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Dedicated to Siberian_Skys in honor of her birthday.
A Smile That Confesses (The Smile Series, Part 5)
Expecting to see sunlight streaming through the bedroom window by now, Elliot glanced over at the clock on the nightstand and sighed. Sleep was becoming an ongoing battle for him now that he was back to work, and once again he was up before the alarm went off. The room was still dark, but the digital numbers glowed brightly enough to allow him to see Tobias still sleeping beside him.
Elliot turned to watch him, the clock casting a weird, greenish hue across his features.
He was glad Tobias had been able to stay the night. The caseload had been a bit lighter since Elliot got back into rotation three weeks ago-- Cragen probably lobbed easier ones his way -- but the underlying tension between he and Liv hadn't dissipated. Most of the time Elliot went in, worked his shift, and for the first time in a long while, left the rest of the shit back at the office. It was different with Tobias, though, because he was able to sense when Elliot had had a bad day and didn't back down if Elliot refused to talk. He usually used humor to lighten the mood, and using that particularly sensitive form of empathy that amazed Elliot, it wasn't difficult to open up.
Since the night Tobias had driven a half-drunken and emotional Elliot home from the diner, he and Tobias had been mostly inseparable, including the vacation he took to get his head together after the Gitano shooting.
They had spent that entire week together, talking little, just content to be in each other's company. Elliot had done his best to focus on the good that was suddenly occurring in his life, thanks to Tobias. They had made a promise to each other that for the week Elliot was off; they would only talk about good memories. But Tobias made it clear that this agreement was for a limited time, so that Elliot couldn't, as Tobias put it, "go all broody" on him and close himself off. Elliot had laughed at that, which surprised him. For a week he remembered how to smile again.
Most of the time was spent at the house in Queens, watching TV or just chatting, with an occasional outing into Manhattan or Jersey. Elliot grinned against the pillow when he recalled a conversation he and Tobias had as they stood staring up at the City's most important landmark.
"I can't believe you've never seen the Empire State Building."
"I see it every day," Elliot had said.
"Not from the inside!"
"It's a nice view, sure, but what's the point?"
"It's better when someone's holding your hand."
Tobias was right, of course, even if they made sure no one else could see them do it.
The nightmares Elliot was having -- vivid, horrible scenes of Ryan soundlessly crying out to him while blood spilled from his throat -- had finally subsided with Tobias sleeping next to him. It wasn't as awkward as Elliot had imagined, either. After years of sharing a bed with his wife, he found that he welcomed the touch of strong arms, the smell of men's cologne, and the way Tobias had a habit of always sliding one his legs between Elliot's as they slept. Hell, he even loved feeling the brush of Tobias's stubble against his cheeks in the morning.
Propping his head against his hand, Elliot glanced at him and smiled, focusing on Tobias's softly moving stomach, his lithe frame, his big toe sticking out from beneath the covers.
He wondered if Tobias ever slept this soundly when he was in Oz. It was now eight months since Tobias had left that place, and he still found it hard to talk about. Elliot made sure the other man knew that he would always be there when he was ready to talk, and didn't push him. Like many rape victims he had spoken with during his years on the job, he knew Tobias needed time.
Whenever Elliot began to dwell on Tobias being in Oz, he liked to think of him like this -- peaceful, safe, and loved.
Loved. Is that what was happening? Love? Elliot moved a strand of Tobias's hair away from his forehead. The other man took a deep sigh and turned toward the touch, like a child snuggling into his favorite stuffed animal. Elliot chuckled quietly and resisted the urge to plant a kiss on the sleeping man's lips.
He was definitely feeling something he hadn't felt in a really long time. It was welcome, Elliot thought, after the hell he had been through with Kathy and the kids. He deserved to have someone that cared for him.
Tobias had become such a familiar fixture around the house that Elliot missed him when he wasn't there. There were nights that Tobias just couldn't get out to Queens, forcing Elliot to endure the deafening silence of that empty house by himself. When he was able to stay the night, Tobias always found a way to make Elliot smile before he went to work, as he had done two mornings ago:
"As a former well-dressed lawyer, I feel the need to remind you that the sock is an extension of the suit," Tobias had said one morning as he watched Elliot get dressed.
Elliot had rolled his eyes and gave him a teasing grin. "You sound so gay."
"You should kiss your boyfriend when you say that, Detective Stabler! Besides, you're the one wearing paisley socks."
Now, over the course of four months, Tobias had become the most important person in Elliot's life. It was amazing how a drink and a conversation at a bar had turned his life upside down.
Elliot was still working through his conflicting emotions over what he was doing, however. It was confusing, because he didn't feel gay, if it were possible to experience such a thing. He never looked at other men with desire. He didn't seek out relationships with men. He always thought his life was pretty settled, boring even: marriage, kids, house, retirement. Now he had a long-haired blonde man in his bed that made him happier than any of those things combined, and it threw him.
It was bizarre, but in a way, when Elliot thought of them together, he didn't think of two men in a sexual relationship. He didn't see that. He didn't see Tobias as another man, as strange as that sounded.
He saw Tobias as...Tobias. The emotional being; the kind, compassionate individual; the person that could free him from the never-ending trauma of life as an SVU detective with a simple touch.
And other than deep kissing and mutual jerk-off sessions, they hadn't progressed any farther sexually. Tobias seemed hesitant to broach the subject, and hadn't brought it up. Elliot, meanwhile, had this nagging voice in his head that seemed to speak up whenever his body reacted to Tobias's touches. He would hear it whenever he tried to wrap both his mind and libido around the fact that he was getting hard by touching another man.
He's going to want to fuck you, you know, the voice in his head kept saying.
Elliot didn't quite know how to tell Tobias that his entire sexual history basically encompassed touching Yvette Bodner's boob, and an awkward, fumbling fingering encounter in the back seat of his father's borrowed '76 Buick Regal with Siobhan O'Flaherty. After that it was a blur of pregnancy and marriage.
Tobias knew that Elliot was still getting used to the fact of having another man's hands on him in a sexual way, but Elliot was unsure of how to bring up the subject. You didn't just sit down one day over burgers and say, "Tobias, we need to discuss fucking."
They were going to have to talk about it though. He wanted Tobias to be happy, and ignoring that little voice wasn't going to make it go away. Aside from the obvious implications of having sex with a man, Elliot still needed to...well, learn how it was done. He had a pretty good idea of what went where, but things like this were never uncomplicated.
He brushed at Tobias's hair again, and this time the sleeping man groaned. Tobias's eyes were fluttering beneath his lids, a sure indication that he was dreaming. Elliot stared at him, intrigued. Then Tobias reached out with one hand, and his face contorted into a mask of pain. Elliot watched a wave of emotions pass over the sleeping man's features, and was about to wake him when he heard him cry out.
Tobias began breathing heavily, one hand grasping at the air, the other clenched at his side.
Elliot had a feeling whatever Tobias was dreaming about, it wasn't good. He knew Chris was dead, although he wasn't sure of the circumstances. Was it a violent death? Knowing Oz, that was a distinct possibility. Tobias had mentioned that Chris came to him in his dreams, so Elliot had to wonder if this was a nightmare.
"Tobias," Elliot said into his ear, "wake up."
"Tobias, it's okay," Elliot soothed again. "You're dreaming."
"Chris!" Tobias cried out, wailing now. "Don't leave me!"
Elliot shook the sleeping man, but it didn't help. Then he had a thought.
"Toby," Elliot whispered gently, wrapping his fingers around Tobias's hand.
Immediately Tobias calmed, and relaxed against the pillow.
"Shhh, Toby, I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. C'mon back to me, now."
His body sunk to the bed, and then after a few moments Tobias opened his eyes.
Elliot grinned at him. "Yeah, bud, I'm here."
The blonde man glanced around the bedroom and then exhaled deeply. "Why'd you wake me?" he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.
"You were having a bad dream."
"Oh. Sorry about that." He looked down curiously at Elliot's hand in his. "Did I wake you?"
"No," Elliot said, leaning over to kiss Tobias's forehead. "You go back to sleep, okay? It's still early...I'll start breakfast."
"Mmkay," Tobias said, his eyes half-closed already.
Whatever it was that had him crying out for Chris was gone now. Tobias didn't seem to remember the dream, and Elliot was thankful for that.
* * *
He was never a great cook, but breakfast he could do. It wasn't long ago that his whole family was sitting at the breakfast table, laughing and talking over stacks of pancakes and mounds of scrambled eggs. Sundays were his favorite time of the week just for that reason. It felt strange now to only be cracking six eggs instead of a dozen, and making toast for two instead of six on a Tuesday morning.
He even had a talent with the whisk, which he used to whip the eggs to a particularly frothy perfection. By now he knew exactly how Tobias ate them, and that he preferred strawberry to grape jelly. At first it was like pulling teeth trying to get Tobias to tell him what he liked, because he had been so used to the bland crap they served in Oz that everything tasted good. Tobias gave Elliot free rein in the kitchen, and told him that when you were living on cheese sandwiches and plastic cartons of generic grape drink, it didn't matter if the toast was burnt or there were shells in the eggs.
Elliot wasn't that bad of a cook, luckily. But it still surprised him at the outright excitement Tobias displayed when he made something as simple as beef stew. When Elliot brought it out to the table one night two weeks ago, Tobias had practically fallen over.
"You made beef stew?" Tobias had asked excitedly when he saw the crock pot being placed on the table.
"I just threw vegetables, meat, potatoes, and water in a pot, Tobias, plugged it in, and let it cook for eight hours. Thickened it up with the flour, and there you go."
"God, I could kiss you."
"Later. Eat your stew."
Elliot left the bowl of whisked eggs on the counter and went looking for the butter in the fridge. As he was bent over, he heard a small knock on the kitchen door.
It wasn't quite 6 a.m. yet, and Elliot's first reaction was to reach to his waist for the gun that wasn't there. Cautiously he stepped to the side of the door, shielding himself in an attempt to get a look at the person on his doorstep.
Then he saw Olivia's light brown hair, and relaxed.
"I saw you walking around in the kitchen from the front window," she said as he opened the door for her.
"Good thing I wasn't naked, then," he said offhandedly, going back to the fridge as she took a seat at the table. "What are you doing out here at this time of the morning?"
She sat there watching him for a few minutes, and then answered him. "I just got off shift. I wanted to drop by so we could talk."
"Elliot, you've been...distant since I came back to the squad."
"Yeah," she said, pushing back in her chair and standing. "I want to know what's going on, why you're giving me the cold shoulder."
"Look, I'm glad you're back, all right? I really don't want to talk about it right now." He cast a glance over to the stairs that led to the bedrooms. "I have to get ready for my shift."
"I know we've had a rough couple of weeks."
"But I think we can work through it now that I'm back. We need to regroup and fix this. It doesn't look right to the rest of the squad."
"Oh, that's what you're concerned about?" he asked snidely, closing the fridge to face her.
"What the hell? I said I was sorry about asking to be rotated out, and I thought..."
"No, you said it was 'complicated,' Olivia. And you're right, it is." Elliot moved close to Olivia, facing her down. "When we first talked about taking a break, that was all it was, talk. We never sat down to discuss how you felt about it, or how I felt about it, or how this was going to affect the two of us. We were deciding it. We . Not you. We're partners and the least you could have done was given me the courtesy of finding out you wouldn't be there before I got to the goddamned crime scene last week! And then I had to go through all that shit with Blaine..."
Elliot could feel himself getting hot as the frustration of the past few weeks came flowing out of him in a rush.
"Why did you have to let Cragen tell me?" he asked, his voice rising. "You put me in such a shitty position, Liv. Seven years we've been together, and you couldn't even come to me? I had to ask Cragen where you were! How do you think that made me feel? My own partner?" He shook his head, fighting back tears, finding it hard to lower his voice. "Dammit, we've been through so much together, and after Gitano...I never expected this from you. You hurt me, Olivia."
She quickly wiped at her eyes. "Elliot, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't know what else to say. Please."
"Go home, okay, Liv?" he sniffed, looking down at the floor. "Let me just..."
"Elliot, are you singing with the radio again?" Tobias called suddenly as he came walking down the stairs. "I thought you were going to let me sleep longer since..."
Both partners looked up to see Tobias, his hair mussed from sleep, standing at the foot of the stairs in his boxers. Tobias blinked, obviously surprised that someone other than Elliot was standing in the middle of the kitchen.
"Uh...I..." Tobias sheepishly looked at his feet. "Sorry, I didn't know..."
"It's okay, Tobias," Elliot said, glancing back and forth between his lover and Olivia. "Give us a minute?"
Tobias nodded, and after assuring himself everything was under control, went back up the stairs.
Olivia watched his retreating form, and then turned back to Elliot with a look of concern and puzzlement on her face. "Who..."
Elliot held up his hand. "I don't want to discuss this right now. Let's just keep focused on doing the job, and the rest will sort itself out."
"Elliot, if you won't talk to me about it, how are we going to resolve this?" she asked, her eyes flitting to the stairs again.
"I don't know. I just...I need to get ready for my shift."
Taking this as his final word, Olivia turned back to the door. "Elliot," she said, looking at him, "I never meant to hurt you."
"I know," he said sadly, not even meeting her eyes. "That's why it makes what you did harder to take."
* * *
She turned the radio off on her ride back to Manhattan. Early morning talk radio did nothing to soothe her nerves, and right now they were definitely rattled. She balled her fist and slammed it against the steering wheel, angry at herself for going about the partner shift in such a bad way. It hadn't even occurred to her when it happened, and for that she felt like she had let Elliot down miserably. He was right. She completely fucked up -- and knowing him, this was going to take a long time to try and sort out.
And along with the thought that she had irreparably damaged her relationship with the most important man in her life, also came the realization that the blonde man who had descended the stairs was only wearing boxers.
* * *
Elliot angrily tossed the half-scrambled eggs into the sink, not caring when the whisk hurtled in mid-air to leave a stream of egg across the clean dishes. Gripping either side of the kitchen table, he willed himself calm.
How dare she assume that the slight, off-handed apology she mumbled at him that day in the locker room was enough? He had almost quit because of the shit Blaine pulled, and she had no fucking idea how close to the surface his hurt actually was.
Well, of course she didn't, he chided himself, because you can never seem to string two sentences together when you're angry.
Sighing dejectedly, Elliot sunk into the chair and put his head into his hands.
He sensed rather than heard the soft, padded approach of Tobias when the other man strode up behind him. Tobias wrapped his arms around Elliot and rested his chin on the crown of his head.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Elliot turned to look at him. "For what?"
"For making the situation with your partner even more difficult."
"What are you talking about? You had nothing to do with..."
"She obviously saw me come down from the stairs that lead to your bedroom, Ell. In my underwear."
Elliot closed his eyes as the realization set in. "Oh, Christ."
* * *
The phone rang twice before Munch answered. "Special Victims, this is Munch."
"John, can you do me a favor?"
"Yeah, Liv, what's up?"
"Can you run a plate for me?" Olivia had pulled her car over at a gas station and was now flipping through her hastily scribbled notes for the number. "Uh...just a minute, okay, here, Bravo Sierra Uniform, 843. Connecticut plates."
"Still working something from last night?" John asked, the sound of key clicks in the background peppering his words.
"Just something weird I happened across this morning."
"Care to elaborate?"
"Well, I stopped by Elliot's house to apologize..."
She heard a groan from the other detective. "Liv, why are you pushing him? He's been through enough shit already."
"He's been so cold to me, John. I needed to talk to him."
"No offense Olivia, but what you did really sucked. He had no idea where you were when he had to go out to that case with Blaine. Do you know he almost quit?"
She gasped, her lapse in thought at the time catching up with her now. "He didn't tell me that."
"After the scuffle in the hallway with Blaine, the entire squad heard it."
"No kidding," Munch agreed. "You saw him after Gitano, and then to have this happen...he's really at the end of his rope, Liv. You kind of added fuel to the fire."
"I tried to apologize," she said, "but I didn't get very far."
She heard Munch snort over the phone. "You know how he is. He likes to talk as much as I'm likely to get married again."
"It wasn't that. Someone interrupted us."
"I thought you said you went by his house. Are Kathy and the kids..."
"No," she said, cutting him off. "It was a man, with shoulder-length blonde hair, light eyes, about Elliot's height."
"Maybe it's the guy Fin and I saw him with at the diner the other night. Elliot was kind of drunk, and this guy...ah...what was his name, he told us...this guy came to pick him up."
"He was with him that night too?" she asked curiously.
"Yeah, sounds like the guy you described. Had his arm around Elliot, said he was taking him home."
Olivia furrowed her brow in confusion. "Really."
* * *
"I should go and get dressed," Tobias said quietly.
Elliot looked up at him and took his hand. "We still need to eat breakfast. And who's going bitch to me about my poor tie choice?"
"I'm sure you'll be able to handle it."
"What's going on?" Elliot asked worriedly. "I can read it all over your face."
"I know this has been hard for you since the beginning, and this is only going to make it worse. But I completely understand. I felt that way when it first happened to me."
"What the hell are you talking about? Tobias, what's..."
"Listen, it's okay, all right? I was taking a chance staying here overnight anyway. What if your kids stopped by? Or your wife? I don't want to cause any more pain. I couldn't handle it."
Elliot stood up and took Tobias by the shoulders. "Tobias...are you thinking about...oh my God," he whispered, his voice breaking. "You're leaving me?"
* * *
"Liv, why the interest in a buddy of Elliot's taking him home?"
"No reason, John, just wanted to make sure Elliot is all right," Olivia said, doing her best to conceal her concern about the man who seemed too comfortable walking around Elliot's house in just his boxers. It didn't make any sense. "You find the plate yet?"
"Ahh," Munch said, and she heard the mouse clicking. "Here we go, 1999 four-door Mercedes E-class, black, registered to a Harrison Beecher of 311 Valley Street, New Haven, Connecticut. Hmm, hold on..."
Olivia heard Munch punching keys.
"Harrison Beecher is listed as deceased. Went looking for insurance information, and it seems Harrison has a son listed on his old insurance card as an accepted driver of that vehicle. The guy with Elliot that night called himself Beecher...got into a dark sedan when he pulled away, too. From this description it sounds like your guy."
"What's the name?"
"Tobias Beecher. Let me run him, hold on."
She turned her attention to the traffic speeding on Woodhaven Boulevard as she waited. Elliot had reacted oddly when this Tobias walked down the stairs and found them talking. She felt a shift in Elliot's demeanor, like he was being protective somehow. It perplexed her.
"Yeah, John, go ahead."
"Tobias Beecher, convicted of vehicular manslaughter -- oh man, it was a child -- and DUI. Sentenced to 15 years in Oswald State Correctional, paroled in 2003, convicted of parole violation that same year, re-sentenced to two years, eight months for the violation. Finally paroled in October, 2005. That's, uh, eight months ago." Munch took a deep breath. "Why the hell is an ex-con hanging around with Elliot, Olivia?"
"I have no idea," she said honestly, more concerned than ever now.
"Y'know," Munch said, "it says here that he's living at the halfway house at 124 Rivington Street. Why does that sound familiar?"
"That's where Elliot stayed when he went undercover after Ray Schenkel."
"Could he have possibly met this guy there?"
"No," Olivia said, thinking back. "Too early. Beecher was paroled in October, you said."
"Olivia, you said this Beecher was in Elliot's house?"
"Yeah," she said, leaving out the part about him being half-dressed.
"I'm sure there's a logical explanation."
"I hope so, John. I don't want to push...but I'm worried about him."
"Liv, this might sound strange, but I am too. The night we were at the diner and this guy Beecher came to pick him up? I could've sworn Elliot had been crying."
She sighed, feeling the guilt wash over her. "I'll keep an eye on him."
"Just tread lightly," John said. "He's been suffering. I've seen it before, even if he won't talk about it."
"I know," she said solemnly, as she struggled to keep the tears out of her voice. "And it's all my fault."
* * *
"Elliot, it's okay. We had...I haven't been this happy in a long time. It's because of you."
"Tobias, no, you can't."
"I won't get in the way of your career, Ell. I know what it means to you, and to have this happen..."
"What, you mean Olivia seeing you?"
"I don't care," Elliot said, grabbing Tobias and hugging him close.
"How can you not? She saw me, she's going to put two and two together."
"And? Why should I give a fuck about that? Tobias, I don't think you're seeing the whole picture, here," Elliot said, running his fingers through Tobias's hair. "You can't leave me. God, you're the only good thing I have in my life! You've become a part of me. When you're not here, I miss you. I won't sleep on your side of the bed, just so I can keep your pillow close to me and I can smell your cologne. I look for you in the morning. I want to wake up and feel your hair tickle my nose. I can't sleep unless you have your leg touching mine. I love to feel you curl up against me in the middle of the night. Fuck what everyone else thinks! You make me laugh, you son of a bitch! Do you know how long it's been since I could laugh? Do you know what it's like to be able to feel after years of being dead inside? I'm human when I'm with you!"
Tobias could do nothing but stare, tears running down his cheeks. Elliot drew Tobias to his lips and kissed him gently, and then cradled him against his chest.
"You...you can't leave..." Elliot mumbled, wiping at Tobias's face. "I love you, Tobias. I don't give a fuck about my career, or the job, or what's going to happen, all right? I love you. I need you in my life."
"Elliot?" came the quiet sound of Tobias's voice.
"Yeah, bud, I'm here," he answered, tucking that stray strand of blonde hair behind Tobias's ear.
Tobias threaded his fingers with Elliot's, and then looked up at him. "Don't let go."
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