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A Smile That Hesitates (The Smile Series, Part 7)
The little puffs of exhaled air that came from Tobias's lips were tickling the back of his neck, but he didn't want to move and wake him. Tobias was spooned against him as usual, his lithe body perfectly contoured into Elliot's more muscled one.
They had taken to sleeping naked in the sultry nights of the summer, since Tobias was always arguing against the recycled air of the AC unit in the window. He'd been inhaling the same shitty air for over eight years in Oz, he'd said, so even a breeze that felt like it had come from an oven was better than no fresh air at all.
Elliot could feel the familiar touch of Tobias's leg curled between his, along with the sensation of that long blonde hair -- always smelling of the rich shampoo he used -- touching his shoulder blades. He hoped Tobias never cut it. In a way the long hair reminded him of Kathy, but when he shifted slightly he could definitely feel all of Tobias -- all the strong, sculpted, and masculine parts of him.
Sliding his arm under the pillow, he pressed his face against it and sighed. These moments between the two of them waking in each other's arms were becoming more common. Tobias was spending at least three days a week in Queens, but he always refused Elliot's offers to visit the halfway house on Rivington Street. Elliot sensed that it made him uncomfortable, and he didn't press it, despite his assurances that he wouldn't mind. He had a feeling that Tobias was embarrassed of the surroundings.
Having gone through the same thing, albeit undercover, Elliot could empathize. The place was depressing; it probably reminded Tobias too much of the enclosed spaces of Oz.
The sun's rays had snuck through the blinds, touching the two of them in bed, making Tobias's skin luminous. He trailed a finger over the golden hair of the sleeping man's arm.
A thought crossed his mind just as he looked up at the sunlight coming through the window. Why should Tobias keep traveling back and forth to that dump in Manhattan? There was more than enough room here. A house packed with kids made the place seem small, but it was just the two of them now. They fit comfortably together, moving in and out of each other's way like a finely tuned clock. It felt safe when Tobias was around -- his mind was settled, less muddled by the constant events of the job. And he certainly relished mornings like these in which they got to spend time together.
Between being in love, the time they spent together, and the absolutely domestic way in which Tobias helped him pick out his suits, Elliot realized that they had indeed become a real, functioning couple.
His mind was made up. He would ask Tobias to move in.
Then he heard Tobias stir beside him, and felt the unmistakable brush of lips on the back of his neck.
Elliot laced his fingers in Tobias's and drew them closer to his chest.
"Mmm," Tobias mumbled, curling tighter against Elliot. "S'tearly."
"What?" chuckled Elliot.
Tobias kissed him again, sending shivers down Elliot's back. "I said it's too early."
Elliot stretched his legs and spoke over his shoulder. "The rest of you is awake."
Tobias huffed a laugh into Elliot's stubble. "Early riser."
Elliot reached behind him and put his hand on Tobias's ass, gently rubbing the soft skin. He felt Tobias tense and twitch against his back. Rolling over to face him now, he pressed his own hardening cock against Tobias's erection.
Their eyes met, and Tobias studied Elliot's face. He caressed the close-cropped hair on Elliot's temple.
"I love seeing you like this," he whispered seriously.
Elliot squinted and grinned at him. "What, horny?"
Tobias smiled. "Honest. Open. Free with yourself. Letting me see all of you."
"I can't get any more naked," Elliot pointed out, toying with Tobias's hair.
"I don't just mean naked. You're...different, Ell. Your confidence makes me feel less worried about things."
"The job, Ell. How our relationship can affect you in a career generally dominated by misogynist, gun-wielding homophobes."
Elliot smirked at him. "They don't all carry guns. Some of 'em write parking tickets."
"Tobias, you shouldn't worry about that stuff. It's all about you and me. Trust me, we have more pressing concerns."
"W-we do?" Tobias swallowed. "Like what?"
Elliot sighed dramatically. "Like the fact that I think all my socks are dirty."
Smiling now, Tobias pressed his forehead to Elliot's. "Why must your wardrobe be such a challenge? Shit, I dressed better than you when I wore prison-issue."
"But I bet your socks were clean."
Tobias rolled his eyes. "You're hopeless."
"And helpless," he replied, touching Tobias's lips with his thumb, "when it comes to you."
"You're damn right. Why is that? Because I'm the only one who can dress you?"
"Because...you make me...feel..." Elliot stammered, running his finger along Tobias's bottom lip.
The other man's tongue flicked out, and he caught Elliot's finger in his mouth. Tobias sucked on it gently, running his tongue on the ridges of the knuckle, causing Elliot to exhale a shuddery breath. Releasing his finger, Tobias began kissing Elliot's palm. Gently he laid a kiss on the pulse point of his wrist.
"Everything," he whispered, watching Tobias with wide eyes. "I don't...I don't hate myself as much when I'm with you."
Tobias met his pained expression. "Elliot..."
"I know what you're going to say, but it's true," he said, cutting him off. "I can't help it. I've fucked so much up over the past few months -- with Kathy, with the kids, my career -- it's obvious I can't lay the blame anywhere else, Tobias. It's not the world that's screwing me, it's me. It's taken me all this time to finally realize it. It's just...when I'm with you, I feel different, y'know? I feel like I have a reason to care again. Like I want to try."
"Try doing what?" Tobias asked, moving his hand to Elliot's cheek.
Tobias was quiet for a moment. "You know something? I feel the same way, Ell. My life has been better since I met you, too. But we talked about this -- you can't blame yourself for everything."
"Why not?" he mumbled, casting his eyes away. "I'm the one who's done it to myself."
"And if you keep thinking that way you're never going to heal. I'm all for taking responsibility for one's actions, Lord knows, but some things are just out of our fucking hands, Elliot. I learned a lot about redemption and forgiveness when I was inside, and you'd be surprised that none of it means shit unless it starts with you." Tobias placed his hand over Elliot's heart. "It starts right here."
Elliot smiled warmly at him. "That sounds like something your Sister Pete would say."
"Actually, I learned a lot from a Muslim imam by the name of Kareem Said I met in Oz."
"Really." Elliot also noticed Tobias had used the name of the prison for the first time in a long while. "He must have made an impact on you."
"He became a very close friend."
"You think forgiving myself works the same if I ask for a little help?" Elliot asked.
Tobias kissed Elliot softly. "Whenever you need me, Ell, I'm here."
"Same here, bud," he agreed, nuzzling him. "And I'd like to make that a little more permanent."
"What do you mean?"
"I want you to move in with me."
There was a beat. "Won't your wife mind?" Tobias teased.
He laughed. "Seriously, Ell, what about her? And the kids, and..."
"We're not talking about them right now."
"But we're going to have to."
"What about Rivington Street? How am I gonna..."
"I can talk to a friend of mine, Craig Lennon, over at the Division of Parole. He usually works with sex offenders..."
Elliot laughed. "He knows people, and I'm sure if they knew you were moving in with an NYPD detective it shouldn't be a problem."
Tobias frowned at him. "Ell, they'd have to be crazy to let a parolee move in with a cop. I can't even imagine what they're going to think, for Chrissakes -- moving in with you?"
"Fuck them," Elliot replied simply.
"Shhh," Elliot admonished, sliding his hand over Tobias's hip. He drew the other man closer to him, purposely rubbing their cocks together.
Tobias hissed air through his teeth, and Elliot kissed him softly.
"You're distracting me," Tobias protested.
Elliot met his eyes, and Tobias's features softened.
"I love seeing you like this," Elliot said by way of answer.
"What, horny?" he grinned, repeating Elliot's comments from earlier.
"Well, yeah," he chuckled, "but also the way your eyes get when you look at me." He focused on Tobias again. "It's like...you're seeing what I'm thinking. What I'm feeling. Makes my chest hurt."
Tobias stroked his hair. "Why hurt?"
"A good hurt. I haven't felt it in so long."
The other man pressed close to him, and gave him a long, lingering kiss. Then Tobias reached for Elliot's shoulders, rolling him over and on top of him so that Tobias's chest was pinned between Elliot's strong thighs. "That's better."
"For what?" Elliot asked, surprised. "You can't do anything."
"I can watch." At Elliot's questioning look, Tobias reached for Elliot's hand. "Touch yourself."
The sound of Tobias's voice made Elliot's cock throb in anticipation, and he was momentarily distracted when the other man slowly began touching his shaft with a finger.
"Jesus," he moaned.
"Close your eyes," Tobias ordered, reaching down to grab his own cock.
Elliot wrapped his hand around himself and closed his eyes.
"Not too fast," Tobias said breathlessly, his voice deep and needy. "I want to see it all."
He nodded, and steadily began pumping himself. Raking his nails along the sensitive skin, he teased his balls with small fluttery touches. Using thumb and middle finger, he stroked the head of his cock, sliding back and forth over the leaking tip.
"Yesssss," Tobias moaned, his hips rocking the bed in time with Elliot. "God, yes."
Elliot balanced himself with his left hand on the bed, and stroked himself harder. Small gasps of pleasure escaped his lips.
Tobias rubbed and tweaked Elliot's nipples with his left hand, keeping his eyes on the amazing spectacle in front of him. Then he reached between Elliot's legs and put his hand there.
"Wait," he breathed, stopping Elliot in the middle of his strokes. "Shift higher up on my chest."
"W-why?" Elliot stuttered, opening his eyes.
"I want to taste you."
Elliot released an audible gasp, and did as he was asked.
Tobias ran his tongue along his bottom lip. "That look you always see in my eyes...do you see it now?"
"God, yes," he moaned, and Tobias took him into his mouth.
It was heat, and desire, and love overwhelming him all at once. His entire body clenched, muscles flexing, as Tobias released him slowly, trailing his tongue tantalizingly along his shaft. The sensation tightened his balls, and he let out a moan. Tobias matched the sound, his eyes rapt with emotion.
"I love to listen to you," he said, running hand over Elliot's thigh.
Elliot closed his eyes again, and felt Tobias's tongue begin to tease the head of his cock. It revolved back and forth, first clockwise, then the opposite, with Tobias lazily tracing circles. Gripping the sheets to steady himself, Elliot bit his lip in anticipation.
He didn't have to wait long. Tobias began to flick his tongue over the slit of Elliot's cock, and when he cried out, he heard Tobias chuckle softly in his throat.
Then Tobias took him deep, burying his face against Elliot's stomach.
Elliot threw his head back and unconsciously thrust his hips forward into the wetness of Tobias's mouth.
Tobias rose on the bed slightly to get into a rhythm of deep-throating Elliot. Then he brought his mouth to the tip of the other man's cock and repeated the motion. He hummed and moaned each time Elliot touched the back of his throat.
Panting, Elliot placed his hands behind him on Tobias's thighs in order to rock his hips in time with his talented mouth. Elliot's left hand brushed Tobias's cock, which was pulsing with need at every thrust of Elliot's hips.
He smiled to himself, and surprised the man under him by grabbing him firmly in his palm.
Tobias whimpered with pleasure, and ran his teeth along the underside of Elliot's cock, releasing him.
"Elliot," he begged, licking his lips, "I want to watch."
Returning his left hand to Tobias's thigh for balance, Elliot reached for his own throbbing cock, still slick from Tobias's mouth. He stroked it slowly, putting on a show.
"Yessss....you're so beautiful...let me see you..."
Elliot began to increase the pressure of his strokes, and the gasps became moans, mixed with pleasurable whimpers. Panting heavily now, he pumped harder, straining against the friction of his hand.
Tobias grabbed his own cock, matching Elliot. Similar sounds began to come from Tobias now, as both men complemented each other with like rhythms of rocking and pumping. "I want you to go before me," Tobias groaned from deep in his throat, barely able to get the words out. "I need to see you..."
Throwing his head back, Elliot slid his hand faster and faster, pumping the base, and then squeezing at the tip of his cock. His breathing became more labored, and then the moans became cries of pleasure. Letting go, he cried out as he came, splashing Tobias's chest.
"Oh God, yes," Tobias moaned, stroking himself faster. "So beautiful, Dathúil. So beautiful."
Elliot shuddered and rolled off just in time to watch Tobias orgasm, his cock thick and wet in his hand, spilling over his stomach.
"How do you do that to me?" Elliot wondered out loud, collapsing onto his pillow.
Grinning, Tobias cuddled up next to him, wrapping one arm and one leg around him protectively.
"I could ask the same of you."
Elliot bent to kiss his forehead. "Tobias?"
"What was that you called me just now?"
"Yeah, right as I was -- it was some other language, 'dahoo'-something."
"Oh," Tobias smiled, obviously embarrassed, "that. I said it out loud, huh?"
Elliot twisted a strand of Tobias's soft hair around his fingers. "What was it?"
"'Dathúil.' It means 'handsome.'"
"Really? In what language?"
"Irish, you blue-eyed mick," Tobias teased, nibbling Elliot's shoulder.
"Where did you..."
"One of our family's maids was from county Clare."
"Dah-HOO-il. Soften the 'H'."
"Isn't it obvious?" Tobias asked.
"No, but I'll take your word for it, bud."
"It's what I've always called you in my head, from the time we met," he admitted sheepishly. He looked up at him. "Do you mind it?"
Elliot thought about it. "No, no -- I like it. It's kind of..."
"Romantic, actually. And aside from the Stabler name, the only other Irish things about me are the Catholic guilt and the tendency to avoid birth control. Oh, and the potato lust. Can't forget that one."
Tobias scoffed and pressed himself tighter around Elliot's waist. "What time is it, Dathúil?"
He glanced at the digital clock. "Half-past seven. Plenty of time for..."
"Shit, Ell!" Tobias cursed, sitting up in bed.
"You're already late, for Chrissakes! Why the hell didn't you say something?"
He started to get out of bed, but Elliot grabbed his arm to stop him.
"Tobias, I'm starting third shift tonight."
"You..." Tobias paused at the edge of the bed. "Did you..."
"Yeah, I told you twice, actually," he answered, holding his hand out. "C'mere, come back to bed."
Tobias shook his head and crawled back to Elliot's side.
Elliot looked at him, and brushed the hair back from his ear. "Y'know, now that I think about it, you've been kind of distant this past week."
Tobias avoided his eyes. "I have?"
"Yeah, ever since the thing with Liv last week, bud. Is that still bothering you?"
Tobias didn't answer. Instead, he pushed himself into Elliot's arms, placing his head on the other man's chest.
"I haven't talked to her yet," Elliot said. "Truthfully, I'm not quite sure how to go about it. I've been avoiding her, working different shifts. But we're going to have to have it out."
"Maybe she didn't see what she thought she saw."
"You said it yourself, she saw you in your boxers."
"That could mean anything, Ell."
"What would you think if you walked into someone's house and saw a half-naked man come down from the direction of the bedrooms?"
Elliot shook his head. "We're doing shifts together this week. We're going to have to talk about it. I don't like the way she treated you," Elliot said, preferring to leave out the part about the background check she ran on Tobias. That shit they were definitely going to talk about.
"What about the rest of the squad?"
Elliot was quiet for a moment. "I don't know," he admitted, thinking back to his conversation with Munch and the conflicting feelings he was having. "That's going to be harder."
"That's what I was worried about."
Elliot kissed the top of his head again. "Is that what's been bothering you this week? Why you've been so quiet lately?"
Tobias swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat and fought back tears. "Yeah," he lied, steadying his voice. "I guess."
"Tobias, I want you to listen to me, all right? I don't want you to worry about the shit that I have to deal with in my professional life. It's completely separate from us. I'm not the only man who's had to go through something like this, especially on the job. But I promise you, I've never done anything in my life half-assed. We'll get through this. I've told you before, I'm not going anywhere. And I don't lie to the people I love." Elliot reached for his chin. "Look at me."
Tobias looked up into his eyes.
"I love you, bud. No matter what." Elliot kissed him deeply and smiled. "Now let's get your ass dressed. Just because I can lie in bed all day doesn't mean you can."
Burying his head in Elliot's neck without answering, it was all Tobias could do not to cry.
* * *
He took the drive into the office at a much more leisurely pace than he normally did. He knew he and Olivia were going to have to talk about Tobias, but he wasn't looking forward to the discussion. It hurt him to think that Liv went behind his back to find out information about Tobias, and it made him ache to know that their confrontation was going to be inevitable.
He'd left Queens long before his shift was to start, since Tobias was already at the gallery. The house was too damn quiet without him around, and Elliot couldn't sit there by himself watching the clock until his shift was to begin. Instead, he thought that he might stop by the gallery to surprise Tobias. In a way, it was also to postpone getting to the squad and seeing Liv before he was ready.
He grinned at the carton of beef lo mein sitting next to him on the seat. It was one of the dishes in their first shared dinner together, two weeks after they met at The Green Mile. He wondered if Tobias would remember. Then he thought about it, and about the way Tobias was attentive to just about everything he did, and knew for a fact he would remember. The man couldn't walk out the door without looking impeccable. He had an attention to detail that made Elliot certain he would recall their first dinner date.
Normally Elliot wasn't this sentimental, but for some reason Tobias brought it out in him. He never made that big a deal about birthdays or special occasions, with the exception of his anniversary. That was one day every year he treated differently, because he loved doing it. It seemed like such a joke to him now, with Kathy gone and the kids almost non-existent in his life.
With Tobias it was different, however. All Elliot seemed to think about lately was that on September 17, he and Tobias would have known each other for six months. It made him feel embarrassingly giddy.
He found a parking space easy enough down on 10th Avenue, and walked up to the impressive glass doors of the Luhring Augustine Gallery, expecting Tobias to be at the front desk.
Instead, a young woman greeted him. "Welcome to the gallery, sir. May I be of some assistance?"
"Uh..." Elliot paused and looked around. "I was looking for Tobias. Tobias Beecher. He's supposed to be working today."
"Oh, yeah, Tobias," she said, smiling, instantly dropping her overtly professional faade. "He's working today. I'm just filling in until he gets back."
"He said he had a doctor's appointment and took his lunch hour for that instead," she offered helpfully. "Did you want to wait until he gets back? We have a few chairs in the viewing area I could..."
Elliot frowned at the revelation. What would Tobias be doing at a doctor's office? Was he sick? Maybe the girl was wrong and it was another doctor, like a dentist. Or perhaps Tobias simply told the gallery it was a doctor's appointment when it was something else entirely. But if it were a doctor, why wouldn't Tobias have told him about it? He tried not to jump to conclusions or worry unnecessarily, but he could already feel it start to haunt him.
"No, that's okay. I, uh...I'll catch him later. Thanks."
Elliot walked out through the glass doors, ignoring the girl's offered request to take his name.
Walking back to his car, his mind tracked to earlier that morning and their discussion about Liv, and now he wondered if Tobias was preoccupied with something else entirely. Unable to connect the dots, Elliot shook his head in confusion. What was going on?
Then it occurred to him that Tobias never gave him an answer about moving in.
* * *
He was so deep in thought -- trying to recall anything Tobias might have mentioned about going to a doctor over the past week -- that he didn't notice Munch until it was too late.
"Shit," John cursed, dropping the cardboard box full of evidence.
"Oh, John. Sorry about that, man," Elliot said, bending down to pick up the tossed lid and papers.
"Thanks," Munch answered, stuffing everything back in the box. "You starting third shift tonight?"
"Yeah, I think I'm on for the next two weeks."
Munch placed the box down and pulled Elliot aside in the corridor. "You back working with Liv, then?"
"Have you had that discussion with her yet?"
"No," Elliot sighed. "I'm kind of tired having to work pissed off all the time."
"Well, you're going to have to bite the bullet on this one, my friend," Munch said, patting him on the shoulder. "Believe me, you can avoid talking to your wife or girlfriend, but a partner knows you better than anyone. And whatever she did to piss you off, it's only going to build until you get it out in the open. Hell, you two have been together for seven years, I'm sure you can talk about whatever it is on your mind."
He thought about how angry it made him that Olivia had the audacity to have Munch run that background check on Tobias. "I guess."
"Trust me, Ell," Munch said, gathering his stuff, "it's best not to let it linger."
Elliot sagged against the wall as he watched Munch walk down the corridor. He'd talked to Olivia about everything: the struggles in his marriage, problems with the kids, but this...
He was in love with a man.
This wasn't going to be easy.
* * *
She was already at her desk when he walked into the squad. Striding over to his locker, he put away his weapon and badge, and hung up his jacket.
"Welcome back," she said over her shoulder.
He sat down across from her in his customary spot. "Thanks."
He started going through his inbox, shuffling case files and reports around until she reached her hand across his desk.
He didn't look up at her, only sighed deeply. "You had no right to do what you did."
"What I did?"
"You ran a background check on my friend Tobias," he hissed at her.
"Elliot, when I found out that guy was an ex-con..."
"And how did you find that out?" he asked her coldly. "You ran the plates on his car."
She made a face. "John told you."
"It came up in conversation. He told me you mentioned Tobias when you stopped by at the house last week."
"I did. I was concerned about you, Elliot."
"Well, you don't have to be."
"Can we..." She glanced around at the faces upturned to their conversation. "Let's go somewhere and talk about this."
"Yeah, because we certainly don't want to have another screaming match in the middle of the squad, right?" he asked angrily.
"Fine." He pushed back from his desk and followed her back toward the interrogation rooms.
"Why do I feel like a perp?" he said, walking in and dropping into a chair.
"Stop being so goddamned hostile."
"You wouldn't talk to me. I had no idea what was going on, and when I saw that man in your house..."
"You decided to go behind my back and find out who he was," he finished. "Did you get your answer?"
She looked at him. "No, Elliot, I didn't. I don't understand why you're even around this guy. He was in prison for over eight years on a DUI conviction, for killing a little girl. Did you know that?"
"I did," he said quietly.
"I know you've been through a rough few weeks and we haven't exactly been on the best of terms, but I still -- and always will -- care about you, Elliot. When I saw that man in your house I didn't know what to think, and when I found out he was an ex-con..." She shook her head. "Is he related or something?"
"No," he answered, wishing he had never gotten into this conversation in the first place. He wasn't sure if he should tell her the truth about Tobias, and the way this talk was going it seemed as though she would be completely close-minded to the idea.
"And he was in his underwear, Elliot. What was that?"
"Nothing, it's just..." He took a calming breath.
"What, are you playing PO with this guy? Does Cragen know you're hosting a con in your house?"
"It's not like that. You're missing the point."
"What is that?"
"You completely invaded my privacy -- and Tobias's -- by running that background check on him. It was such a breach of trust. So there's an ex-con in my house. Dammit, Liv, why the hell should you care?"
"I just do, Elliot," she said gently, sitting down next to him. "After all these years, how could you think I wouldn't? I've been worried about you. Whatever is going on, you can tell me. We owe each other that much."
"You pissed me off."
"I get that," she answered, leaning back and crossing her arms. "I don't quite understand why."
"Just leave it," he said, getting up.
"Christ, Elliot, would you just talk to me? Listen, I know I fucked up the transfer thing, okay, and I know you're still angry about it. I know. You have every right to be. I'm sorry, but I don't know how many more times I can apologize. You were right. Is that what you want to hear to get us back to where we were?"
"Not really," he said, pacing now.
"Then what? I need to know how to make this better. Because I can't understand..."
"I want to have a life away from this place, Olivia!" he yelled. "For once. Just once I'd like to leave all," he waved his hand at the dim interrogation room, "this behind me every night and go home to someone who loves me."
"You should have that, Ell. We all should. But..."
"To have you see Tobias like that...it made me angry. He didn't know you were there. He didn't deserve that -- and then to have you do a background check on him..."
"Olivia, how would you like it if I ran a background check on the guy you were fucking?"
She blinked, momentarily taken aback. "The guy I was..."
She shook her head, still staring at him. "Elliot...are you saying what I think you're saying?" she asked seriously.
He exhaled a deep breath and leaned his head against the cool brick wall.
"Well...I haven't exactly starting fucking him. Yet."
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