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A Smile That Affirms (The Smile Series, Part 8)
The stillness of the room after his revelation was palpable. It was as if the air grew thick and time halted, seizing them both in one unending, breathless moment.
Olivia was simply sitting there, staring at him, a look of utter amazement on her face.
He blinked to keep the tears from welling up, and closed his eyes.
His heart was pounding so hard that he welcomed the steadiness of the brick wall behind him. He was relieved he had finally told Olivia, but angry for being so apprehensive in the first place. If what he felt for Tobias was right, then why did his stomach feel nauseous?
Why wasn't he brave enough for this?
He could face firefights in Kuwait. He could handle the uncertainty of raising four kids on a cop's salary. He could suffer through the darkness of the job. He could take a fucking bullet for Chrissakes.
Yet here he was, practically pissing his pants in fear over admitting that he loved someone.
No, not just someone.
Warm, intelligent, funny, emotional, goofy, caring Tobias. The man he couldn't wait to get home to. The man who could make him laugh so hard it hurt. The man whose soft whisper next to his ear in bed could make his body feel like it was on fire. The man who had changed everything. His...boyfriend. His...partner. His...
"He's my lover," Elliot said finally and with conviction, making sure she understood.
She frowned, shaking her head.
Pushing off from the wall, he walked closer and stood over her. He was staring at her now. "Olivia...say something. Please."
"I'm not sure what to say."
"Just don't...don't make this harder on me than it already is," he pleaded in a whisper.
"I didn't even want to tell you, but after what happened, I needed you to understand why I was so angry."
She nodded. "I see."
"Dammit, Liv, don't be so fuckin' glib about this! I've been dealing with this for almost six months..."
"You've been seeing this guy for six months?" she asked, astonished.
He sighed and sat down next to her at the table. "Yeah."
"How did this...when did..."
Shaking his head, he held up a hand to cut her off. "I'll start from the beginning."
"Yeah, please, because my head is spinning here."
"We met at a bar on St. Patrick's Day. I went in for a beer and wound up spilling his drink all over him." He smiled momentarily at the memory, then sobered. "I wasn't...looking for it, if that's what you're thinking."
She took a deep breath and brushed the hair from her eyes, a movement he recognized that meant she was getting serious about something. "I know you didn't harbor any real bias toward gay guys, Elliot, but this is really out of character. I mean, you've been married for..."
"I know! Christ, I know, I've been through this over and over in my head and I can't explain it either! After that first night I didn't think I'd see him again, but then he called me and we had dinner. And y'know what, Liv? We talked. He listened to me, about all the shit I was going through, about the problems I was having, about Kathy, and the kids, the job, and you..."
"You talked to him about us?"
"More than I ever did with Kathy," he acknowledged. "Tobias was just there for me, and he listened to everything. I've never felt that comfortable with someone in my entire life -- not you, not Kathy, no one. We got to know each other, and things...changed. I don't know how else to explain it."
"So because this man could hold a conversation you fell in love?"
"Dammit, Olivia," he said angrily, backing away from the table. "This was hard enough coming to you..."
"Sorry, you're right," she said, interrupting. "But Jesus, Elliot, look at it from my point of view. This is completely out of left field for you."
He sighed and sat down again. "I know what it seems like," he answered, putting his head into his hands. "It sounds insane."
"I don't begrudge you a life outside of this office. Far from it. You've had me worried for the past few weeks, and frankly it puts my mind at ease that you have someone to talk to if you can't confide in me. I accept that. I just never thought you'd be telling me you were in love with a man."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "You're fucking judging me, Olivia?"
"No, Elliot. Stop being so defensive! Your personal life is your own, even if I don't completely understand where this is coming from."
"Happiness, Liv. It's coming from happiness, respect, and two people genuinely caring for each other enough that it became something more than friendship. That's the only way I can describe it."
"You were seeking happiness in a gay bar then?
"No! Like I said, this was unplanned. I wasn't looking for a gay relationship for Christ's sake, Olivia. It wasn't a gay bar! You think I'd pursue something like this without being sure it's what I really want?"
"It took me a while," he noted. "It was more confusing than anything at first, but after being with Tobias...yeah, I'm sure this is what I want."
"Even though it's a man."
"Yeah!" he exclaimed, getting agitated. "I don't look at it like that. I don't see another man in my house, I see Tobias. I see who he is, the person he's become, his emotions, feelings...every part of what makes him him. I fell in love with the person, not the fact that he shaves and pisses standing up."
"Have you ever thought about it before?"
"What, being with a man?"
He had to ponder that for a moment. "Honestly? It never even occurred to me that it could possibly be an option. Marriage and kids will do that."
"That's why you have to understand my reaction."
"I do," he sighed, spent from the emotional wringer he was going through. He wished he could call Tobias right now just to hear his voice. "I know it seems strange. It felt that way to me at first, too."
"Out of all the things I could possibly imagine you telling me..."
"At least I told you," he said darkly, his anger bubbling to the surface again.
She looked at him, her eyes intimating that she took the comment as the insult it was intended to be. "I guess I deserved that."
"Are we ever going to get past it?" she asked dejectedly.
"Maybe," he admitted, meeting her eyes. "There's a lot we still need to work out between us, Olivia. Y'know, I don't express myself as well I should all the time, but I thought you understood how hurt and betrayed I was after the transfer."
"I've told you how sorry I was so many times..."
"I know you have. But it's always going to be at the back of my mind, worrying when the other shoe is going to drop and you leave me for good -- maybe without even telling me. I think I deserve more than that. That's part of the reason I even told you anything about Tobias at all, Liv. You're my partner...I want that trust back."
"I'm not leaving. That's not going to happen," she stated emphatically. "Look, we've been through some rough shit these past few months, and I admit fucking up my side of things. I didn't know how to go about it. That trust between us, Ell -- you should never think twice about it. You'll never lose that. I promise."
He wondered if she knew how close he had come to quitting over the whole Blaine partnership mess. "You'll have to give me time."
"I can do that."
"And what you did to Tobias fucking sucked, Olivia."
"I was worried about you."
"You told me that, too," he said. "It doesn't change the fact that he almost left me because of it. He was so afraid you seeing us together was going to cause major problems. He's more concerned with my well-being and happiness that..."
His mind immediately flashed to the still-unknown reason Tobias had been at the doctor's office, and his chest constricted. Elliot paused and cleared his throat, trying to compose himself.
She tilted her head and put her hand on her chin. "You really love this guy."
"I'm sorry I overreacted."
"It's done." He faced her. "I'd appreciate you keeping this between us, Olivia. Munch sort of knows who Tobias is..."
"Sorry about that one, too."
"Yeah, but the rest of the squad doesn't need to hear the sordid details of my love life. I can't handle the iron-balled cop bullshit right now."
"What about Kathy?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I haven't told her yet."
"I have a feeling she's going to have a hard time with it."
She put her hand over his. "This is going to be difficult."
He looked down then, unable to meet her eyes. "I appreciate you not freaking out too much about this. I wasn't sure how you'd take it."
"Did you think I'd be calling you a fag and quoting from the Bible?"
"Elliot, I may have screwed us up a bit, and this Tobias thing might take a while to sink in for me -- because you falling in love with a man is still a little unbelievable -- but I care about you."
"Well, believe it. You know I'd never lie to you."
She smiled at him. "I think I know you pretty well. You're my partner."
He looked up at her with a grin. "You're a pain in my ass, too."
"I seem to succeed rather well in that department," she admitted sheepishly.
"So...tell me about this guy."
"You want to hear about Tobias?" he asked her, genuinely surprised.
"He's a part of your life now, right?"
"Yeah," he confirmed, stopping short of telling her about asking Tobias to move in. There were some things he didn't exactly want to tell her yet. "Yeah, he is."
"Then I want to know."
"I haven't been this happy in a really long time, Liv," he said.
"That's good to hear."
"He makes me laugh; he keeps me sane; he makes me feel alive. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced." Elliot frowned and shook his head. "I didn't understand what was happening at first. I wanted to be around him; I missed him when he wasn't there. I was confused over what I was feeling -- I mean, I was having these intense, deep conversations about my life with another man, and it didn't feel strange. For the first time in a while, I was able to feel. He came over for dinner one night, and we were talking on the couch afterward. I kind of let it slip that seeing him and talking with him made me happy, and he called me on it. I didn't know how to respond, because he was right."
He glanced past her then, staring at the window where the yellow sunlight of the day gradually began to morph into hues of amber and red. He thought back to that night on the couch, Tobias and him sitting there after dinner, touching one another.
"Well, what did you say?"
"I kissed him," Elliot answered, still staring at the sunset.
"You kissed him?"
"I'm sure it surprised you more than it did him," she said, smiling in disbelief.
He grinned back at her. "Kinda."
"Elliot...there's something I still don't get."
"Falling in love with a man wasn't enough?"
"Aside from that," she confessed.
"What did you want to know?"
"Why did you get involved with an ex-con?" she asked.
"Like falling in love, it just happened. I promise you I wasn't in a gay, ex-con's bar. I don't think."
She chuckled. "Tobias must be someone special for you to overlook the things he's done."
"How much do you know about him?"
"Well, I already know the bad shit. Unfortunately."
"The DUI? Oz?"
"Uh-huh, he spent almost nine years in the place as I recall."
Elliot nodded. "It's hard...there's a lot he hasn't told me. I think too much of it is still painful."
"It's understandable, from what I've heard about Oswald."
"I want to ask him, but..."
"It's probably a lot like dealing with those who have been traumatized. As long as he knows you're there for him, he'll open up when he's ready."
"I hope I know how to deal with it. Of the few things he's told me about the experience, he was preyed upon inside, Liv." He swallowed. "It breaks my heart."
"He wasn't put in Oswald for just any reason, Elliot. He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Of a child."
"I know. He was a lawyer before he went inside. He screwed up his life and paid the price, I understand that. But knowing the type of man he is -- how he is with me -- I can't imagine what he went through at the hands of those men."
"You're talking about him like he's a victim."
He paused, considering where he was going with this. He didn't have anyone else to confide in right now, and he had been struggling with the ramifications of Tobias's suffering because he wasn't sure how to ask him about it. The time in Oz was the one thing he hadn't been able to approach Tobias about, and it hurt to know that Tobias was dealing with this pain alone. He wanted to help him through it, but dealing with a male rape victim that had also become his lover was beyond his realm of expertise.
"He is. They raped him, Olivia."
She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Have you talked about it with him?"
"It gets worse: the son of the man who raped him killed his 7-year-old son, Gary."
"Jesus," she gasped.
"I don't even know if that's everything. How am I supposed to talk to him? I can't imagine how Tobias is still functioning after that."
"You don't give yourself enough credit, Elliot. There's a reason you've remained in SVU all these years. Your empathy and emotional connection with victims is amazing. When the time comes for Tobias, you'll know exactly what to say."
"I hope so. It's hard knowing he suffered all those years."
"It's no different than dealing with other rape victims we've seen, Ell. You have to give him time, offer your support, and eventually he'll confide in you. There's no way to force him to tell you anything."
"I know, it's just...I mean..."
She looked at him curiously. "What?"
"All the victims we've seen and helped, all the reports I've taken, the court cases I've attended...a few of them stand out in my mind. But I can't hold onto all of them. It would make me crazy if I did, so some of them become nothing more than familiar names and numbers after a few years, y'know? It's difficult to admit, but if I thought about how these cases have affected me..."
"This one is, though."
He met her eyes. "It's never happened to someone I love."
She touched his hand again. "I know."
"I try not to dwell on it. Hell, I imagine these horrible scenarios because I'm not even sure of the circumstances, and dealing with this shit day after day can put some fucked-up thoughts in my head. And when I look at him..."
"You see it, don't you?" she asked quietly.
He nodded. "Sometimes I think I can almost see the pain of what they did to him when I look at him, Liv. My mind starts putting pieces together -- the way he never mentions the name of Oswald; how he changes the subject sometimes when we're talking; the sleepless moments he's caught up in nightmares. I see him with a cop's eyes and want to help, and then I see him with a lover's eyes, and it hurts even more that I don't know how."
"You have to be patient, Elliot, both with yourself and Tobias. He hasn't been out of prison for very long, right?"
"In October it will be a year."
"Can I make a suggestion?"
"I know you pretty well, Elliot Stabler, and I know how emotional and caring you can be with victims even if you don't think it's obvious. I see how you are. In this case you need to be a lover first, and a cop last. Don't treat him like he might come apart at any moment. Be honest and show acceptance, and he'll confide in you. You love him, and since even I can see it, he will too."
He smiled at her, relief and gratitude washing over his features. "Thanks for that, Liv."
"Can we get to work now, detective?" she smirked. "There's too much love in the air."
Laughing, he got up from his chair and followed her back into the squad.
* * *
The shift was remarkably quiet, suiting his contemplative mood. He caught up on paperwork, chatted with Munch to assure him everything was all right between him and Olivia, and even made the coffee.
After clearing the air with Olivia, however, his mind immediately returned to Tobias and that doctor visit, and he had trouble concentrating on anything else.
"Why is it so quiet?"
"Man, you're gonna jinx us, John," Fin complained. "We just got here."
"I'm just commenting upon man's remarkable ability to be raving savages some nights, and quiet, law-abiding citizens the next."
"Gift horse, John," Cragen muttered, passing by with a fresh cup of coffee.
"I'm not complaining," he answered. "Just curious."
"Then let yo skinny ass be curious without sayin' it, John, for real."
"It's like MacBeth," Olivia said, not looking up from her computer.
"What about it?" Fin asked.
"Y'know, the cursed play? You're not supposed to say the name of the play or something bad happens when you're performing it."
"And when you say it's quiet, it means shit's gonna start happenin'. That phone rings, you pickin' up."
"Yeah, yeah," Munch replied.
Elliot grinned, almost sure the phone would be ringing soon just to prove Fin right. He got up and walked over to Cragen's office door and tapped. "Captain?"
"Yes, Ell, c'mon in."
"Cap, I was wondering...well, since it's so quiet..."
"You want to cut out early?"
"Just a little, yeah, if you don't mind."
"Going to see the kids?"
Elliot cast a glance at his shoes. "Uh, no, they'd be in bed by now."
Cragen glanced at the clock. "Oh. I didn't even realize it was so late. No problem, Elliot. But if you work OT this week, don't put it down on your sheet."
He turned to go, but Cragen called him back. "Elliot?"
"How is everything?"
"What do you mean?"
"You seem like you're doing better."
"Why is everyone always telling me that?"
"Because it's always a concern with you, Ell."
"Captain...I appreciate everyone thinking about me. I'm doing fine. Great, actually. You don't have to worry."
"That's good to hear."
"It is," he grinned. "Thanks for the early night."
Cragen watched him bound out of the office, grab his coat and keys, and wish everyone good night.
He walked over to Olivia's desk. "Liv?"
"Captain?" She paused from her typing.
"Was Elliot just smiling?"
Grinning to herself, she merely nodded. "Yes, Captain, he was."
* * *
He found the house uncharacteristically quiet when he pulled into the driveway. Usually when Tobias knew he was working a 4 to 12, he always tried to stay up to greet him after he came home from Manhattan. Tonight the living room and kitchen lights were out.
Something was up, and Elliot had a feeling it had to do with that doctor's visit he wasn't supposed to know about. He was probably overreacting, though. It might have just slipped Tobias's mind.
When he found the bedroom darkened, however, he began to panic.
He was steps away from flipping on the light when he heard Tobias call out to him. "Dathúil?"
"Yeah, bud, I'm here."
He had to allow his eyes a moment to get accustomed to the dark, then walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down next to Tobias's feet.
"You're home early," Tobias remarked.
"The squad was quiet. Cragen let me clock out as long as any overtime I work this week gets credited for it."
"He's pretty good to you, your captain."
Elliot shifted on the bed so that he could lie spooned up behind Tobias. "He is."
He loosened his tie and kicked off his shoes, knowing Tobias would probably complain if he didn't. He chuckled softly at the thought.
"What?" Tobias asked.
"You've got me trained so that I remember to keep my shoes off the comforter. I'm hearing your voice in my head telling me that these shoes have been walking through New York City streets all day and don't belong on the bed."
Tobias huffed softly.
Elliot reached down and drew the comforter over both of them. Then he began slowly stroking Tobias's hair.
"You didn't wait up for me," Elliot whispered.
It sounded accusatory, but he found himself anxious at the idea this odd behavior had something to do with the doctor.
Tobias didn't answer right away. "I had a long day today, I guess."
"Want to tell me about it?"
Tobias turned over to face him, and Elliot returned to threading his fingers through the other man's curls.
"Something happened today, Ell."
Elliot kissed his forehead. "You know you can tell me anything, bud."
"I had an appointment during lunch..."
"I know," Elliot interrupted. "I, uh, went to surprise you with lunch and the woman there told me."
Tobias looked at him. "Oh."
"I tried not to worry about it. I thought you just forgot to tell me or something. No big deal, right? So what was it, dentist appointment? Or did you go shopping and use that as an excuse?" he asked, smiling. "You probably wanted an extended lunch, and..."
"No, I really had a doctor's appointment."
Elliot's stomach clenched and he went back to touching Tobias's hair to calm his thoughts.
"It was to discuss my HIV test, Elliot."
"Why didn't...why didn't you tell me?" he croaked, his voice breaking. He swallowed. "I could have come with you."
"I was embarrassed." Tobias looked away. "I still am. I didn't want you to think of me like that."
"L-like how, Tobias?"
"A prison bitch," he muttered, tears starting to roll silently down his cheeks.
"Tobias, I could never think of you like that. Never. You know that."
"But there's so much you don't know, Elliot," he sniffed in response. "Things I've done. Things I've had done...to me. I was afraid..."
"I know, bud, I know you were. But Oz is a long way from here, and..."
"No," Tobias said, "I meant I was afraid for you. That's why I got tested."
"Afraid for me? You mean...what, infecting me?"
Elliot slid his thumb along Tobias's cheek to wipe at the tears. "Is that why you're the one doing everything in bed?"
"Elliot, I couldn't risk..."
"Wait," Elliot said, looking at him. "You said you got tested. As in 'tested' past tense? You didn't have the test today?"
Tobias's face collapsed and he finally broke down into tears.
"Oh Jesus, baby...is that why you've been so distant this past week? Because you were waiting on the results?"
Elliot grabbed him and held him close, feeling Tobias shake in his arms.
"E-Ell..." he stammered, his voice barely above a whisper. "We need to talk..."
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