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The beginning of this fic was directly influenced by LJ blogger BadTyler and borrows dialogue from a snippet she wrote.
A Smile That Falters (The Smile Series, Part 4)
He should have stayed home and jerked off in the shower.
That was his initial thought as he downed his third glass of beer while listening to Munch rattle on about the amorality of Hollywood and its preoccupation with babies lately. Fin was humoring him of course, which only made Munch bolder.
"Did you know they actually put up signs in the delivery room that stated the Scientology doctrine of keeping quiet during the child's birth?"
"Shit, that bitch Tom Cruise would be the one screamin'," Fin replied.
Elliot sighed over his cheeseburger, wishing like hell he could have spent the evening of the day he almost had his head blown off in more soothing company.
He imagined Tobias tucking that stubborn strand of hair behind his ear, and smiled.
Elliot looked up from his beer at Munch. "What?"
"I was saying that of all the things Americans can focus on, it has to be some overexposed wacko and his half-rate TV actress girlfriend."
"You the one who keeps talkin' about it," Fin groaned, exasperated.
He had gone home initially, trying to forget about the events of the day, but he found his mind was too preoccupied. He was going to bury himself in paperwork to help re-focus, but when he found Fin at the squad they decided to hook up with Munch for a late-night bite to eat. But the more he thought about it, this impromptu dinner with Munch and Fin was definitely a mistake.
"I need more beer," Elliot said in answer to them both, and unsteadily poured himself another from the pitcher on the table.
The two partners quieted, both of them glancing with concern at Elliot. Munch surreptitiously slid the pitcher away. "About today," Munch began.
Elliot held up a hand to cut him off. "It's done. I don't want to talk about it."
"It's the right decision, for both of us," Elliot replied, shaking his head. "And it wasn't just her choice. It's...more than that."
Of course it was. And the whole thing was complicated beyond words. Nothing in his life ever went fucking simple lately. He lost his wife, his kids, and now his partner. At least he still had that goddamn empty house to go home to, right? He still had a way to forget he was moments away from death this afternoon. He took a long draught of his beer to punctuate the point.
He touched his throat where his collar had rubbed him raw during Gitano's assault. Then his fingers unconsciously reached up for the wound where the glancing gunshot had kissed his temple. His stomach churned at the memory.
"Hey, this beer's catching up with me. Be right back."
Elliot made his way to the restrooms at the back of the place, and leaned heavily against the paneled wood wall between the Men and Women signs.
The sudden sight of Ryan's widening pool of blood seeping across the train platform flashed before him. Closing his eyes, he inhaled sharply, urging the nausea away.
He saw Ryan standing there, terrified.
The knife...why didn't she move faster? Why didn't I move faster?
Hesitation. He fucking hesitated -- the first big Don't they hammer into your head in the Academy. He wasn't sure what to do. Split seconds of doubt, leading to that carnage on the station platform...
He swallowed to get his emotions under control. Shaking, his reached for his cell phone.
The phone buzzed in his ear as it rang for a third time, and he suddenly worried that maybe Tobias wouldn't pick up after all.
Finally he heard a slurred "Hullo?" over the earpiece.
He heard the other man take a deep breath and then exhale heavily on the other end. "Elliot? What's...are you okay? It's 3:30 in the morning."
Elliot squinted at his watch. "It is? Oh, shit, I'm sorry. But, yeah, I'm okay." Physically, anyway. Emotionally he was walking the edge and trying not to show it.
"Calling to say hi then?" he joked lightly. "Hi. And I thought we were having dinner again on Wednesday."
"No, I...uh..." Why did he call? He felt sure of himself a moment ago, his head woozy with booze. Now he began to sober when he heard Tobias's voice. "I mean, we are having dinner. I guess I just needed someone to talk to tonight."
"Well, don't feel bad about it, Elliot. I told you I was here whenever you needed me."
"I don't think you meant at 3:30 in the morning, though, am I right?"
Tobias chuckled. "Not exactly, but y'know, sleep is overrated." It sounded as though he had said that in the middle of a stretch.
"Still, I feel like I'm calling my AA counselor or something."
"Why?" Tobias asked. "Are you drinking?"
Elliot glanced guiltily around the corner at Fin and John sitting there with the half-empty pitcher on the table. "Just a few beers to help clear my head."
"How come you haven't had any at all when we've been together?"
Elliot couldn't muster up a clear answer to that one for some reason. Maybe because when he and Tobias were together he didn't feel a lot of the pressure and anxiety of the job pressing down on him. Or maybe, as he had told Tobias, it was because for the first time in as long as he could remember he had felt happy. When they spent time with each other it was simple emotion that kept him from drowning himself in the alcohol. Tonight it was because of it.
"After today I needed it," he finally said.
"I wish you would have called me sooner," Tobias said gently.
"Tobias, I know you want to live your life sober after what happened in Oz. It's just..."
"You can't continue with the path you're on, Elliot," he interrupted hotly. "I'm not preaching to you here or trying to convince you with 12-step bullshit, because you know all that. You're a cop, I'm sure you can name a few who chose the booze over the job, right? A man can only take so much before he eventually loses himself in the bottle, and I don't want to see that happen. I care about you too damn much."
The words hit him like a hard smack to the face. Tobias was right of course; hell, he knew where he'd be headed just based on his old man. Angry, withdrawn, alone. Right now he was already working on two of those three qualities, and he wasn't willing to give up the third.
"It's easier when you're around," Elliot admitted, surprising himself.
"Your trying to stay sober should have nothing to do with me."
"It does, Tobias." Elliot could hear his voice break, and he cleared his throat. "It has everything to do with you. I've lost everything: my wife, my family, and today, my partner."
"What? Is Olivia..."
He shook his head at the telephone. "She's fine. We just can't...be together any more. It's part of the reason I'm here tonight. I didn't want to think about it -- I wanted it out of my head, gone, into a glass of beer. But you're right. I should have called you, because goddammit, you're all I have left now. It's taken me this long to realize it, and I'm sorry."
"Elliot..." Tobias said, a strong note of concern in his voice, "you didn't call me just to talk. And the way you sound...it's not Olivia. Something else happened."
"Yeah, it did."
"Elliot, you're scaring me."
"I don't mean to, Tobias," he answered quietly. "I just..." He was staring at the grungy tiled floor of the burger joint, his eyes awash with tears, almost feeling the pressure of the shotgun against the back of his head, Olivia yelling, his screams to shoot, the sound of the gun blast...
He suddenly heard Tobias's voice fill his ear. "Where are you?"
Elliot cleared his throat again. "The burger place at the end of the block from the 1-6."
"I'll be right there."
* * *
Elliot was sitting quietly listening to Fin and Munch talk about a recent case, when he noticed the unmistakable shock of blonde hair come barreling into the restaurant. Tobias's eyes scanned the place nervously.
"I'll be right back," he said to the two of them as he got up.
Tobias caught sight of Elliot as he walked past the dessert case, and Elliot offered up a small grin to put him at ease. Tobias instinctively reached out to him, but Elliot drew back. "I'm here with two co-workers," he said, voice lowered.
A pained expression passed over Tobias's face, but it was fleeting. "Oh. All right. I'll wait for you in the car."
"No, Tobias, please. Just a minute..."
His emotions were all over the place tonight, and the one thing he couldn't handle was acting like a shit in front of the one person in his life he could count on. Taking Tobias's elbow, he ushered him back toward the men's room.
Fin and Munch watched the display as the two men brushed past them.
"What's up with that?" Fin wondered aloud.
"I have no idea."
Once the bathroom door closed behind them, Tobias spoke up. "Elliot, what the hell..."
Elliot just hushed him and pulled him into a stall. He latched the door and took Tobias into his arms, nuzzling his neck, inhaling his familiar scent. He closed his eyes and exhaled a shuddery breath, hugging Tobias close.
Tobias held the other man in his arms and gently rubbed the back of his hair. "Shhh. I got you. I'm here..."
Elliot allowed himself that moment to break down, his hands grasping tenuously at the material of Tobias's shirt as he cried. They stood that way together for a few moments until Elliot had exhausted his tears. Eventually he sniffled and pulled away from Tobias's shoulder.
"S-sorry," he mumbled.
"Ell, there's nothing to be sorry for."
Tobias reached up and brushed Elliot's tear-stained cheeks with his thumb before planting a soft kiss on his lips. Drawing back, he suddenly gasped when he noticed the wound on Elliot's temple. "Oh my God..."
Elliot grinned weakly, and turned his face into the light that was reflecting through the door of the stall. "I had a bitch of a day."
Tobias reached for the injury, but thought better of it. Instead, he cupped Elliot's chin and met his eyes. "We need to get you home," he whispered, "but promise me you'll trust me enough to tell me what happened."
Elliot nodded, and kissed Tobias's palm. "I promise."
With another quick peck to his lips, Tobias wrapped his arm around Elliot's shoulder and led him out of the stall and back into the restaurant.
Fin and Munch looked up as Elliot came around the corner, supported by Tobias.
"Elliot, are you all right? Who's this guy?"
Tobias answered before Munch could continue with his questions. "My name's Beecher. I'm a friend of Elliot's, and I'm taking him home. Good night, detectives."
The two men simply nodded as Tobias gently steered Elliot through the aisles of booths and out of the restaurant. Their eyes followed the blonde man even after he had placed Elliot into the passenger seat of the car.
"Well, that was weird," commented Fin. "He coulda asked one of us for a ride."
"You know how he is," Munch replied, watching Beecher's dark-colored sedan pull onto the highway. "And I think he might have been crying."
* * *
The sunlight filtered through the half-closed blinds, dancing across his face. Trying to ignore the dawn, he pressed his cheek deeper into the pillow and drew the sheet tightly around him. He shivered, and then was glad to feel the blanket being brought over his shoulders.
He was lost in the sensation between sleep and wakefulness -- that moment in time when the day seemed full of promise -- a peaceful state that loomed before reality sunk in. Nothing mattered: all was stillness, and he reveled in the feeling of Kathy beside him in bed. He could feel her nestled against the small of his back, the way she always slept, like he was protecting her from the unseen dangers of the night.
The windchimes in the tree tinkled, sending the sunbeams cascading over his features.
Her arm was wrapped around his middle, a comforting embrace that reassured him after the events of the previous day. Ryan's blood. Gunshots. Olivia falling, wounded. The shotgun blast grazing his temple. Loss. Blood. Rage. Pain. Helplessness. Regret.
Then the glorious sensation of nothingness after pounding beer after beer. And...the restaurant. Munch, and Fin. His stomach churning. A phone call. Tears. A soft kiss. The feeling of arms around him.
Arms that were too strong, too masculine to be Kathy's. Kathy was gone. His kids were gone. The house was empty...yet he could feel a presence in the bed with him.
Elliot woke with a start, sitting upright in bed, his hands gripping the bed sheets. The arms that were wrapped around him weren't Kathy's.
"Easy, Elliot. It's okay," came the sound of Tobias's voice from beside him in bed.
Elliot blinked, focusing bleary eyes on Tobias, who was sitting there next to him, his hand on Elliot's arm. "What's..." He looked around, momentarily confused. "Tobias? What time is it? Have you been here all night?"
Tobias pulled on the blankets Elliot has thrown aside. He put his hand on the other man's shoulder. "It's still early," he said softly. "Go back to sleep."
Elliot shook his head. "Tobias, answer me."
"I never went to sleep," Tobias admitted, leaning against the headboard. He gestured to the jeans and polo shirt he was wearing. "I got you into bed and wanted to make sure you were okay."
Elliot looked down at his own sweats and T-shirt. "You undressed me."
"It wasn't easy, believe me. I didn't get any satisfaction out of it at all."
"You sure?" Elliot asked, unconvinced at the sight of Tobias's lopsided grin.
"Your taste in underwear is inspired."
Elliot instantly thought to check underneath his sweatpants until Tobias grinned at him.
"You're still wearing them," Tobias noted.
Elliot raised his eyebrow and rubbed his hand over his face. He sighed, and then the realization of where he was hit him suddenly. "Did you carry me up the stairs?" he asked incredulously.
"You Irishmen really are made of potatoes. A big, drunken, heavy sack of them."
"I wasn't that drunk."
"No, but you were obviously exhausted after whatever happened yesterday," Tobias answered, turning serious. "You fell asleep on the couch as I was hanging up my coat."
Elliot blushed slightly, embarrassed now after recalling the previous night's emotional breakdown in the men's room. "Thanks for coming to get me," he said, looking down at his hands.
"Ell, you don't have to feel strange about needing me. I know you'd do the same for me in return."
Elliot looked up at him, realizing it was the truth, yet feeling awkward for making it so goddamn obvious. "Sometimes I have trouble asking for help."
"I'm just glad you did ask," he answered, moving closer to place his hand on Elliot's knee. "The sound of your voice..."
Elliot broke Tobias's gaze and focused on the windchimes moving back and forth in the morning breeze. "I know."
"I was almost killed last night, Tobias."
Tobias visibly flinched at his words, his face crumpling. "You...what?" he croaked, voice barely above a whisper.
"He had a shotgun pressed against the back of my head," Elliot recounted, like he was reading from a phone book. "Liv drew down on him. He was using me as a shield, trying to get out of the situation, and I kept urging her to shoot him. A fucking child molester, not worthy to live...I wanted her to kill him. I wanted her to blast that goddamn smirk from his face, but...if she did, I was going with him. And I knew that. I was staring at her, preparing myself, watching her gun waver. She was making the decision, and I closed my eyes."
He took a breath and continued. "In that moment I was thinking about my life, hoping the time I spent on this earth was worthy of Heaven." Elliot sniffed, and chuckled to cover it up. "Forty-five years as a Catholic, you'd think I'd have no doubts, huh? And then I thought about my kids, and how Kathy would take it, and you..."
Elliot wiped at his eyes again and looked at Tobias. "My last thoughts were of you," he admitted.
"Jesus Christ, Elliot," Tobias said harshly, tears running down his cheeks.
Elliot brushed the hair back from the other man's face in a motion that was becoming habitual. Over and over he ran his fingers through Tobias's blonde hair, until he slid a hand behind his neck and brought Tobias's lips to his own.
It started gently at first, but then he claimed him urgently, desperately, clinging to the desire to feel alive again. He tangled his fingers in that long blonde hair and brought Tobias on top of him in bed, allowing the heat of their bodies to intermingle, relishing the sensation of his hard cock pressed against Tobias's. It felt like freedom -- like nothing could fucking touch him ever again -- and he banished the doubts and second thoughts from his head.
Tobias deepened the kiss, pressing his tongue against Elliot's while at the same time moving his hand to the top of Elliot's sweatpants. He caressed his fingers over the line of hair there, causing the man under him to shiver in anticipation.
Elliot couldn't believe he was doing what he was doing. He had the sudden thought that he was kissing another man in his marriage bed, where all four of his kids were conceived and nights were spent with Kathy in sweaty tangles of passion.
Then he felt Tobias's hand flutter underneath his cock, and he tensed momentarily.
"Let me touch you, Elliot," Tobias gasped into his ear. "Please."
"Don't worry about that," he answered, running his tongue over the tendon in Elliot's neck. "Just close your eyes and feel it..."
Tobias kissed him again, and Elliot did exactly as he said.
* * *
The sounds of the windchimes were distant again, meaning he had dozed off. But this time when he felt the warm presence next to him, he didn't feel the need to see who it was. He could smell the hints of another man's cologne next to him, and he turned to face Tobias's sleeping form.
Blonde hair was fanned out across the pillow, with wisps of it touching his lips and nose. Elliot brushed the unruly hair aside, marveling at how taken he was with it. It was just hair, but he had the constant urge to weave his fingers through it all the time.
A light blue eye popped open, and Tobias grinned. "I told you it was too early to be up."
Elliot stretched and kissed Tobias on the forehead. "I have to get ready for work, anyway."
"No, you don't."
"Elliot, I really don't think they'd begrudge you a couple of days off after what's happened."
"Hell, that wasn't even the worst of it," he sighed.
"What are you talking about?"
Elliot went into the whole case, starting from discovering the perp was Victor Paul Gitano, to his crimes, to the moments of anguish as the pool of Ryan Clifford's nine-year-old blood widened on the train platform.
Tobias didn't say anything for a few moments, and then merely interlaced his fingers with Elliot's. "You think it was your fault that boy was killed?"
"I made a mistake by going to Liv and not Ryan, and it resulted in his death."
"You couldn't have known that evil motherfucker was going to kill him, Ell. Olivia's your partner. She was injured, and you reacted as any cop would."
Elliot still wasn't sure what he should be feeling, in any case. "We decided it would be better for us to take a break as partners for a while," he admitted solemnly. "Get our heads cleared."
"I hope it was a joint decision," Tobias added. "Because it's difficult always being the strong, silent type in any relationship. It can tear at your insides."
Elliot looked away, again amazed at the way Tobias had a knack for uncovering his innermost thoughts. He leaned back against the pillow. "How do you always know what I'm feeling?" he asked honestly.
Tobias shrugged. "When you spend as many years as I did with nothing to think about other than your feelings and emotions, you become a pretty good judge of character. But your eyes tell me the most."
"Why is that?"
"Sometimes..." Tobias grew pensive as he stared at Elliot. "Sometimes I look at you and see how I used to be, before Oz."
"How many years did you spend in that place, Tobias?" Elliot asked softly.
"In total, um...excluding my three weeks of parole, before that got fucked up the ass -- eight years, seven months, and thirteen days."
Elliot's stomach sunk at the thought of such an intelligent, funny, and emotional man being at the mercy of the denizens of that place. It made his heart ache to even think about the fact that the man who could make him laugh, who could pull him through some the worst times he had experienced in his life, had to suffer. It made him wonder if the punishment meted out by the system he considered sacrosanct was entirely fair.
"So...how long have you been out?"
"And behaving as a respectable member of society who is still up shit's creek trying to find a job? In May it will be seven months."
"I survived, and I thank God for that. Some days are better than others," Tobias offered, rubbing the knuckles of Elliot's hand.
"But...what about your family? Do they live around here?"
Tobias sighed, and Elliot caught the wave of emotion that passed over his face. He was breaching a sensitive topic, again. Elliot began to apologize for the question, but this time Tobias seemed willing to answer.
"The kids live with my mother. Harrison, who is named after my late father, was a baby when I went away, and I never got to know him very well even after I got out. Harry's confused about my place in his life. He's going to be nine; I can't really blame him. Holly just turned 13, and she's been through enough after Gary. I feel better knowing my mom is taking care of them after everything that happened, especially since it's taking me longer than I anticipated to get my shit together."
"I keep forgetting you don't know my whole fucked-up history." Tobias smiled sadly. "Gary was my oldest son. He was murdered when he was about Harry's age, by the son of the man who raped and tormented me in Oz."
Elliot had to close his eyes to control the surge of emotion that welled up within him. It was worse than he thought -- and he could only imagine it would get even more terrible as Tobias opened up to him. Not only did he have to go through the horrors of incarceration, but he was raped as well. It brought his rage against rapists even closer to the surface. Then Elliot suddenly thought about the conversation they just had about Ryan Clifford, and it made him reach for Tobias.
"I'm sorry I'm making you rehash all these painful memories, Tobias. God, I wouldn't have mentioned what happened to Ryan if I had known about your son..."
He waved Elliot's concern away. "The more time we spend together the more you're going to get to know who I really am, Elliot. I work through this stuff every day, but admittedly it's still hard to talk about. A lot has happened -- most of it bad. I hope you can be patient with me."
Elliot nodded, thinking of his own screwed-up psyche. "And you with me."
"I also want you to know..." Tobias struggled for a moment, and he looked away. "I mean, I know you've had experience with rape victims and the hell they -- we -- go through, so in a way I feel I can trust you more than anyone to...um..."
"I understand," Elliot assured him, calming his inner turmoil at the thought of Tobias being victimized. He put his arms around the other man. "You can tell me whatever you need to, whenever you feel comfortable. We have a lot to talk about, and I don't plan on going anywhere."
"I appreciate that, Ell."
"Like you said, we both have a lot of shit, Toby."
Something passed over Tobias's face, and he tensed.
Elliot frowned and looked into Tobias's eyes. "What just happened?"
"More shit," Tobias smiled sadly. "Chris used to call me that."
"The name Toby?"
He nodded. "He still comes to me in dreams sometimes." Tobias shook his head and laughed. "That motherfucker loves me so damn much he won't even let me sleep."
"And you loved him?"
"Yeah," Tobias sighed. "In spite of everything."
"Well, Chris deserves his Toby, then."
"Chris called you Toby, right? To me, you've been Tobias for over a month now -- I don't plan on calling you anything else."
"That's..." Tobias smiled at him gratefully. "That's sweet of you, Elliot. But what about you?"
"What about me?"
"What if," Tobias grinned mischievously, "I decide to call you 'sweetie'? Or 'sugar'? Maybe 'honeysuckle'..."
Elliot grinned, welcoming the easy way Tobias could lighten the mood. "Tobias."
"Maybe I'll tease you all the time just so you'll say my name like that."
Elliot could only laugh at him.
"Tell them you're taking the rest of the week off," he suggested, nuzzling against Elliot's chest.
"Yeah," Elliot answered, absentmindedly toying with Tobias's hair again. "I think that's a good idea."
Tobias looked up at him. "Are you okay with this?"
"This..." he hesitated, searching for the words. "This escalation in our relationship."
"You make me happy, Tobias," Elliot said, his lips pressed to Tobias's forehead. "I'm still getting used to the, uh, physical aspects of it, but fuck, you have talented hands."
Tobias laughed loudly, and then sat up to give the other man a kiss. Balancing on his arms, he met Elliot's lips roughly, pressing himself against Elliot's thigh as he did so. He made sure Elliot heard him moan as their tongues clashed, and was rewarded when Elliot shifted beneath him.
"I'll take that as a yes."
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