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This story takes place eighteen months after Beecher's release. Song bits taken from Dylan's "Series Of Dreams" and Tom Jones "Ain't It Funny (How Time Slips Away)" And some lines stolen from the SVU "Execution" ep.

A Series Of Dreams

by Abyssal


City lights at night, fading and dying with the rising dawn, and the loss of each one enough to break your heart.

My lover is dead.

Millions upon millions, like the stars he had yearned for back when there were no stars for him, only plastic and foam and steel ten inches above his nose and the neurons firing behind his eyes.

If he closed his eyes now he'd be back there, the Correctional Otherworld, where the universe was held in stasis and light never moved more than a few inches per second. His seven years away meant nothing, not really. A blink, a second, and it was all over. His children might have grown older, and one was gone, (/like in a dream when / someone wakes up and screams/) but nothing had changed. The river still flowed. The city still breathed. And, Tobias Beecher's soul was still caught, trapped in clawing arms, pulled over the railing, broken and bleeding on the floor.

Every night he bled memories. He sweated pain. On the really bad nights he'd wake up screaming.

Don't forget me.

This memory, it's poison. He has to forget. Cough it up, shit it out, do something. Else it stays in him, festers, eats him up alive.

You are death. Let me live.

I can't.

How could he live, when even now he saw Chris Keller everywhere he went? On the streets, that high forehead, shadowed eyes, the nose that belonged on a Caesar bust, overlooking armies, atrocities, all the fulcrums of history. A dead man's face always. Even when he was alive.

Toby could have managed those brief moments, but not when they were so blatant as the one he'd had the previous morning. In the courthouse his attention had been caught by a dark head, a sharp profile, same arrogant, angry tilt of chin. Toby's muddled, harried attention, fuzzy from five hours of waiting for a courtroom slot and the fine tension singing in his memory had seized upon that image, gave it a name.

"Chris...?" he'd whispered, stepped forward, blinking myopically, fumbling for his glasses. "Chris?"

Chris' ghost had turned away, presented a back that was still so familiar that Toby would still have recognised him. Toby's gut twisted in agony. He couldn't lose him again. He couldn't. Then Marcie had returned with a stricken-looking family, their eyes pleading for the help that he could give where the law could not. He had talked to them even as his heart beat wildly and sweat pooled under his arms and his eyes flickered past the knot of people to the place where the ghost had lingered.

Maybe I'm losing my mind.

The night closed in on him like glass walls of his pod. His arms and legs throbbed at their old break sites, his lips ached from phantom kisses. The ghost pressed him into the mattress, hard thighs urging his knees apart.

He clutched only emptiness.

The ghost whispered, didn't you promise me that we'd see Heaven together? Why are you still here?

And now a first sharp sliver of sunlight cut open the dead sky. The city dimmed. Somewhere on the river a barge horn groaned out to a mate. Toby's cellphone burred softly in his pocket. For a long moment he thought about not answering it, letting it ring out.

The water far below him feathered from a stiff wind. The river where the bones of dead men lurked. He would join those bones, find Chris down there, find peace at last, for here there was only pain.

The phone stopped ringing, then started again.

He dragged out the phone, ready to throw it into the water. At mid wind-up he glanced at the screen. It was Marcie.

"Son of a bitch!"

He'd never been able to ignore her.

"Where are you Tobias? I've got Helen here and she's just hysterical. I can't get a sensible word out of her sideways." Her Southern lilt was pronounced -- a sure sign of stress.

New day, same shit. He was still here.

"I'll be there in thirty," he said resignedly. "Get some of that herbal tea stuff into her and don't let her leave."

He slapped the phone shut and pulled his motorbike helmet on. A passing trucker saw him and the bike and tooted cheerily. Toby didn't wave back. He knew what the trucker didn't: he had no alliances, no allegiances. He belonged nowhere.

Only thing is, this morning somebody needed him more than he hated himself. So he wouldn't be jumping off the bridge just yet.


MB: Tell me about your first time. How do you remember it? ES: It was painful. MB: For You? ES: For Her. I thought I'd done something wrong.


The sound of hydraulic squealing outside jerked Elliot out of his dream.

The desultory crash and bang of emptying dumpsters and the back and forth easy obscenities of the trashmen echoed through a cramped storage room, muffled by old boxing bags and gym mats. Elliot looked up at the grimy window and wondered if he'd really ended up on the wrong side of the wall. Felt a pang of envy. Far better to be down on the streets, banging bin-lids. Some lives were so simple. Necessary. If there was garbage, rot, corruption, it would be taken away. There was no ambivalence in deciding what needed to go. Garbage just was. It never called a lawyer to have evidence disallowed, it never raped, it never pretended towards kindness in order to extract a physical favour.

He took a deep breath. The smell of garbage and early morning hit the back of his throat. Same as bodies smelt on the point of discovery, that same sweetish undertone of decay from foodscraps and other unmentionable things and have the memory of death come barrelling back onto you. Elliot remembered opening the high, narrow window last night -- it was stuffy in this back-room -- and stumbling into a broken, uncomfortable sleep. But all sleep was broken now.

"Well, we really must stop meeting like this."

Olivia stood in the doorway, arms folded. She had her schoolmarm voice on along with a new linen suit. It must be a Monday. Sometimes she did the markets over the weekends with one of her girlfriends and came in wearing the evidence.

He threw an elbow over his eyes and made no move to get up. "We must."

Olivia put on a shouldn't you have gone home Elliot? face, segued it into an Are they the same clothes you were wearing yesterday face and finished with a why the hell are you sleeping in here anyway? expression.

To her credit she only said, "you want coffee then?"

"Yeah, that'd be good."

Back in the mealroom the percolator grumbled with boiling water, spat murky liquid into the grimy pot. Olivia scrubbed at a bit of residue inside a cup with a teaspoon.

"So I take it that last night's make-up dinner with your family didn't go too well."

Elliot rubbed his face. Tension sparked across his shoulders. Echoes of last night flashed in sharp, staccato images. Kathy at the table, face drawn and pinched. Talking about the children. The children. Not our children. And not us. But then the us had disappeared a long time ago.

"Guess I'm right back where I started. I tried to explain about my..." he winced, his feelings too nebulous a concept to verbalise, "...how this job has affected me, but she didn't want to listen."

"And the counselling?"

"Even the counsellor said we should be taking a break. Christ. Right now I feel like a ship without a harbour."

"You talked to Huang about it maybe? Just, you know, he's familiar with you. He's not a stranger."

Elliot's mouth quirked. He'd smile if it wasn't so close to the bone.

"You know, if I was a serial killer or a rapist he'd be able to tell me straight away what my problem is. But all he can say is that..." He trailed off. Olivia didn't need to know about the things that plagued him -- the depression, the impotence, the rage that sometimes threatened to smother him. "Well, he has his theories."

She handed him coffee, watched him swing upright and gulp the bitter liquid down.

"Careful Elliot, it's hot."

"Not really," he said between breaths, but the reality was that nothing much seemed to make an impact on him. Not now, with this shell that he had grown -- at first to protect himself from the day to day horrors, and then to block anyone else who might try to find a way inside. Including his wife and children. Including other people. He was safe in there, impervious to pain. Impervious to every other emotion too, and that was going to be the problem.

Olivia followed him through the cluttered office. "Well, if it's any help, we've got a busy day ahead of us. Seems there's been a breakthrough in the Michelson case."

"Great. I'm sure Fin and Munch are on it right now."

"I would, but they're dealing with another complication."

"That is?"

She pulled out a crumpled, stained card that must have been fished out of a gutter after having been through several hot wash cycles.

BEECHER-HILYER-FULMAN. A cellphone number. No other information.

"Lawyer's business card?"

"You'd wish. Cragen wants to see us about this."


"Helen. Helen, calm down and talk to me."

"I got this letter." She rummaged around in her handbag, blinded by tears, "...this fucking letter."

Marcie Hilyer sat down next to the sobbing woman and laid a steady hand on her forearm. "Helen, I have the letter. It's on the desk."

Toby noticed the envelope in between two sheets of baking paper -- Marcie was always thinking ahead. He noticed one of the newspaper printed E's had fallen out. Ransom note then.

"How long have you had this?"

"Um, yesterday morning. I couldn't think what to do," she blew her nose.

"You gone to the police about this?"

"No! He said he'd kill them if I went to the police. They'll tell my husband...he'll claim I'm unfit, I'll lose custody..."

"Helen. Let me make some phone calls. Then we'll see what we can do."

He backed off into Marcie's kitchen. A hideous wooden ship sailed up one green-striped wall. A barometer shaped like a sextant floated alongside. He knew that there was a model of the Titanic in her bedroom, the one time his loneliness had sent him in there. Not long after his release. They'd only kissed clumsily, the first person he'd touched since Chris, and it had broken him. He had blurted out his whole story, Chris from beginning to end, peppershakes of Vern and Robson and Andrew and Mondo and a dozen other faceless men, a long diversion into Gary, and Marcie had held him in her arms and listened to his barely coherent ramble.

"Funny you should mention that," she'd said, and told her own story. Different time spans. Different people. But at its heart a lost love, lost children, and a hurt that would never heal.

They never talked about their almost-night afterwards, but sometimes if Toby was to think about the nature of God he would be reminded of something Marcie had said: Maybe God was not an all-powerful white man who moved people like chess pieces in some cruel test, nor was he Said's God, everywhere waiting to point and punish. No, God was a single mother from the poorest part in town, struggling to raise five billion children through the most difficult time of their lives.

And sometimes Toby wondered if God would not look a little like Marcie, dark, patient and caring, and maybe a little like Sister Pete -- but certainly female, like the oldest books in the Bible hinted at, the lines the Redactors couldn't quite get away with removing.

Marcie was talking, oblivious to him not entirely in her kitchen, body and soul out somewhere else. Or maybe she was aware, and was using her words to bring him back.

"...it's lunatic hour. At the psych ward you'd always get pickup call two, three in the morning. A person could cope with themselves or their crazy relative for weeks, and snap, when they make the call for help it's always two in the morning."

"What about you? Have you made the call to the police?"

Marcie put one hand on her hip. "The word has gotten around, Tobias. Our first priority is to help people. Not money. Not prosecuting offenders. Helping. Supporting. They're mighty strong principles, and we have to stick to that. Might as well let her get some sleep, because she's not going to face the questioning in the state she's in."

"You have, then."

"Yes. They'll be here within the hour."

Toby nodded. The ship-clock chimed five. Another one in the hall tooted in simpatico.

"And you Tobias? What sort of sleep have you been getting?

"I've been alright."

"I can smell the river on you."


"I smelt the river on Henry sometimes. Sometimes he'd go out there and lose his nerve and come back, and I knew where he'd been. One day he didn't come back."

"Yeah, well if I'd half a spine I'd have done it a long time ago."

Behind her glasses her dark brown eyes brimmed with understanding and the hint of tears.

"Tobias, look at me. You really must get some help. You can't keep doing this to yourself. This man, Chris? He's haunting you, worse than any of my grandmother's spirits."

Toby cracked half a smile. "You know someone who can do some juju on me? Say a few spells, get rid of him?"

"Even if I did, it wouldn't help. It's you that's holding on. Let him go Toby."

It was his turn to brush up close to their shared pain.

"I can't."


"So who are they?"

"Some advocacy-slash-private detective-slash third party negotiation service for people with missing kids, kidnapping, threats. A fairly broad network of part-time legal and social consultants, some with underworld connections. However," Cragen held up the card, now safe in an evidence bag, "These are the three people directly involved. Peter Fulman, ex-cop, Marcie Hilyer who worked with Human Services for fifteen years. And Tobias Beecher, ex-lawyer."

"Ex is the operative word with all of them, then?"


"What are their backgrounds?"

"We did a check. All of them have lost children -- their own or close family members -- through unfortunate circumstances. Several precinct departments have dealt through them, especially in cases where the victims themselves are too scared to come forward."

"What is the world coming to," sighed Olivia. "People afraid even to talk to us."

Elliot only shrugged.

"The problem is, they're far too close to being private vigilantes for the Justice Department's liking, and we've got to get this Beecher guy in for a talk. His name was red flagged on some unsolved murders. Munch and Fin have gone to pick him up along with Helen Michelson."

"What's the hassle? He could be legit," said Olivia. "Wouldn't be fair to get in the way of someone who's trying to do something good for victims at least."

"What's not fair is that he's a disbarred lawyer with a prison record, and mob connections," said Cragen. "Elliot, your job is to find out everything you can about this guy, get back to me. I mean everything. Who he knew in prison, what he ate, where he slept and who with. And what he's done afterwards."

"I'm on it."

"Okay then. Let's get to work people."




"What are you thinking?"

"Oh. Oh nothing."

"You seem like you're a million miles away, that was all."

Toby pulled himself out of the shuffle of recollections. Nothing specific. Just that it had struck him he'd just passed his date of mortal departure by two hours, and here he was, still alive. Was he disappointed? Yes. Compared to the weird elation of the last twenty hours, when he'd made his decision, to find a high place and do what he should have done eighteen months ago, this morning was a letdown.

"Just stay with us, okay? I can't do this alone." Marcie tilted her head towards Helen, her head pressed against the rain-spattered windscreen, Toby's twin in loss.

"Okay," he said, defeated. "Okay."

He turned his attention to the police officers who'd collected them. The odd couple. A craggy faced detective and his equally stony offsider of indeterminate ethnicity about who Marcie had surreptitiously made her secret sign of watch that one -- two fingers to the back of the hand.

"Where are we going? This isn't where we normally go."

A studiously uninterested flick of eyes into the rear-view. "We're from sixteenth. Tenth's busy."

"Why do you need me? Marcie is more familiar with this case."

Marcie's hand grabbed his in warning. No, she mouthed.

"Just wanna have a little chat, is all." said the younger one. What had his partner called him? Fin.

Toby knew he should ask -- am I under arrest? Just a chat. But these chats had a way of turning nasty, especially once they realised where he'd been for seven years. He'd needed to bring in his parole officer once, take a blood test. Take a poly, take a walk and get Peter in from his Boston base to come in and sort things out.

So they drove out to ground zero, to one of the stations where the special victims ended up, kid deaths, the rapes, the ones that turned the hardest stomachs. Toby knew all the special victims units well -- he'd rescued a client or ten all over greater New York, but he never stayed long. Just in, sign whatever needed to be signed, and get the fuck out.

The Sixteenth Precinct station was a new one for Toby. He was getting close to the last number on his NYPD bingo card. The building was in bad need of refurbishment. Had that look of last being refitted during prohibition when the protection money from corrupt cops and bootleggers had bought some pretty cushy office equipment. All worn, polished wood, leather inlays, wrought iron in curlicues, chairs that were made to last for a hundred years and were getting close to their use by date.

Just-replaced computers sat incongruously on the massive antique oak desks, with no space between for anyone to walk around without corking themselves in the thigh or tripping over a filing cabinet. Stuffed toys were piled in a corner by the door, a stain of uncharacteristic brightness in this depressing place.

Toby felt Fin's insistent hand in his back, separating him from the women. Marcie cast him a couple of nervous, reassuring glances his way, before following a auburn-haired female detective into a side-office behind a cork-board leafed with photographs of sullen faced criminals.

Fin's hand bothered Toby. His gut instinct was to lash out, slap the offending hand away, but he was too long out of Oz to try it on by instinct alone. So he complied with just that touch of passive resistance, and was promptly deposited in a small room with a metal table, two uncomfortable metal chares, one way glass reflecting his face, and single window behind extra-strength glass.

Then he was left alone, door locked. Trapped.

His body recognised the entrapment a minute before his mind did. His heart pounded. His fingers trembled. He'd been places like this before. The Otherworld. That place. Where dead men lived.

This was seriously going to freak him out.

He walked around the table, feeling for all the like a animal in a cage. He tapped on the mirrored glass, knowing that there were people behind it. Watching.

"Look, I don't like being left alone in small spaces. I have serious claustrophobia issues," he said, as calm and firm as possible, trying not to do what he really wanted to do and pound on the glass screaming get me out of here, get me the FUCK out of HERE!

The tremors were killing him. He staggered to a chair. The walls swum. His shirt was soaking in his sweat.

The door opened. Chris Keller walked in, blue shirt, grey tie, an awful corporate version.

Toby just stared.

"This bothering you Mister Beecher?" Keller asked, brusque, impersonal. Teasing him. Walking around him, file open. "Stuck in this office? Bad memories?"

The ghost. Toby panted, too weak to do anything else.

"You. Get. The. Fuck. Away. From. Me."

He had died. He had died. He was in Hell.

A hell where Chris only looked at him with cold eyes, not recognising, not caring, not loving. Just a condescending look layered with a hint of disgust.

His hell. The one where Chris never loved him. Where it had all been a lie...except the time in the gym, said he didn't love him and broken his limbs, his heart...

The female detective who had taken Marcie away walked in behind Keller, and her voice seemed to come from very far away, "Um, Elliot, I think something's really wrong with him."

Toby watched as the table tilted. Or maybe it was him tilting. Keller stepped forward, took him by the shoulders--

--to drag him into over the railing, to drag him into the Pit, into Hell--

Jesus! Don't touch me, don't fucking touch me...

Lashing out. Weak punches landing without force on solid flesh.

Then darkness, finally. Before he really embarrassed himself. Before he could cry.


"What was that all about?"

Elliot shook his head and peered into the mirror. Beecher had landed him a good one on the side of his face before collapsing. Nice big bruise coming up. At least he didn't have to explain it to Kathy.

"Beats me. I've never met him before in my life." He turned to face the Lieutenant, frowning.

"I saw his face, Elliot. Like he knew you."

"Trust me, I'd have known it if I had."

Don Cragen shrugged. "Then it was all probably due to the hypoglycaemic attack he just had."


Paramedic's down there now. No breakfast, couple of drinks the night before. Blood sugar bottoms out. Makes people freak out. Thought he might have known you, but it was just the glucose talking."

Cragen leant forward and sniffed, as if just realising that Elliot was more rumpled than he normally was of late. "You sleep in a dumpster or what?"

"Close enough. Back room. Kathy didn't want me in the house."

"You should have told me. There's an apartment we sometimes use for witnesses to camp out if they can't go home..."

Elliot waved the suggestion away. A dingy tenth-floor rat-hole especially designed not to let people get too comfortable.

"I could slip you the key. It's no problem. Until you get on your feet."

"Really, I don't need--"

"--I'm not having you sleeping in a storage room couch for six weeks while you look for a place Elliot! You're talking the apartment and that's final."


"Look, I'm fine, I don't need to go anywhere," Toby grumbled.

The paramedic was nervous. He frowned down at the half-drunk can of soda and the vending-machine sandwich Marcie had spent the last ten minutes pressing Toby to eat. "I don't know. I walk out of here and something bad happens, you could sue me."

"I just want to be left alone"

Marcie patted Toby on the back, then grasped his neck firmly, as id to say, let me handle this. "I'll keep an eye on him. My brother was diabetic. I handled his hypos all the time.


"Have you got a form we could sign, a disclaimer?"

"Yeah, I'll bring one up from the vehicle." The paramedic closed his case and left the locker room in defeat.

Olivia watched him go before approaching. "Well, this has turned into a bit of a drama."

She was faced with two sets of shuttered, closed expressions.

"We're talking to Ms Michelson now. She speaks very highly of the both of you. And you did a good job of preserving the letter evidence. Most people wouldn't have been that careful."

"We've dealt with these cases before," sid Marcie, still guarded.

"I have to be honest. Your backgrounds..."

Now it was Toby's turn to speak up. "You can't go through prison and not be touched by it. And I can't not use the contacts I made, not if it will bring these parents back their children."

"Vigilante justice, Mr Beecher, the courts don't like it."

"The courts can kiss my ass," he said, a hot shank of rage slipping into his belly. "Most people don't know what it's like to lose a child..." He would have stood up, but Marcie's hand was on him, holding him down.

"You understand, this is more than a job for us," said Marcie cooly. "We provide an alternative for parents, gives them at least the illusion that they're doing all they can, and at most that we do find their kids."

"Yes, you're record is quite impressive. Our Brooklyn and New Jersey unit gave quite glowing reports about the assistance you've given."

"We've built up a rapport with them. And we'd like to do so with yours."

Olivia nodded. "It's way outside legal jurisprudence, but I'll see what I can do."

She shook Marcie's hand and reached over for Toby's. He grabbed her and said urgently, "the detective who came in before, what was his name?"

"Elliot Stabler?"

"Yeah. Tell him, sorry. If I hit him. I was panicking and, I wasn't in my own head."

"Well, you can tell him an Thursday. Helen Michelson's going for an exparte hearing against her ex-husband."


The apartment was in need of refurbishing. The couch was frayed, the bed sagged to the point where the sofa was a welcoming option.

Most of all, the rooms reeked of all the previous occupants. Scared witnesses, sorrowful crims, a child hiding from powerful parents. A tang of fear, soaked into the very walls. There was still canned food in the cupboard, coffee grounds in the filter. The other apartments on the floor were purposefully left empty -- no problem with nosy neighbours -- and perhaps cleaned less than they should be.

After much fiddling about with the laptop connections, Elliot flipped open his notebook and went about accessing government files.

Two hours later, his head buzzing with unwanted information he lay back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling -- still mildew spotted, that hadn't changed -- and thanked God he'd ended up here and not in any other life. A dreadful litany of rape, beatings, humiliations, broken bones, suspected murders. Medical records, disciplinary records, even a journal kept by the resident psychologist.

As Fin would so succinctly put it -- Baby, Tobias Beecher was messed up.

He slept fitfully, dreams seguing into nightmares, remembering the nightmare graphics of broken bones and torn...



"So who is this guy?"

Elliot flipped open his notebook, thumbed through a dozen pages of precise notes.

"Well, he's done hard time -- six years maximum detention. Ah, was pretty much a target from when he went in there. So the rumour goes he was hooked on heroin, was raped in prison by several men -- one for five years ongoing, some serial killer who broke Beecher's arms and legs, then pretty much made him his bitch the rest of the time he was there.

Fin shrugged, having heard it all before. "That's just messed up."

Elliot rubbed his jaw, off-key from this intimate knowledge of a man's descent into Hell. "So he killed the guy that raped him, bites off some other guy's penis, and violates his parole on a drugs charge. And these people let this man near their kids?"

Olivia cleared her throat and pretended to look elsewhere. The temperature in the room seemed to plummet.

"As a matter of fact they do."

Elliot turned around and Beecher was behind him. Beecher glared at him with the oddest look, a how dare you crosshatched with another unspeakable emotion, something pleading, longing. Like the wordless look his kids had given him when he'd told them he had to move out of the house.

There was no reason for Beecher to look at him like that. It disturbed him, adding more fuel to the simmering disquiet he already felt.

"Well, you have to understand my position on this. With your history..."


"...where you've been."


Toby battled to keep his emotions in check. It was Chris. He was Chris. Everything. Right down to the freckles on the side of his jaw, those blue eyes.

Through clenched teeth and with almost unbearable restraint, "Apology accepted. Please don't make snap judgements of me in future."

Then he had to walk away. His heart was pounding in his chest so loudly he was sure the other two detectives had heard it.

Marcie could tell.

"Are you all right Tobias?"

"No. I'm not. Let's just sit in the courtroom, okay, otherwise I'm going to have another turn."

He watched as she ran for the soda machine.


He slid across the bench seat and ended up sitting directly behind Beecher. The proceeds took longer than expected. The mouthpiece took her sweet time grilling some unimportant witness over a petty statement typo. Hard not to be distracted.

The ex-lawyer held himself with a wary stiffness. Elliot found himself staring at the back of Beecher's head, the way the muscles of the man's nape flowed into a delicate neck and disappeared into his collar. The rest of him would be the same. Neat. Proper. How had a guy like that even survived max security was beyond him. Milk-fed, private school, the best of everything. Prison had destroyed stronger men than this.

What about the one who'd had Beecher's body and mind? The serial killer, who'd broken Beecher's bones, then claimed him as his own? What kind of man had he been? What would he have seen in Beecher, to subjugate him so?

In an unwelcome mental act of transference -- blessing and curse for an investigating detective -- Elliot found himself toying with the unnamed abuser's motives. Had someone looked at that very same neck and desired to force him down onto the hard mattress of a prison bed? Had they demanded sexual favors from Beecher that degraded him, destroyed him, made him so desperate that all he could do was love the thing that he feared the most?

What would that have been like for a man, to have Tobias Beecher on his knees in front of him, utterly submissive and willing to do anything?


Elliot's groin twinged. Christ, thought Elliot in alarm. The thought of roughing up Beecher was fucking well turning him on.

"I can feel you looking at me, Detective Stabler."

Elliot blinked. The court had gone into recess while he had been pondering (fantasising) on Beecher's incarcerated sex-life.

"I wasn't looking." Elliot's ears blazed. Jesus, it wasn't as if Beecher was reading his mind.

Beecher turned, slung his arm over the bench. Thin lips pulled back off small, sharp teeth. "I didn't serve in an experimental hellhole for seven years not to know when somebody's fucking staring at me."

Elliot couldn't apologise, so instead he stared insolently back, tried not to think of that delicate head being held between powerful hands, forced down onto a hard prick...

Beecher caught the look, and the pale skin at his collar deepened. "Do I disgust you? The things I did in there, do you think I'm bad for doing them, that I might infect innocents by my merely being in their presence?"

Through clenched teeth -- "Maybe."

Cunning eyes that saw right through him. This was a man who knew first-hand, the dark hearts of other men.

Quietly, so that nobody else heard, "Have you ever been forced to suck another man's cock?"

Elliot's jaw popped. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Or a man yours? I can assure you I'm good at it."

"Fuck you Beecher."

"That's right, fuck me."

An unwelcome weight settled into his stomach. Fuck Me. Image of Beecher on his knees looking up from his task with those intense blue eyes, provocative, angry, willing to wait for revenge even if it took him five years. The way Beecher looked at him now, as if he'd known Elliot for a lot longer than two cumulative hours, known him intimately, known him. They glared at each other, before Elliot broke the contact and left the courtroom, his belly, thighs and prick twanging with a tension he'd not felt since he was a teenager. The reaction frightened him. Christ, this was a man. Elliot knew he wasn't gay, didn't have feelings in that line ever, he was a red-blooded heterosexual man, goddammit!

Who can't get it up for his wife, an insidious little part of his mind whispered.

That meant nothing. They were just having problems.

Or any other woman lately, continued the voice.

But Beecher had been a prison bitch for over half a decade. He had played at being a woman, whatever that meant, had survived by sheer male on male seduction. And, Elliot reasoned harshly to himself, I'm just picking up on that.

Olivia slid into step behind him. "Elliot. A word."

"It better be a word, because I don't think I'm gonna be able to put up with Beecher's shit for much longer."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "I saw you both snarking at each other. We have to work with this man. If you two would stop knocking heads for five seconds we might get somewhere."

"Liv, I'm just having a hard time dealing with some..."

"Go on man, say it," said Fin, joining them. "Some jail bitch bustin' your ass."

Elliot walked away. His ears burning, and the rest of him burning up too. Thinking about Beecher made his body betray him, thinking about Beecher being fucked by his faceless killer/aggressor/lover made him feel sickened, disgusted, envious, aroused almost -- so many strange things.

He found one of the bathrooms, and stood in front of the rusting mirror, his flushed, confused face staring back at him. Just why was Beecher provoking him this way? And why was Elliot responding? Don't think about the heat in your crotch. Don't think about how very good he would probably have been...and still was at sucking a man's cock. Just don't.

He stuck his face under the tap. Dribbles of water ran down his neck and stained his collar. Held his hands in the flow until his skin was freezing, covered his eyes, surrendered to the cold. In the darkness he tried to empty his mind, to just breathe, in and out. Just do that which he needed to survive and no more. To forget about the warm weight that had pooled into his crotch for the first time in months.

When he finally opened his eyes he was not alone.

Beecher stood behind him, arms folded, looking at Elliot in the glass. They regarded each other in silence. Something must have disconcerted Beecher, some painful thought. He was not altogether here, and Elliot bit back the sharp comment that perched on the tip of his tongue.

Beecher scratched the side of his face. "Stabler, uh," he started. The hand moved to his head. There was an expression on Beecher's face that he couldn't quite place. Troubled. Unnerved "Um, I'm sorry about what I said back in there..."


"...it's the case, I guess it's keying us all off. I shouldn't have been so rude."

Outwardly calm, but inside Toby's mind was screaming. It's not Chris, not him!

But the sheer effort it was staking not to grab this man, not to bury his face in that powerful neck and weep Chris' name was halfway to killing him. They were so alike, Stabler and Keller, as if they'd exhumed Keller, fixed the broken parts, slapped him on the ass like a big baby and said, there you go. Go and live the life you should have lived, if your dad hadn't beat the living fuck out of you every day since you were born, if you hadn't been raped in an adult prison when you were still a child and not more than five-three tall, all dark eyes and dorky face and skinny spastic little body, years before your adult strength set in and your monstrousness came out.

Stabler wiped his face. "Yeah. I've been hard on you too. I'm just going through some..." he paused, as if debating whether to take the plunge out of impersonality. He took a deep breath and took the plunge, "..some shit in my life at the moment."

"I know how you feel. I've been through the whole rage of shit."

They grinned shyly at each other, two kids swearing behind the bike sheds.

"Mr Beecher, I really am sorry about what happened. To you. "

"Toby." He held out his hand. Stabler took it, squeezed.


They held on, much longer than they should have. Toby looked at Elliot and saw something jump behind his eyes, a spark of confusion, something else, something familiar.

"Well, better get back, Helen will wonder where I've gotten to."

Yeah, yeah I'll see ya." Elliot let Toby go.


There was something in Elliot's head that had gotten stuck there. Something that wouldn't quit bothering him.

He didn't see Beecher at all for the rest of the day, but knew he'd booked a session later for the judge's decision on Helen's case. With a knowing eye, Olivia noticed him scanning the crowded corridors of the courthouse.

"You looking for someone El?"

"No, no, it's nothing," he replied, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice.

When they had gotten through their cases Elliot made his quick excuses and fled to the bathrooms, he slid into the far cubicle and freed his aching cock from his trousers. It was almost too sensitive to touch. He licked his fingers and stroked the throbbing, painful length, trying to control his breathing because he was not alone, someone else was in here, had to get off, had to come...and he was struck by a shocking image of Beecher on his knees in front of him, eyes half-closed in surrender, dangerous mouth taking Elliot's cock deep into wetness and heat, Elliot's hand on Beecher's head, fingers tangled in his hair, controlling that sweet mouth so that he did exactly what Elliot wanted him to do.

His orgasm, first for months, was painful.

And worse of all that night he lay in his sofa bed, and imagined Beecher as he might have been when alone with his monster-lover, naked and vulnerable, legs splayed and cock hard, gasping with silent climax, such images that Elliot had never considered in his life, images of masculinity and sensuality combined and so intense, he came two more times before he could sleep.

Jesus, how different was he to the monsters when all he could think about was rape, prison rape, taking Beecher?



Days passed, and things didn't get much better.

He caught sight of Toby twice more in court, and there was an odd moment where they stared at each other wordlessly across the courtroom.

He knew he should go over and speak to him, just talk about what this thing was that loomed up between them, like a secret that Beecher knew and he didn't

There were other moments too, when Toby came into the precinct to talk to Don Cragen about a matter that concerned them both, and Toby had stared through the venetian blinds, and Elliot had stared back, until even Fin noticed.

"Stare a guy out, they get shitty, man."

Something was in him, something huge, coloring his thoughts and days. Something that gained shape, something that he could almost call desire, though it frightened him, though not as much as obsession, which hit even closer to the mark. He scanned the internet, the library, police files. Got to know Tobias Beecher's life intimately. Wanted to know more. Found photos of the people who had dominated Beecher's life. Disturbing too, they looked like regular people, the kind you could work with every day and not know of the evil within them.

Heard of Chris Keller, the lover and experienced the first pangs of envy. Thought about them fucking. The thought made his insides curdle and he couldn't leave it alone. Thought about hot flesh and small cries. Christ, he was horny all the time now, couldn't stop thinking about Toby being fucked by another man. Couldn't stop how angry it made him. He could find no photos of Keller. The FBI had locked them away, and being deceased, Keller's life had been reduced to a few text lines on the network hard drive.

It began to annoy Elliot severely that he didn't know what Keller looked like, couldn't put a face to this burgeoning hatred of him, match it to his protective feeling towards Toby.

Oh, that feeling. Kind of like...

Kind of like love.

There was no running away from it. Elliot knew what this was. Had to admit it to himself like you admitted dying or the end of the world. He was falling in love.

Then one day Beecher passed by Elliot's table and dropped a piece of paper there, mock-casually. Elliot caught it, wanted to say something.

But Beecher had already gone.

Elliot opened the note.

Murphys. Tomorrow. 7PM



The smaller man barely looked at Elliot, still all oriental inscrutability under that twenty-first century veneer. He wedged the chopsticks back into the half eaten noodle box.

"I can tell. You're going to ask me a question that's not about work."

"I know I'm supposed to see my usual shrink about this, but she wouldn't...she couldn't..."

"Go on. I've got a few minutes and I'm still technically being paid."

Elliot discarded his untouched takeaway and collapsed on the couch, pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes.

"God. I don't know who else to talk to about this. I'm so fucking confused."

"Better be confused than you making up your mind for all the wrong reasons."

"You're...you're gay, right?"

Huang did not even blink.

"My partner is a man, yes. But that's not what you wanted to ask me."

Elliot squirmed.

"How did you know? I mean, how does it feel, when you know."

Huang smiled. "I fell in love. That kind of thing you cannot mistake, no matter how hard you try."

When Elliot didn't speak, Huang prompted.

"Are you attracted to someone who might not fit what you consider the social norms of heterosexuality?"

Trust Hung to say in twenty words what could easily be said in two.

"There's this, person. I..." Elliot looked down at his thumbs, pressed against each other, willing the rest of his hands not to clench in anxiety. "I keep thinking about him." Breath again. "Having these... feelings for him. Physical ones. Like -- I want to touch him, and him me, and... fuck, I'm so messed up."

"You remember what we spoke about last time?"

"Yeah. How I was having trouble working out what made me different from the shit we deal with."

Huang caught the disbelieving note in Elliot's voice, as he could speak the words but not trust the contents.

"You kept asking me how you were different from them if you could see reason in their actions, about the despair inside you, as if you were feeling on the edge of losing control. Add to that the sexual dysfunction with your wife..."

Elliot snorted, regretting that particular intimate detail. But the last session had been like a dam bursting. He'd told Huang everything. Things he hadn't been able to tell the counsellor. Things he shouldn't by rights be telling Huang, because it was not the smaller man's job to be taking co-worker headcases on board.

"...with any woman." Huang continued, reinforcing another truth. "But this man, he is not a victim. He might not inadvertently look at you with the same face a woman might, not suspect your own dark heart, not see in you their abuser."

"That's the thing Huang. He is a victim. He's. It's. It's Beecher," he blurted. "That lawyer."

"Ah. But Beecher doesn't see himself as a victim. We've talked at some length."

"He was raped for years in prison by the same guy!"

"Which he doesn't see as being anything other than consensual."

"And then he killed him, what sort of consensuality is that?"

Huang shrugged. "He says it was a suicide. Elliot, no matter how you see it, consciously or unconsciously you've established a connection with this man."

"It's just psychological then, not sexual."

"Even sexuality is psychological at his source."

Elliot frowned. "I think he knows. I get the feeling that he wants to...discuss this."

"The very worst you could do is talk to him about it."


"Buy you a drink?"

Toby nearly jumped out of his chair. He was still edgy about people sneaking up behind him.

"Hey, hey Elliot. You're early."

Elliot slid into one of the seats a careful distance from Toby, and Toby didn't miss the signs of nervousness. That way his body tilted forward, the way his eyes wouldn't settle for long on anything.

"What are you having?"

"Mineral water. But have whatever you want."

"Oh, oh make that a beer for me," said Elliot, with an expression that wished for something much stronger.

Elliot fidgeted with the bottle and the glass when it finally came. He clearly wanted to talk and was having trouble finding the words. Toby knew that something was happening here. He'd been avoiding Elliot for weeks and yet at the same time not avoiding him. He had noticed Elliot's eyes on him always, the way he could be anywhere in the room and the good detective would be feeling him out with all senses.

At first Toby had wondered if it was just lingering suspicion. Some cop-antipathy towards and ex-con. Yet there were hints of something unbearably tender too, flip-flops between hunger and despair in Elliot's expression, the way he tensed up whenever Toby was near, yet never quite shied away.

Toby had been fighting all that time against the desire to turn Elliot into an ersatz Chris. In some ways it was even more painful than not having Chris around at all. A man he could not touch, a ghost.

In the end he had come to a decision. It was time to put his feelings in their place and end this.

After a few false starts and Elliot's second beer the conversation flowed. Talk of kids, ex wives, old law stories, but staying well away from that time in Toby's life when it all went terribly wrong.

And Toby was dying inside, just looking at him.

The lights were low. Tom Jones was crooning over the speakers -- / how's your new love / I hope he's doing fine /

Toby winced. Chris had sung that once during lockdown, being silly, trying to cheer Toby out of a blue mood. Thrown his boxers at him, and Toby had laughingly took a deep breath, musk and sweat and semen, and they'd fucked on the mattress under the cold fluorescent light in bright lockdown noon, not caring who saw them, Chris weeping his name over and over again as he came.

Oh God, to be loved like that again.

And God, if only it hadn't happened. If only he hadn't been ruined by a love so intense it swallowed up everything in its path like a dying star. Now everything else was cold and ordinary in comparison, not even worth his time.

Elliot finished his beer, pushed it over to one side. Toby looked at him, this man in a rumpled brown shit, tie off centre.

Face it, he said to himself. This wasn't Keller. Keller had had such a predatory grace about him, a dark sexuality that had turned Beecher over, over again. This man was just a stone. Almost sexless. Where Keller drowned in sensuality, Stabler clearly was uncomfortable with it. They were not the same animal. But there was something in Stabler's eyes, like he was sickening for something, that something he'd wanted his entire life had never come. Despair, sexual repression, who knew what?

unconditional surrender

unconditional love

Maybe at their core Elliot and Chris were not that different. But this man had never hurt Toby or betrayed him. He'd never lied. There was no history there.

Reaching for his mineral water, Toby accidentally pressed his knee gently to Stabler's own. He felt the tension through the limb.

"Elliot, we have to talk about this..." he started.

Startled gaze. Elliot swallowed and reached out, ostensibly for a coaster, but brushed Toby's hand on the way.

That did it. Elliot reached out, touched Toby's knee, then darted up to Toby's hand, pleading.

"There are these feelings, these thoughts about you," Elliot blurted, face held cop-stiffly, words as impersonal as a legal statement. "That I have been having."

Toby inched away from Elliot as if to say no, no I don't want this. But his body had already betrayed him. His body remembered the face, the body, the pleasure that had come from both and hungered. He could feel his heart pounding even between his legs. Please God...

"Elliot, wait," said Toby, disentangling his hand from (Elliot:Chris, his mind couldn't distinguish them now). He had to control himself, force himself not to push the table aside and kiss that parted mouth, straddle the hard thighs, grind his own aching prick into Elliot's stomach, release Elliot's cock and slide down onto the hard length like he used to do with...

"Do you know what's happening?" whispered Elliot. "Because I don't know what I'm feeling. I don't know what's going on here and it fucking terrifies me."

God, he was going to touch him. He was going to touch Chris' ghost, and it hurt something fierce jut to sit here, not touching him...

"I don't know if this is a good idea Elliot."

"But I know, I know what I want, and, I wanna take that chance Toby because..."

A mobile phone burred softly.

Elliot released Toby's gaze and sat back panting, nostrils flaring, face crimson with thwarted desire.

"Shit. It's mine, I'll tell them I'm busy."

"Not if it's important."

Elliot flashed Toby a look as if to say, nothing's this important. But from the sound of the voice on the other end of the line proved him wrong. Someone had died tonight.

"I have to go."

Small voice, as if Toby had already broken him. He collected his overcoat and dug around for his wallet.

Toby stood up. "Go. I'll pay for the drinks."


They stood for a few seconds. Then something wordless and terrible rose up between them and Elliot grabbed him into a hug, but it was more like a drowning man holding on to his last chance at survival, fingers clutching at Toby's shoulder, stubble scraping against his cheek, and Toby was lost to the storm of his own emotions, without shelter or safety.

He wanted to scream.

"I meant what I said," murmured Elliot. "Every goddamned word."

"Yes. Now go, go. I'll call you."

If you love me, leave me alone.

"Call me," repeated Elliot, hoarsely, through gritted teeth. "Please. Don't forget."

Why did he have to say these things? There was a pain in Toby's chest, he couldn't dislodge it.

"I will."

I can't.

"Toby..." he whispered, as if about to confess, to a sin, to a crime, to something so very much worse than both. "Toby. I'm so glad I met you."

You are poison.

And then the dark haired man left the bar, looking back two, three times, desperate, starving, like he thought Toby was going to disappear, and Toby swallowed, his heart breaking, Chris' face, Elliot's face, shuffling into one blur.

Toby sat back into the chair, week-kneed with desire and despair. The pain was flooding back, the darkness. His lover was dead. He was dead. A lot of walking dead in Oz. Oh god, he thought. Oh Jesus. I can't do this. I can't.

I have to tell him. I have to let him go.

//But remember what I tell you That you're gonna get down on your knees and pray and pray and pray And it's surprising how time slips away.//


"Sister Pete..."

She was looking older than he had seen her last. The black sweater only reduced her in size. Her hair was starting to match the silver in the cross around her neck.

"Tobias! Come here, let me hug you."

He pulled the small woman close, felt the improbable strength radiating from her body. There had been times when she'd held him up through burdens he thought would crush him. There had been times too, when she hadn't quite managed even that, and these were the chasms that would occasionally yawn between them.

But: he knew now that those burdens were partially his fault.

One of the scattered folders on the desk lost its precarious balance fell to the floor. He picked it up, looked at the handwritten notes and twinged with regret.

The puzzle-faced man at the computer had even muddled his way around Toby's appointment, having put him in the following day rather than this one. "You need a good secretary."

"Oh tell me." She waved her hand to dismiss her incompetent helper and sat on the threadbare couch, motioned for Toby to join her. "Scott's doing his best, but the new Warden, he doesn't care where people are working, just that they are kept out of trouble."

Toby, nodded, smiled, trapped his hands between his knees, suddenly self-conscious of the suspicious eyes of the C.O. outside the door, aware of the prison seething behind the wall. Sister Pete did not miss it.

"How have you been Tobias?"

He shrugged. "Well, we've been busy. There were two major cases involving our clients this month. About to go to court, both of them. Its been taking up all our time."

She nodded, a little impatiently. "I mean you."

He sighed, leant forward, sat back, couldn't think of where to begin.

"I'm better, I think."

"You think?"

"Well, I was just getting a handle on things, you know. But."

She leant forward. He pressed his knuckles to his eyes and spoke from behind his hands.

"I've met someone."

"Good for you. What's her name."

"His name. Elliot."


"He's a cop. Which is bad enough cause I've got this anti-authority chip on my shoulder now."

"So it's a he. It could be that you're having some issues with this person being a man rather than anything to do with your current--" --hard look-- "former problem with depression."

"It's not just that Sister. He..." Bend head, swallow. Confess. "He reminds me of Chris, a little."

"How? Personality?"

"God no. He's nothing like Keller in that way. Just, you know. I mean, there's some physical similarities in a certain light, and, it worries me. Every time I think of Chris it's like there's a knife in me, God, it hurts that much. It's like I've crucified myself on his memory."

His hands shook and clenched together, and it only reminded him more -- once upon a time he'd not sat like this, grasping only at himself. Once he had held his lover between them. Sister Pete took his lost hands and held them firm in her own.

"Tobias. That's not good. You've put yourself through enough pain. You don't need to be re-living it. I remember you taken to hospital, just after you got paroled."

He blushed, tried to laugh it off. "I'd just read my prescription wrong."

"Nobody's prescription says to take the whole bottle Tobias. This Elliot, he's probably the nicest man in the world, but I want to know, how do you feel about being reminded of Chris, even if it is every once in a while?"

"I don't know."

"Are they good memories or bad memories?"

"I don't know either."

"Well, my unprofessional advice to you would be to slow it down. Don't go anywhere with this relationship until you can tell yourself honestly what that memory is."

He stood up. Hugged her. Felt oddly close to tears.

I've never felt so lonely.


Olivia nodded to the CSU officer and watched the second small body being zipped up into the bag. What a night. Two victims, a chase that had led nowhere and the killer halfway to Canada by now.

She heard the phone ring, touched her pocket. Then found Elliot under a streetlight, reaching into his own.

Really must get a different ring-tone, she thought idly. She began to strip off her gloves and moved closer, hoping for a tip-off, or good news about the case. The smile on Elliot's face told her otherwise. A personal call. But it was good to see Elliot smiling. Especially now, when all he seemed to be was tension and trouble.

Then, like some awful scene change she saw the joy on Elliot's face fade. His brows knit together, mouth pressed into a thin line. His voice rose. "No. You don't know what you're talking about."

Their eyes met.

"What...?" she mouthed. Was it the kids? Kathy?

The barriers came up with a snap. Elliot spun away from her and walked towards the car, shoulders hunched up, head leaning awkwardly into the cellphone as if it was a fifty pound weight attached to his ear. He threw up one arm to hold himself steady, cried into the telephone, "...don't say that...you have to give it a chance...I'd never hurt you...please..."

The call was over. Elliot swore, and threw the phone on the ground where it shattered,

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

"What's wrong with your partner?" asked the CSU guy.

"Divorce," she said quickly.

"Eh, had two of them already."

He went back to his evidence collecting. Olivia sidled up to the car. Elliot stood there, hands on the hood, gasping.

"El, that wasn't Kathy or the kids?"

He shook his head, battling for control.

"Give me a minute," she said. "I'll drive us back to the precinct."

"No. If it's alright with you, I'd rather walk."

"Elliot, this time of night, it's not safe."

He just looked at her and if she had not known Elliot as a close friend for so many years, she would have taken a step back. He radiated danger. Nobody was going to mess with him tonight.

"I'll see you back there. You don't turn up within the hour, I send a car after you."

Her attempt at humour fell flat on its face. Elliot turned around and walked away, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, leaving the phone in pieces on the sidewalk.


In the end Elliot didn't return to the office. He kept walking. Through the darkened streets, past the river, past alleys and back lanes and bright shiny billboards, through roads choked with cars or empty of everything but newspapers and hookers. Past the garbage piled high outside shabby restaurants, the bums sleeping in doorways, the homeless children over steam vents clutching each other against the bitter cold, waiting for absent parents.

He walked until the pain in his legs matched the one in his chest. He walked until daybreak, was sprayed with dirty water from street sweepers, was yelled at by a cabbie, was accosted by a mad woman pushing a shopping trolley.

"Give it up boy!" she screamed at him, "No love in this world, none at all..."

In the ashy dawn he climbed the dingy stairway to the borrowed apartment and a dozen messages on the machine.

And Olivia, who was waiting for him on the sagging, threadbare sofa-bed.

"Where have you been?"


She wound a frayed upholstery thread around her finger. Sunlight mazed through a frosted window.

"The Captain almost bit my head off for letting you go in the condition you were. We called Kathy--"

"You shouldn't have." He began to fumble through the cupboard and shove aside the dusty tins. "I don't think she'd want to be woken up at four in the morning with a report that I'd gone missing. That--" he found what he was looking for, a half-bottle of cheap bourbon discarded by the previous occupant, "--was one of the reasons she left me in the first place."

He twisted the top off the bottle and drained nearly a quarter of the liquor before coughing. Hot fire scorched to his belly. The room spun. Oliva took the bottle out of his hands and emptied it down the sink. A cockroach scampered out of the drain.

"Hey, I was going to drink the rest of that."

"Elliot, what's wrong with you? First the phone call, now this..."

"Nothing's wrong with me." He staggered to the couch. "Nothing at all, Because--" he lurched towards Olivia, drunkenness and exhaustion slamming into him, "--if there were somethin' wrong with me then Toby might love me, but he doesn't cause I'm too fuckin' nice."

"Toby? Love?"

"Ooh shit, did I say that?" His legs buckled as the booze drained the strength from him. He staggered back onto the couch. "I'm so fucking tired Liv," he murmured. "So fucking tired of it all."

"Elliot, listen to me. I can't speak for you, but if you've got something happening between yourself and--" the paused, as if the truth had finally sunk in, "--and another man, you have to be careful. Some of the guys in the precinct. They're old fashioned. They don't see the difference between a guy liking another guy and a guy being a child molester, if you know what I mean."

Elliot looked at her with a hand over one eye.

"There's nothing happening. Now just leave me alone. Tell Cragen I've gone off sick."


"Just go, Liv. Go. Don't waste your time trying to make me feel better."

He rolled over, faced the seat back. She waited for a minute, hoping he was just needing a moment of quiet. But the moment stretched on to an eternity and Olivia took the hint, and was gone.


"But I loved him. I loved him."

"That was no reason to torture him, Stan. To murder him. That's not love."

Teeth bared. Savage. "Don't presume to know what I feel."

Olivia didn't move. Best not to, during these kind of interviews. The suspects were often subsumed by grief. Or guilt. Often both. Even if they weren't the offenders, there was always some facet of culpability there, an emotion corkscrewing through their history with the deceased.

The young man in front of her had lead them through a merry chase down variations of relationship with their victim. Oh, he'd said, we barely know each other, we're just friends. Urbane. Hetrosexual. And the layers had peeled away, until bit by bit the truth came out, and now here was this tragedy in all its raw, shocking glory.

"You don't know what it is to love someone like I do. To fucking give up everything that you think is nice, and decent, and normal. I was married for christssakes. Married! And I'd have left them all for him. Just to look at him. To touch him. To be with him. He showed me a glimpse of heaven and then took it away from me." His fist to his chest. "He destroyed me."

Something about this wild confession alerted Olivia to trouble. As Stan spoke she glanced behind her, expecting Elliot to jump in, deliver a sharp comment. Surely he could feel it, this tension?

Instead, he was pressed up against the corner, arms crossed over his chest. Stricken.

"Detective Stabler?" Softly. He was a million miles away. Stan was crying quietly into his hands. Oliva sat between the two men like a receiver just out of range of an important signal and pressed her fingers through the vein throbbing above her eyebrow.

Don Cragen tipped his head in the door. The odd little scene must have played out to the new DA's satisfaction behind the one-way glass. They'd got their confession. Better than having to take it to court and the laborious process of a contest.

When Stan had been handcuffed and taken away, Cragen nodded towards Olivia.

"Good work. I'll shout the drinks tonight."

Olivia waited for Elliot. He didn't move from where he had limpeted to the wall. He looked...unwell.

"You all right there, El?"

Yeah. Just give me a minute."

"Is it...what Stanley just said?"

Elliot didn't reply. Which meant of course, yes.

She pondered the last five weeks of an Elliot left grieving. Not entirely different weeks from when Kathy had left, but the quality of his suffering now had less closure, more desperation. After three days away, phone off the hook and door locked Elliot had returned. Quiet and withdrawn. Possessed. He only showed impatience with offenders and suspects, and it was an oddly detached kind of brutality. The sort of carelessness that could get a officer into trouble.

"You identified with him, didn't you."

Elliot pulled himself away from the way. "I did not."

"El, don't shut me out like this. He said things that you identified with. It happens. It doesn't make you a bad person. It just makes you human."

"I'm NOT like him! That murderer. That fucking..." He made a choking sound, before growling, "I'm not."


He left the interview room and slammed the door so hard that Olivia jumped. The throb started up in his temple again. She sat back down in the chair. This was going on too far.


"Mister Beecher?"

Toby looked up from where he had been poking at his pasta salad. At first he didn't quite recognise the tall, handsome woman with the upswept hair, but when he did, it was as if the bottom had fallen out of his stomach.

"Detective Benson."

"Can I join you?"

He looked at Marcie.


Marcie paused, glanced at Toby, the female detective, and then shrugged apologetically. "I have work to do. I'll leave you both alone."

Marcie left Toby alone with Elliot's work partner and Toby pushed the plate away. Nearby a girl was having an impromptu birthday party. Her friends sang raucously and the surprised girl squealed with delight. Toby, trained by six years of prison for hyper-awareness, could not totally ignore them.

Well. There was more than one surprise happening in this diner today.

"You've come about Elliot."

"I know that something happened -- between you two."

"Nothing happened between us Detective."

"Call me Olivia. Please. I'm here as Elliot's friend, not as a cop."

"Okay then. Olivia. Nothing happened between us."

"Why don't I believe you?"

"Because you're a cop. It's your business not to believe me."

Olivia pressed her lips together. Toby was immediately on guard. Not a stupid woman, this one. The birthday crowd laughed. A cola bottle spun on it's side over the red melamine table.

"Is that why you turned Elliot down? Because he's a cop?"

"God no. It's complicated."

"But over the telephone for gods sakes!"

Toby closed his eyes. "It was fucking cowardly of me. I know. But I couldn't tell it to his face...I couldn't."

Because of Chris. Because of the look on his face when you said you wanted him gone from your life. Because you couldn't bear to see that again.

"Why not? He needs closure Tobias! He needs to be told that you and him are never going to happen."

A stab of recollection. Toby winced.


"Please. He's a mess. It's like he's trapped in some purgatory he can't get out of. Tell him, to his face. Tell him you don't love him. He's already lost his family. Let him get on with his life."

Two rows over birthday party had quietened down to a shocked hush. The party girl was sobbing.

"I'm sorry," said the blond jock that Toby had previously identified as her boyfriend. "It was a mistake."

"Get out!" the girl screamed. "Get the fuck out! Don't touch me."

The crowd fell into silence. Toby spoke in a hush. "I'll tell him, okay? Give me a couple of days to wrap my head around it."

"Just don't be long. I want my partner back."


Marcie's son and Toby's two kids made the most picture-postcard perfect blended family that had ever been imagined by a marketing executive. Jack Hilyer had a couple of years over Holly and Harry, and his emerging personality -- kind, patient, moral -- was thankfully more like his mother's than his no-good missing dad.

But then again Toby thought, he had been a no-good missing dad himself, so he couldn't really cast judgements on the (probably) dead.

It had been a month for power outages, so now here they were bathed in candlelight on their shared custody weekend, an ad-hoc family in a cold apartment. But the five of them had love enough. Jack and Holly huddled under a plush blanket against a sudden New York chill, while Harry slept in Marcie's arms.

He boiled up hot milk on a camp stove, probably breaking a dozen fire regulations in the process, and deposited the steaming cups to the kids. Outside thunder grumbled. Rain splattered against the window. Marcie's ship-clock chimed the eighth hour.

She read a book aloud to the children and Toby was torn between fondness for Marcie and a wish that they really were in love. Because if they had been, then he wouldn't be so alone. This terrible ache in him might not be so real.

Marcie had a lovely reading voice, a deep velvet purr.

"...somehow, when once you've looked into anybody's eyes, right deep down into them, I mean, nobody will do for that one any more. Nobody, ever so beautiful or so good, will make up for that one going out of sight..."

Something must have changed in the quality of Toby's silence, for Marcie stopped reading and looked up.

"What's wrong Tobias?"

"Look after the kids. I have to go and see someone."


It had taken over two hours to find Elliot. Don Cragen had mentioned a crime scene on the East side, and that direction quickly became old news when Olivia called to report that the scene had extended to a primary several blocks away, that they were splitting up to supervise the CSU guys and interview any witnesses.

And it was already ten-thirty when Toby pulled up on a street-corner outside a bookstore missing a window. Red and blue emergency service lights fared off the canyon walls of the business district. The white bunny-suits of the forensics investigators were already sopping wet. A couple of uniforms huddled under a leaking awning, sharing a cigarette.

He parked down a quiet side street, climbed out of the car and dashed for the eves, getting close as he could before his way was blocked with tape.

It took him a while to spot Elliot off to one side of the scene, standing there like a trench-coated wraith, breath pluming from his mouth. He looked so much thinner. Exhausted. Toby panged with guilt.

"Elliot," he called, trying not to be too loud, but having trouble being heard over the rain. "Elliot."

That achingly familiar face swung up, searching the rain and darkness. Their eyes met. An expression between longing and despair chased across Elliot's face.

He must have known that Toby had come to say goodbye.

Toby approached Elliot one step at a time, not caring about the rain any more. He saw how Elliot almost cringed away, knowing what was coming.

"Why are you here?"

"I needed to tell you properly. I shouldn't have said it over the phone."

"But you did. This doesn't make it any better."

Oh God help me, thought Toby, but Elliot was beautiful in this half-light. His suffering had etched out his face from marble, not so far removed from the Saviour inked onto Chris' arm. This was pain not just caused by love, but a whole shitload of trauma buried deep, repressed stacked away in a hidden place to fester and rot.

His body betrayed him. It wanted to touch that face, trail his fingers over the heavy eyebrows, the high forehead, the stubborn jaw, lips that could be thin and hard or as soft as a woman's...


"No! Fuck you Toby, when you rejected me it fucking hurt. You knew how vulnerable I was, you lead me along with your let's go and have a drink and talk about it and my heart was fucking lying open on that table and then you told me you didn't want me and you couldn't say it to my goddamn face..."

A month of damped down sexual tension exploded from him. He grabbed the front of Elliot's jacket, pushed him about.

"Fuck me? Fuck you Elliot! You don't know the first thing about being hurt! You call what I did rejection? Try having your fucking arms and legs broken by someone you love, and then tell me what hurt is! Huh? Tell me!"

Elliot stood there in the rain, sopping wet, chest heaving, bedraggled and not a little pathetic, like a puppy left out on a porch.

Toby shook his head, the anger gone from him. "Fuck this shit. I shouldn't have come."

He trudged through a giant puddle to the car, angry and aching. After a minute Elliot ran up behind him.

"I'm sorry Toby. I'm an ass. I'm so messed up."

Toby shook his head. "Yeah, well we're all messed up some way or another. I've done what I've come to do. Goodbye."

He pressed the unlock switch, the car blipped and would not open. He thumped the door with his hand.


"Toby. Please. I want to make it right. Don't leave me again."

Toby exhaled, turned to face Elliot. The walls he had built up against love were crumbling. They were in too deep.


The rain turned to knives and needles under the cold glow of the streetlight, and Elliot stood there in the downpour, nothing left of him but his skin and eyes and his longing. This man who had never hurt him, never betrayed him, had never asked of Toby anything, just to be allowed to love him.

He was not Chris.

Toby let the rain fall on his upturned face for a moment, to hide unshed tears, before he surrendered.

"Come here then."

Elliot slid awkwardly forward into Toby's embrace. The rain fell, soaking them, yet Toby could feel Elliot's body heat burning through the wet layers. His face pressed into Toby's shoulder, and he heaved great racking breaths. Not sobs exactly, but not far off.

Muffled, "I hate all of them for hurting you."

Words twanging in his memory. The first time a lie. This time spoken true.

"It's alright." He stroked Elliot's head like he had yearned to, felt the deep tremor there, the heat of him. If only he'd held Chris like this, then maybe...

So softly, he almost missed Elliot's words. "Tell me what to do."

"Kiss me," Toby breathed, lost. "Kiss me."

Elliot gave a half-murmur. At first Toby wondered if he was saying no, if this was it, the end of this dance. Then came gentle brush of lips across his rain-wet cheek, and Elliot's mouth, feather light, on his. Perhaps too desperately Toby held Elliot's head, plunged his tongue into that hot darkness, claimed Elliot's mouth with desperate kisses, as if he could expunge all of Chris' memory with one action and call him back from the dead with another.

The murmur came again, half sob, half growl and Elliot crushed Toby to him, responded awkwardly to Toby's blatant craving, his nervous tongue darting and withdrawing before Toby could catch it, Elliot's breath hitching in his throat with small cries of almost-pain. Toby wanted to slide out from the clutching fingers, sure they were leaving bruises, but that would also mean leaving the dark sugar-salt of this man's untutored mouth before he could properly win him over.

Where did you /not/ learn to kiss, Elliot? Fumbling in a car? On your girl's front porch? In front of her parents? All chaste and proper? Have ever just let go?

Elliot pressed Toby against the car, hands at Toby's waist, pulling him close, closer. His lips fell away from Toby's mouth and trailed along his jaw, clumsy with newness and wonder, sucking rain and sweat and memories to the surface. The sensation made Toby gasp and squirm. His knees weakened. Elliot's grasping hands were running up the back of his thighs, his ass, as if to lift him up, pull him closer. Toby had a crazy need to slip his hands in between their bodies, pull his aching prick from his boxers and -- God, the thought made his cock throb almost painfully -- push Elliot's head there, make him suck him off, Jesus, he was so close...

A squad car drove past, outlining Elliot's ear in red and blue light.

Toby bit the inside of his cheek, hoping to distract himself with the pain, then pushed Elliot away.

Between clenched teeth: "We'd better get out of here."

"No, no..." Elliot wouldn't leave Toby alone, head dipping for more kisses, hands were pulling at his shirt, sliding under his belt, igniting an unholy fire along the leylines of Toby's skin. "Please let me...let me..."

"Elliot, half the people you work with are on this block!"

He untangled himself from the larger man. The rain and sweat made the stubble-scratched parts of his cheek sting.

"Toby, don't leave me. I need you."

Chris had said that, and when Toby had said no, Chris had killed himself.

"I said we. You finish up here. I'm coming home with you."


Now in the bare incandescent globe, away from the rain, the heat of the moment eased up, Elliot became shy again, like a child given a wish and then too frightened to take it when it was offered and made real. He stood in his borrowed room, damp and rumpled and wary. Toby had the power to hurt him now. They both knew this.

"Anything to drink?"

"Only hard stuff. Bourbon. But um, I know you don't drink so..."

Toby opened the fridge, and in a moment of sheer devilment drank milk straight from the carton. A thin line of milk fell from his chin. Toby lapped up the whiteness, saw Elliot's hungry gaze and performed a little in front of him, sucking the white spill into his mouth with a lazy thumb, sucking on it, twirling his tongue around the digit with a half-smile.

Elliot's breath was loud in the room.

Toby took off his own damp shirt and wiped himself down, felt the instinctive reaction of his body as he saw the darker man's gaze stutter over his skin. Shy and starving for affection, a look that belonged on a far different face than some hard New York cop.

He came forward, knowingly seductive, getting hard under Elliot's intense gaze.

"Do you want to touch me Elliot?"

Silence, caught in the middle of an exhale, then a nod. "Yeah. Yeah, I want."

"Go on then. It's not a crime."

Then Elliot's eyes met his. Fear-dark. Not a crime.


Not a crime.

But all the human contact he seemed to see these days was a crime. Painful. Non-consensual. Rape, forced, torn open, bloodied. The impossibly of a human touch that wasn't an act of coercion or violence.

And this man was just letting him continue that horror.

You're just a rutting dog in the streets, a slave to your impulses. You're exactly like me.

Elliot backed off, gasping, sick from the rush of arousal that had filled his groin with a hot, liquid heat. It was wrong, so wrong what they were doing, this man was a victim, saw in Elliot his own abuser and wanted more.

And Elliot wanted to give it to him, his own dark soul had responded to this (bitch) man and had betrayed him. Four decades of moral teaching and:

"I can't...I can't do this to you. I'm not Keller, goddammit."

What was that flash in Toby's eyes? Disappointment? He expected Toby's anger, would have welcomed it. Then he could have been angry back. But the man only waited, preternaturally patient.

Then slowly, slowly Toby came forward again. Touched Elliot's neck. Elliot jumped under the contact. His pulse beat loud enough for both of them.


Toby crooned, the same tone he used with those children he'd rescued, their grieving parents. "Shh. It'll be okay. Nothing is gonna hurt. I only want to make you feel good. The moment it doesn't you tell me to stop, and we'll stop, okay."

Toby stroked Elliot's forearms. Wrist to elbow, brushing back the hair. Then smoothed it down, sense memory alerting him to differences between this man and the one who lurked through the shadows of his past. Elliot didn't move. Didn't look at Toby. Toby was gentle. Slow. As if any sudden movement would make Elliot shy away, run. Because this wasn't prison. You weren't dealing with a man animal-trapped and horny, willing to fuck anything. Even though Elliot clearly wanted him, the slightest wrong word or thoughtless action would make Elliot withdraw in terror.

Toby had to suppress a smile when he realised: for all that his hands and eyes said otherwise, this was almost like making love to a young girl.

Slowly he released each button on Stabler's shirt. Slid them off shoulders (heavier than Chris', but don't think of him, no, don't you dare).

"You're shaking."

Gruff voice. "Yeah, well, I ain't used to this." The tremor put a lilt on the last word, dragged it up a few notes. Another thing that was NotChris. Chris who was always looming over Toby, confident, demanding. All hot skin and hard cock and seeking clever tongue. Not hiding a first-timer's fear under this impenetrable stiffness. That was exactly what Elliot was, a virgin who had only seen the horrors of sex and experienced none of its transformations.

"Do you want me to stop now?"

He trailed his fingers over Elliot's collarbone, over his hard, peaked nipples. He shuddered and pressed forward for more.

"No. Don't stop."

"Then touch me."

Elliot's hands lifted, froze, then reached out to touch Toby's bare waist, tentatively, reverently. Toby's cock throbbed. He was hard again, and he was going to frighten off Elliot before he even had a chance at showing him what he so clearly, desperately craved.

"This scar...?" whispered Elliot, fingers tracing the depression at Toby's side.

"It's nothing. You should see the one on my ass," Toby smiled, and Elliot's face suddenly lost its tension.

"Yes. Yes I want to."

Blindly Toby pulled Elliot over towards the sofa bed, and they fell into it together, the cheap steel frame groaning under the weight of two male bodies. They kissed, roughly and without finesse, just needing to taste and feast on each other, claim the other before the dream ended. Under Toby's murmurs of encouragement Elliot's kisses grew more confident, lapping at Toby's willing tongue, nibbling and sucking on Toby's lips and Toby lay back under this tender assault, dazed.


Elliot broke the kiss long enough to study the man lying back on the bed, that half startled expression, heavy lidded eyes. His attention trailed towards Toby's nipple peeking sexily from his pale chest. He had a sudden crazy need to kiss the little bud, and a wave of trepidation followed. What was he supposed to do? This was not a woman's body. How did you go about making love to a man? Could you touch them in the same places? Or did you have to be all masculine, no foreplay, just cock and balls?

Toby's fingers trailed up his ribcage, towards his small peaked nipple.

"Kiss me here," he said hoarsely, and with barely contained eagerness Elliot did what Toby wanted, feeling the smaller body tremble under his lips and rasping chin. Bolder, he kissed and scraped his way across the smooth chest to the other nipple, seized it between his teeth, and in a moment of distraction bit down, making Toby jerk and cry out.

"I'm sorry..." he started, mortified, but had no time to finish as Toby guided his head down again.

"Lick me there now, harder, harder."

And he yelped with delight as Elliot bit him on the other nipple, making them twin pairs of pleasurepain.

Toby's hips were jerking off the bed, his erect cock pressing in sharp definition against his trousers. Elliot paused once, took a deep breath then reached down to stroke him through the confining fabric.

Toby pushed into Elliot's palm whispering, "yes, yes, there." Elliot returned the pressure, harder this time, storing the information away. So Toby liked to walk the knife edge of pain. Elliot was torn between delight and panic, god, he was always tentative with his lovemaking, always afraid of hurting, doing something wrong.

"I can hear you thinking from here Elliot. Stop it."

Toby's hand wrapped around the back of his head, pulling Elliot closer.

"Just let go baby. Do what you need to do," Toby groaned into Elliot's ear.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"I'm so fucking close it's not gonna hurt me," Toby muttered, grinding his crotch into Elliot's. His hands slipped up to Elliot's wrists, pinned them briefly to the mattress, rolled on top of him. Elliot gasped, having forgotten his partner could just be his equal in strength. "Now get out of the rest of those clothes. I wanna see you."

Elliot surrendered.


He found that he'd lost control of his body, passed it on to another's hands. It had become an animal thing, wanting to touch and be touched. His mind might have observed from some cool, high place that he was with a man, that this went against every heterosexual social conditioning impressed onto him, but he -- he was moaning and moving under the practiced cresses of Toby's hands. Hands brushing his thighs, the cleft of his ass, fingers brushing thrillingly, terrifyingly over the knot of sensitive flesh there, he was torn between shying away and parting his legs, allowing entry, halfway to fucking.

The moment was gone, and Elliot didn't know whether he felt relief of disappointment. Toby's hands were caressing his heavy balls, rolling back the foreskin of his aching cock and milking pre-cum from the tip.

Try as he did to take control of himself, to say: these things Toby knows, they never came out of love. His skill came from killers and rapists, they were the tricks he learnt -- not to give pleasure but to stay alive -- his animal self yearned for those things and cared not for the source.

Toby claimed his mouth again and this time took Elliot's hand and placed it on his own straining cock. Elliot stroked it nervously, never having felt another man hard and aroused in his own hands before. Nor had he ever had a man knee apart his thighs and lie between them, pushing their swollen prick into his fist, eyes shut, face contorted with lust.

Within seconds Toby climaxed with a hiss and a muffled groan, spilling sticky come into Elliot's hand. He collapsed onto Elliot, nose buried into his neck and moaned as orgasmic aftershocks shuddered through him. Elliot didn't know what to do. He was still painfully aroused but still felt curiously...empty.

As if Toby hadn't quite been with him, but someplace else. A place that existed behind his closed eyes and where Elliot couldn't follow.

"Christ," Toby said between laboured breaths, "I'm sorry Elliot. I couldn't wait. I'm not usually that fast."


Toby pushed himself up on his hands. "You're pissed."

"No I'm not."

"You're pissed because you've still got a hard-on and I just came all over you -- and you've no idea how you did it."

Toby's fist closed around his cock. Elliot's hips instinctively bucked into the welcoming pressure.

Toby stared at Elliot intently, devil and angel-face combined.

"I'm going to take care of you now," growled Toby into his ear, his breath hot against his skin. "I'm gonna make you come so hard you'll think you've died."

One of Elliot's earliest Toby-fantasies flashed into his head. Toby on his knees. Blue eyes, angry sexy, mouth opening to his cock, Elliot canting his hips forward and being sucked deep.

Elliot dropped his hand to cover Toby's own, hard, wanting Toby to stroke him, make his hand like a mouth and give him some measure of relief...

Toby snatched his hand away. "But I think I've already made you come, more than once."

Hurting now, Elliot glared at Toby. The smaller man licked his lips and eyed him mischievously. "What are you talking about?"

"What am I doing to you, when you think about me?"

Elliot blushed. "Jesus, Toby." His hands clenched spasmodically at Toby's arm. "Just touch me for christsakes..."

Toby seized Elliot's wrists and hiked them over his head again.

His voice dropped to a gutter drawl. "You tell me what you fantasize about. When you're alone, and horny and there ain't no-one around but your hand and your dick."

"Toby, you don't want to know."

Toby trailed his tongue over the banked-down strength of Elliot's chest, Elliot's hands falling from their restraint to clutch spasmodically in Toby's hair, his neck, his shoulder.

"Tell me..."

Elliot gasped as Toby sucked a nipple, let out a whimper as tongue and lip pulled at the delicate flesh.

"Toby, I..." he started again from a dry mouth. God, how to put this delicately. Hard enough to ask a woman, but a man whose debut into cocksucking had been so brutal? Impossible.

But God, he wanted Toby like that.

Toby was perceptive. "You want me to suck you?"

Elliot nodded wordlessly. His cock leapt under Toby's knowing fingers.

"Hmm, you'd like that I think. My mouth here." A gentle stroke of a moistened thumb over the sensitive head. Elliot whimpered.

"Oh God, I've dreamed about it. In court, when you said that you had done it, I..."

"Did it turn you on, when I said I was good?"

Elliot threw an arm over his face. "You turned me on so badly Toby then, Jesus, I thought I was going crazy."


"Do I turn you on now?" He nudged Elliot's shin with his own cock, let a smear of wetness there, felt the answering tremble. Began to nuzzle the crease between Elliot's thigh, steering clear from the angry red cock, teasing his balls with his tongue, then moved away, making Elliot hungry for him.

"Don't stop." Elliot's hand fumbled behind Toby's head, not quite pulling him down, but not quite letting him go either. Elliot's thumb brushed over his swollen lips. "I love your mouth Toby, I want it on me."

Toby kissed the clutching palm, nuzzled it with a teasing tongue, tasting salt and his own semen. He pulled back, and for a moment gloried in the sight of Elliot's sex-flushed body, to once again have someone so purely desperate for him.

Before Elliot could complain further he dipped his head, ran his tongue around Elliot's cock and tasted the familiar male musk, and the undertones that were unfamiliar, Elliot's own.

Elliot's fingers dug into his shoulders.

Lost to his own memories Toby slid his lips over the thick length, mapped the veins and taut skin with his tongue, only slightly aware that there was someone else in this equation, a voice crying out words from every language and no language at all. The memories pulled him back into a hot night, thin mattress, sweating bodies, Toby swallowing Chris' cock as if it were a most sacred precious thing. He drew up, tongued the glans hard, the way that Chris liked, bobbed his head in Chris' favoured rhythm, and he found himself growing hard again, and he wanted Chris to grab him, fling him onto his back, fuck him hard, Jesus, he missed him so goddamned much.

A shout, hot come flooding his mouth, and when Toby raised his head, the similarities and differences between the two men were yawning between them.

Lucky then, that Elliot had not been looking at him and up at the ceiling instead, dazed from orgasm, panting like he'd never had his dick in someone else's mouth before.

Toby raised himself to Elliot's damp mouth and kissed him furiously, let him taste himself in Toby's mouth. To taste himself...and not the thin thread of disappointment.


They made love once more before Elliot finally slept, and his clutching, covetous hands fell away from Toby's body, freeing him.

Toby got up to make an apologetic phone call to Marcie, and heard no caution in her voice, only gladness that he was alive. He took a brief shower, hearing the pipes shuddering and banging, and the water running hot-cold, and lay his head against the cool tiles.

Right now, he should have been feeling wonderful, skin-tingly and in love. But this was apprehension and confusion. Who had he made love to in there? Who?

Whomever it had been, he had to admit the last half hour had been pretty fucking amazing.

On a trip to the bathroom he unearthed an unopened bottle of baby oil, which had gone a long way in getting Elliot hard again. Toby had pooled the oil on Elliott's belly, smoothing it over his own arching, twitching cock, showing off, teasing.

Elliot watched Toby's hands, aroused and wary at the same time.

Toby toyed with the juxtaposition of the Elliot Stabler on his bed (heavy-set, roped muscles, arms that could kill him if he'd a mind to it), and the primly buttoned-up man that had been built around that glorious body. A contraction of opposites. Slick with oil, the idea of fucking Elliot had made his cock throb in hungry anticipation, but that was not going to happen unless Elliot could shuck that impenetrable conservative shell first.

He had settled himself down on that strong torso and slipped his cock between the warm oil and blood-hot skin, imagined himself thrusting inside Elliot's tight virgin body the way he could never really do with Chris.

(Oh, says the ghost, you wanted to fuck Chris so badly, but despite all his swagger, Vern had given him an anal hang-up greater than yours, Tobias. And half the arguments the pair of you had came from you wanting to get on top, to get inside him, to know him that way and once you'd kept at him and the one time he'd surrendered he'd even fucking cried, not post-coital crying which happened sometimes, but the way a raped kid cried, and you knew that you'd hurt him, you'd brought it all back...)

So Toby had stayed away from that part of Elliot that eased and beckoned him and flavoured all his touches with a what if?. Elliot held himself rigid, letting Toby thrust in a rhythm as old as time (oh, but if cocks and bellies feel good Elliot, you should feel my ass.

Soon Elliot began to squirm and move, and finally he hauled Toby over and they thrust together, battling for the finish line. Toby let his head fall back and hissed through his teeth, needing more friction, remembering the movement and the hard thrust of cock into prostate, crying out in frustration and need, digging his heels into the back of Elliot's powerful thighs, his fingers digging into Elliot's fine butt.

"Fuck me baby, oh god, fuck..."

Elliot had ground himself against Toby, gasping, as if he would bury himself through Toby's abdominal wall if he could.

And even an hour later Toby could feel his body respond. A throb. A flush of heat.

But for whom?


After that first night, the locks closed around them. They were committed now, bound by obsession and death and memories and hurt and lust.

But one word was missing from the lexicon that described their relationship. One word. The word that some used so casually, and that others died for, the word that could make one man kill another man.

And Toby could not be sure if either one of them could truly say that word in any context, invoking the pair of them together, without disaster falling on the both of them.

Soon he began to fear the use of that word, was afraid of blurting it out at some improper time. Because once said, you couldn't take it back. And if said without truly meaning it--

Well, he knew what trouble that bought.

Despite that gaping emotional void they had to dance around, Toby found that he and Elliot quickly settled into something of a routine. Possibly the easiest physical relationship he'd ever had. Their lovemaking was slow, careful. Skin against skin. Long explorations and extended hours. Toby had done frantic before, hard physical twenty-second rutting. This was a novelty, to just take it easy. He always got a kick in climbing out of bed naked to fetch food, and eating it in full view of Elliot's fierce stare, watching Elliot get hard through Toby's provocative actions and glances. To play and tease while he was naked and aroused, and at the same time knowing he was not constrained by time and the lack of privacy.

That was the good part. But the bad was complex.

The body-memory still whispered: Chris. His mouth, when Toby came, still hissed the sibilants in Chris' name, though Elliot -- lost to bliss -- never made the connection.

Toby still worried. What were his motivations this vicarious relationship, to be with Chris and yet not be with him, to layer Chris over another man's frame? Because no matter how strongly he could project his former lover onto Elliot, the differences between them hooked and snagged like an ill-fitting skin.

Chris had been a kisser -- he had held more store in kissing than fucking. Toby had come to learn that sex was one thing for Chris -- currency pure and simple -- but kisses another. There had been nights, and Toby remembered them with painful sweetness, where all Chris would do would kiss him, for hours, until his mouth was swollen and his lips hurt but for the most gentle of touches. And the dark man would still always follow, pleading, kiss me, love me, kiss me. Kiss me again. Toby would push him away, laughing, Chris, my mouth is one big bruise and Chris would beg, just a kiss, just a short one, just kiss me... and was probably the only person he knew, male or female, who could be brought halfway to orgasm from kissing alone.

Addictive. The thing that at the very end he listed along with alcohol and heroin.

Elliot never quite got the same charge out of kissing that Chris had. Not that they didn't spend plenty of time in each other's mouths, but for Elliot there was something else far more important, a deeper more spiritual quality. Nose in Toby's neck. Ear against his chest, listening to Toby breathe. Touching. Watching. He'd never invested one simple action with so much importance that everything else was an afterthought. Perspective. That's what Elliot had. A free man's perspective on life.

Chris, you always had to keep at arms length. He'd swallow you whole if you let him.

And that kind of surrender felt good.

Elliot was hopeless at seduction. He needed to be reaffirmed, cajoled, told he was sexy. Most of the time he got all macho and waved such talk away, and it was not until hours later, with perhaps a work shift in between when Toby would get a late night phone call and a whispered, "you think?" and Toby would realise that his bluntly dismissed and forgotten comment had rolled around in Elliot's daft head for all that time like a song he couldn't stop thinking of.

But Toby had tasted the bitter fruit of obsession, and been made an object of desire.. He'd been chased. He'd been the one who'd needed convincing. He'd had someone die for him.

Sometimes he wondered what Elliot thought. And too often Chris' voice whispered silkily, who cares what he thinks -- my replacement, my pretend me. It's not his inside you care about.

For the moment Elliot and Chris' ghost existed side by side, one oblivious to the other. But this heaven could not last indefinitely...and like all things that had tripped Toby up, it was to do with sex.


"How come we've never fucked?"

Toby nearly choked on his cheese on rye, and had to take a glass of water to get the unchewed mouthful down.

The other patrons in the crowded restaurant didn't seem to have heard Elliot's question, as inappropriate as it was for the location. As far as they were concerned it was another example of cop and lawyer, talking about a case, not two men entering their first relationship hurdle.

"Excuse me?"

We've been together for nearly six weeks, and we've never..." Elliot squirmed as he trailed off. The first comment had obviously been pondered over for a long time. No wonder it had just popped out like a car backfiring.

"I don't know. Aren't you enjoying what we do?"

"Yes, but..." he trailed off again, looked down at his untouched pasta.

Yes, but you have to be a man, don't you Elliot? They were fucking like lesbians did, all frottage and oral and kissing and cuddling. His hetero hangup was demanding something more.

Penetration. Fucking.

"I thought that maybe you were not serious about what we do. I mean, maybe you didn't trust me...us."

"You've never made any indication you wanted it," Toby said, and knew that it was a lie, for there had been moments in the last week where Elliot's fingers had brushed his ass, where Elliot had lain back, legs spread, canting his hips up and pushed Toby's down and had made an inarticulate request for more, eyes so full of need and love Toby had pulled back in shock.

"I do want it Toby. I just feel that you don't--" he paused and then gave a pained half-smile. They were close to the word now. That word. "Feel quite the same way as I do for you."

"What do you feel for me Elliot?" Toby mumbled, looking into down on his half-eaten sandwich, fearful of what the answer would be.

Elliot's hand crept out across the table and brushed his surreptitiously before grabbing a napkin.



Work called, and he spent the day in automatic. Otherwise his mind would hover around the image of Tobias Beecher like a moth to a flame, a bug to a corpse. And no matter how he would try to justify what he was feeling -- the limerent stage of love, those first few weeks when the chemicals in your brain actually sent you mad -- Elliot could not pull himself away from and thought of Toby long enough to excise him completely.

His body seemed like an insubstantial thing, from the lead weight of lust in his groin and the skin sparkles along his limbs, as delicate as if he would in any second float away. Twice an hour a fierce longing would come over him and he would dial Toby's number on the cellphone, before taking a rational breath and wedging the brick deep into his jacket pocket.

I want to hear your voice. I want to touch you.

"You okay, El?" Oliva asked, when his distraction was noticed.

"Oh. Yeah," he said evasively. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. She had been keeping a careful watch on Elliot throughout his liaison with Toby, concerned, but not commenting. He knew she wanted to ask why he hadn't yet found himself a permanent place to stay, why he hadn't finalised the divorce proceedings, why there was still a distance between them. But he was in love. He was allowed a stay of judgement, his few months of madness.

In the end their victim was passed on to another department, the new DA, an older woman with a world weary attitude that allowed no bullshit from anyone -- judge, jury, defendant or otherwise -- gave them a detailed, no-nonsense court preparation before sending them on their way two hours past shift sign-off.

Elliot grabbed his jacket and bolted for the street.

Toby was already at the apartment, sprawled across the broken recliner, idly flicking through the ghosted images on the television screen. The volume was turned down, and a restless jazz played through the cheap stereo, too much bass, not enough treble. When Elliot walked through the door Toby said nothing, but something was rising up between them, something wonderful and dark and terrible at the same time.

Elliot looked at Toby, breath held. He was bare-chested, hair still damp from a shower, jeans, sexy.

Without a word he walked forward, Toby's attention on him. Daring Elliot, and at the same time distracted, if he was not altogether in this room. But that was usual for Toby, and Elliot had never thought much of it.

Toby's bare foot kicked against the side of the chair in time to the relentless pulse of the music. Elliot dumped his jacket, his tie, fell to his knees in front of Toby and pressed his face to Toby's stomach, feeling the heat of him, the scent of him crosshatched with soap and sex.

"I've missed you."

When Toby murmured he moved down to mouth his cock through the fabric of his jeans, feeling Toby growing hard through them. Not wanting to wait Elliot tore the jeans open and yanked them down to Toby's knees. Panting with excitement, he covered Toby's thighs with kisses, nipping bites until Toby grew impatient and pushed Elliot's head over his cock.

"Suck me. You've kept me waiting too fucking long."

Elliot had barely began to lavish attention on Toby's prick when he was pushed away.

"Get that bed unfolded," Toby said harshly. "I want to fuck you."

Elliot had only just yanked open the bed before Toby was on him again, kissing him with hard, violent kisses, bruising his lips. Overwhelmed, Elliot let Toby shove him back on the bed, tear off his clothes, before pushing Elliot's head onto him again.

"Lick me." Toby muttered through clenched teeth, on the razor edge of losing control. "Get me wet. Christ. I wanna be inside you, I wanna fuck every part of you, your mouth, your ass."

As clutching fingers raked over his head, Elliot tasted the bitter musk of pre-come on Toby's cock. It excited him, and frightened him. He'd never had Toby so wild like this before, like he was back in the hellhole he'd come out of.

Out of the corner of his eye Elliot saw Toby fumble for a condom out of a packet, and the whole tone of their lovemaking changed. A claustrophobic loom of fear threatened to smother him. There was going to be ass-fucking. One of them was going to get fucked and he didn't want it to be him, not while Toby was in this dangerous mood, not when he was still a virgin.

He pulled back, startled, not knowing how to slow this down. Toby did not hesitate in his campaign. Invading fingers in Elliot's mouth, followed by another possessive, hurting kiss and a low: "Spread your legs," as saliva damp fingers tried unsuccessfully to push past the clench of muscle in Elliot's ass.

"Fuck, you're so tight," Toby panted, "you're gonna feel so good..."

Elliot murmured an incoherent response past the pain. He wanted to feel sexy, show Toby he could be as responsive as any lover that Toby had ever had, but was ending up startled and sore and overwhelmed. When it got too much Elliot squirmed away, angry at Toby, but mostly at himself for not responding like a lover should.

"What's wrong? You wanted this."

"Toby, you're fucking hurting me."

Almost violently impatient Toby snapped back, "What did you think, that it wasn't going to hurt?"

Elliot could hear a ghost whisper: what did you think it was gonna be El? Hearts and flowers and kisses? You wanted an ex-con to fuck you and now when he is, you're pulling out cause it's so fucking real?

He pulled up, and the apprehension in Elliot's face made Toby pause for a moment. His chest rose and fell in short, hard rhythm.

"Christ. I didn't mean to say that. We don't have to fuck."

But Toby's pinched, flushed face, his straining cock and gritted teeth said otherwise.

"Let me," Elliot whispered, pulling the condom out of Toby's hands. "Let me go first."

At first Toby froze, then nodded, nostrils flaring. "Yeah, yeah. Then me you. Hurry."

Elliot hunted around for the lube they had used two nights ago, when Toby's cunning hands had done things to his dick he could would never have believed if someone had merely told him. Toby's hands were there now, stroking back the hardness, smoothing the latex over the curves and ridges of Elliot's cock.

Toby fell back, cock curved over his belly, balls drawn up tight. Elliot covered him with his own body and kissed him, trying to make it tender, loving, but Toby was having none of that.

He hooked his knee over Elliot's shoulder, pulled him close. Bit him on the cheek, the jaw, the neck.

"Son of a bitch!" Elliot pushed Toby down onto the mattress, riled up by this crazy-eyed lover of his. Toby laughed, kissed him. Sunk his teeth into Elliot's chin--

Elliot searched, then thrust into Toby and Toby jerked under Elliot's onslaught, hissing and bucking. "Yeah, yeah..."

"You like this?" asked Elliot breathlessly, easing into Toby's tight heat as gently as he would a girl.

Elliot searched Toby's face, but Toby's eyes were clenched shut, lips pulled back over his teeth, hard to say whether in pain or pleasure. Despite the demand of his body Elliot became concerned, slowed down.

Tody grabbed Elliot's ass, pulled him inside him. His eyes lashed open, unseeing, miles away.

"Harder, harder..."

His fingers clenched into Elliot's ass and Elliot let himself go, surrendering himself to the shocking delight that his cock and Tony's body was bringing him. His vision was blurring with eminent climax, he was going to come, he was going to come inside Toby...

Elliot gasped, the sudden rush of orgasm so intense that he thought his heart had stopped. "God Toby, Toby I love you."

"Oh Jesus, Christ," Toby screamed, "Christ, Chris...t CHRIS...CHRIS...CHRIS..."

Elliot froze even as Toby spilled across his own stomach and jerked in ecstatic oblivion around Elliot. The sweat on his back turned to ice. He pushed himself up onto his arms and looked down at Toby's flushed red face, kiss-swollen lips, eyes half shut, body shaking with climax. Toby was still shivering when he opened his eyes and saw Elliot staring at him in horror. The shouted name still hung between them.

I love you.


The ghost who had been in their bed all this time.

A train-wreck of nausea punched him behind his eyes. Elliot pulled out of Toby, sick, cock still tender, his heart breaking. He had admitted love, and Toby had screamed another man's name.

Mortified, Toby caught him before he could go further.

"Oh shit, Elliot, I'm so sorry."

Elliot shook him off. He hurt worse than any injury in his life. His breath had turned to sand and acid. Wincing, he pulled the condom off and dumped it in the trash basket.

"I said I'm sorry."

Forgive me.

"No. No! This is so fucked up. This man...he's still with you, this fucking monster who raped you for five fucking YEARS!"

Toby pulled back. His voice was quiet.

"I loved him, Elliot. I loved him. He never took me without my permission. Not once."

And Toby knew he'd said the wrong thing because Elliot recoiled at loved. Recoiled as if he'd been slapped.

Because Toby had never said that he loved Elliot, ever.

"How could you even tell? You were just messed up, Stockholm syndrome or some goddamned thing. You fucking identified with your abuser, you fucking fell in love with him! Is that who you think about when you're with me? How is this different? How am I different?"

Elliot's voice had risen to a shout, and somewhere outside someone yelled for him to shut up so they could get some fucking sleep, and Elliot stood in the middle of the room so angry and betrayed that he was close to tears, his groin still aching from the sweet release that had turned so very sour, and a stone in his chest the size of the city.

He pulled each leg into his trousers and threw on his shirt. Snatched up his shoes. He had to get out of here else he'd lose himself totally, get on his knees and beg Toby to love him, him, not some cruel dead stranger.

"You never loved me, Toby. Jesus Christ. You only had me so you could pretend you were with him." Elliot's own words hit him and the colour drained from his face. "I feel so fucking dirty."

Toby waited on the bed in silence, face blank. Elliot flashed him one despairing look before leaving.

You were nothing. Just a body he could project on to.


Toby covered his face, pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. He only half knew what had overcome him there. Memories. Chris. The sense-memory of a hard cock, hard body, silver-dark eyes.

"You fucking idiot Beecher. You fucking selfish idiot."

The room still smelled of him. Elliot's disappointment. Toby's guilt.

It was several minutes before Toby realised that Elliot hadn't taken his jacket with him. He'd gone out into the bitter cold with just his shirt and trousers, and a head full of hurt.

He wouldn't do anything stupid, thought Toby. He wouldn't. But how could he be sure? In all honesty, he knew Elliot for the space of a few weeks only, and there were facets to the man he didn't know at all. Hadn't even tried to find out. Had ignored for the sake of having Chris in his bed again.

He pulled on his clothes and shoes, grabbed Elliot's jacket and took to the streets.

Outside a light drizzle was starting to fall. Steam plumed out of his mouth. A pair of frowsy hookers, far from their usual haunt of the bridge overhang of two blocks away unsuccessfully tried to solicit the fast moving cars. But nobody stopped here for long in this part of town if they could help it.

The girls -- or one girl, one in transition -- were happy enough to take a twenty off Toby and point out the direction the underdressed man had gone. Towards the river.

"Yeah, brown shirt, carrying his shoes. Looked whacked out. We didn't go near him," said the taller one, the almost-girl. Her cheeks were abrasive with stubble. "Nut job."

Toby ran down the road, keeping his eyes on every alley, every shelter he could find. Surely Elliot couldn't be moving that fast. He couldn't have lost him so quickly. A thin wave of panic took over. An obvious innocent down where the whores and the pimps and the drug dealers lurked. Anything could happen.

Streetlights gleamed off the river's oily surface as Toby approached. Not the same one he'd tried to take a dive off, two months ago, but the recollection still burned into his brain. A pair of Latinos in a long white car stared belligerently at him as they drove past. A party was echoing raucously from one of the stand-alone houses. A hooker serviced a john in the shadow of a warehouse. A streetlight buzzed with static.

He reached the river's edge and gripped the cold safety rail. End of the road. No Elliot.

"Fuck this," Toby cursed in frustration, and didn't know why he was so close to tears.

He turned around to go back, only to catch a glimpse of a figure on a park bench, bowed over, head in his hands.

Toby came closer, biting his lip. Elliot was rocking where he sat, murmuring to himself, his shoulders already sodden with rain.

Toby waited, confused and lost, torn between slipping away and slipping his arm over Elliot's shoulders.

In the end Elliot's cop-senses must have warned him. He stopped, turned around, glared at Toby.

"What are you doing here?"

Toby shook his head. "I wanted...I need..." He gave up and sat next to Elliot on the splintered wood. "I'm so sorry. My head's been messed up for a long time before I met you." He looked down at his hands. Elliot's jacket was still in them. He passed it over.

Elliot just looked at it.

"Don't need it."

"Come on man, it's fucking freezing."

"Well, you know how it felt for me then. Being with you."

Toby put the overcoat between them, and did not miss the tense on the words. "I don't want this to be goodbye. Not like this."

The despair on Elliot's face cut him to the core. "But it's always been goodbye for you. One long fucking goodbye. But not to me."

Don't forget me. says Chris. If I die, don't forget me.

"Put the jacket on Elliot. I'm not going until you do."

Elliot stood up, grabbed the jacket.

"None of us are going anywhere. Let alone this fucking excuse for a relationship."


You are death. Let me live.

I can't.

Elliot shoved him away, hard. "Get the fuck away from me Beecher. Go and fuck up someone else's fucking life."

He threw the jacket onto the wet ground and shoved his hands into his pockets. "I'm going to the precinct. You can be gone in the morning."

Toby watched as Elliot walked away, the darkness swallowing him up as completely as he'd never existed.


The days turned into weeks, and the phone never rang, or if it did it was never Elliot.

And as the days segued in together, into one grey mushy ball like the play-doh in Marcie's trauma pack Toby realised he might never hear from Elliot again.

Chris' ghost was oddly silent. It wag as if that single night had sent him back to wherever he was meant to go. Heaven or Hell. Over the railing and into the Underworld. For all that Toby had been a modern-day Orpheus granted the return of a dead lover he'd disobeyed the one covenant on that gift.

Not to look back.

He'd looked back, not seen Chris, not seen anything, only Elliot walking away.

Then late one night there came a knock on the door. Lunatic hour. He had been hoping for so long, that he tore open the door without checking to see who it was first.

Not Elliot.

"Where's Marcie? Where's that bitch? Where's my son?"cheet, prison tatt and

A hard-faced blonde man stood at the doorway, a fresh scar on his

"Who are you?"

"Who are you, you cunt?" screamed the man. "Cunt, fucking my wife!"

The last thing Toby remembered was bolting for the kitchen and snatching the knife off the table, still covered in chicken scraps for Jack and Holly's lunch.

Henry Hilyer let out a screech of rage and bore down on him.

Toby lashed out with the knife. Lashed out too late, was caught, his stomach exploded with fire. Such a familiar feeling.

So familiar...

Toby swept out with the carver, catching bone and rib. Then he passed out.


Olivia was alone at the desk when a small bird-like woman in black knit presented herself at the doorway.

"Uh, hello?"

She immediately was on guard -- the front office rarely let unattended strangers through. But then she noted the silver cross around the tiny neck and immediately became deferent. A nun.

One of the plush toys on their ever-growing pile fell off, and the Sister picked it up with a half-smile. She rubbed the monkey face with a thumb before placing it back in it's precarious position.

"Hello, I'm Detective Benson," Olivia said primly, offering her hand for what was a surprisingly firm handshake. "How may I help you?"

"I'm looking for an Elliot Stabler. I'm told he works here?"

"Yes, he's one of our detectives."

"Ahh." The nun rubbed her hands together, clearly at a loss. Fin walked behind her with a frown on his face, Olivia gave in a slight nod. It's okay.

"And you are..?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Sister Peter Marie. I'm a psychologist at Oswald Correctional Facility."

"Uh, huh." Olivia nodded, but in the back of her mind wondered what someone from an out-of-state prison was doing here.

The Sister answered her question for her.

"I'm here about a mutual friend of ours, a Tobias Beecher." Stresses on the word friend. So for a nun, she wasn't exactly innocent about their relationship.

"Oh," said Olivia in a warning tone. "Well, I don't know if you'll be made terribly welcome I'm afraid. Elliot burned his bridges with Toby a couple of months ago."

"Yes, I gather. I take it that you were aware of the nature of their relationship."

Olivia nodded, weary from knowing the nature of too many things. "See, Elliot's my partner. It was quite a fallout when they broke up, and, well, it affected our working partnership as well."

She remembered her manners, and offered Sister Peter Marie a seat, which happened to be Elliot's. The Sister looked at the photos of the four kids, and trailed her fingers over them.

"Who does he take after most?"

"Oh, none of them. Kathy Stabler had powerful genes. Pity the marriage didn't work out. They were a lovely couple."

A cunning little smile. "Meaning than him and Tobias were not?"

"Gosh, what can I say Sister? Beecher was only about a year out of max security. He wasn't the sort of person I envisaged with Elliot."

That smile again. But before Sister Peter Marie spoke, it suddenly dropped, and the blood drained from her face. "Oh, good lord..."


Olivia looked towards the scene of Sister Peter Marie's stolen attention. Don Cragen and Elliot were trailing the new DA through the desk maze. Elliot was looking twenty pounds too thin, Cragen was red-faced with rage, and the DA was stonily refusing to talk to either of them.

"Oh," the Sister breathed. "I understand now. God help me."


"When he told me that you reminded him of Christopher Keller, I naturally thought it might be something relatively obscure. But the likeness is close."

Elliot folded his arms. He didn't like what he was hearing. Sixty days without Toby. Sixty days in the desert without food or water. Similar things to be endured. But not with this added sliver of information to hurt him.

"That explains a lot," he said, cool. Easier now than in the first month, when he couldn't bear Toby's name, when he couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and it had been so much worse than the first time -- back then he had not have those knife-edge memories to torment him.

He pulled away from the wall, ready to usher the Sister out and let him get on with the business of turning into scar-tissue and stone.

Sister Peter Marie paused for a moment before tilting her head to one side, speculative. "Oddly enough, although someone might say you look like Christopher, you really aren't very much like him at all."


"You've got this defensiveness that Keller never had, like there's depths to you that need more protection. But if what Toby tells me is true, there's humility too. Chris never could find it in him to forgive a wrong done to him until it was too late. I'm hoping that you could do the same."

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Foreboding, like the sky about to cave in.

"Why, what's happened to him?"

She sighed, walked over to the window and looked out past the grille. Elliot knew there was nothing there but the back of a factory and a few parked cars.

"There was an incident. The young woman he works with -- Marcie Hilyer..."

"Something happened to Marcie?"

"No, but she had a husband."

Elliot remembered Toby complaining about Marcie's husband. A white-collar drug dealer who'd plunged into dirty waters and disappeared.

"I though Marcie's husband was dead."

"Unfortunately not. Elliot, there was an argument. He hurt Toby pretty badly. The hospital called me -- they couldn't contact his family. They thought he wasn't going to make it. He kept asking for you."

Elliot swallowed his mouth dry. Toby...hurt...and if he'd been with him... But he couldn't have. Not in any Hallmark card version of the world. Not in a world where Christopher Keller existed, a serial killer with his face.

"When did this happen?" he asked, trying to keep the urgency out of his voice. "Which hospital?"

"I was hoping you would ask. I would very much like for you to see him."

The feeling of impending disaster only became worse. He was getting a migrane just thinking about it.

"I don't think it's be such a good idea. I'm just getting over him. I can't see him. He really hurt me. Not as much as Chris hurt him but..." He wiped his face. "I don't want to pay for mistakes that aren't mine."


"Why? Isn't he okay?"

She shrugged. "He's not himself. He's a little down. And he misses you Elliot Stabler. He does. See him. Just see him."

"I can't," he whispered.

"You're going to have to. I told my driver to wait outside and to hell with the traffic cops until I come down. And I'm not leaving until you come with me."


It wasn't always that he dreamt of Gary, but there was something about the smell of hospitals that brought him back. He had missed the births of all his children. He'd been far too busy, busy with work, busy with killing himself slowly with alcohol, busy with selfishness that he thought was responsibility.

As usual Gary waited for him at the end of a long corridor. Sometimes it was a prison. Sometimes it was a courthouse. Sometimes he was wearing his school uniform, the one he was on the verge of growing out of when Toby was sent to prison. And washed over that stark image the knowledge that something bad was about to happen, that Gary could be saved, but only if Toby reached him first...

Even in his dream he instinctively knew how this went. Running and going nowhere. Trying to get to the end of the row before the terrible, unseen thing happened.

Always, he would wake up before he could reach Gary, wake up just as a male shadow appeared behind his son's vulnerable little body. On the rarest of occasions he might catch a glimpse of Gary turning to face his attacker, little mouth in an O of surprise.

In these ones especially he woke up screaming. And just like before he expected to wake up. Dreamer's instinct. But he didn't wake. The film kept going. This horror was going to play to its end. Gary stood there as the shadow came closer. Toby tried to call his name. Tried to yell. Made no sound. His side was cut open. He gushed blood. He was wading through a river of his own blood, a river littered with children's hands, a little girl's pigtails. The face-down body of a man in a hack's uniform floated past.

Gary Screaming.

Then the river was gone. He was exhausted. The man stepped out of the shadows. It was Chris as he remembered him just before he went to Cedar Junction, in his orange boiler suit.

Toby didn't know what to think. Should he shout a warning, or just watch?

Gary turned back to Toby, smile on his face. "It's Christopher, Daddy."

The dream man gave Toby a look. A cautious nod of acknowledgement, a dead man not permitted to talk to the living. He bent down and whispered something into Gary's ear.

Gary nodded, waved goodbye, and they faded into the shadows.

Toby woke up to an empty hospital room, and the pip of a heart monitor. The bed next to him was vacant, the old man there that afternoon, gone.


He slept for the rest of the morning, and the second time he opened his eyes they were to brown ones, tiny face, slivering hair.

"Sister P," he croaked. "I was hoping you'd come by."

She squeezed his hand. "How are you Tobias?"

"Bored," he said, waved the remote at the silent television where a hysterical audience screamed at a sullen man and two lumpen women. "No cable, and until the cut heals up, they won't let me out of the bed."

He touched the bruise on his forehead. "Not that I'm supposed to be watching TV anyway."

"I brought someone to see you."


"He put up a bit of a fight, but I got him here in the end."

He knew who it was by the one of her voice. Toby was ready to tear out the IV lines and bolt out the door to find him. He didn't need to. Elliot was standing in the doorway nervously, silently asking permission to step over the threshold.

"Hey," said Toby.

"Hey," said Elliot in return. "You okay?"

They were so cool and proper with each other. But, thought Toby, such a thin skin held all the hurt and love under the surface. Either one could bleed out. Toby held out his hand and Elliot stepped towards him. Toby didn't miss how thin Elliot was. This separation of theirs...it was a knife that had cut both ways.

He took Elliot's hand and hung on tight. "Missed you."

Elliot didn't answer.

Sister Pete jabbed her hands into the pockets of her slacks. "Boys, I'm going to leave you for a moment. A friend of mine is a nurse here. I'd like to catch up."

Toby flashed her a look of gratitude as she left. Elliot sat in the chair next to Toby, nervous and inarticulate.

"Was going to say how have you been but..." Elliot pointed towards the bruise on Toby's head. "Dumb thing."

"And you?"

"Oh, okay."

"Still missed you."

Toby didn't miss the flash of pain, the unspoken: Missed me? Or Him?

Toby brought Elliot's palm to his lips. Pressed them there.


Elliot brought his hand away, replaced them with his own lips. Chaste. Trembling with tenderness. Then even they were gone, and Elliot stood up, looking down at Toby intently.

"Make me believe it," he whispered. "Even if it is a lie."


The dance resumed, but this time a cautious two-step, bodies always held at arm's length, not the frantic tango of their first coupling. This time it was a slow courtship, Marcie providing chaperone duties, seven kids between three adults keeping them conservatively apart.

They kept the relationship as platonic as possible. Sex had proven far too complex for them to handle. It was a place that was too raw for Elliot, still unsure of Toby's motivations, though as Toby healed his libido returned with a vengeance.

"You look good tonight," said Toby, as they met to take the ferry across to Toby's new place. It was getting late in the evening. Elliot had been at a police white-tie function earlier on, hadn't changed out of the requisite tux. With the red suspenders, rakishly loosened cravat and jacket hung casually from his shoulder, he looked plenty good enough to eat.

"I'm sorry I'm so late. Hard enough to excuse myself," he said. "The Captain wanted me to butter up some visiting Fed. He'd gotten so wasted I really couldn't be bothered humouring him."

They boarded the ferry, and because the night was warm, stood out on the deck with a few straggling office-slaves on the way home.

They stood close together and watched the lights of the city.

"You know, Elliot, it'll be late by the time I get dinner ready. You could stay if you want. There's a spare bed."

A stiff breeze blew in across the water. Elliot frowned. "So you're not going to invite me to yours then."

Their eyes met. Toby's breath caught in his throat. Hard to tell if he was teasing or testing.

"I don't want to make a mistake this time, Elliot. I want to be sure."


"What about you? Are you sure?"

"I don't know." Elliot looked out across the blackness, the last rays of sunset staining the horizon with blood red. "Your friend, Sister Pete. She told me that I looked like him."

So this was where it was going to be, the conversation about Chris Keller. Toby closed his eyes. He knew it would come, and would have to happen before they could move forward. A small part of him wished that they could just forget about Chris and move on. A much larger part needed to deal with these consequences.


"You do."

"You really loved him?"

"Yeah. I did."

Pause. A nod. Looking away to where a lone buoy swayed in the ferry's wake.

"What was he like in bed?"

Toby winced. But Elliot needed to hear what Toby had to say. Wanted to know the demon he was up against.

"I never...I was rarely on top, if you know what I mean."

Elliot's nostrils flared as he breathed in.

He didn't want to hear this.

He did want to hear it.

"Why not?"

"Things had happened to him in his life. Bad things. I tried once, you know, I was being a right asshole and said something like I wouldn't love him if he didn't let me. You know. Fuck him."

Toby gripped the safety rail, still shaking from the memory. "So he let me. And he was so quiet through it all. But I kept going, I guess I was angry at him for this thing, this obsession. And afterwards he just curled in a ball and wouldn't speak. Well. I'd been there. But he'd been there before, much worse and for much longer."

Getting fainter now, the buoy's rusted bell rang, a muffled, tuneless clanging out across the water.

"If you wanted to, I'd let you."

Toby shook his head. "I don't know. I went about it the wrong way last time. I hurt you too."

Elliot sighed. He put out his hand, covered Toby's own, briefly.

"Toby. I've missed you something fierce. I'd fucking tear my heart out right in front of you if that's what it would take to convince..."

A drunken couple staggered out through the door, giggled loudly about re-enacting the scene from Titanic. Elliot bent his head, said softly. "Want all of you. You inside me." He gave a sharp laugh, as if amazed at what he'd said. "I don't care if it hurts. I want to do it for you."

"I wasn't in my own head, Elliot. It wasn't you I was..."

"I don't care if you don't love me. Just stay."

His voice, lost. The lights on the harbour caught the pain in his face.

"My place," said Toby urgently. "Come to bed with me."


The rest of the trip took less than an hour, but seemed indeterminably long. They stayed quiet, stood apart from each other. But both of them were humming as if struck by a bell-hammer. Anxiously aroused, Toby pressed his stubborn erection against the railing, felt the thrum of the ferry's engine, wondered how he was going to make it home before forcing himself on Elliot, right there on the deck.

But they made it back to Toby's minimally furnished apartment, and hauled each other into their arms as if they were starving for each other, bruising lips, tearing clothes. Toby wanted to fuck Elliot across the coffee table, the sofa, the carpet, ended up pushing him against the closed door and grinding his cock into Elliot's groin, gasping, so close to coming he couldn't see straight. Christ, if he managed to even get inside Elliot before touchdown, it would be a miracle.

Then Elliot slid his sweet body away.

"I wanna take a shower first. I've been in this penguin suit all afternoon."

Toby let out a shuddering sigh, ready to refuse him. He ran his fingers around the waistband of his strides.

"Don't be long."

"Come with me."

Toby dragged Elliot into the stall, under the hard spray. The water was a little cool. Toby hoped it would calm him down. Elliot nuzzled Toby's neck, sending delicious aftershocks where his tongue caressed. Toby thumbed Elliot's nipples into hard nubs, growled gutter words to him, of how good his body felt to Toby, how desirable he was, what Toby was going to do to him.

With shaking hands they soaped each other up. Toby made his damnest effort to be gentle, even though he couldn't disguise his excitement. His balls were aching from tension. He brushed between Elliot's ass with soapy fingers, pressed in a little, and moved away when Elliot startled.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm just..." embarrassed smile, "I'm scared Toby, I've never..."

He gave a strangled laugh. That was right. He'd never.

Even though his body was screaming for him to turn Elliot around and change his never against the cool tiles. Toby resisted, pressed hard on his prick to make it behave.

Out of the shower, rough towels bringing the blood to the surface, and then to Toby's futon.

"Toby," breathed Elliot as he pulled him close.

Toby pulled away from Elliot's body, his cock burning his way through the towel. Elliot must have seen the harsh lust in Toby's face, because a wave of uncertainty passed over his strong features. He was ready to say no.

Foreplay was over.

"Turn over," muttered Toby, trying to control his breathing, trying not to pant through utter lascivious intent. "Get your ass over."

The brusqueness of it all made Elliot turn onto his stomach with the kind of resignation one did in preparing for a medical exam. It was going to be fucked up again. Unless he was careful, their relationship would not survive this hurdle.

Toby bent down to kiss the hollow of Elliot's back, to breathe in the scent of him, rub his face in the fine hairs. Elliot jumped, shivered, but not from passion. This would take time.

Slowly, Toby kissed down over the bump of sacrum, the residual tail bone.

Thumbs on either side of his ass...

Elliot nearly pulled away, and Toby could see all his muscles clench in fear, even the one that was going to be most important.

Gotta loosen you up, babe.


He flicked his tongue out at the tiny knot and was rewarded with a gasp of horrified surprise. He did it again and felt Elliot's control drain away. He could sense Elliot fighting his body's unexpected reaction to this unexpected pleasure where he'd only expected pain.

Elliot mumbled something into the mattress. A curse. A prayer. Pushed his hips up, wanting more.

"Oh Toby, you don't have to do that," breathed Elliot in the tone of voice that really meant, Toby, do that, do it to me...

Toby settled himself in to lick and tease and suck that pucker of hot skin until he could work the hard point of his tongue past the clench.


His moans became incoherent when Toby plunged his tongue in deep. Elliot bucked and cried out, almost dislodging Toby from him.

"Jesus...Jesus...Jesus," Elliot rocked his aching cock into the mattress and then canted back into Toby's wicked mouth, indescribable pleasure forking though him, ass to spine to the explosion of light behind his eyes. That tongue, that mouth, that wanton feeling that gripped him, he wanted Toby to bury himself there. "Don't stop," he wept, bunching the sheets up into his hands, body shaking with delighted, horrified sobs, "don't..."

And then Toby stopped and Elliot gave a harsh moan of disappointment, rolling onto his back, cock painfully hard, his ass almost throbbing with the kind of pre-orgasmic shocks that should have come after he'd come. Before he could protest Toby was on him again, lubed finger sliding into his ass, Elliot's cock straining up into the teasing pressure of tongue and lips and teeth. His legs fell apart and nonsense words fell from him, entreaties to God, Toby, God, and they were the same thing, the god of this terrible sinful pleasure that even the angels abhorred.

Too soon even they were gone, and Elliot lay open and boneless and aching with loss, temples throbbing and face flushed. Toby loomed over him, still prison-buff, still with that aura of danger and Elliot's skin shivered and sparkled in fearful anticipation. Toby growled into his ear.

"God, tell me what you want El, I'll do it to you."

"Fuck me," Elliot, managing no more than a whisper, lost to an oblivion of needing, wanting. "Fuck me."

Through slitted eyes he say Toby slide a condom on over his glorious jutting prick, slowly, letting Elliot see his hands caress each ridge and move along the broad length. Teasing him. His stomach clenched. This was it, this was definitely it, once this happened he could never go back. The lube shone off the rubber with insidious, lustful intent.

"You're so sexy Toby," Elliot breathed, transfixed by his lover about to take him and plunder him and open him up, and not even God knew how much he hungered for this. His fingers caught Toby's thighs, his arms, the smooth stomach, everywhere he could reach, but gentle, gentle, no more than a breath over soft skin.

A pillow under his hips, one leg raised into the crook of Toby's arm and he stared up, trust and vulnerability conjoined.

"This will hurt. Do you want me to keep going?"

"Yes," he whispered, that little affirmative that moved rivers and levelled mountains.

Toby eased inside, a half-inch at a time, gritting his teeth from restraint, pausing only to smooth in more lubricant onto his own prick, to stroke Elliot's own.

Elliot gripped Toby's thighs with hard hands. Oh god, it hurt, it hurt, it was--

With one decisive movement and a grunt, Toby slid into Elliot, to the hilt.

The head of Toby's cock pushed somewhere deep inside Elliot's body, a place he never knew existed. A sudden ecstatic rush punched through him and he jolted as if he'd stumbled into an electric current.

He looked up into Toby's face...


...and Toby saw his face reflected in Elliot's wide, dark eyes and for a blind, momentous second could see right through the optic nerve and into Elliot's most secret places.

"Oh God," Elliot whimpered, not in exclamation, but as if speaking Toby's true name. "Oh God."

Toby took the entreaty at face value, let himself go, plunged into Elliot's heated body with all that Elliot felt him to be: joy, reverence, power, utter ecstatic delight, his hips straining against powerful thighs, his mouth catching burning kisses between cries of worship, Elliot's fingers digging in to him as they clenched his butt, pulling him deeper inside. His entire physical focus was between his legs, his cock inside Elliot, hot, tight, beautiful, beautiful, Jesus god beautiful. His nerves sang like high-tension wires in a storm. Hold Elliot's leg higher, thrust into paradise, feel that muscular body collapse and writhe and submit to him, hear Elliot sobbing at having found the heaven he'd only just glimpsed before.

Elliot's neck lay open and vulnerable, head tossed back as he approached climax. The sight drove Toby all flavours of wild, greedily he dipped his tongue into the hollow of Elliot's throat, tasted the salt that pooled there, traced the straining tendons, grazed his lips on the stubbled chin until the urge to thrust hard became too great and he could hold himself off no longer, and the blood pounding in his ears matched Elliot's hoarse cries. Elliot bucked once and came, semen splashing against Toby's belly.

Toby locked his eyes with Elliot's, and the orgasm that followed was most fucking wonderful feeling he'd ever had in his life.

Couldn't speak of love. Could not speak. But he could feel it, and so much more.

They lay in the aftermath, just breathing, city noises floating up from the open window. Cars tooting, people yelling, a rowdy party a block over, emergency service vehicles wailing through the precinct, distant gunshots, the pulse and whine of a chopper.

"Want me to close that?" asked Elliot after a while.

Toby clutched Elliot tighter to him. "Leave it open. The sound. This city...reminds me of you."

"Can I say it now?"

Toby met Elliot's eyes, inches from his own. He'd looked into those eyes, and found something there he'd seen in nobody. Not even Chris. He pre-empted Elliot's reply.

"Love you El. Love your body, your heart, every thing about you."

Elliot nodded, breathed, knew that this was a confession that would be ruined by too many questions.

"I'm glad."

When Elliot finally slept, Toby got up and moved to the window. City lights at night, fading and dying with the rising dawn. Fading with the stars.

But bringing daybreak, a new world, a new life.

Toby breathed in deeply and smiled to himself. There were still many hurdles for them to overcome, still obstacles and traps and misdirections. They would survive them. He'd make sure of it. The time had come for all dreamers to wake and for the living to begin.


//In one, numbers were burning In another, I witnessed a crime In one, I was running, and in another All I seemed to be doing was climb Wasn't looking for any special assistance Not going to any great extremes I'd already gone the distance Just thinking of a series of dreams//


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