squad."

Elliot raised his eyebrows. Cragen liked Toby. Now that was interesting. Elliot said with more than a touch of sarcasm, "And if he quits, we have to start filing again."

"I just think he should find a job more appropriate to his past." Benson was really pushing her luck. Elliot had a feeling this was all about her mother, but he wasn't going to say a word. He wasn't that dumb.

"He was a lawyer. You expect him to go work at the docks?" Cragen fired right back at her. "Or maybe you think all drunks should work in bars?"

Elliot cringed slightly. He wanted to get his coat and go home on that note. "I don't have a problem with keeping it down in the future."

"Olivia?"

She gave a short nod, but Elliot knew she'd do what she wanted. Cragen went back to his office, and she hissed, "Suck up."

He rubbed his face. "He ain't got much longer, and he's gone. Give it a rest."

"What do you mean?"

"The judge sentenced him to work here for nine months. He has about seven left, and he'll be gone. Trust me. Why the hell would he want to work here?" Elliot wasn't looking forward to that day, but it was coming. "Minimum wage? Ridiculous."

"He's wealthy, so that doesn't mean anything." Benson started clearing her desk. "He'll get drunk or do drugs. It's coming. I hope no one dies this time."

Elliot leaned back in his chair and watched her leave. There was no way to answer that. He hoped she was wrong, and he'd do what he could to make sure that Toby stayed clean. Elliot had failed utterly with Chris, but he might have a chance with Toby. The squadroom emptied, and he still sat, thinking of better days and hoping that Chris was in a better place.

********

Toby was ready for work, but he didn't want to go. He lingered over his coffee and wondered if he could call in sick again.

A strong knock at his door told him that he was out of time. "Let's go, Toby!"

Toby wished Elliot would call him something else, like Beechball or prag or something degrading. It had to be possible not to like him, not to want to hold him. It had to be. Toby washed out his mug, got his coat, and pulled open the door. Elliot looked tired. His eyes were dark again.

"Keep your shorts on. I was going to walk."

"It's raining." Elliot went toward the stairs but waited.

Toby locked his door and made up his mind to be rude. He was going to treat Elliot like shit. He'd done it to Chris, easily. Elliot would hit him, they'd agree to hate each other, and the next six months and twenty-eight days might be doable. Toby nodded. It was a plan. The only other alternative was to beg him for sex. And that wasn't happening. He took his glasses off and stuffed them in his coat pocket before they went out the door to the car.

"I've had plenty of time to think and I've decided to find another place to live." Toby saw Elliot's jaw clench. This was a good start. "You are going to leave me alone. Got it?"

Elliot furrowed his brow. Toby nearly groaned. He hadn't been rude at all. He'd done nothing more than confuse him. Shit.

"Is this about what Benson said yesterday? Cragen told her, and me, to back off. He must like you." Elliot turned the heater up. "Damn, it's cold."

Toby clenched his hands together. "This is about every time I turn around, you're trying to wipe my ass. I'm finding another place to live, and you're not going to harass me!"

Elliot got them moving. He didn't reply until after he'd parked the car at the precinct. "Your ass needs wiping. Not my damn fault."

Toby got out, slammed the door, and went to work. He'd started it, but Elliot had put a stop to it. Elliot thought Toby was a damn baby. Fuck him. Toby put on his glasses and hung up his coat, refusing to look anyone in the eye. He was pissed. Elliot looked calm. Well, Elliot was a prick.

"Beecher, I took a call for you early this morning." Cragen frowned. "Here's the message."

Toby thanked him and took it. He read it twice, went to his desk, and sat down with a thump. "Shit."

"Would you care to explain?" Cragen had followed him.

Toby bit his lower lip. "I owe Ryan O'Reily a favor. He just called it in." He smoothed the message out and read it one more time.

My cousin, Liam O'Reily, has been arrested. Get him off. You owe me, lawboy.

"Not on my time," Cragen said.

"Can I start my day at noon?" Toby had to ask. A deal was a deal. "So I can at least look into this?"

Cragen narrowed his eyes. "Noon to eight will be fine. You've started to gain a little respect around here. Don't blow it."

"I owe him." Toby hated this, but he didn't have any choice. "Thanks."

"Don't thank me." Cragen went to his office. Toby used his computer to find out where Liam was and what he'd been charged with. It was going to be ugly, and Liam was going to need a real lawyer. Toby reconciled himself to the fact that he'd be going to Oz this month.

Elliot dropped some files on Toby's desk. "What's going on?"

Toby hit the print button. "Stabler, I don't like you. I don't want you in my face. Back off." It was the harshest that he could be, and he still wanted to kill himself for saying those lies.

"Liar," Elliot said softly. "Are you really moving out?"

"You don't care. Leave me the fuck alone." Toby grabbed everything and practically ran out the door. He didn't have much time.

********

Elliot went back to his desk after stealing the note that Toby had left behind. He tried to ignore how much those words hurt. Toby really thought that? He had to be lying. Elliot ran the name through the database and stared. Liam O'Reily had been arrested on assault. He was a dirtbag, part of the Irish gang that scratched out a living over on the East Side. Toby had a debt to pay to this Ryan O'Reily fellow. Shit. This was the kind of thing that landed parolees back in prison. One step in  the wrong direction and it was a long fall.

Elliot wasn't going to let that happen, and he'd keep pushing at Toby until the truth came out. They were friends. Toby might as well get used to it.

********

Toby cleaned the lounge last. It was past eight, but he didn't care. The squadroom was quiet, and he liked it that way. When he finished, he stretched out on the sofa and put his arm over his eyes. He was still tired from the flu, and today had been nothing short of a disaster. Cragen was angry, and so were half the cops in the precinct. If Toby had gained any respect, it was gone - not that he cared. He didn't, damn it. There was nothing he cared about less.

"Do you drive, Toby?"

Toby pulled his arm off his eyes and looked over at Munch. "No. Why?"

"Good. It's safer that way, but you still better run home, instead of walk." Munch sat down at the table, facing him. "You broke the golden rule."

"You'd think I pissed on the donuts." Toby sat up and rubbed his face. He dug his glasses out of his pocket and put them on. "But tell me the rule."

"You work for us." Munch shook his head in what had to be disgust. "Not perps."

Toby couldn't quite wrap his head around that. "Munch, minimum wage does not inspire loyalty. Did you guys forget I was an ex-con?"

"We thought you were working for us." Munch got to his feet. "Lay low for a few days."

"Got it." Toby went downstairs with him. He cleared his desk and went back to the locker room to piss. Lifting weights wasn't possible tonight. He was too damn tired.

"Proud of yourself, Beecher?"

Toby didn't know any of the three cops in the locker room, but they knew him. "Uh, no."

They circled him and shoved him against the wall. Toby took his glasses off fast and put them in his pocket. He'd done this before, and he didn't want them broken. "It was about the law, guys. You can't tromple on it."

They didn't look happy to hear that. One of them growled, "Fine. We'll tromple you."

********

Elliot heard all about it, but he wasn't pissed off like the homicide guys were, and they were a tough bunch. Toby needed to dig a hole and get in it.

"You headed home?" Cragen asked.

"Yeah. I'll be in early tomorrow." Elliot lowered his voice. "Did anyone tell Toby to watch his back?"

Cragen looked at him for a long moment. "Munch did."

Elliot was glad to hear it. "Bad situation."

Cragen nodded, but left without another word. He was probably angry too. Elliot hoped this didn't end up with Toby in orange. The homicide guys could get it done if they wanted. Toby had been stupid to honor that debt. He should've told O'Reily to go to hell.

Elliot went out into the drizzle. He hurried to his car and wondered if Toby had walked. Hopefully, Toby had gone to a meeting. If he could keep his head down for a few days, this would blow over.

********

Toby opened a lower locker door and used it to pull himself to his feet. He tried to breathe deep, but his ribs protested, so he panted. Spitting a glob of blood out on the floor helped. The good news was that they hadn't killed him. That was also the bad news. He used his shirt to wipe the blood from his face. All in all, they'd been careful. They'd busted his mouth and blackened his eye, but that had been minor compared to what they'd done to his ribs, back, and even his legs. Hurting him had been the idea, but the dumb fuckers were amateurs compared to Vern and Chris.

"Shit," Toby breathed. He rested for several long minutes. It wasn't getting any better though, so he decided to head home. He'd catch a cab. The squadroom was deserted, and he was glad for that small mercy. Grabbing his coat, he got out of the building fast. It was raining, and he lifted his face to it. Some more blood dripped down onto his shirt, and he shoved his hair off his face. Part of him wanted to scream his defiance, but mostly he wanted to whimper and go home to an ice pack. AA was tonight, and he wasn't going to make the meeting.

The street was empty. No cabs. He started walking, shoving the pain aside. Halfway there, he stumbled to his knees and rested - the rain dripping off him. Insults swirled through him. Prag. Pussy. Cunt. Bitch. Slut. Get to your damn feet! He got moving again. The vision in his right eye faded away, but his lip stopped bleeding, and his teeth didn't seem to be loose. He focused on putting one foot in front of the other. When he saw his building, he sobbed from relief. He found his key, made it in the door, and leaned against the wall. The rain was off him, and that seemed to matter more than anything.

"Hey, buddy, you okay?"

Toby blearily focused on what had to be the pizza guy. "Fuck off."

The pizza guy frowned, but went away. Toby slid down the wall. He'd climb the stairs later. After he breathed for a minute. He was out of the rain, if not home, and that was all that mattered.

********

Elliot held out the twenty and took the pizza. "Thanks. Keep the change."

"Thanks." The pizza guy put the money away. "Hey, ain't you a cop?"

Elliot nodded. "Yeah, why?"

"Some guy in the hallway - looks like someone mugged him."

Elliot took the pizza to the coffee table before going out to the main door. He saw the crumpled, soaked man, but it took several seconds before he realized who it was. "Shit, Toby."

Toby laughed. It was a broken sound. "Yeah. I'm shit all right."

Elliot squatted and took a good look at the blood and bruises. "I'm calling a bus."

Toby slapped his hand down on Elliot's forearm. "Just. Leave me alone."

Elliot hesitated. He knew who'd done this, and he wasn't exactly proud of his fellow policemen. It was probably a good time to walk away. Pretend that he didn't know, and let it play out. He looked down at the hand on him. "You should've blown off O'Reily."

Toby opened the eye that wasn't swollen shut. "I owed him for flipping McFadden." He gripped Elliot tightly and tried to get up. "Damn," he muttered. Elliot still hesitated, not helping. He bit his lower lip and made his decision. Toby had taken this beating for doing SVU's business. Elliot picked him up.

*********

Toby wanted to curse him and hold tight, never letting go. Elliot put him in the tub. "Strip. You need a shower."

The last thing Toby wanted to do was get naked, but he was starting to shiver spasmodically. His teeth chattered, and his hands felt thick. He tried, but Elliot sighed and helped him. Elliot clearly didn't want to touch him. It almost hurt as badly as that fist to his face had. Toby pushed at him.

"Go the fuck away."

"Keep saying that and sooner or later, I'm going to think you mean it." Elliot turned on the shower. Toby gasped as the quick burst of cold hit him, but it quickly turned hot. He put his head down and let the warm water stream down him. It felt good. Elliot gently touched a spot on Toby's back. "Is that a boot mark?"

Toby groaned from the ache and pushed the hand away. He managed to close the shower curtain with Elliot on the other side of it. That was better. He could shiver in private now. His legs ached, but he stayed on his feet. Nothing was broken. He'd heal fast. He put his head down again and sighed. Working at SVU was like a prison job. Well, he was square with O'Reily now, and after a month or so, someone else would piss them off, and he'd be safe. He had to believe that.

"Here's a towel. Want me to go upstairs and get you some dry clothes?"

Toby heard the jingle of his keys. "Please." He did not want to be naked in Elliot's apartment. Well, that was a lie, but he'd repeat it until it was true. He groaned, soaped his hair, and shut off the water. The towel was close, and he wasn't going to rub himself. He patted, cursed, and shivered some more in the cool air.

Elliot opened the door, and Toby covered himself with the towel. He took the clothes. "Leave."

"I'll make some coffee." Elliot shut the door.

Toby found the strength to dress. His wet clothes were hanging up here and there, and he rescued his wallet, cell phone, and glasses. "Shit." He stared at his broken face in the mirror. "Dumbass," he whispered. He sat on the toilet and tried to give himself a pep talk. He was okay. He was fine. He didn't have to go back to the halfway house. He would not drink. He would not drink. It didn't solve anything.

"Are you going to stay in here?"

"I might." Toby didn't look at him. "I should go home."

"Drink some coffee first, and here."

Toby saw the ice pack. He took it and put it on his face. "Fuck!"

"Come on." Elliot tugged him to the couch. "I bet you hurt like hell."

Toby didn't answer. He didn't want to start crying. His face pulsed and he gritted his teeth. That made it all hurt worse. His lip was as swollen as his eye, and he alternated between them with the ice pack. He'd live. He was a survivor. Stupid cops could kiss his ass.

"Who did it?"

Toby almost didn't hear the soft, low question. He let it hang in the air between them. Elliot sat down across from him, took a piece of pizza, and started to eat it. Toby saw the cup of coffee, and he sipped it, wincing when it hit his lip. He needed it though, so he drank it.

"Toby, answer the question."

"The first rule in Oz is that you don't rat each other out, unless you want a shank in your back." Toby put the empty cup down. He eyed the pizza. It was thin crust - his favorite. He picked up a piece and took a careful bite. It wasn't too hot, and it was good. Chewing hurt. He swallowed. "Of course, we all broke it a thousand times, but we were careful when we did it."

"You saying that you'll get your own revenge?" Elliot's brow was furrowed.

"No." Toby didn't meant that at all. "I just mean that a man has to pick his battles carefully. This." He pointed at his face. "Is nothing. They were having some fun."

Elliot snorted. "That was assault with intent."

Toby managed to eat an entire piece. "Thanks for your help. Again. I guess I do need my ass wiped."

"Take tomorrow off." Elliot rolled his eyes. "I'll back you up with Cragen."

"Forget it. I'll walk to work, and you're going to leave me alone, and as soon as I have the strength to lift the couch, I'm moving out of this cop hellhole." Toby got to his feet with only a small groan.

Elliot got up fast and steadied him. "You're an asswipe."

"No. You are." Toby tried to push him away. "You don't like me! Why the fuck are you in my face all the damn time? Don't you realize it hurts? It hurts!"

Elliot didn't turn him loose. "Why?"

Toby let the truth roar out of him. "I love him! And I love you! And it's damn wrong!" He tore away from him and let his anger propel him out the door and up the stairs. Slamming the door felt good, and he went straight to bed. He crawled under the covers and trembled, telling himself that it was nothing but the cold. He set his alarm and hid from the world.

*********

Elliot couldn't have been more stunned if he'd been hit with a skillet. Kathy had done that once - she'd said it was an accident - so he knew what it felt like, and this was similiar. Toby stomped out the door, and Elliot heard him slam his door upstairs.

Toby's keys glinted on the coffee table. Elliot stared at them. He didn't give a shit for Toby. Toby was right. Elliot had to leave him alone. Let him work out his parole and go home to Connecticut.

"Shit," Elliot said softly. He wished desperately that was true. Lowering his face into his hands, he prayed for an answer. No one answered. He wondered what Chris would say.

"Cuz, you know you like it. Just relax."

Elliot quivered. That wasn't the memory that he wanted to pop up. He'd spent years denying that he liked it. It worked for him. The keys laughed. He went to the bathroom, got all of Toby's things, and took them up to Toby's apartment. No lights were on, but he went inside. He hung up the clothes in the bathroom and put the keys on the hook where he'd seen Toby hang them. Toby was right. He was right. Elliot locked the door and left.

********
Chapter Five - The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath no where to lay his head. John 7:24

Toby nearly didn't make it out of bed. Every muscle in his body hurt and a few bones ached too. The shower helped, and he saw his clothes. Elliot had been here. All that seemed to matter was that he hadn't stayed. Toby dressed in casual clothes, just in case another cop wanted to take a shot at him today. He didn't mess with making coffee. He'd get some at work.

The morning was crisp, clear, and he shivered once in his lighter coat. His leather coat had been ruined by the rain, but he didn't give a shit. The walk got his muscles moving and warmed him up. He was two blocks away when he saw Elliot drive by. Was it possible that Elliot was going to leave him alone? Toby hoped so. He couldn't handle it, and he was smart enough to know it.

"Chris, you asshole. You never said that he was a good man." Toby walked a little faster. His left leg ached, but he refused to limp. He'd be damned if he'd stay at home and cry. He was going to do his job, and they could laugh at their handiwork.

********

Elliot drove past him. Stupid asswipe was practically limping. He had way too much pride. Elliot recognized when he saw it. He sped up, strode in the squadroom, and went straight towards Cragen's office.

"Where's Beecher? You usually bring him." Cragen met him halfway. "Did he quit?"

Elliot made sure to project his voice, but not yell. "He got his ass kicked by the guys in homicide!"

"So he quit?" Cragen frowned.

"He owed O'Reily because of McFadden. My case! And you and I both know that homicide screwed that collar up!" Elliot felt like throwing something. He hadn't realized how angry he was until this moment. "That was my beating!"

Cragen rubbed his forehead. "Beecher made his own choices, but I see your point."

Elliot had to be satisfied with that and the belief that he saw on the faces of his co-workers. He didn't want to start a department war, but he also didn't want SVU guys making it worse on Toby. Elliot tossed his coat in his chair, rolled up his sleeves, and went to get some coffee. He didn't want to be in the room when Toby limped in the door.

********

Toby hung up his coat and went to his desk. He didn't really bring his eyes up off the floor, but he heard a couple of curse words. That wasn't sympathy though, more like gloating.

"My office, Beecher."

Toby fully expected to be fired. Some part of him hoped for it. The judge might be placated with a couple of months. He sighed. Not likely. Instead of talking, he stood in front of the desk. Sitting down was taking too big a risk that he wouldn't get moving again.

"Would you care to explain what happened?"

"No, sir." Toby shook his head and hoped his face stayed on.

"File a report?"

"No, sir." Toby shifted on his sore leg. "You want me gone?"

Cragen sighed. He hesitated, picked up a thick file, and handed it over. "I need twenty of these."

Toby took it and walked out. He wasn't quitting. Did they think they were meaner than anything Oz had thrown at him? Not damn likely.

"Beech, I told you to run home."

Toby grinned at Munch, even though it hurt. "But you forgot to mention that they were waiting in the locker room."

Munch's eyes widened and his voice turned hard. "Those shitheads were in our squad?"

"Oops." Toby hadn't known that cops marked their territory. Made sense though - each squad had its own turf. "No. I was on my way home. My mistake."

"Those rat bastards!" Munch glared.

Toby waved his file in the air. "I have to work."

"Lunch at the hot dog stand."

"I'm not buying." Toby felt no charity towards cops today. He went to the copy machine and made copies and stapled until his one eye wanted to cross. Finally, he finished the last one and put them on Cragen's desk. Now it was time to file. The pile wasn't too high, and he was finished by lunch. All in all, it wasn't a bad morning. No one had shoved him down, Elliot had ignored him, and he hadn't collapsed in a heap.

Toby stuffed four Tylenol in his pocket. It was lunch, and he needed a break. He grabbed his coat and went outside. It was cold now. Munch, Fin, and Elliot were at the hot dog stand. Toby couldn't understand why they all weren't fat. He bought a hot dog, a soda, and went over to stand by Munch.

"Shit, Toby. You look like you were hit by a damn bus!" Fin shook his head.

"Feels that way too." Toby popped the Tylenol in his mouth and took a drink. It'd help. What he really needed was some Demerol, but he wasn't going to the doctor. Elliot was finding other things to look at and other cops to talk to, and that was fine. It was. He'd finally seen reason.

"How many guys were there?" Munch asked, and he didn't look happy.

Toby took a bite of his dog, chewed, and swallowed. "Ten. Took 'em all to hold me down."

Munch and Fin laughed. Elliot grinned. "Probably they sent over two lady detectives. They used their high heels on him."

Everyone laughed some more. Toby grinned back at him. "Hell, I'd have liked that!"

Even the hot dog guy was laughing now. Toby finished his lunch, such as it was. He gingerly felt his mouth. It wasn't bleeding - hurt like hell, but not any worse than his eye. Cragen wandered up, and Toby took the opportunity to go back inside. His coat was too thin, and he wanted to sit for a few minutes. He kept his coat on and rubbed his leg, sitting at his desk. It was stupid to feel good, but some small part of him did. He told himself again that they weren't friends or anything to him, but it rang hollow.

********

Elliot wanted to curse the fact that he noticed Toby shivering in his summer coat. They weren't friends. They weren't anything. He was going to ignore the skel and do his job.

"I love him! I love you!"

Toby yelled again in Elliot's mind. Elliot rubbed his face. He had to pretend that never happened, and he didn't give a damn. Shit. He needed a transfer.

********

"Go home, Beecher."

Toby didn't need to look at the clock to know that it was early in the afternoon. "Huh?"

"Go home." Cragen raised his voice. "Munch! Take Beecher home!"

"Will do, Cap." Munch got to his feet, making a show of looking for his keys.

Toby frowned. "I have things to do," he said lamely.

"Do it tomorrow." Cragen walked away. Toby shut down his computer and trailed after Munch to the parking lot.

"You need a better coat."

"No kidding." Toby controlled a shiver. "Oz wasn't quite this cold."

"They heat prisons? I'm going to have to complain to the governor about that." Munch was a wise ass, and he did it well. Toby laughed and was glad to get a ride home from someone that wasn't tall, dark, and sexy as hell. He went up to his apartment and crashed on the couch. He'd take a nap and then go to the meeting at St. Mark's.

*********

Elliot agreed with Munch. "I know, but I ain't getting a rip over this."

Munch looked at Fin. "What do you think, Fin?"

"I don't like to let it slide, but we don't even know who did it."

Elliot pursed his lips. "You could check the security cameras."

"Good idea." Fin took off.

Munch smiled. "And then?"

"And then we have a little talk with them," Elliot said firmly. "They screwed up the bust. Any half-decent lawyer could have gotten him off. It just happened to be Toby."

"Exactly." Munch nodded with satisfaction, and Elliot went back to work.

Benson tapped her pencil on the desk. "You're being stupid."

"Yeah. Maybe so." Elliot had never won that argument with a woman.

"You wanted to beat the crap out of him not that long ago." Benson rolled her eyes. "He's probably out getting drunk right now."

"I doubt it. He ain't walking so good." Elliot tilted his head. "You don't like him."

"Not at all. He's smug, a smartass, rich, a drunk, and a cry baby." Benson must have run out of adjectives because she stopped.

Elliot laughed softly. "You like rich guys!"

She glared. "It's the whole package. Judge Allen should have gotten him a job at Burger King."

"Home of the Whopper." Elliot went ahead and grinned. "I think I'll get a burger after work."

"Some days, you drive me crazy."

Elliot grabbed a toothpick out of his drawer to chew. "Say it, sistah." Even with all the chat, they managed to clear the case without going into overtime. That would make Cragen happy. Elliot ended up at Manny's, having a burger and a cold one. He went home after one of each, stopped to get his mail, and didn't talk to the rich cry baby that passed him in the lobby. Toby wanted it that way. He'd said it more than once. Elliot was glad when he heard the honk of the cab. It was too cold for Toby to be walking anywhere, and a rip wasn't any big deal.

********

"Tobias!" Father Michael covered his mouth with his hand.

"Yeah. Sorry. I'm not exactly a work of art tonight." Toby rubbed his cold hands together. "Father, I was going to go buy a coat, but I was thinking that maybe you'd prefer the money for the building fund."

Father Michael looked surprised. "We do keep coats for the homeless, but we give them away."

"I'm not homeless." Toby didn't try to smile. His mouth hurt. "If I don't find anything I like, I'll go to a store."

"That sounds fair." Father Michael nodded. "Come this way. We have about fifteen minutes before group."

Toby followed him into the depths of the big church. When Father Michael pulled open a big door, it was almost a shock. Toby went inside and whispered, "Wow."

"We get donations every year. This Sunday, I'm going to make sure everyone has a coat at dinner."

"I'll help." Toby went through the racks. He found two that he liked - a leather one and blue one like a ski jacket. "Is two okay?"

"Of course." Father Michael wasn't lying. "Tobias, your face wasn't the result of your past associations, was it?"

"Yes. It was." Toby made his way back through the rack. He pulled out his wallet. "Three hundred?"

"No. That's far too much," Father Michael protested, but it was weak.

Toby handed him the money, which he took, and they went out. "Thanks. I was very cold today."

"In that coat? You certainly were." Father Michael shook his head. "I'm glad that you weren't injured severely."

"Me too." Toby took off his light coat and put on the leather one. That was better. It was chilly inside the old church. "They weren't really trying or I'd be dead."

"That's not reassuring. I hope you'll be avoiding the men who did that in the future."

Toby walked with him. "Kinda hard to avoid cops where I work." He left the priest at the door to the room where he had group. Father Michael had looked stunned. Well, he had led a sheltered life. Toby settled into his usual chair. He was not going to drink - not today - and today was all that mattered.

********

Elliot drove past him again, but this time he had a proper coat on. Well, that was an improvement. Stubborn idiot should just ride in the car. Fin and Munch met Elliot at the coat rack.

"I got them." Fin held up a tape. Without a word, they filed into a room to watch it. Fin pointed out the guys, coming and going. Elliot had him pause it and took a good, long look at their faces.

"Toby didn't fight back," Elliot muttered.

Munch nodded. "Not a mark on them - the assholes."

Elliot raised his eyebrows. He'd seen enough. "Well, let's go talk with them." He drove. "Munch, you seem kinda bloodthirsty about this."

"Toby's a good guy. He didn't deserve that."

Elliot agreed - mostly. They went in the homicide squadroom, and Elliot spotted them immediately. They were pretty good-sized. Elliot began to wish that he'd brought a bit more muscle. Their captain came out of his office.

"What's this about, boys?"

"It's about your guys coming to SVU and beating up one of ours." Elliot watched the three of them swagger over. Toby hadn't had a chance. Elliot made a rude noise. "Three of you? For one guy? Homicide is getting weak!"

One of them cocked his head to the side. "We were making sure the job got done right."

"One geeky lawyer?" Munch shook his head. "Do you also kick puppies?"

The captain frowned. "You guys did what?"

"We took care of business."

Elliot smiled. He was angry now and he wasn't backing away. "Try me next time."

They moved closer. "We were defending one of our guys! O'Reily assaulted a cop!"

"The perp would be behind bars if you'd bothered to Mirandize him - when he was conscious!" Elliot glared at the asswipes. "That ain't on Beecher."

"Beecher's a skel. He'll think twice next time." The asshole banged his chest into Elliot's, but Elliot didn't budge.

The captain pushed in between them. "Back off! You SVU guys go home. I'll deal with this!"

Fin handed the captain the tape. "Kicking a man when he's down ain't right."

A small scuffle broke out, but Elliot got Munch and Fin out of there without black eyes. Munch seemed satisfied. "Captain Cragen is going to hear about this before we get back."

"Yep," Elliot said. He wasn't worried. It wasn't as if they'd thrown the first punch or something. Getting out of the car, he straightened his shirt. Munch and Fin did the same, and they all went inside to face the captain.

********

Toby went up to clean the lounge before going to see if Cragen needed anything. It was a wreck, as usual, and he cursed cops under his breath while he threw out cups, wiped up spills, and cleaned the table. When he was finished, he got a cup of coffee in a mug that said, 'NYPD' and leaned against the railing that looked down on the squadroom. He saw Munch, Fin, and Elliot come in the door. They looked pleased with themselves.

Cragen stormed out of his office. "You three! Right now!"

Toby didn't think they looked scared. He rubbed his sore leg and went down to his desk. Maybe he could hide until Cragen was through yelling. His customary pile of files wasn't too deep, and he took care of them quickly. When he got back to his desk, he was surprised to see a young Asian man underneath it.

"Hi, I'm from TARU."

"Hi, I work for minimum wage," Toby said. He had no idea who this guy was. "What are you doing?"

The guy laughed and fiddled with a cable. "Internet connection. You did ask, right?"

"Uh, no, but I'll take it. I'm not sure that tower has a modem." Toby moved the chair further out of the way.

The guy didn't answer. He kept on working. After three or four minutes, he poked his head out. "Try it."

Toby double-clicked. "Wow. That's fast."

"You bet." The guy took over the keyboard and mouse, going through menus with lightning speed. He made change after change. "Okay. I think that's good."

"You're amazing." Toby was impressed.

"I'm not half-bad." He flashed a handsome smile. "Are you new here?"

"Yes." Toby clicked and smiled with pleasure. This would make working here much easier. "This is really great. Thanks."

"Not a problem. Here's my card. Call me if there's a problem or if you just want to talk computers."

Toby took it. Before he could say anything else the TARU guy was gone. He put the card in his wallet. Maybe they could -.

Cragen slammed his office door, and Toby thought he wasn't the only one to cringe. Elliot, Fin, and Munch went to their desks. They didn't seem chastised in the least. Munch actually seemed to be strutting.

Benson looked disgusted from her position at her desk. "So, was it worth getting a rip for a skel?"

Elliot grinned and raised his eyebrows. "Sure as hell was."

Toby was the only skel in the office. "Shit," he whispered. He hadn't told them anything.

"Beecher! My office!"

Toby swallowed hard and went. He took the glare and asked, "What do you need?"

"I need you to tell me why you opened your big mouth and told three of my detectives who was responsible for beating you up!" Cragen had his hands on his hips. "I thought we were going to drop it!"

"I . . . well, didn't tell them anything." Toby frowned. He hadn't said a word. Well, he hadn't said much. "They are detectives. Maybe, they figured it out?"

"Very damn funny. As if I didn't have enough shit to deal with." Cragen went to sit at his desk. "Novak wants you for the rest of this week. Go!"

"Yes, sir." Toby felt as if he should apologize, but he hadn't done anything wrong. He went out quickly and retrieved his coat. It was a damn shame. He hadn't even had a chance to surf the internet. Did people still surf? He wasn't sure. Turning off his computer, he wanted to groan that Novak had asked for him. That probably meant he'd be going to Oz. He hoped he was wrong.

"Toby, where you going?" Munch asked.

"Novak." Toby grabbed his coffee. "Cragen's pissed."

Munch just grinned. Toby went.

*********

Elliot worked instead of chatting. Toby's empty desk worried him, but he refused to go ask. It wasn't until lunch that he found out that Cragen had sent Toby to Novak. No one knew if Toby was ever coming back, but bets were that he wasn't.

"Munch and Fin, get on that canvass." Cragen still looked angry. "Benson and Stabler, here's a new one."

Benson took it from him. "I'm glad you got rid of Beecher. He caused enough trouble."

"Novak wanted him for a few days." Cragen frowned. "He'll be back. You have a beef against him, Olivia?"

Benson played it cool this time. "He's just not my kind of guy."

"He should've kept his mouth shut, and then you three wouldn't have been so stupid as to go over to homicide and start a brawl!"

Elliot looked at Munch, who looked at Fin. Fin said, "He didn't tell us squat. We figured it out."

"We're de-tec-tives," Munch drawled.

Cragen narrowed his eyes. "Then go arrest some people!"

Elliot got his coat. He was tempted to laugh. Cragen would calm down eventually, and Toby was better off with Novak until it happened. With any luck, they'd stay out of Oz. The image of Toby's branded ass slammed into Elliot's brain. Elliot tried to rub it away. He shouldn't have looked when Toby was in the shower.

"You okay?" Benson asked.

"Yeah. I was just wondering if brands hurt as much as tattoos." Elliot started the car and the heater.

Benson gave him a strange look. "I heard they hurt like hell. Are you getting one?"

"Me? No way." Elliot put the car in gear. He really hoped they stayed out of Oz.

*********

Toby was glad to spend the day doing research on a case. It was quiet. He could sit, and no one even talked to him, much less beat him up.

"You leave at five?" Novak came striding up to the desk that Toby had been given.

"Usually, but I can stay longer." Toby wouldn't mind.

"No. Keep your usual hours." Novak smiled. "You're here until Monday. Did they catch the guys that did that to your face?"

Toby started clearing his desk. That smile made him nervous. "I really don't want to discuss it."

Novak tilted her head to the side. "Anyone could have gotten him off. They screwed up."

"I know." Toby turned off his computer. He was going. "I'll be in at nine."

"That's fine. Bring it to me when you're done." Novak waved and went out the door. Toby stretched, winced slightly, and put on his coat. He was going home tonight. No group. No parole officer. Nothing but television. It'd be nice. He walked. It was cold, but he didn't care now that he had a coat. His eye had unexpectedly opened after lunch, and it was nice to see the world again. Tomorrow, he'd wear his glasses.

His apartment seemed cozy against the cold, and he was forced to admit that he wasn't moving. He liked it here. As long as Elliot stayed away, it was a good place to live. Toby hung up his coat, turned on the TV, and went to find some dinner. He wouldn't think about him tonight. Wouldn't dream about him or Chris.

It had been a quiet day. All he wanted was a quiet evening.

********

Elliot considered going up to the crib. He was about half-asleep as it was. Dimly, he could hear Novak and Cragen talking about the latest cases. He didn't really listen until he heard his name.

"I think Elliot got them all moving in that direction." Cragen sighed. "He took it personally."

"Well, he was right. They had no business coming over here. I should charge them with assault."

"No evidence. Fin made sure of that."

Elliot smiled. That had worked out well.

"Hey, if you don't want Beecher, I'll happily keep him. I'd get a good lawyer for minimum." Novak sounded almost as if she were gloating over the prospect.

Cragen hesitated and mumbled something that Elliot didn't catch. Elliot didn't want to hear any more. Two bosses smug about working a man for minimum stuck in his throat. They were bending Toby over, and they were pleased about it. That made up Elliot's mind, and he got his coat and left. It was late and cold, and he was glad he didn't have to walk. He trotted inside the building, got his mail, and looked up the stairs.

Toby loved him. Elliot believed that, but he also knew that Toby wanted to be left alone, and that was more important.

********

"Good job this week, Toby," Novak said, looking up as he put the file on her desk.

"Thanks." Toby was glad he'd finished it. "It was an interesting case. I'm sure you'll win."

"Let's hope." Novak smiled. "Cragen and I have been discussing you, and he doesn't have a problem with me giving you cases to research occasionally."

Toby processed that. "That'll be fine." He didn't have a choice. "Do you want me to do the work here or there?"

"There." Novak opened the file. "Enjoy the weekend."

Toby nodded and left the office. He got his coat, made sure he had his cell phone, and went towards the squadroom. For the better part of three days, he hadn't seen Elliot. It had been restful. He had liked it. Fuck. He was such a liar.

The squad was busy, and he slid over to his desk. "Shit." Files were jumbled everywhere. He dropped his coat on his chair and started to put them in an orderly stack. Since no one had filed, they'd known he was coming back.

"How's the eye, Toby?" Munch asked.

"Open." Toby smiled. "What's a rip?"

Munch raised his eyebrows. "That's when we work, but we don't get paid for it."

"So, I guess I owe you a favor."

Munch laughed. "That's what got you into this trouble. It wasn't about you."

Toby shrugged. He wasn't sure he believed that. "I could bring donuts on Monday."

Munch grinned and went to his desk. That meant yes. Toby put the files down. He'd put them away later. He picked up a few to-do notes that Cragen had left. There was nothing life threatening. With a certain amount of dread, he went up to the lounge. Damn, cops were pigs. He slumped down on the sofa and giggled softly.

Toby's cell phone rang, and he snapped it open, "Angus?"

"Hi, Toby. How was your week?" Angus sounded tired.

Toby took off his glasses and put the phone in his other ear. "Painful. Yours?"

"Long." Angus seemed to take a deep breath.

"Don't bring the kids this weekend," Toby said before Angus could give him the bad news. "I have a black eye, and I don't want them to see it."

"What?"

Toby laughed softly. "I fell. Hit my face. I look awful. I don't want them seeing me this way, and the weather is terrible. My parole officer says that if I stay sober another couple of months, he'll consider letting me come to Connecticut on Saturdays."

"Stabler beat you up," Angus snapped. "That fucking prick!"

"Angus! He did not." Toby had to tell some of the truth. "I got sideways because of O'Reily. A cop over in homicide took it very personally. Stabler didn't do anything but hand me an ice pack."

"Toby, if that job isn't safe, I'll speak to Judge Allen myself. He can't insist you work there if it's dangerous." Angus was in lawyer mode now.

"Don't. I'm fine. I worked for Casey Novak this week. It went well." Toby leaned back on the old sofa. "Have them call me, okay? And send emails."

"Of course. Are you okay?"

"Not too bad. It only hurts when I breathe." Toby laughed to make him feel better. "Thanks for calling."

"Stay safe." Angus clicked off, and Toby shut his phone. Toby looked around at the wreckage and sighed. First, he have a cup of coffee, and then he'd clean up. No rush after all. It wasn't as if he had somewhere to be on a Friday night. He usually went to AA, but he was skipping tonight. After one sip, he poured it out. That was not coffee. That was black sludge. He might as well clean.

"Is Beecher around?"

Toby looked over the rail. Shit.

Munch pointed. Toby stayed where he was. He even sat on the old sofa to wait.

Lennon didn't look happy. He didn't sit down. No, he stood over Toby and snapped, "An old pal of mine in homicide gave me a call. I can see by your face that he wasn't lying."

Toby brushed his hair back. He wasn't sure how to play this. "I guess you've made up your mind."

"Owing favors to buddies in Oz ain't smart. Taking care of your buddies in Oz is damn dumb." Lennon put his hands on his hips. "But Cragen thinks you're doing a good job, and that's a point in your favor."

"So, what's the score?" Toby knew he should be begging and pleading, promising all kinds of things. The fact that he wasn't worried him.

"You fucked up my Saturday. I'm fucking up yours." Lennon looked around the lounge. "This one of your jobs?"

"Yes." Toby had a feeling that he was screwed.

"Finish, and then go see Stabler." Lennon turned to go. "You're on the edge, Beecher."

"I usually am." Toby took his time, but did a thorough job. When he couldn't stall any longer, and the suspense was getting to him, he went to find Elliot. It wasn't hard. Elliot was at his desk, chewing on something. The man was like a goat.

"Okay, I'm done."

Elliot nodded and got to his feet. "For the record, this wasn't my idea."

"Let's get it over with." Toby felt his mouth go dry.

Elliot didn't smile. "Hands on your head."

Toby nearly ran. And it must have been all over his face because Elliot moved behind him. He slowly put his hands up. Elliot searched him quickly and competently. Toby's cell phone, glasses, wallet, and keys went on Elliot's desk. Toby felt his knees shake and a growl start in his throat. Elliot cuffed him, but not tightly.

"We're not going to fight this time."

Toby saw Cragen staring at him. The need for violence ebbed. Elliot tugged Toby's arm and they were walking. Toby didn't struggle. He'd lose, and he'd look like a real skel. "Fuck," he said softly.

Elliot opened a cage and pushed him inside. "Your parole officer used to work that unit."

"How nice for him." Toby wanted to lash out - hurt someone. "Shut that door damn fast."

Elliot nodded and did just that. "Keep it under control. Lennon is testing you."

"Fucker should have the balls to send me back. Not this bullshit." Toby tried to swallow his anger, but it wasn't going down.

Elliot took two steps away. "I'll make sure they don't put anyone with you."

Toby couldn't look at him one more minute. He went to the back of the cage and kicked it. The cuffs dug into his wrists and Toby knew that Lennon was making a point with them. "Don't do me any fucking favors!"

Elliot didn't answer, and Toby didn't look to see if the cop had left. Fuckers. Toby wanted to scream, but when he whipped around, Lennon was watching.

"You need to make up your mind. You want to stay out or go back?" Lennon asked.

Toby clenched his jaw. "I don't welch on debts, even to convicts like O'Reily."

"Then pay for it." Lennon shrugged. "You're on parole, asswipe. That means I own you. Get used to the idea!"

"Fine! Get over here and I'll suck your dick!" Toby knew the score now. He was Lennon's bitch.

Lennon smiled. "Now you understand. Took you awhile. Have a nice weekend, Beecher."

Toby didn't answer. Cursing would do no good. This was his life until he was off parole or sent back. He had to come to grips with it. He couldn't make his parole officer angry. Sure, he was free. He sank down to the floor and put his head back against the wire. He'd been very stupid, but he understood now. He certainly did.

********

Elliot wasn't exactly proud that he watched from the shadow made by a soda machine. Lennon broke Toby's balls but good. Toby's mistake had been thinking that his parole officer didn't care.

"Since you're here, buy me a soda," Lennon said.

Elliot dug out some money and fed the machine. "He ain't like the rest of your ex-cons."

"No. I expect him to stay out. Dumbest thing I've ever heard." Lennon pushed his selection. "O'Reily thinks he owns Beecher now."

"Well, I think Beecher knows the truth now." Elliot handed him the soda. "All weekend?"

"Let him out Monday morning right before work." Lennon popped the can. "I thought he might try to hurt you."

"And if he had?" Elliot chewed the inside of his lip. He'd thought the same.

"He'd have woken up in Oz." Lennon looked back down the hallway. "You're gonna help me out here, right?"

Elliot shrugged. "I'll keep an eye on him. I wasn't doing anything else this weekend."

"Move him to a holding cell in about an hour - cot and a toilet." Lennon took a long drink. "You like him?"

"I tried not to, but he ain't all that bad." Elliot bought himself a diet soda. "He makes good coffee."

Lennon laughed and started walking. Elliot went with him. Cragen pulled Lennon aside, and Elliot stopped at his desk. He put Toby's things in the top drawer.

"That vein in Beecher's forehead is freaky." Benson got to her feet. "I'm gone. Have a good weekend."

Elliot waved. He sat down and sipped his drink. That vein thing was weird, but it always let him know when Toby was pissed. Elliot could wish that Lennon had kept him out of it.

"Glad it was you and not me." Munch cocked his hip on Benson's desk.

"Lennon knew that Toby could kick your ass." Elliot smiled.

Munch laughed. "You getting him dinner?"

"Shit. I have to babysit him all weekend, don't I?" Elliot leaned back in his chair. He didn't mind doing it. It was partially his responsiblity after all, which Lennon had known.

"He likes Italian." Munch strolled off. Elliot wondered how Munch knew that.

*********

Toby didn't bother pacing. He still hurt in places, and it would be stupid to waste energy. Men came and went around him, and he sat on the floor, leaning against the cage. He didn't think they'd leave him here long. No toilet. His kids were going to try to call this weekend, and he'd be rotting in here.
It would have been easy to blame Elliot, but Toby couldn't do that. This was all on him. He'd known better than to get in debt to O'Reily.

"Okay, Lennon wants you in a holding cell."

Toby got to his feet. "I'm his bitch. I'll be good."

Elliot opened the door and took the cuffs off Toby's wrists. "I'll find you one with curtains."

"I don't want you to think I'm enjoying this," Toby growled and rubbed his wrists. He walked with him. Elliot took him through another door. And another.

Elliot stopped. "Now this is going to be a pain in my ass. If I could book you, I wouldn't have to worry."

"Gee. Sorry to inconvenience you."

Elliot turned around. "This is what I get for doing a favor."

The irony wasn't lost on Toby. He sighed and rubbed his face. Elliot started walking again. This time the other way. Toby followed him until they were back near the squadroom.

"I'm getting tired of walking." Toby stopped and leaned against the soda machine.

Elliot rolled his eyes and went in Cragen's office. Toby figured this was his moment to escape. Yeah. Right. He bought a soda instead. His stomach rumbled, and he hoped they fed him at some point. Elliot came striding out of Cragen's office.

"If it's a pain in your ass, I'm good with that!" Cragen said loudly as he followed Elliot out.

Elliot threw up his hands, took Toby by the arm, and they went back down the hallway. Toby laughed. "A cell means a cell, fool."

"It's not like you're going anywhere," Elliot growled.

Toby nearly laughed. This situation wasn't funny, but Elliot was being stupid, and that was always funny. "I'm an ex-con. You know - one of the bad guys. Slap me in cuffs, haul me around, give me the nightstick up the ass treatment."

"Ouch." Elliot took him all the way to a holding cell this time. "I'll get you some dinner."

Toby went in without a fuss. He sat on the cot and drank some soda. "The nuggets are always good."

Elliot shut the door and locked it. "I need to put a tag on you that says, 'Property of SVU.'"

"Now that's just cruel." Toby didn't watch him leave. The place was noisy. Guys cursing, doors slamming. He tried to relax. He was going to be here until Lennon let him out.

"Who put you in here?" A sergeant was right outside Toby's cell, staring at his clipboard.

"SVU - I belong to them." Toby went with it. He sure as hell didn't want to be shipped. "Call Detective Stabler if you want to complain."

"Got it." He wrote it down. "Is he putting you on the bus to the Tombs?"

"God, no. He's coming back to kick my ass later." Toby smiled happily.

"I better call," the guy muttered and walked away. Toby laughed aloud. He had a feeling that he was losing it, but he didn't care. When he got out, he'd be a good dog - Lennon's bitch. But for now, he could act tough. A beating and jail time for O'Reily - they were so damn even.

"Hey, got a cigarette?"

"I wish." Toby didn't make eye contact. "You did call your lawyer, right?"

"Sure did. He blew me off." The guy shrugged. "I'll be out soon."

Toby nodded and finished his soda. Shit.

********

Elliot got him a burger, fries, and a shake. Italian seemed to be asking a bit much. He spotted the sergeant in charge right before he went through the last door.

"My guy behaving?"

"Sure." Sergeant Green nodded. "You want him to go to the Tombs?"

"He doesn't do me any good there!" Elliot made sure Green understood. "He gets out Monday. So, just leave him. Okay?"

"Got it." Green made a note on his clipboard. "I'll put a tag on his cell door."

"Good idea." Elliot went on through, opened Toby's cell door, and said, "How can you sleep in all this racket?"

Toby opened his eyes and sat up. "Practice."

Elliot handed him the food. "I'll stop in tomorrow and check on you."

"Coffee would make me hate you less." Toby put the bags aside. "Hey, I promised Father Michael I'd work on Sunday. Can you call him and tell him I can't?"

Elliot pushed away the spurt of guilt. "I don't have his number."

"Use my phone, moron." Toby grinned. "It's on your desk."

"You're pretty damn mouthy for a guy behind bars." Elliot wasn't sure he liked this side of Toby.

"Cells bring out the worst in me." Toby shrugged. He pulled over a bag and opened it. "Thanks for dinner."

Elliot nodded, locked the door, and headed back to his desk. It was late, and he was going home. He'd call Father Michael in the morning and bring Toby some food. This wasn't exactly how he wanted to spend his weekend, but at least Toby was talking to him again. Elliot groaned. He was so pathetic.

*********

Toby rolled to his stomach and groaned. He still ached, and this cot was no better than a sheet of plywood, and he wanted to go home. All of this was far too familiar. He also wanted a drink. Even after all these years of sobriety, the craving came and went. His brain had been thoroughly addicted, and he remembered how nice it had been to be fuzzy. Chris had understood. He would laugh and say, 'You need to suck on something? I got a long neck for ya.' Toby smiled at the memory. He'd taken him up on it several times. What would Elliot say? Toby thought about it.

"Want some coffee?"

Toby blinked. That probably wasn't it. He looked over his shoulder. "Oh, it's you. Shit."

"Good morning to you too." Elliot held out a cup and a bag. "I went to Starbucks."

Toby moved fast and snatched. "Who made that crap in the lounge yesterday?"

Elliot sighed. "Me. Thanks. A lot."

"Sorry." Toby didn't mean it. He took a sip. It was so good. "I don't think Lennon expected you to wait on me. I think he wanted me to suffer."

"We don't serve meals here. We book them and transport them to the Tombs." Elliot leaned against the bars. "He knew I'd be babysitting you."

Toby looked in the bag. "I will be your bitch for this."

"Uh, well, gee, that guy over there is watching." Elliot rubbed his face. "I'll bring you enough to get through the day around one. Okay?"

"If you want." Toby smiled. "Or we could send out for pizza."

"Smartass." Elliot went out and locked the door. "I need a life."

"You're just now figuring that out?" Toby laughed just to irritate him. "I feel so much better about my crappy life."

Elliot grumbled something and left. Toby knew he was pushing his luck, but he didn't care. He nibbled the bear's claw, trying to make it last, and drank his coffee very slowly. Elliot was good to him, and he'd be damned if he knew why.

*********

Elliot heard a phone ring, but it wasn't his. It took a moment before he realized it was Toby's. He opened his desk drawer, checked the caller I.D., and answered it anyway. "Hello?"

"Dad?"

Elliot's heart dropped through the floor. "No. I'm sorry. This is a friend of your dad. He can't come to the phone right now."

"Is he in trouble?" The young girl sounded breathless.

"He's fine. He just had to work, and he forgot his phone on my desk," Elliot lied. "Can I have him call you?"

"Please." She gulped. "You swear he's okay?"

"I swear, and I'm a cop so I can't lie." Elliot shut his eyes for a moment against her pain. "Is Angus there?"

"Yes. I'll get him."

Elliot waited and wanted to kill Lennon for doing this to him.

"Toby?"

"No, this is Elliot Stabler."

"Excuse me? What the hell is going on?"

"Is Toby's daughter still standing there?" Elliot paused. "Don't do this in front of her."

"Don't lecture me."

Elliot heard the sound of a door shutting. Only then did he continue, "Toby's in lockup this weekend. Tell the kids that he had to work."

"What the hell?" Angus went right to angry. "What did you do?"

"Toby's parole officer was pissed and put him in lockup for the weekend. Toby got in a fight with a cop, and it didn't go over well." Elliot hesitated. "Toby's damn lucky that he's not on his way to Oz. Now, tell them that he's fine and he'll call Monday."

Angus was breathing hard. "Give me the name and number of Toby's parole officer."

Elliot dug it out and read it off. It was a damn fool idea, but he wasn't going to mention it. "Anything else?"

"Stay away from Toby, you jackass." Angus hung up. Elliot stared at the phone and then shut it. He sensed that Angus didn't like him. Oh well. Since he had the phone out, he flipped through the address book and called Father Michael. That done, Elliot turned off the phone. He hated having to disappoint Toby's kids, but Angus needed to settle down and not make it worse for his brother.

"Are you working today?"

Elliot put the phone away and smiled at his boss. "Thought I might."

"Good. Catch up on your paperwork." Cragen looked around the office and lowered his voice. "He doing okay?"

"He was asleep. He grabbed the coffee and said something rude. I think he's fine." Elliot thought it was interesting that Cragen seemed to like Toby.

"Sounds like he is." Cragen edged closer. "I'm not going to cut him any slack, but . . . "

"I know what you're saying." Elliot did. Cragen had been drunk and dangerous more than once. He saw himself in Toby, trying to stay sober and do better. Elliot smiled a little. "Tell the truth - you were glad we went over there."

Cragen looked disgusted. "I didn't need the mess, but they had no business in our precinct."

Elliot nodded. He was curious about something. "You sending Toby to Novak?"

"No. He can work for her at his desk here. I don't keep him that busy."

Elliot was relieved, but he'd never admit it. Cragen pointed at the pile of paperwork and went back to his office. Elliot found a pencil, turned on his computer, and got started. Toby should be glad he didn't have to fill out all this crap.

*********

Toby took off his shoes first and then his belt, and finally he pulled out his shirt and unbuttoned it. He'd forgotten how boring jail was. In Oz, he'd had work and always, always something to read. Here, nothing but men cursing. He wished he weren't so bruised up, but he was, and pushups and situps were impossible. Some long stretches were about as much as he could handle. Pacing was stupid. He did spend some time praying, but that got old fast.

He laced his hands behind his head and tried to come up with a plan for his future. He'd definitely be working at SVU, and staying sober, and trying to get straight with Lennon. That last one might be the hardest, but he had to prove he was trustworthy so he could go home on weekends. This fucking fiasco with O'Reily had set him back. If worse came to worst, he'd see little of them until he was off parole in exactly one year, six months and twenty-six days. He'd done hard time. This would be easy.

"God, I'm crazy." Toby went to piss. It was something to do. He shook off, zipped up, and tossed his shirt on the cot. It was hot down here - too many men breathing the same air.

"Please don't take the pants off," Elliot drawled.

Toby turned around. "It's hot!" He was tempted to do just that, and he would later when things quieted down. "What's up with you?"

Elliot opened the door and put a small cooler down by the cot. "Food and some drinks. I can't have you dying from thirst."

"Maybe I can sell them for drugs." Toby grinned his worst. He was feeling the stress.

Elliot rubbed his face. "Can we talk seriously for a minute? Turn off the attitude."

Toby scratched his stomach lazily and leaned against the bars. "Sure."

"Your daughter called. I answered your phone and spoke to her."

"Holly? Fuck!" Toby got right in Elliot's face. "Did you tell her that her skel dad had fucked up big time?"

Elliot leaned slightly away. "No. I told her you had to work, and that you were fine. And I spoke to Angus. He was pretty mad."

"Shit!" Toby whipped away from him and went to squeeze the bars. Now this was really fucked up. "Angus already thinks I'm a goddamn loser!"

"He does or you do?" Elliot asked softly. He continued, "So, Lennon may come down here. If he does, I suggest you play nice."

Toby nodded. He'd do what he had to do. "I get it. Kiss ass. Suck dick. I can do that. God damn it! I'm always letting them down!"

Elliot bit his lower lip. "You did the wrong thing for the right reasons. I have a feeling that it's a habit with you. This'll blow over, just don't make it worse."

"Words to live by." Toby put his hands in his hair and pulled, leaning his head against the bars. What a fucking mess and he'd done it to himself. "I'm sorry. I just get so frustrated with myself."

Elliot moved a little closer and put a hand on Toby's shoulder. "I know. Don't give up."

Toby turned and look him in the eye. He loved the touch, and it was all he could do not to beg for more. "Why not?"

"Haven't you come too far to quit now?" Elliot didn't look away.

"Maybe so. I thought I'd die a couple of times and it would all become moot." Toby wanted to touch him, but wouldn't. He couldn't. It wasn't right. "Chris did what he wanted, and damn the consequences."

"Did that work for him?" Elliot tilted his head to the side.

Toby didn't want to talk about Chris any longer. "What about you? Did you regret your rip?"

"Nah." Elliot shook his head and smiled. "Hey, you want to shower and change clothes?"

"Do I have to suck dick to get it?" Toby knew he didn't smell all that good.

Elliot rolled his eyes. "No."

Toby put his shirt on. "Too bad," he muttered. He didn't look to see if Elliot had heard him, but he'd meant that.

*********

Elliot pretended he hadn't heard. It seemed the safest route to go. Toby was hip-deep in a prison attitude that Elliot had seen before and never particularly enjoyed dealing with. He left the cell open and went out to the sergeant.

"I'm taking my prisoner down to SVU for a little while. Don't put anyone in his cell."

"No problem. We're quiet today."

Elliot opened the big door again, and Toby scooted out. "The other guys are so jealous."

"You're funny." Elliot didn't rush to the locker room. He wasn't in any hurry today. Toby started stripping as soon as they crossed the doorway. Elliot opened his mouth to warn him, but it died when Benson turned and gave Toby the look of death.

"Like you haven't seen it before," Toby said. He was half-naked by the time he'd finished his sentence. Elliot fought not to laugh at the offended look on Benson's face. She was used to a little more respect. Elliot sat on the bench and waited for her to perp slap him.

"Yes, but I don't want to see yours."

"Then look somewhere else." Toby was down to his boxers, and he shucked those off fast. He grabbed a towel and headed for the showers. Elliot kept his eyes on her. She was checking out Toby's ass. Elliot found it hard to criticize when he'd done the same.

"He has a swastika on his ass!" She wasn't quiet.

Toby stuck his head around the partition. "Elliot, did she miss a meeting?"

"I guess so." Elliot laughed until he realized that Benson now wanted to kill him. "What?"

"What meeting?"

"Well, when Toby was in Oz, the Nazis gave him that. I think he's still pissed about it." Elliot kept it light. If she wanted to know more, she could read the file.

Benson straightened her jacket. "He probably wised off once too often!"

Elliot shrugged. He wasn't going to discuss it. Toby was alive and able to crack jokes about it - that's what mattered. "Olivia, try to be sensitive to the man's pain."

She gave him a long look. "I'm going home. I'll see you Monday."

"Bye." Elliot smiled. She'd get over it. He did his best to sit quietly and not think about the naked man in the shower. Had Chris kissed that swastika? Elliot groaned softly and rubbed his eyes. He couldn't afford to think that way. It'd lead to a bad place.

"Wow, I feel better."

"You smell better too." Elliot kept his eyes away, but he wanted to look. "I'll bring clean clothes for you Monday morning. Lennon said to let you out then."

Toby didn't reply, and Elliot didn't look to see why. Finally, Toby straddled the bench right in front of him. Now, their eyes met. "Thanks." He slipped on his wife-beater.

Elliot felt almost helpless to resist, and he gently lay his hand on Toby's thigh. "Anything else?"

"A pile of books would be nice, but I suppose you'd get in trouble." Toby seemed to be staring at the hand. "I don't know what you're thinking, but for your sake, you should stop."

"I know." Elliot squeezed Toby's thigh. "I'll be in late tomorrow morning. I go to Mass."

Toby nodded and slowly put his hand on top of Elliot's. "What would Chris say?"

The back of Elliot's hand grew a little warm, and Toby's pinkie nudged Elliot's. It was an easy touch, but it felt like a bridge between them. The heat settled through Elliot's body and he knew he wouldn't be backing away from this. He'd take it as far as Toby let him. It was scary to feel so certain about a man.

"Chris, maybe, cared about us both." Elliot would think more about it later, when they weren't touching. "Let's go back."

"Okay." Toby gave a shake of his head, and his hair got Elliot wet. "Oops."

Elliot got to his feet, pulling his hand away slowly. "You need a cut."

"I'm a rebel." Toby laughed and was right behind him as they went out. "You were too. What happened?"

Elliot wished that Chris had found something to talk about other than his cousin. "Life. And you're not."

Toby gave him a sharp look. "I wasn't, but now, I think, I must be because I'm no good at staying on the straight and narrow."

"It takes practice." Elliot put his hand on Toby's shoulder. It was to guide him, nothing else. "How are all those bruises?"

"Not bad. My leg and back hurt the worst." Toby smiled at him. "Tell Father Michael I'll be at Monday's meeting."

"I will." Elliot opened the main door. He felt the tension in Toby's shoulder. Toby didn't want to go back, but he would. Elliot shut the cell door slowly. "Okay?"

"No, but I'll be fine." Toby peeled off the wife-beater and threw it on the cot. "You're a good guy, Elliot."

Elliot didn't believe that for a minute. "Compliments will get you coffee, bitch."

Toby jerked in surprise. His eyes widened and then he laughed. Elliot left with the sound in his ears. He liked it.

********

Toby investigated the contents of his cooler and found enough food to make him smile. He ate a sandwich. It was pretty good, and he washed it down with a bottle of water.

"Give me some of that, fucker!"

"Fuck you." Toby sat on his cot and thought about Elliot. Elliot was one of the good guys, and how he'd managed it growing up with Chris Keller was one of the seven wonders of the world. Of course, that didn't mean that Elliot was perfect. Hell no. He was pig-headed and not shy about throwing a punch, but he tried to do what was right for the right reasons. Chris had done what he wanted, and fuck anyone who got in his way. He'd even fucked over Toby.

Toby would never forget him. He'd promised not to, and he wouldn't, but Elliot had touched him. An easy touch that promised more. Did he know it? Toby took another drink of water. It was going to be a long weekend.

*********

Elliot smiled. "Toby wanted me to tell you hello and apologize again for skipping out on you."

Father Michael raised his eyebrows. "Is he okay? I still can't believe he was beaten at work!"

"He's doing better. He'll be at group on Monday." Elliot made a note that Toby confided in Father Michael. It was something to remember.

"We'll manage. We always do." Father Michael bustled away. Elliot sighed. He was Catholic. There was no excuse for him leaving when Father Michael needed help.

Elliot got out his cell phone. "Munch? I need your help with Beecher."

********

"Toby, do you believe in hell?" Munch held out a large cup of coffee.

Toby grinned and took it. "Thanks. And no."

"I knew you had Jewish blood in you." Munch looked him up and down. "How're you doing?"

"Bored out of my mind." Toby sipped his coffee. It was the good stuff. "Where's Elliot?"

"Filling in for you at St. Mark's." Munch laughed. "Guilt is a wonderful thing, but more importantly, let me tell you the secret behind dealing with Lennon."

"I'm all ears." Toby smiled.

Munch touched his ears. "Smartass. Okay, here it is - Lennon seems lazy and slow, but he isn't. Not at all. It's a ploy to suck you in, and then he gets the last laugh."

"He sure did." Toby made a motion with his hand. "Go on."

"Since he was a cop, he knows all the tricks. So, for however much time you have left - do nothing but work, shit, group, and sleep. And if you aren't sure whether you should do something, don't."

"That's profound." Toby thought maybe Munch was right. "I blame it on my enthusiasm for helping out SVU. I should've let Novak promise McFadden the moon."

"Exactly. You should have done nothing." Munch leaned against the bars and stuck his hands in his pockets. "And you're on your own with Benson."

Toby laughed. "I gave up on that." He saw the sparkle in Munch's eyes. "She hates drunks."

"We all have our crosses to bear." Munch pointed at him. "Put yours down occasionally."

Toby blinked in astonishment. "This from a good Jewish boy. I think I'll take it to heart."

"Good." Munch nudged the cooler with his foot. "Empty?"

"Pretty much." Toby opened it and took out the last water. "Thanks for the coffee."

Munch took the cooler and left without another word. Toby smiled after him. Munch was an enigma, but definitely a man that Toby was willing to share a cell with.

*********

Elliot went home to shower. He smelled like salami and mothballs. It wasn't an attractive combination. Everyone had asked after Toby. They all liked him and were worried about him. They'd heard that he'd been beaten badly, and they wanted details. He'd played stupid. Church was a wonderful place to pick up all the gossip, but he was staying out of it this time.

Clean and dressed, he checked the time. Nearly one. Toby was probably hungry. Elliot was too. He made a call and grabbed his keys. The squadroom wasn't busy. Even Cragen had gone home. Elliot hung up his coat and went to his desk. The cooler was on it, and he put it on the floor.

"This for you?"

Elliot looked up and smiled. He paid the young man, bought a couple of sodas, and headed to lockup. The sergeant got the door for him, and he went in quietly.

"God, I must be hallucinating. I smell pizza." Toby had his arm over his face. Elliot realized that he couldn't get the cell door open with his hands full. He chuckled, and Toby was instantly on his feet. "Shit!"

"Hey, I need help. Come get the key out of my pocket." Elliot almost blushed.

Toby laughed now. He stuck his arm out through the bars and into Elliot's jeans. Elliot felt like a stupid teenager for a second. Toby fished it out and unlocked the cell door. "They never let me do that at Oz!"

Elliot grinned. He put the pizza on the cot. "You wanted pizza?"

"Fuck, yes!" Toby tossed him the key. Elliot caught it easily, tucked it away, and sat down. Toby took the other side. "Supreme?"

"Of course." Elliot tried to look offended. "Where are all your buddies?"

"They took the last one out this morning." Toby pushed his hair. "I was beginning to think I was in one of those Twilight Zone episodes."

"Where you're the last man on Earth?" Elliot opened the box. It did smell good. "And you're stuck in jail?"

"Yeah." Toby took a deep breath. "Well, it's official. I'm your bitch."

"Good," Elliot muttered as he shoved a slice in his mouth. He hoped that Toby hadn't heard him. Toby starting eating, saying nothing. He was totally focused on the food. Elliot relaxed and did the same. When he'd finished three slices, he came up for air. "Everyone asked about you today at church. I think they like you."

Toby shrugged. "They're all nice, but once they found out I wasn't Catholic, they stopped talking about their daughters."

Elliot laughed. "Some things never change." He popped open his soda. "Long night?"

"Yeah." Toby wasn't smiling now. "All the old nightmares came out to play."

"Some nights I don't even try to sleep." Elliot didn't want to get in a pissing match about old traumas so he changed the subject. "Did Lennon come down here?"

"No, but I'd be willing to bet that I'm seeing him tomorrow." Toby didn't act like the thought bothered him. Elliot rubbed his back against the bars and got a little more comfortable. He just wanted to sit and talk. Toby suddenly looked away. "I've seen Chris do that. Are you sure you weren't twins, and your parents lied to you?"

Elliot's brain froze up. It pretty much shut down for a second, and then he was back. He had never looked at Chris's birth certificate. "I'm not going there."

"I don't blame you." Toby popped a black olive in his mouth. "When it warms up, could you, if you didn't mind, take me out to his grave?"

Guilt and anger crashed over him. His eyes felt hot with unshed tears. "If you want."

Toby seemed to clear his throat. "You can just give me directions, if you want. I'm sorry."

Elliot wanted to run right out of the cell to the safety of his desk, but it wouldn't help. "I'll take you, but we ain't going to turn it into a sob festival."

Toby surprised him. He picked up the pizza box, put it on the floor, switched end for end, and plunked his head in Elliot's lap. "Ah, that's better. Would it kill them to put pillows in these cells?"

Elliot wanted to laugh and shove him off at the same time. He chuckled softly and kept his hands in safe territory. He'd thought that he could find out what Chris loved in this man, and then run away - far away. Chris had ended up dead. Elliot stared down at him. He saw it so clearly today, and his feet were rooted to the floor. "Wimp."

"That's me." Toby shut his eyes and laced his hands across his stomach. His legs dangled off, but he appeared comfortable. Elliot let him rest.

*********

Toby shut his eyes and breathed in the smell of him. This close, it overpowered the stench of the cells. He relaxed and pretended they were in his apartment, and they'd had sex, and he was safe. Safe. He smiled. Time slipped away, nothing chased him, and when he finally took a long stretch, his hand bumped into Elliot's chest. He blinked and looked again. It was Elliot, and that was good.

"Hey, El."

"I shouldn't like the sound of that." Elliot's hand gently brushed over Toby's face. "I should go."

Toby leaned up, but he took one second to press his body into Elliot's chest. It felt so damn good that he almost felt guilty. Elliot's arm came around him, and Toby knew he hadn't made a mistake. The touch gave him something that he hadn't had in a very long time, and he wanted to clutch at it like a lost child would a favorite stuffed animal.

Elliot sighed. "Too far to back out now, I guess."

"I didn't want this. I fought it." Toby took a deep breath that came up from his groin. "I'm not to blame."

Elliot kissed him on the forehead. "I know. I think Chris would understand."

"Well, I don't." Toby didn't want to ever move, but he did because he sensed it was time to turn him loose. "I've said thanks a lot this weekend, and mostly for you."

"Part of this was on me." Elliot slowly got to his feet, stretching. "I'll stop in late. Okay?"

"You don't have to. I can make it until morning." Toby refused to beg for another touch. Elliot picked up the trash and shrugged as if to say that he'd do what he wanted. He locked the door and left. Toby went to the bars and watched. He sighed. Chris should've warned him. Maybe Chris had.

********

Elliot went to see his kids. While he was there, he took a good long look at his wife. She was pretty. He'd loved her once. Hadn't he? Or had it all been about life grabbing him and making him over into something he'd never intended. Life sure had messed with Chris.

"You've got that look on your face," Kathy said.

"What look?" Elliot drank some beer. Dinner was soon.

Kathy rolled her eyes. "The one I hate. The one that I saw too often." She came over closer to the table. "The one where you have no idea why we were married at all."

Elliot was used to the guilt. "I loved you."

"Did you?" Kathy went back to the stove.

"I must have." Elliot frowned. "Was I so weak that I couldn't make my own decisions? I let life yank me around?"

Kathy raised her eyebrows. "You let your father tell you what to do. You saw what was happening to Chris and you were scared."

Elliot drank some more beer. "I guess I was the smart one, since Chris is dead."

Kathy didn't reply. Elliot was glad. He didn't feel smart. The kids came through the kitchen and grabbed him up for a game of Sorry. It seemed appropriate.

*********

Toby wished he had a watch. It seemed like days since Elliot had left. Maybe it had been. He grabbed a crossbar and hung, wishing that he wasn't such a damn fool.

"What are you here for?"

Toby glanced at the guy taking up space in the cell next to him. "Parole violation. You?"

"DUI." The guy laughed. It seemed out of place - forced. "You'd think I killed someone!"

"Did you?" Toby saw a glimpse of himself in that man, and he didn't like it at all.

"Nah. Just killed a dumpster." He came over to the bars and stuck out his hand. "Samuel Dean."

"Toby Beecher." Toby shook the offered hand. "Your lawyer is getting you out, right?"

"He's on it." Dean grinned. "He'll get me off."

Toby hoped not. "There's an AA group at St. Mark's."

"Don't preach it, buddy. I'm not a drunk." Dean laughed heartily. He was a bona fide prick. "I just had a few too many!"

"Whatever." Toby went to sit on his cot. He had thought the same, until Kathy Rockwell had splattered against his windshield.

Dean paced. He'd been doing that on and off for hours. "You'd drink too if you had my wife!"

"My wife killed herself because I was sent to prison on a DUI." Toby smiled in that way that scared people. He had hated her for it at first, but after all these years, he only felt remorse.

"No shit?" Dean stopped to stare at him. "Mine would never do that. We have kids!"

"So did I. My youngest was barely one." Toby shrugged. "I'm sure your wife enjoys your drinking."

Dean rubbed a hand across his forehead. It was hot down here. Toby still didn't have a shirt on. He leaned back against the bars and waited. At least this conversation was making the time pass faster.

"What was prison like?" Dean frowned.

"Pretty damn bad." Toby ran his hands through his hair and pulled out a few tangles. A haircut was a good idea.

"Do they really rape white guys like they say on TV all the time?" Dean was somewhere between worried and morbidly curious.

Toby took his time answering. He made him wait for it. "Not if you're old and ugly, but you aren't. Hurts like hell."

"Fuck," Dean said softly. "You lying to me?"

"This is what they do to pretty white boys in prison, and you are pretty." Toby got up and showed off the worst part of him. "Of course, the Aryans might not get a hold of you. The homeboys might, and if that happens, well, you won't live to make parole."

Dean collapsed on his bunk and put his head in his hands. "I didn't hurt anyone."

"Not yet. Hope for the best." Toby laughed. He wanted to scare the guy. "I lived through being shanked." He twisted his back to show off his scar. "Some don't."

Dean seemed to get smaller.

"It was when they broke my arms and legs that I wanted to die." Toby rubbed his wrist. "No, I take that back. It was when I wouldn't pay them their blood money so they sent someone to kill my son. That's when I wanted to die."

Dean gasped. "You've got to be lying!"

"I wish I was, you fool." Toby shrugged and went back to his cot. He laced his hands behind his head. "Once they find out you're rich, they make you pay and pay. And if you don't . . . " He didn't finish the sentence, and he didn't feel guilty for the lie. Vern had killed Gary, but it hadn't been about money. It had been far more complicated. Toby didn't wipe away the tear that trickled from the corner of his eye down his face. He could never cry enough tears for his son.

"If it's so awful, why did you violate your parole?" Dean wasn't stupid.

Toby sat up and looked at him. "That's the thing. Prison doesn't let you go easy. I had a buddy. He did me a favor. I had to do him a favor. It landed me here. You think you can walk out those big doors and leave it all behind, but you can't."

"Try harder," Elliot growled.

Toby laughed, but he knew it was a bitter sound. "I'll give a shot. What's up, Detective?"

Elliot opened the door and pulled out his cuffs. "We have a tiny problem."

"Great. Just great." Toby had seen this bad ass version of Elliot before, but this time, he hoped it wasn't for him. He turned and put his hands on his head, playing it up for Dean.

Elliot picked up Toby's shirt and hit him with it. "First, that."

Toby put it on. Elliot pushed him hard against the bars and thoroughly searched him, which was ridiculous. Toby saw Dean's face. Dean was having an epiphany.

"You can't rough him up like that!"

Elliot pulled Toby's arms back roughly and cuffed him. "He's an ex-con. He has no rights. He can't vote. He can't own a car, and he sure as hell can't complain."

Toby let out a grunt. "Take it easy, Dean. The cop is right."

Elliot dragged him out and down the short hallway. When they cleared the door, Elliot stopped. "Think he got the message?"

"Well, I sure did." Toby winced. "These are too tight!"

Elliot took the cuffs off. "Come on."

Toby straightened his sweats. "I think you liked feeling me up."

Elliot didn't answer that, but he smirked. Toby followed those wide shoulders to the squadroom. When they got there, Toby asked with dread in his heart, "What's the problem?"

"No coffee. Go make some, will ya? I put dinner on your desk." Elliot gave him a sly look. "You could check your email, if you wanted."

Toby shook his head. "You had me worried!"

"I said it was a tiny problem." Elliot went to his desk. Toby wanted to smack the back of Elliot's head, but he went to make coffee instead. Cops had to have their coffee. He snickered. He'd been rescued from lockup for a caffeine emergency. At least he did something right. He washed out the pot, got it started, and ignored the mess.

"Is Beecher still in lockup?"

Toby went to the rail and watched Elliot try to think of an answer. "Uh, well . . ."

"Go get him. My computer is completely locked up and TARU went home!" Cragen looked disgusted.

Elliot turned his chair. "Toby! Get down here and fix Cragen's computer before he has a meltdown!"

Toby came down the stairs, laughing. Cragen glared at them both. "He has been in lockup, right?"

"There was a coffee emergency," Toby said before Elliot could open his big mouth.

"Thank God you made it and not him." Cragen pointed at his office. "Go fix it."

"Yes, sir." Toby looked longingly at the food on his desk, but he didn't argue. Luckily, it didn't take long to straighten out the computer. "Is this real food?"

"Kathy made a plate for you."

"Wow." Toby picked up the fork. "Can I marry her next?"

"Dickhead."

Toby turned on his computer and ate his food. He noticed it was nine o'clock at night. Late. Elliot had warned him. Angus had sent him a long email, detailing the conversation that he'd had with Lennon. Toby figured that his parole officer hated him now. Angus had made that situation worse with his big mouth. The other two were from his kids, and he answered those first. When he finished, he read the news. He didn't look away until Elliot leaned against the desk.

"Did you enjoy seeing your kids?" Toby did want to know, but he was stalling for time.

"Yeah. Kathy hadn't let me stay for dinner in months." Elliot smiled, but not big. "She's a good woman."

"She deserves better than you."

Elliot's jaw clenched. "Exactly."

"Whip yourself with a wet noodle and do ten Hail Marys." Toby sighed. He and Elliot both liked to take all the blame.

Elliot crossed his arms. "And she thinks I'm a smartass. I'm thinking about letting her talk to you. I'll come out smelling like a rose."

"Thank her for me." Toby laughed and made sure he'd eaten every crumb. "Seriously, can I have a pillow?"

Elliot stared, rubbed his mouth, and then laughed. "You make me nuts."

"I hope Dean is gone. I want some sleep tonight." Toby shut down his computer. He was ready but not willing.

"Go up to the crib and get a pillow." Elliot grinned. "But I'm telling everyone what a wimp you are."

Toby went to get a pillow. That was no threat at all. One more night and he was done.

*********

Elliot delivered Toby, his clothes, and his coffee to the locker room before going to his desk. It had been a long weekend, and he was glad it was over. Next time, Munch could babysit. Elliot nearly laughed at himself. He was a liar, and he needed to go to confession.

"Benson, Stabler, get a move on this one."

Elliot grabbed the paper from him. He'd think about Toby later.

*********
Chapter Six - Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. John 5:35

Toby cleaned out his locker and went home. It had been the day from hell, and he still had AA tonight. He could've called a cab, but he walked. It felt good to go somewhere. It wasn't raining, but it was cold. Burrowing into his coat, he tried not to think about his lunchtime meeting with Lennon. It had definitely spoiled his appetite. One more fuckup and he was back at the halfway house. Angus had made it worse, not better.

"You think because your brother is some fancy lawyer, I'm gonna give you a free ride?" Lennon had yelled. "Think again, asswipe!"

Toby had wanted to act tough, curse, and hit someone, but all he'd done was apologize. He didn't want to lose what he had. Lockup had brought that lesson home. It was like Munch said. Toby had to do nothing. Control himself. It wasn't easy. At Oz, if he beat the crap out of someone, he'd end up in the hole, but no one cared. He hadn't even cared. Out here, he had to behave, be a member of society, and he'd have never guessed that it would be so hard. Whiskey would make it easier, but that wasn't an option. He wouldn't drink. He'd hunker down and do nothing.

*********

Elliot pulled himself off the cot in the crib and headed for the coffee pot. He was tired, still tired, but he had work to do. The winter blahs were over, and people were dropping dead all over Manhattan. The ones that weren't dead were bloody. He hadn't spoken a word to anyone that wasn't work related in longer than he could remember.

His open cases were down to three though, and he had some hope that he'd see his bed again tonight. It'd be so nice. He stretched, sipped his coffee, and went downstairs. As he passed Toby's desk, he wondered how Toby was getting along. Toby worked, and he went home. Elliot didn't know any more than that. There wasn't any time, not right now, but maybe in a couple of days.

"Hey, Elliot, have you seen Toby Beecher?"

Elliot turned to see Morales from TARU. "Hey, Morales. No, I haven't. You need something?"

Morales shook his head. "I'll leave a note on his desk."

Elliot shrugged. He picked up his latest case and took it to Munch's desk. They needed to talk. Munch grinned. "Now Morales, I know which team he bats for."

"What?" Elliot looked over at Morales again. "Him?"

"And Toby?" Munch leaned back in his chair. "Never know. I love office romances."

"You love laughing at them." Elliot didn't like the conclusions that Munch was drawing. "You really think? Hell, never mind." He opened the file. "Let's do this instead."

*********

Toby pulled another chair up by the computer. "Show me."

Morales grinned and his fingers flew. Toby smiled. "Does anyone call you Ruben?"

"No one that's alive to talk about it." Morales tried to sound menacing, but it fell flat. "My parents were conflicted."

Toby laughed. "I always thought my name sounded Jewish."

"You aren't?"

Toby sighed and put his chin on his fist. "No. But the whole family is made up of lawyers."

"Denial. They're in denial."

They laughed together. Toby wasn't sure why Morales liked him, but they were friends, and it was nice not to be so alone. Elliot hadn't spoken to him in forever. Hadn't even looked at him. Toby had never been so completely ignored. Chris had been an amateur compared to his cousin. Toby knew what it meant. Elliot had changed his mind. He'd remembered that Toby was a skel, and he wasn't interested. He'd felt sorry for Toby, but nothing else. That touch in lockup had meant nothing - nothing and the thought hurt.

"You see?"

"Damn." Toby pulled his eyes off his shoes and looked at the screen. "NASA should do something about that."

Morales nodded. "I sent them an email. Maybe they'll fix it."

Toby got to his feet. "Want a soda or something?"

"Could we . . . go out for coffee?" Morales didn't look sure of himself.

Toby hesitated. It was only seven o'clock at night, but he had stayed home unless he was at group since Lennon had put him in lockup. "There's a coffee shop around the corner. I guess we could."

Morales smiled. "You're being careful, aren't you?"

"Very." Toby was embarrassed to admit that he was such a pussy. "Let me grab my keys."

They went out together and down the stairs, and Toby couldn't believe it when he saw Elliot. Had Elliot been home lately? Toby didn't know. He hoped Elliot would talk to him. Come up the stairs. Something. Even a look. Please.

"Hey, Morales." Elliot yawned. He seemed to blink and finally he said, "Toby. Hey."

"Hey." Morales smiled. "Come on, Toby."

Toby felt rooted to the floor, waiting for a word, but Elliot said nothing, and his eyes stayed far away. Toby gave up. He wasn't able to choke out any words. Morales patted him on the back, and the touch seemed to sear through him. For some reason, he thought he had a pier in his future.

*********

Elliot thought his head might explode. Munch was right. Morales and Toby were a couple. They were dating. Oh shit. Elliot leaned against his door, fumbled it open, and nearly fell down. He'd held Toby in his arms. They'd shared something, and then he'd done nothing but work. It was over before he'd had a chance. Toby had found someone else. He had walked away.

"God damn it!" Elliot threw his coat in a chair. He squeezed his head and sat down. He'd thought, maybe, if he could, they'd have something. "Fuck!"

Toby hadn't waited. He hadn't cared. Elliot got up and went to bed. Fuck him.

**********

Toby pulled Munch aside in the lounge. "What's wrong with Elliot?"

"I don't know who pissed in his coffee, but we all need to hide."

Toby nodded. "My desk is way too close."

"I'm closer than you are," Munch grumbled. Toby slunk down the stairs. He had some memos to type, and a case to research, and a lounge to clean. Maybe, if he didn't look at him, nothing bad would happen. Work dragged, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl in a hole. Elliot had lasers hooked to his eyes and was trying to kill him slowly. Toby was sure of it.

"Where's Beecher?"

Toby bit back a groan of frustration.

Elliot hooked his thumb at him. "And if you throw him in lockup this weekend, you can feed the asswipe!"

Lennon laughed, and Toby got to his feet. Shame poured over him. "Hey Elliot, kiss my ass!"

Elliot was on his feet in a blink. "You trying to start trouble? 'Cause I guarantee that I'll finish it!"

Toby didn't back down. "It'd be worth it to smack your fat head just once!"

Lennon grabbed him and marched him out into the hallway. "I thought you were doing better!"

Toby took a deep breath. He wasn't going to screw this up. "I am. I am! He just gets to me."

"Well, you better get it under control. Right now!" Lennon poked Toby in the chest with a big finger. "This is the kind of shit that you don't need."

Toby nodded, but he wasn't really listening. He had done nothing wrong. "I'm okay."

"Good." Lennon frowned. "Now, you're a lawyer, ain't ya?"

"Yeah." Toby wrenched his attention away from Elliot. "What do you need?"

"Let's go talk privately."

Toby gave Elliot one more glare before going with Lennon. It looked like he'd be doing some pro bono work. Lennon was going to use him like the bitch he was.

*********

Elliot came into the squadroom and looked around. Everyone had gone home. Shit. Everyone but Toby. Toby was clicking away at his computer - his shoulders slightly hunched. Elliot sat down, leaned back, and found a straw to chew.

"Your boyfriend make you get a haircut?" Elliot nearly flinched at the jealousy that was so obvious in his tone.

Toby glanced over his shoulder. "You did. Remember?"

Elliot didn't. He might have mentioned it was long, but that was it. "Lennon bust you up?"

"Elliot, you've made it clear that you don't like me - again - so leave me alone." Toby didn't look at him this time.

Elliot didn't know what to say to that. He hadn't made anything clear. It was all messed up. "How's the pier sound?"

"Fine. I don't care." Toby took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. He looked like a lawyer with glasses and short hair. Maybe that's why he hadn't cut it before. Elliot fumed. He wanted some answers, and he didn't know how to get them.

"When Chris was angry about something, what did he do?" Elliot snapped.

Toby turned now - his blue eyes sharp. "He killed people."

Elliot threw the straw away. He had no words for this because he'd never thought to feel this way, and the fact that he understood Chris's frustration worried him. "You like Morales?"

"He's a nice guy," Toby said. He didn't sound too enthusiastic. "I told him to forget it."

Elliot was out of his chair fast. He parked his butt on Toby's desk. "Why?"

Toby swallowed hard. "I'm already your bitch."

"Don't even whisper those words." Elliot put his finger in Toby's face. "Never!"

********

Toby got up fast and left the squadroom. He had to get away. Morales had wanted more than Toby had to give. Toby had felt awful about it. They were still friends, but that meant nothing and they both knew it. Toby sat down hard on the bench in the locker room. He shouldn't have said that to Elliot, even if it was true. Chris would have been thrilled to hear those words, but Elliot had only looked horrified.

"The courage to fix the things I can," Toby whispered. He hated that part of the pledge. It made people think that they could make things better, and that was a lie. Control was an illusion foistered on society by men in suits with lots of money. He clasped his hands together and shut his eyes. He had no choice. He'd work, he'd go to group, and he'd sleep. The tenets of Munch as Toby had taken to calling them. The Tao of Munch, when he was feeling goofy.

"You gonna cry?"

"Shut up, Elliot. You can treat your wife like shit, but not me." Toby got to his feet slowly. "Lennon isn't around to save your ass now."

Elliot drew his head back. "I thought you were my bitch." He drawled out the last word and made it as insulting as possible.

Toby sat back down before he hit him and didn't stop until blood ran. "You're angry. Fine. You're a fucker. Fine. I am not going to kill you for it."

"You talking to me or yourself?"

"Myself." Toby spread his knees and took a deep breath. Control. Control. "I'm going to work, group, sleep and do nothing. I am not going to fight with a repressed, angry, over-sized twin of the man who broke my arms. I am not!"

Elliot took a step back in what might have been astonishment. Toby shoved past him and ran. He turned off his computer fast, sending the information to his home computer. Grabbing his coat, he left the building before he lost it all again. Lennon would love to send him away for hitting a cop. The walk home wasn't long enough, and Toby ran up the stairs. Hiding was a very good choice right now. He'd trusted Elliot. He loved him. And it was all nothing but shit. Elliot was Chris - again! It hurt so much that he locked the door and slid down it to the floor.

********

Elliot slammed every door that he could until he stood at the base of the stairs that led to Toby's apartment. Anger didn't begin to describe it, and mixed in with it was a heavy dose of guilt. He'd made an assumption, and it had bitten him in the ass. Blaming fatigue was a lie. It had been his inability to trust. He wanted to trust Toby, but it was so damn hard. The instant he'd worked a few long hours, Toby had found another friend. Elliot cursed softly and gripped the rail of the staircase. He was a jealous fool.

Before he knew what he was doing, he knocked on the door. "Toby, let me in so we can talk."

Toby unlocked the door, but he stood in it. "Go away. Please. Don't brutalize me like your cousin did."

Elliot wanted to pull his hair and scream from frustration. "Let's not discuss this in the hallway."

"Let's not discuss this." Toby got out of the way though. Elliot went inside and locked the door behind him. They merely looked at each for what seemed like forever. Toby finally said, "I'm not strong enough to work, stay sober, and fight with you. In prison, I just fought with Chris. It was my life. I can't do that out here!"

"I don't want to fight." Elliot pushed his hand through his hair. "I thought you and Morales were, well, you know. I had a rough couple of weeks. I turned around, and you were gone. Like Kathy."

Toby took his coat off. He hung it up and went to the fridge. "Want a soda?"

"No." Elliot had spilled his guts all over the carpet, and all Toby did was go to the fridge? "I'm sorry."

Toby slumped down in a chair with his soda. "I shouldn't have said that bitch thing. I'm sorry. Prison habits die hard."

"I don't want you to think you're my bitch. It's degrading to both of us." Elliot almost took his coat off, but changed his mind. He didn't think he was welcome here tonight. "You tired?"

"Exhausted." Toby waved his hand at the computer. "And I have to finish that thing for Lennon by tomorrow."

"What's he making you do?" Elliot didn't like the sound of that.

"I'm drawing up some contracts for him. While I'm not your bitch, I am his." Toby rubbed his face. "Leave. Will ya?"

Elliot hesitated. There had to be more he could say. "I have the day off tomorrow."

Toby took his soda to the computer desk. He didn't even glance at him. "Elliot, you're asking for too much from a dirty skel. You need to go."

"I'll . . . leave you alone." Elliot made the only decision possible now that he cared. He opened the door. "I promise."

Toby turned his face further away. Elliot walked out, feeling as if he'd been stuck by lightning. He'd tried, but it was already too late. His anger had killed whatever they might have had. He leaned against the wall and breathed hard. There was no blaming Toby this time. Toby couldn't handle it - couldn't handle him. Elliot walked out of the building and down to Manny's.

**********

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