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The Past Is Still Real
The Past Is Still Real
THE PAST IS STILL REAL
"He made me shoot him. Why'd he make me shoot him?" Detective Elliot Stabler asked his voice flat, hollow... emotionless.
"Elliot, give me the gun. Let me have the gun." Olivia Benson stood beside her partner, her hands covering his; she tried to get him to lower the gun before he pulled the trigger again. She'd lost count of how many shots were fired.
"He made me shoot him. Why'd he make me shoot him?" Stabler asked again, his face blanched, lips pallid.
"Cap?" Benson appealed to Donald Cragen for some help; the look on Elliot's face, the sound of his voice, frightened her. Elliot was mumbling the same phrases repeatedly; he was disconnected but even so, he was still physically stronger, with a kick that was more lethal than hers... no way she could over-power him.
"It's ok now, Elliot. It's over. Lower your gun. Elliot! Drop the gun," the captain said in a firm but gentle tone, as he successfully disarmed one of his best detectives. "It's empty Detective, there aren't any bullets left; you've used them all."
"He made me shoot him, Captain. The son of a bitch, made me shoot him." Elliot said as he collapsed on the ground.
The suspect was a sadistic rapist of teenagers; boys... girls... he didn't care what gender they were; it was his power trip, his control of the situation; that's what got his rocks off. Now he was lying in a pool of blood from fatal head and chest wounds. Dead. Eyes wide opened with a look of surprised pleasure forever tattooed on his face.
"Mr. Beecher, thank you for coming on such short notice."
Captain Donald Cragen extended his hand to the attorney, who was smartly dressed in a light brown Armani suit with a maroon shirt and tie; expensive looking but tasteful. Cragen escorted him into the office. Olivia Benson was already seated, staring at nothing, her eyes fixed on who knows what.
"You're welcome. And please, call me Tobias. Captain Cragen, on the phone you said you knew my father?"
"Yes, yes I did. Harrison and I ran into each other quite a few times over the years. Most times on opposite sides, but he was one hell of an attorney. I'm sorry for your loss," he told him, sounding very sincere.
"Yeah, well thank you. It seems like it was in another lifetime now. So... where's my client? I'd like to speak with him." He opened his leather bound briefcase and pulled out a medium sized legal pad with a few brief notes written on it. "Stabler? Detective Elliot Stabler, do I have that right?"
"Right. But now he's... he's in St. Catherine's Hospital under sedation."
"Oh! Well then, ok. It's ok." Toby quickly looked at both of them. "Captain could you or his partner ride along with me to the hospital? Maybe you can fill me in a little bit about his history before I see him. Does that sound doable?" He gave them a small smile. "Did he make any statements after the shooting? Did he talk to anyone that I should know about?"
"'He made me shoot him, why'd he make me shoot him?'" Olivia shook her head in disbelief. "I'll never forget the sound of his voice when he said it, over and over again. It didn't sound like him, like it was someone else speaking." She turned toward Toby and added, "I'm Olivia Benson, his partner."
Toby acknowledged her with a nod. "So that's all he said? Nothing else?"
"That was it, he was... sort of shell shocked," Cragen said. "Munch rode with him to the hospital, he'll know if he said anything else. I called Kathy."
In the taxi Beecher discussed the situation with Benson. "Tell me about him, what kind of cop would you say he is? How long was he married; are there any kids?"
Toby stopped for a second, keep your poker face on. He carefully repressed his innate dislike of cops, so alien to his nature years ago, so constant for him now. He observed Benson; would she be truthful or would she lie in order to cover-up for her partner, if necessary? After all, The-Thin-Blue-Line existed. His time in prison had destroyed any faith he'd had in the To-Serve-And-Protect bullshit he used to believe in, it was one reason he used to love the law so much. But all loves change; it's never the same after the lust days are over and the boredom and routine set in. He'd only taken this case because Elliot Stabler had shot a rapist. But, he had to find out what made this Detective tick; one way or another.
"Has he ever been involved in a shooting before? Does he drink or use drugs? Anything you know, please, it would help me get a picture of him in my head."
Olivia sat all the way back in the seat, hardly looking at the attorney, thinking before she answered his questions. "He's a good cop, divorced, I don't remember exactly how long they were married but it was close to twenty years. There's four kids, he sees them whenever he can; he's still on good terms with his ex, for the kids' sake. No, that's not true." She leaned forward, adjusting her legs, and faced him. "I think he still loves Kathy and I think he believes that in the eyes of the church, they're still married."
She glanced over Toby's shoulder, stared out the window for a bit then continued. "He was implicated in one other shooting a few years ago. It involved a rogue cop and some drug smuggling, but he was only protecting my back; I chose not to carry a weapon that day. I've covered his back, killed a suspect to protect him in a laundry room. Did you know that Elliot's rated a master marksman? A much better shooter than most cops, in my opinion. IAB cleared him of that one; it was ruled a clean kill." She paused for a few seconds. "And yes he does drink but only socially, never on the job. No drugs ever... Pepto Bismol and aspirin are all I've ever known him to take." She chuckled. "And sugar."
Beecher smiled, resting his arm on the back of the seat as he spoke to her. "He's been your partner for a few years, right? You know him pretty well?"
"We've been partners forever it seems, maybe 10 years or more. And yeah, I know him pretty well!" She returned his smile.
"'Intimately' pretty well? Or 'partner' pretty well?" He got the surprised look he was expecting on her face.
"I'm not... I'm sorry. I don't mean to delve into your personal life, Detective Benson; it's really none of my business," he said in an imitation of sincerity. "It's just that I need all the information I can get about him before he's arraigned; the DA is pushing to get it over and done with today. They don't want to cut him any slack; I think they need a scapegoat for political reasons. It's an election year, you know. Tell me, Olivia - it's ok if I call you Olivia isn't it?" he asked, nice enough to charm her out of her pants... if he decided to take that route.
She squinted and nodded her head.
"What's he like? You said he was a good cop; does he take the job home with him?"
"Well, he's really a pretty religious man, a practicing Catholic; his views are black and white about right and wrong, good and evil. His values are strong; he's set high standards for himself and everyone else, which affects the way he behaves on and off the job. It's the sex crimes. You see, he thinks sex should be the most beautiful part of life, not the worst. You understand what I'm getting at?" She looked directly into Toby's eyes. He nodded his head and there was no doubt in her mind; he clearly agreed with her. "But don't get me wrong, he sowed his share of wild oats before he got married. He's no 'goody-two-shoes' by any stretch of the imagination." She remembered some of the stories Elliot had shared with her and continued. "But I think his faith has deepened because of his children. And because he is a father, some of the cases we've worked on have seeped into his subconscious; I think that's the main reason he got divorced. He couldn't take the worst of it home, he had no outlet for his anger; sometimes he wouldn't even talk to me about it. He sort of shuts down at times."
"You didn't mention if he ever threatened any suspects."
Olivia sighed, "He mentioned it a few times, but he wasn't serious, he was just angry at the moment. And now..." She threw her hands up, acknowledging the gravity of the situation Elliot was now in.
"So would you agree with me if I say it sounds like he's had a 'meltdown'?"
"You mean a breakdown? Just whose side are you on, Counselor?" She wiped the corners of her mouth. "No, I don't think so; it's just... this job is so stressful, the pressure catches up with you. It's... I don't know. I can't make that diagnosis, only a psychiatrist can. But please understand that Elliot doesn't trust them; Dr. Skoda was the only one he ever really seemed to respect, if that's what you call it. He always said he talked too much to them, then the shrinks turned everything he said around and betrayed him, and he lost his confidence in the doctor/patient confidentiality issue.
Toby jotted down some notes, highlighting a possible angle to check later out later on. "Now, about the shooting. The suspect didn't have a gun, is that correct?"
"Yeah, the son of a bitch! It turned out there wasn't any gun after all, but every one of us saw him reach into his jacket with his right hand, then he turned around and widened his stance, and he aimed his hands directly at Elliot."
"And that's when he fired?"
"Elliot? Yeah, he had no choice. Every person there perceived it as a threat to his life, to our lives. He never would have shot him unless he thought there was imminent danger."
"So, if he had to shoot a suspect for some reason, he'd normally empty his clip of what is it, 7 or 8 bullets?"
"Normally? What's normal about this? It happened so fast. Mr. Beecher please, you have to understand..."
"Tobias, please, Mr. Beecher's too formal. Olivia, I'm on his side, remember? In just a little while, someone else is going to ask you the same questions that I'm asking you now. You do understand that, right? I know this is hard on you right now, and that you care for your partner very much, and I know you've been through this before. But just take yourself out of the picture. Don't make it personal; just think of it like any other homicide investigation."
IAB Sgt. Ed Tucker posted himself outside Detective Stabler's hospital room, immediately denying other precinct cops access. Munch sat in the hallway; wetting his index finger every time he turned the page; it was a woman's magazine; and he was pissed off.
"You detectives went against departmental policy." Tucker bellowed down the hall at Benson, who was now in his line of vision. "You had no right to remove him from the scene or take his weapon. You broke the chain of evidence. This is going in all your jackets; including your Captain's."
"And just who the hell are you?" Beecher demanded of Tucker; Toby's instinct made him step back and do a double take.
"He's with the Rat Squad," Olivia said, squarely pointing her chin at Tucker. Then, checking her pockets and finding them empty, she heaved a sigh. Pulling the pocket lining inside out, she whispered, "Sorry, out of cheese."
Toby raised his eyebrows at Benson. Then he stared right into Tucker's eyes. What the fuck? It can't be Taylor, there's only one fuck like Taylor. "I don't care what Squad you're with. Move away from the door, so I can see my client."
"He's a suspect, we investigate cops." Tucker said in a low, threatening tone.
"You don't investigate my cop until after I talk with him. Understand that, Sgt. Tucker?" Beecher put his hand on the door, opening it. "You know what? You're a grim reminder of someone I once knew. He was an asshole just like you are," he said, smiling menacingly and giving him the once over.
"Get out of my face!" Tucker growled.
Beecher hissed, and then held the door open; Detective Benson entered the hospital room, two steps ahead of him.
In a friendly manner she turned to him, smiled and said, "Thank you."
Olivia found herself at ease in Toby's presence; he was confident, warm, well groomed, attractive, and had a captivating smile. She always thought that she had great insight into people's character; she was on the alert, flirting season had begun.
"Elliot? It's me, Olivia." She looked at her partner lying in bed on his right side facing the wall; his six-foot frame appeared smaller; she hated to see him in this state.
As she walked to the other side, she reached out to touch his legs, making a physical connection with him, just like he did when she needed some comfort or reassurance.
"Hey, you ok?" She asked softly.
"Yeah, I'm fine." He halfheartedly smiled and sat up, patting the spot next to him and she sat down; Elliot reached his arms out and hugged her, it didn't feel like his normal robust hug but she didn't care; he was alive. They smiled at each other; concerned.
Stabler hadn't noticed anyone else in the room. Beecher had paused at the door, concentrating on Benson as she spoke, straining to hear the conversation. A Nursing Assistant was in the room, having just completed her assignment; blood pressure, pulse, temperature. The blood pressure machine was noisy when she pushed it, the wheels needing lubrication badly. So instead, he was taking clues from her approach as he assessed the situation, as best he could.
"Elliot, the Captain's arranged for an attorney to help you out. He's here with me now, his name's Tobias Beecher."
Then, confident as always, the attorney walked around the bed to meet his new client.
"Detective Stabler?" Toby reached out his right hand, ready to grasp the other man's. A second later he was engulfed by an incapacitating wave of nausea, realized he might have to scramble for a basin at any second. He felt the blood draining from his head, leaving him lightheaded; was he having a heart attack? A stroke? He felt himself going under, like he was falling down a well. Was he seeing a dead man brought to life again, or was he having some confusing, bizarre, psychedelic, seriously insane dream?
Blacking out, he tried to drag himself back to consciousness woke up confused, wondered if he'd pissed on himself, but then he was going under again. Again, by sheer force of will, he began clawing his way up the walls of the well; he tried to sit up, but was dragged down by a familiar voice. His head ached; what the fuck was happening? But he fell again and was down for the count; out cold.
"Tobias? Tobias, can you hear me? I think he's coming around," the petite woman said to Detective Benson.
"Oh... Oh," Toby moaned and reached his hand to the back of his head, slowly turning his head side to side. He gradually opened his eyes, blinking a few times, unable to focus.
"Tobias? Do you recognize me?"
"Sister Pete? How come I see two of you? What the hell happened? Where am I? Fuck! My head hurts."
Sister Peter Marie Reimondo was Toby's emergency contact; he really had no one else. Except his mother, of course; but he couldn't involve her in any more of the repugnant parts of his life, no more sordid details. He couldn't do it to her again. She'd gone through enough for one lifetime.
"You're in the Emergency room at St. Catherine's Hospital. You passed out a few hours ago after you hit your head when you fell. You don't have a concussion and the doctors said you'd be fine. You're lucky you didn't split your skull open. Do you remember anything? Anything at all?"
"I remember... I remember meeting... Oh, fuck!" Toby tried to sit up but became dizzy. "I was shaking hands with Chris. Sister Pete, it was Chris! But how could it be Keller? He's... he's..."
"He's dead, Tobias, I know. You met Detective Elliot Stabler, who bears a striking resemblance to Chris, but it's not him. That detective is your new client; you're defending him on a murder charge. Do you remember?"
"Of course I remember, but this Stabler was... is... It was Chris! I know it was. Sister you gotta believe me, I saw Chris in his eyes! I mean, I should know something like that, shouldn't I?"
"But you didn't. You wanted to see it and your mind tricked you into believing it was Chris, but my dear Tobias, it's not him... even though the similarity is remarkable."
Olivia Benson was staring at her partner's attorney, not fully comprehending what she heard. Beecher wasn't even aware of her presence; quietly, she stepped outside and tapped a couple of numbers on the keypad of her cell phone.
"Munch? Find out any information you can on a Christopher Keller. He was an inmate at Oswald; I'm not sure when. There's something about him that's some how connected to this attorney Cragen found for Elliot. Beecher freaked out when he saw him. There's a nun here with him, a Sister Peter Marie, who's his emergency contact, but get this... she works at Oswald. I'm leaving now," she glanced at her large silver-faced wristwatch. "I'll be back at the house in about fifteen."
"Well, get a load of this," Munch said, leisurely walking into Cragen's office, waving a file in the air. "The late Christopher Keller, AKA Tobias Beecher's 'penal lover', was in Oswald up until about four years ago, when he tried out for the summer Olympics attempting a simple backward dive off a balcony, but alas; he only scored two points and failed to make the team."
"So this Keller dude's dead? Committed suicide?" Finn asked.
"But more important than that, my friend; look at what the attorney fell in love with!" Munch took Keller's prison photograph out of the file and handed it to Benson.
Olivia gasped. "I'll be damned! No wonder he freaked out, I would too." She handed the picture around to the others.
"I'll make some phone calls, find Elliot a new attorney. He don't need any more shit in his life right now," Finn said to no one in particular.
"No guys wait. This is Elliot's decision whether he keeps Beecher as his attorney; if he feels Beecher can't be objective, he knows he's screwed. For now, why don't we try and help him get through today, so he can go home instead of spending the night in jail."
"Olivia's right," the captain said, "we can't get any more involved than we already are. It's a homicide investigation, people. We... I shouldn't have even gotten him an attorney. I just think this is more than a Union Rep can handle."
"You're all forgetting one thing." Munch said looking over the rim of his tinted glasses.
"Yeah? And what's that?" Finn asked.
"How do we tell Elliot he had an identical twin and now he's dead? Might have a bearing on whether he keeps his attorney."
"Well, right now he's upstairs in the Crib, sleeping, I hope. I'll give him about fifteen minutes, and then I'm going upstairs and talk to him."
"I'll get you some orange juice to take to him; he hasn't eaten in hours." Olivia started down the hall toward the break room.
Munch yelled after her, "Don't get him the OJ with the extra calcium. One of these days they're going to realize that all this extra calcium is actually harmful. Hospitals will be full of people with kidney stones, calcium deposits on all parts of their bodies; it might even leach out onto their skin. And the kids won't be able to walk because their bones will have fused together in utero. I won't even mention hypercalcemia and what it can do to your heart."
"John, not now. Please!" Cragen barked.
Elliot wasn't asleep when Donald Cragen dragged a chair closer to his cot. But his eyes were closed, his right forearm covering the top of his forehead, while his left hand was cradling the back of his head; similar to a child afraid of the dark, protecting himself, shielding his mind, hiding his feelings from the world. Safeguarding his soul.
Don reached out and touched Elliot's arm, making him flinch. He looked up at his commanding officer.
"Elliot, are you ok? Is there anything I can get you? We got you a lawyer, so don't say anything about the shooting until you speak to him."
"Is that guy ok? He passed out right in front of me; last I knew they were wheeling him to the emergency room with Liv following right behind them. And then Munch got me out." He related the events matter of factly, as if he was already on the witness stand.
"Elliot, based on your previous statements, the ones you made to Skoda and Huang, we know you didn't intend to shoot the suspect; it was not a premeditated act. I understand they gave you a mild tranquilizer at the hospital, but I'd like to know that you understand what I just told you. And what I'm about to say."
"I read you loud and clear Cap, I'm ok. Did anyone tell Kathy?"
"I did. She was concerned, naturally, and I said you'd call her as soon as possible."
"Thank you, I really appreciate it."
"Now, you still with me? Your attorney is going to be fine and he's apparently a very bright guy, highly recommended by Novak. But there's one hitch..."
"And what's that?" He furrowed his brow as he listened.
"He was in prison for DUI and killing a little girl."
He stood up; jerked his head back; eyes opened wide. "And you picked him to represent me?"
"Yes, because that'll show the Powers That Be you don't harbor any ill will towards someone who's done something wrong in their life."
"But there's more?" he asked with uncertainty in his voice.
"He was paroled two years ago and for some reason, the board gave him his license back; he's been on the straight and narrow ever since. He's got a good reputation; Olivia seems to like him."
"Ok, what else?"
"Well, it seems Mr. Beecher encountered the usual violence while he was incarcerated- rape, humiliation, fights, stabbings, drug addiction. He was even branded with a swastika the first week he was there. He's clean, now. I talked with his parole officer and every drug test he's taken has come back negative."
"So he got what was coming to him. He was punished, he deserved it."
"There's more. He also had some other things happen while he was in. His wife committed suicide; his son was kidnapped and murdered; his brother was stabbed while visiting; and to top it off, his father was stabbed to death in some hallway inside the prison, just after he left the cell of an inmate who's death sentence he was trying to get commuted."
Elliott walked around the room, wincing, and threw up his hands in disgust. "So now I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy?"
"This might help you understand Beecher; the horrible things that have happened to him. He's remorseful; he wouldn't take parole until the dead girl's parents agreed to it. Elliot, I'm trying to get you the best help possible and if any attorney can help you beat this rap, it's him. Elliot, I'm asking you to listen to one more thing, and I know all of this is a lot to think about and it might rub you the wrong way, but he also had a lover while he was in prison. They apparently had a volatile relationship, but Sister Peter Marie Reimondo, the prison psychologist, said they truly loved each other."
"Even though he was married and had kids?" Elliot asked critically, shifting his weight to one leg.
"Well, his lover had been married four times, so I'm not sure that means a whole lot in prison."
"And these two fucks have a bearing on me, because?"
"What I'm going to do is now show you a picture of him."
Cragen handed him Keller's mug shot; Keller stared straight into the camera with a slight upward turn of the corner of his mouth, holding a sign with 98K514 on a small board in front of his chest. Elliot stared at the photo, the small hairs on the back of his neck bristling.
"No, this has to be some sort of photo manip; people can resemble each other but this is too much... We look exactly alike! He's just a little thinner and younger. So that's why Beecher passed out? Because I look like his lover?"
"Yeah, and because Christopher Keller committed suicide in front of him."
"So, now he thinks he saw a ghost. Great! And when's my arraignment supposed to take place?" He paced the room like a caged mountain lion.
"Later this afternoon. I called in a favor and got it pushed back until Beecher's released; probably in a couple of hours."
"This is a load of bullshit!" Elliot bellowed, throwing the carton of orange juice across the room, splattering the contents against the wall.
"Elliot, this is what I'm talking about, your behavior is explosive. And you worry me."
"Look Captain, Dave Rosetti ate his gun but I'm not going to do that, I can't do that to my kids; leave them that way without a father. It's bad enough we're not a family anymore."
"You've got to keep it in check. I shouldn't even be in here talking to you. Stay here and just rest for a little bit until he's able to speak to you. Will you do that? For me?"
Detective Stabler nodded.
Elliot Stabler sat, waiting for his attorney in one of the interrogation rooms still wearing the same clothes from this morning. He smelled... he knew he did, and no special brand of deodorant would have worked its magic today. His tie was off, pulled out of its knot and draped around his neck. His dark green shirt stuck to his skin, the sleeves rolled up to above his elbows. Until today it was one of his favorites - he'd never wear it again
Tobias Beecher knocked softly, and then walked in; gasped with a slight hitch in it, then pulled him self together and confidently said, "Hey." But still he felt a rush of heat to his face, his eyes taking on a vulnerable look. He fooled no one.
Elliot scrutinized his face for some clues, any clues. "Hey. You feeling ok? That was a nasty fall you took. Is this your MO with new clients?" Elliot said trying to smile, to make nice, so this ex-con lawyer would keep him out of jail tonight. Then he could find his own legal eagle, one that was normal.
"No I don't. There's a first time for everything I suppose." Beecher said, shrugging. He glanced at the mirror as if he'd suddenly noticed it for the first time.
"I really don't think there's anyone on the other side of the mirror and I know for a fact they don't keep the sound on when an attorney 's speaking to his client. Sit down." He motioned to the chair beside him.
"I should explain something to you, why I..." he took another deep breath. He wanted to look Stabler in the eye but he couldn't, not yet. "Why I reacted so..." He shrugged his shoulders, really at a loss for words.
"Well, Mr. Beecher, let's try strange, weird, bizarre, Twighlight Zone?"
"Why do I feel like I'm being interrogated? I'm not the enemy, you know." He felt like he was walking through an emotional minefield. Again.
"Depends on what version of the story you're telling, I suppose. I know why you were in prison. I know all about you and Keller. I saw his picture; I'm not him. You know that, right?" There was a pregnant pause. Toby finally looked at Stabler, blinking with surprise, stress lines forming on his forehead. Elliot lowered his voice an octave. "Please tell me you know I'm not him."
Toby sat down next to Stabler, his knee barely brushing the other man's. "I do know Chris is... Chris is dead, I saw him die right in front of me. Tell me detective, do you believe in reincarnation?"
"No. No, I don't." Elliot rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Come on, are we going to debate this? Don't tell me you believe in it. I'm not him - Keller. I'm Stabler, I'm real, I'm alive. Touch me if you need to convince yourself."
Toby stared at Stabler's face, then slowly looked at him, up and down, along the length of his body. Stabler had little flecks of silver at his temples, but still the high forehead, the aquiline nose; the eyes, oh man those eyes! Subtract a few pounds, remove the circles under his eyes... the lines on his forehead were deeper, but still... wolfishly handsome and fuck it all... so painfully familiar.
"Do you know how strange it feels, sitting next to you, Detective Stabler?"
"Not in my wildest dreams, Mr. Beecher."
"Yeah, well," Toby mumbled; clearing his head; trying to get back on track. "Let's see if we can wrap this up so I can get you home tonight and then you can find another attorney to assist you, because that's what you want isn't it? I mean, I don't pretend to know what you want, but right now if I had me for an attorney..."
"You think, because I look like Chris Keller, you couldn't work with me?"
Toby sighed and squinted at Stabler. "And think of Chris every time I look at you?" He pursed his lips and shook his head. "Honestly? I don't know. I don't want to not represent you; I'd like to see your case through, and not have to recuse myself. What do you say to a cup of joe, maybe some lunch and we'll talk about it. Sound ok to you?"
Stabler still had doubts, but right now he had no other alternative available. He shrugged. "Sure."
After his release, Tobias Beecher had moved in with his mother and children. But for some reason he felt uncomfortable, restless. It wasn't his family; he enjoyed - no, relished - every minute he spent with them. It wasn't the house; it was comfortable, like watching your favorite TV series over and over again. He tried his own apartment but that didn't feel right either. He bought his own house but sold it after six months. He just couldn't quite put his finger on it. Why he couldn't settle down in one place?
Starting to surf the Web, he came across a brokerage firm with listings for every type of housing available. He kept returning to one link in particular; thinking he really was a loony tune, as certain people suspected. Not wanting to make a rash decision, he thought about it, the effect it would have on his kids, his job, etc.; but when he started dreaming about it, well... that clinched it. Using money from his father's estate, he purchased a cast-off luxury yacht from some oil potentate's grandson. He'd fallen in love with it; there was no longer a need of where to settle. This was just what the doctor ordered.
The kids loved coming to visit on weekends and holidays; sometimes his mother stayed for the weekend, when she was up to it - that was after she realized she wouldn't get seasick on a "small" boat, and with a little help from a medicated patch behind her ear.
He felt free for the first time in years; he could wander out to sea anytime he felt the need to escape. This was not the life he'd planned on having. Although no longer a prisoner in Oz, he was still a prisoner of his own making in this little fabricated life of his. Would there ever be an escape?
His bedroom door was always locked. He felt sneaky living like this, like a thief in his own house, but he wouldn't allow anyone else in the master suite. He slept on a full sized bed; he had tried the queen but felt too lonely in it, too small on such a big mattress. Then one night, he tried Harry's twin-sized bed, and felt like he was back in Oz; the size of it was so familiar, so haunting.
The weeks following Chris's death had been very hard. He had no photo of him, only the ones in his head; he couldn't bear the thought of those images disappearing in later years. He had started drawing likenesses of his friend and lover. He knew other inmates had much better art skills than he did, but he refused to ask for help; his mission was much too private to share."
Beecher's effort finally paid off; he felt he'd captured Keller's likeness, but something wasn't quite right, it was lacking ... what? There was no light in Chris's eyes. After his release, he commissioned a portrait artist; one who asked plenty of questions and offered up a few suggestions. But what Toby appreciated the most was how the artist never seemed to judge him, never treated any of his requests as abnormal. And Toby was thrilled with the final sketch and had it done in oil. Then other images started coming to mind.
Now, the first thing he saw when he woke up was a life size painting of Christopher Keller. The artist did what was requested of him; painting Keller standing tall, legs shoulder width apart; leaning against the twisted trunk of an old olive tree, his left knee bent, foot flat against the cracked bark; thumbs hooked into the belt loops of his tight 501's, the first two buttons open, displaying well developed abdominal muscles and a line of dark hair snaking into his jeans. Chris was barefoot, shirtless, and happy. The painter accomplished what Toby was unable to do; he put "life" into the portrait and the light back into Chris's eyes.
Above his bed he'd recently added an interesting illustration, one large painting with five different scenes. In the lower left hand corner there were two chubby toddlers, one blond, the other brunette, playing with large colored blocks... together. In the upper left hand corner the same two boys, now teenagers were playing kickball; they were sweaty... but happy. The upper right hand showed two men wrestling, Toby pinning Chris to the mat and Chris... smiling. In the bottom right-hand corner, the two of them were locked in the New Year's Eve kiss as Toby remembered it... hugging. All of these scenes were circled around him and Keller as two old men sitting in rocking chairs, holding hands. But what really warmed his heart the most were the teenagers playing kickball; someone picked them to be on the same team... together.
Tonight, he walked into the master suite, anticipating his usual one-sided dialogue.
You finally did it, didn't you? Sometimes you're such a cunt, Keller. You wanted me to suffer and this is what you come up with? I have to admit it ... you are an original. I ought to punch your fucking lights out and you just stand there grinning. Dammit Chris, it's his eyes; you're in his eyes! Why are you doing this? Fucking with me now?
He plumped the pillows on the bed and leaned his head back into them; his hands were folded together on his chest, his knees bent, legs spread apart and he continued.
You look so fucking cute standing there, looking down at me. Did you notice the new picture above the bed? I thought you'd like it. We got picked to play together, just like it should have been. Dammit Chris, I wish we could be those two old farts in the rocking chair some day, sort of like Rebadow and Busmalis! If only... If only. I know, I know, I sound like a record that keeps skipping. I miss you so much and the hurt never stops, it never goes away. Visit me tonight, I'm so horny; my right hand and I aren't on very good terms tonight, it's been awhile. I want us to make love again; fuck each other right through the mattress. . I want, I want, I want... it's always about me lately isn't it?
Oh man! That's what it is! I just figured it out. That's why I'm representing Stabler, isn't it? You still don't get it do you?
"Are you done jabbering or do you have more you wanna say?"
"Nah, I'm done... for a while."
"Good. I really like the new pictures, all of them. Toby, I finally got picked; little did Sister Pete know after all, she always thought it all had to do with God and religion? So anyway, this Stabler guy - a pretty good likeness, don't ya think?"
"I told you that already!"
"Yeah, you did and you do sound like a broken record. So, the two of you decided you can work together in spite of everything?"
"It'll be ok, no jury trial, and Judge McKean will preside. It should only take a day or two at the most."
"Hey, by the way, I really enjoyed the floor show that cop put on for you."
"No, Benson. Olivia Benson. She's got the hots for you, you better watch where you put..."
"Don't even say it!"
"Do you remember what he said to you today? Or did you hit your head too hard?"
"He said a lot of things, Keller. Just what are you referring to?"
"'Touch me if you need to convince yourself.'"
Toby laughed, "You want me to touch him? Boy, you are in a good mood tonight. But I don't think he's gay."
"Well, that's fairly obvious, but then neither were you. Now move over and make some room for me, it's playtime. Oh, by the way, check for the tat."
Toby started the day feeling refreshed, but he was wavering back and forth from confidence to shyness when he asked, "Detective Stabler? Yesterday, you said I could touch you if I needed to convince myself that you're not Chris. Well, I couldn't sleep last night; I was too confused. The rational part of me knows he's dead, but there's still that tiny doubt inside." Then, with a hitch in his voice, he added, "Would you mind if I asked you to take your shirt off? I want to see your left arm." The lump was there in his throat, one that never went away.
Elliott Stabler saw the distress written on Toby's face; recognized the sadness this man was experiencing. Remembering the hollow sensation that Kathy's desertion had left inside his heart, he tried to imagine what this man must be feeling; losing so many people he loved, then seeing his lover's look-a-like standing right in front of him. He thought of himself as an open-minded man, so he unbuttoned his shirt, his marine tattoo clearly visible on his right forearm; standing in only his slacks and shoes, he nodded to Toby.
Toby looked up at him with hope; then closed his eyes and nimbly placed his hand on Elliot's forearm. Then slowly moved it up, like reading a book in Braille. Remembering every inch of Chris's arm, the warmth of the skin, its color, the strength of the muscles beneath it, the fine hairs that covered it; he used to like lightly rubbing his hands over the hairs, eliciting shivers from Chris... and now a few unexpectedly from Elliot. He remembered the ropy feeling of his veins, and tendons that felt like thin soft straws underneath the skin. He moved his hand higher, wrapping it around the smoothness of the tattoo. Tears welled in his eyes as memories flooded his brain; afraid of seeing nothing, he didn't want to look. But he had to, he just had to.
There was no tattoo.
He rubbed his thumb back and forth; no contrasting colored marks anywhere.
Toby didn't shift his gaze away from Elliot's arm; his heart felt like it was leaping in his chest. As Stabler faced him, Toby reached out and placed his hand on the detective's chest, over his heart. Then with his left hand he felt for the scar from the gunshot wound. But the skin was smooth, unmarked.
"Don't let go," he whispered.
"That's what Chris said to me after he was shot, 'don't let go', but I did. I let him go too many times, I let him down, I played mind games with him; but he fucked with me too. I know I could have prevented his death but I was too stubborn, too self-righteous, I wouldn't forgive him for something he did to me; something cold-blooded and it cut like a knife, right through my heart, but we both knew sooner or later I would take him back, but he didn't give me the chance to show him."
"Show him what?"
"That I loved him, in spite of everything that happened, everything we did to each other, I really did." His voice cracked, "Don't let go of me, Detective."
"You need something to hang onto?" Elliot asked, his eyes intent on the face of this man clinging to him.
"Yeah, right now I do; I need an anchor."
Toby was enveloped in Elliot's embrace, an embrace that was meant to comfort; an embrace that would soothe a young child or a partner.
"I can't begin to understand your loss or your relationship with Keller. I know these things happen but it's hard to get my head in sync with it." He could feel Toby's tears on his bare chest. "Are you going to be ok?"
Three days later, Judge Kevin McKean handed down his decision as Tobias Beecher and Elliot Stabler stood side by side, listening intently.
"Based on the evidence before me, the sworn testimony of witnesses, and taking into consideration Detective Stabler's record, this court finds Detective Elliot Stabler not guilty of murder. However, this court orders the defendant to undergo psychological counseling; including anger management classes. The psychiatrist will submit evaluations on a monthly basis; until it is determined you no longer require assistance."
"This case is dismissed," Judge McKean ended his ruling.
After the verdict sunk in, Elliot turned toward his attorney, "Thanks for giving me my life back. I owe you one."
Toby extended his hand but Elliot pulled him in for a thank you hug.
He'd received hugs from grateful clients before, but this hug was different; Elliot moved his hand and cupped the back of Toby's neck, his fingers entwined in his hair.
Toby leaned into the unexpected hug and rested his head against Stabler's shoulder, then turned against the detective's neck and breathed in ... the scent was intoxicating.
"So, that's it. Everyone decided it was best for the Judge to hear the facts rather than go before a jury, and now he's a free man. I did my job; I'm through representing him."
"And how does that make you feel, Tobias?"
"Sister, I came here to have lunch with you, not to have my head examined. How do you think all this makes me feel? There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of Chris. It took me a long time before I could even say his name out loud. And seeing Stabler was so shocking, for a moment I thought I was waking up from another one of my nightmares. I've never seen two men look so much alike."
"But for a second, you thought it could be true?" she asked.
"For a second? Yes. I did. And I wanted it to be true. Do you know how much I wanted that, how I needed it?" He was still troubled by inner pain. "Do you know how much I miss Chris? It wasn't until I touched Elliot's shoulder, and the Christ tattoo wasn't there. That's when it really hit me and I lost it. That's when I knew for sure."
"Do you plan on seeing him again, under different circumstances? The detective, I mean?"
Toby tilted his head slightly, the beginnings of a smile turning the corners of his mouth, a warm gleam chasing the sadness from his eyes.
The past is still real,
And it's all in your mind... Steve McDonald
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