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A Smile That Caresses (The Smile Series, Part 2)
The phone rang, momentarily distracting him from the pile of crime scene photos strewn across his desk.
"Hey, Elliot. I wasn't sure I'd get you. The NYPD had me playing phone tag for a while there."
Elliot squinted at the sound of the voice on the other end of the line, unable to match a face to the man speaking. "I'm sorry, is this a police matter? Because otherwise I'll have to transfer you to..."
"No, no, wait," the voice replied. "Elliot, it's me, Tobias. Tobias Beecher? We met about two weeks ago at the bar in Queens."
At that moment he couldn't prevent himself from smiling for some reason. He flashed back to the night they met and their instant camaraderie, and the way Elliot felt comfortable simply talking to someone who would listen, even if it were a stranger. Meeting Tobias made Elliot feel uncharacteristically emotional -- he had been thinking about Kath and the kids and his downwardly spiraling life -- because he hadn't intended to unburden his troubles on some guy at a bar.
But before they parted, Tobias had touched his cheek to comfort him, which made Elliot feel...what?
Confused for one, because he was almost sure Tobias wanted to kiss him. And Tobias didn't actually answer him when he asked about it, either. Hell, after being married for almost 20 years, Elliot had barely any experience with women, much less worrying about a guy kissing him, for Christ's sake.
Yeah, confused was a good way to put it. Although if he was truly being honest with himself, he felt a sense of loss after Tobias left. He hadn't been able to talk to anyone in such a long time, and it felt good to have that again, even for a little while.
"Yeah, Tobias, of course I remember."
He caught Olivia looking at him, and he turned slightly in his chair to shield the conversation.
"Sorry about calling you at the precinct, but I was, well...thinking about you, wondering how you were."
"I'm doing okay," Elliot said quickly, thrown by Tobias's honesty. He was in a unique position: never in his life had another man called him to see how he was doing, not even his younger brothers.
"Oh, okay, good," Tobias replied, somewhat uncertainly. "Um, well, all right. I guess I'll just..."
"No, hang on a minute, Tobias," Elliot interrupted. He wanted to talk, but the middle of the squad room was not the place. Clearing his throat, he glanced over his shoulder at Liv. "Would you mind if I called you later? It's kinda..."
"Inconvenient right now?"
Elliot nodded at the phone. "Yeah." He picked up a pen and felt for his notebook in his jacket pocket. "Let me have your number."
After giving it to Elliot, Tobias asked, "You're sure you're doing okay?"
The sound of genuine concern in Tobias's voice caught him off guard. It felt so foreign, talking to another man this way, but there was something in the way Tobias expressed himself that made Elliot need to talk to him even more. He also became more conscious of Liv sitting across from him; he had the phone huddled against his cheek for privacy.
"Don't worry," he whispered, harkening back to the same words Tobias uttered to him that night at the bar, "I haven't killed anyone in a while."
He heard Tobias laugh on the other end. "I'll expect your call later then, so we can talk some more?"
"Count on it," Elliot said, and hung up.
He went back to the photos on his desk, his mind unfocused and cloudy. God, he really didn't feel like doing this today. He loved his job, but sometimes the never-ending deluge of crime and death just made him want to hit something.
"Everything okay?" Olivia asked, not looking up from her desk.
"Hmm? Yeah, I'm good. Just talking to...uh, my accountant."
She glanced up at him for a moment, and then went back to her paperwork. "You always grin that much when you're contemplating your taxes?"
Of course she noticed, he thought. She wouldn't be as good a detective if she didn't. And shit, she knew he didn't have much to smile about lately.
"Maybe I'll get a refund this year," he lied.
* * *
A few hours later, after his shift had ended, Elliot found himself in his car in the precinct parking garage. Pulling out his cell, he dialed the number Tobias had given him.
Tobias answered on the second ring. "This is Tobias Beecher."
"Hi, Tobias, it's Elliot."
"Thanks for calling me back."
"Did you think I wouldn't?"
"I don't know," Tobias admitted. "It's not often cops call ex-cons to chat."
"Well, it's not often anyone calls me to chat," Elliot said, a smile in his voice, "so it's a nice change of pace."
"What about your wife?"
"I haven't talked to her in weeks. Her lawyer's left a lot of messages, though."
"Choosing to ignore him?"
"Her," Elliot corrected, sighing. "I can't believe my marriage has gotten to the point where I need to talk to my wife through a lawyer."
"It happens, Elliot. People change, drift apart."
"What about you?"
"Are you married?"
Tobias laughed softly on his end of the line. "That's a long, interesting story."
"Oh yeah? I have time."
"Did you eat yet?"
Elliot frowned at the phone. "Did I eat?"
"Yeah, dinner," Tobias said. "You're a cop, you like Chinese, right? I know this cheap little place not too far from your house. What do you say?"
He paused for a moment in thought, wondering where this was going. "Thanks, Tobias, but I really don't feel like..."
"I can bring it back to your place if you don't want to go out. By the time I get there and order, you should be home. Do you like tofu?"
Elliot had to laugh at that. "I'm Irish. Of course I don't like tofu."
"Tell you what, I'll pick up something -- other than tofu -- and meet you at your house. And I promise not to murder you or anything."
He shook his head, grinning again. Tobias really had a way of lightening his mood. "Yeah, okay."
"What did you think I was gonna say?"
"I don't know. I'm just glad you said yes."
* * *
Battling the traffic on the L.I.E. took an extra 30 minutes, as usual, and by the time he made it onto Woodhaven Boulevard he started to worry that he was going to be late for dinner. The thought made him laugh, considering it wasn't Kathy and the kids waiting for him with a hot meal -- it was some guy he met in a bar.
And that bizarre realization caused him to laugh harder as he drove by the silent stretches of the Lutheran and St. John's cemeteries on his way into his neighborhood. Only the headstones bore witness to his bemused chuckling as he wound his way toward the house.
Tobias was waiting in his car when he pulled up, and he waved from behind the steering wheel as Elliot parked. Walking up the sidewalk, he hurried to Tobias's side to help him lift the two large bags of Chinese out of the car.
"What the hell did you buy?"
Tobias only shrugged and grinned. "A little of everything that wasn't tofu."
They walked into the house and Elliot motioned to the kitchen. He placed the bag on the table and threw his coat onto the back of the sofa. "Tobias, you really didn't have to do all this."
Elliot busied himself with the plates and utensils while Tobias took off his coat and gloves. He hung it from the hooks near the front door, along with Elliot's coat, which he had grabbed from its place on the sofa.
"I figured you hard-working detectives don't get much of a chance to eat during the day."
"True," Elliot replied, setting the table. "But I try to stay away from the donuts."
Tobias cast an appreciative glance at Elliot's ass while the detective bent down to pick up a napkin he had dropped. "Yeah, I can tell."
"What'd you say?"
Tobias walked back into the kitchen and sat down. "I said I hoped you were hungry then."
Elliot spread the cartons on the table and glanced at Tobias. "This looks expensive," he noted suspiciously. "You have to let me give you half at least."
"My treat," Tobias said, waving his concern away.
"But I thought you...uh..."
"Yeah, I'm still kind of working on the job thing."
"Well I didn't hold up the restaurant," Tobias laughed, scooping from one of the cartons. "I still have some savings."
Elliot took in Tobias's appearance -- faded blue jeans with black patent leather shoes, and the mauve silk shirt beneath a nicely tailored black jacket -- and wondered how this sort of man could ever go to prison. He was educated, intelligent, poised...and so far removed from Elliot's upbringing that it wasn't even funny. Snapping unconsciously into profiling mode, he had a feeling Tobias came from money. Not every lawyer attended a prestigious university, but Tobias felt like the type of man who did. He probably had a privileged childhood as well, complete with the first Mercedes at 16 and the country club membership.
Tobias caught him staring. "Go ahead and ask," he said.
"About how I grew up," Tobias answered. "I can see it in the way you're looking at me."
"You look like you come from money," Elliot said honestly, trying to keep the derision out of his voice.
Tobias locked eyes with him and brushed a strand of blonde hair behind his ear. "Hate rich guys, huh?"
"My family was fairly well off, yes. But having a life of privilege or coming from a working-class background doesn't change what fundamentally makes us men, Elliot. We still have desires, needs, aspirations, and weaknesses that drive us, whether to a life of crime or to the house in the 'burbs with the two-point-five kids. For years I thought of no one but myself, and when it caught up with me it destroyed my life."
Elliot glanced down at his plate, embarrassed. "Tobias, I'm...I shouldn't have..."
"It's okay." He slurped up a lo mein noodle. "Trust me, I've had years to reflect on all the shit I've done. When I got out I made a promise to myself to live simply, honestly, and sober."
"Sometimes I forget to leave the cowboy hat back at the office," Elliot sighed, still apologizing. "I have a habit of letting the job control my life."
"Why do I get the feeling this sort of thing happens a lot?"
"Take a look around this empty house," he said, spearing a piece of broccoli, "and you'll probably get your answer."
Tobias cupped his chin in his hand, glancing around at the dark parts of the living room. "You couldn't talk to her about the things you've experienced?"
It was uncanny the way Tobias could guess at what was going through his head. He seemed genuinely interested in Elliot's troubles, too, unlike the way in which Elliot himself just reacted.
"I don't talk to anyone about the things I've seen, Tobias."
"Why put yourself through that? Everyone needs someone to listen."
Elliot smiled, reminded of his constant painful battles with department quacks and his equally important need to unburden himself without seeming weak.
"It's just that for whatever reason, Tobias, you've been the only person willing to listen, despite my being an asshole just a few minutes ago."
"I know you need to talk, Elliot. I can tell."
"You become a pretty good judge of character when you spend time behind bars. And to me, you seem like an emotional, loving man who's had a rough couple of months, but you're too tough to let the pain show."
Shocked, Elliot simply nodded.
Tobias put his hand on Elliot's arm and smiled. "C'mon, let's go sit down. You have a beautiful house, but your kitchen chairs are killing my ass."
Elliot chuckled and followed Tobias into the living room, where they both sat together on the couch. Tobias brushed his long hair over his ear again, making Elliot wonder what he looked like with a close-cropped cut. Probably not as handsome, he thought.
Tobias pushed his glasses up on his nose and cocked his head, a half-grin on his face. "What is it?"
Luckily Elliot never inherited the fair hair and complexion of his mother's side, because if he had he knew the heated flush on his face would have been more obvious. "Nothing...you...uh, were right about the chairs."
"Haven't done this in a while, huh?"
"What do you mean?" Elliot asked, slightly nervous.
"Y'know, sit and talk about your feelings and shit? It took me a while to get used to it, too. We had group meetings and interaction sessions in Oz all the time."
"Is that what we're doing? Talking about our feelings?"
Tobias shrugged a shoulder up and down. "I don't know, I guess. It might help you feel better. Besides, dinner's over and I didn't bring dessert."
Elliot chuckled again, and the words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop them. "I don't know how you always make me feel so..."
He paused, aware of what he had just said, and looked down at the carpet awkwardly. That heat of embarrassment rushed over him again, completely taking him aback. He had always prided himself in keeping his emotions in check, never allowing people to sense what he was thinking or feeling. It was a prerequisite for the type of job he had. Years of cold cop reality ensured that every time he had to tell a mother her child was dead, or when he found a broken and battered woman who had been killed, that he could hold back his empathy. Not doing so could result in a breakdown pretty damn fast. Oftentimes he let his anger get the better of him, but he fought like hell never to let himself care too much. He didn't want to connect with anyone in sympathy; he didn't want to put himself in the perp's shoes. He didn't want to feel. And the few times it happened it was like someone had ripped out his insides.
Balance that with the way he had bottled up everything from Kathy, and it turned him into a cold, angry shell of a man. He had to keep himself closed off for the job, but he never allowed himself to open back up when he got home. It was too painful, and he could never find a way to tell her how he was feeling. After struggling so much with staying strong, he couldn't admit that what he really wanted was simply to be weak.
Tobias sat quietly, watching as the storm of emotions traveled over Elliot's features. "Elliot..."
"I...Christ, I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that." He ran his hand over his face in exasperation, unsure of what he should be saying, or thinking, or feeling anymore.
"Don't be sorry. Tell me what you were going to say."
Elliot glanced up at him, caught the caring, sympathetic look in his eyes, and turned away just as quickly. "I don't know...it's nothing."
"You're frightened," Tobias stated.
He looked up at him. "I'm not..."
Tobias linked his hand with Elliot's, like it was the most natural thing in the world. Elliot peered down at their intertwined fingers, and then he felt Tobias's forehead meet his. "Then tell me how you feel."
He could smell Tobias -- clean, fresh, with a hint of cologne dabbed on his neck. Inhaling the scent, he hesitantly reached up and brushed that unruly lock of blonde hair back behind Tobias's ear. "You make me feel happy, Tobias," he whispered harshly.
Tobias pulled back from Elliot to lock eyes with him. Leaning in again, he bent close to the other man's ear, his breath warm on Elliot's cheek. "We all deserve to be happy, Elliot," he whispered back. "Don't be afraid to embrace it."
Their faces hovered within inches of each other as Tobias drew back, eyes closed. Near enough to touch now, Elliot could feel the stubble on his chin brush against Tobias's bottom lip. Instinctively Elliot reached out, his hand meeting the soft material on Tobias's shirt. Trailing his nails over the silk and hard muscle underneath, he reached up with his other hand and threaded his fingers through Tobias's long hair, and brought their lips together.
It was unlike anything he had ever experienced. Soft, supple lips yielded under his assault, and he heard Tobias moan into his mouth. He explored with his tongue, drinking Tobias in, while the other man shifted closer on the couch. When he did so, Elliot could feel him, smell him, and sense the heat rising between them. Slender fingers brushed over his nipples, causing Elliot to hiss in excitement.
They were tangled so completely in each other's arms that to Elliot it seemed like he had found the safest and most trusting place he could ever be. Doubts fled his mind, and for the first time in who knew how long he truly let himself go. The freedom was almost intoxicating.
Surrendering himself to the power of his emotions was easier than he thought.
The two men finally separated, and Tobias rested his head easily on Elliot's shoulder. Elliot ran his fingers through Tobias's hair as the silence passed comfortably between them, neither of them willing to speak.
"I've never kissed a man before," Elliot finally admitted, somewhat stunned.
Tobias smiled from the crook of Elliot's arm. "I've never kissed a cop before."
The both men laughed at that.
"I want to see you again."
Tobias looked up into Elliot's blue eyes. "Believe me, Elliot, after that I'm not going anywhere."
"It's just..."Elliot stumbled over his words, not sure how to put it. "I've never, uh...I've been married since I was a kid. I don't really know how to do this."
"You mean date? Or date a man?"
"Both, actually. It may take me a little time, and I can't guarantee it's going to be easy, either."
Tobias put his hand on Elliot's knee. "It's been a while for me, too. But don't worry about all that right now. I'm here for you no matter what."
Elliot playfully curled a strand of Tobias's hair between his fingers. "I've never met anyone like you, Tobias." He looked down shyly. "Thank you for that."
"I am pretty amazing, aren't I?" Tobias laughed, getting up on his knees and straddling Elliot. "All this will come easier, trust me. Besides, I think all you need is a little practice."
Elliot wrapped his arms around Tobias's waist, balancing him in his lap. "Practice, huh? Doing what?"
Tobias leaned down and slid his tongue along Elliot's bottom lip. "You're the cop, Detective Stabler. What do you think?"
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