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Unbeta-ed. Mistakes mine.
Disclaimers: I am only playing with the people from Oz and SVU. They do not belong to me and I am making no money from this.
Copyright: Edgar C. Gambodge, Elizabeth Lightbody, Chris's professor and Mrs. Keller are mine.
Theme: B/K. What happened after what really happened at the end of Season Six. This overlaps with my previous story, "Settling the Bill.
Warning: In my Oz-verse, many of the events from the last two episodes of Season Six are fictitious.
Coming in from the Cold 12/17
Part 12: Things fall apart
Toby is angry because he has just found out Chris went to see Marion while he was still in Oz.
Chris says, "I thought she should know we're together."
Chris is angry because Toby is seeing Pete. Toby defends this saying, "she was a friend in Oz, where I had none."
"What about me?" says Chris.
Toby doesn't say anything. This makes Chris anxious, which makes him angrier.
Toby is angry about Howell too. Chris thinks it's because he has worked out they fucked rather than that Toby suspects Chris killed her.
"At least I didn't fuck anyone else in Oz while I was with you," he tells Toby.
Toby hits below the belt.
"What about Ronnie Barlog?"
"I didn't know we were together then."
Chris gives as good as he gets. But there's one area he can't win in:
"I'm going to stay at Mother's tonight."
But Toby won't be budged. And so:
"Man you age shouldn't be living with his mother."
"You should be living with me" hangs between them unspoken, understood. But:
"Where should I be living?" inquires Toby, picking up his cell phone and keys.
But he comes back. He always does eventually. Until...
The blowout came suddenly one Tuesday afternoon. It had been building for some weeks, although Elliot didn't know it. He came around to visit Chris on the way home from playing basket ball with the twins and found him drunk in front of the TV watching an exercise program led by a blonde woman with enormous breasts. The room reeked of whiskey and despair. Elliot sat down next to him on the couch.
"Beecher's left me," said Chris.
"Why?" asked Elliot, trying to gauge how much Jack Daniels Chris had consumed. A lot by the look of it.
"I called him a bitch."
The reflex question that came to Elliot's mind was "Why?", but he realized he didn't really want to know the details, so instead he said, "That upset him, huh?"
"Yeah. We have an agreement. I don't call Beecher a bitch."
Elliot waited for the other half of the agreement.
"And?" he asked, after a pause.
"That's it." Chris stared fixedly at the TV, watching the cleavage and the bouncing breasts of the instructor who was doing something acrobatic and possibly obscene with an enormous beach ball.
"When did he leave?" Elliot looked about for the remote.
Chris was holding it against his crotch, like an electronic dick. Instead, Elliot took the whiskey bottle out of Chris's other hand and set it on the coffee table.
"Why didn't you call me?"
"I knew where he was. At his Mom's. Doesn't want to talk to me. Same old shit. Only back in Oz, he couldn't run to his Mom. Took me four fucking hours to find him. Wouldn't answer his goddamned phone."
"He'll be back." As the instructor leaned backwards over the ball to leer at the camera and open her legs, Elliot wondered what beach-ball girl would do next.
Chris just shook his head vigorously.
"Not this time. It's over-fucking-kerdovers."
There was nothing for it. Elliot would have to ask.
"So why did you call him a bitch?"
"He accused me of following him around, watching him at work. Stalking shit."
Detective Stabler nudged Brother Elliot.
"And were you?" Elliot asked.
"Yeah," said Chris.
"Oh," said Elliot.
He sat back against the leather of the couch and wondered what to do. He wanted desperately to reach out to Chris, to help in some way. Beach-ball girl was now waggling her ass at the camera. She was indefatigable. Elliot decided to take charge.
"You watching this stuff? Gimme that remote."
"It's Miss Sally."
Elliot made her disappear and tossed the remote onto the coffee table.
"Bitch..." muttered Chris.
Elliot ignored this.
"You want to sober up before or after you tell me what's been happening?"
Elliot went to the kitchen to make coffee. When he came back with two mugs (the pair of navy ones he'd brought Chris so they could have coffee sometimes), Chris started to talk. He'd apparently been following Beecher around and Beecher had caught him at it. Beecher had confronted him, the fight had gotten ugly and he'd left.
Elliot was about to ask why Chris had been following him, when Chris said, "I don't know what I'm gonna do. If we were in Oz I'd make him listen to me like I did last time."
It turned out that last time Beecher had threatened to leave him, Chris had tied him to a chair and threatened him with a knife. He was somewhat hazy on the details of how they had made it up after that. He was wondering now what he should do to make Toby come back this time. Elliot was thinking about what you graduated onto after tying up your partner and threatening them with sharp objects. His job had shown him some very nasty examples. Maybe it was a good thing Cragen had forced him to take leave. Now he could finally be there for Chris when he needed him - before he did something irrevocable. He decided Chris should come and stay with him for a few days until things had calmed down.
"Let's sober you up," he said. "Get you outta here."
"I've got to stay here for Toby, in case he calls."
"He's got your cell number."
"He might come by without calling."
Do him good to wonder where Chris was for a change, thought Elliot, but said nothing aloud.
"Leave him a message with the doorman. Let's go."
He took Chris by the arm. Mistake. Chris threw him off. Shoved him half-way across the room.
"Don't fucking touch me like that!" Chris shouted.
"I'm sorry," said Elliot, raising his hands.
"Not leaving here without Toby," said Chris. "Not safe."
What? Elliot frowned at Chris in puzzlement. This didn't even make sense for drunk-talk. Did he only feel safe with Beecher?
"I'm not leaving here without you," Elliot told him. "You're not safe on your own in the condition you're in."
"'Liot, Toby's in danger."
From you? Elliot tried to think like a cop.
"People want to hurt him and I gotta protect him. I got a gun..."
"Remember I'm still a cop, Chris. If you tell me about a felony, I got to report it."
Or arrest you.
"He wouldn't take it `cos it was violating his parole. So I kept on following him."
"'Liot, if anything happens to me, swear you'll look after Toby."
"Nothing's going to happen to you, Chris."
I'm not going to let you out of my sight.
Elliot sighed. He hadn't sworn an oath since he was a child.
"I swear. Okay?"
He was going to tell Chris to go and sleep it off, when Chris embraced him in a sudden fluid movement as quick as when he'd thrown off Elliot's hand not long ago and whispered into his neck:
"Thank you, thank you. Thank you, Elliot. You're my brother and I love you."
And Elliot felt so overwhelmed by emotion, that all other concerns were erased and he blurted out, "I love you too, Chris."
Chris settled into Elliot's house fairly easily. They liked the same foods. Elliot bought more of them. They wore the same sized clothes. Even after sobering up Chris seemed too depressed to bother about going back to the apartment to get anything. Elliot decided to let Chris wear his stuff. They worked out together when Elliot could get Chris off the couch. Otherwise they watched ballgames. Chris didn't seem to care what he watched.
Chris checked his phone for messages every five minutes and logged onto his e-mail server from Elliot's PC so he could check his messages there too. Nothing from Beecher, judging by his mood. But at least he wasn't trying to sneak out to check up on him. He seemed hollow somehow. A ghost of himself. The way Elliot felt since Kathy and the kids had left. He'd managed to cover it up until Cragen had forced him to take leave. Then there was nowhere to hide.
Elliot found himself coming gradually back to life with Chris around. The house seemed less big and echoing, even though Chris kept pretty much to himself. Just knowing he was in the next room checking his e-mails again made Elliot feel more alive. Almost happy, a feeling he could vaguely remember, but hadn't experienced in years. He started noticing things that needed to be fixed or tidied up around the house. He'd let things go when Kathy had left with the kids. No, before that. Things had started sliding before that. The place really needed attention. As he started fixing things up, he wondered how much he could do in the week that remained before he'd be allowed back at the precinct. After some deliberation he put in for another week's leave. Now if he could get Chris to help him...
Chris for his part watched Elliot's movements through hooded eyes and feigned indifference. It was like watching himself as he might have been if he hadn't been a shit. If he'd been nice and normal: a good husband, a father, a breadwinner. The type of man Kitty, Angie and Bonnie had wanted him to be. Especially Bonnie.
Playing about on the Stablers' computer, Chris came across pocket after pocket of photographs of Elliot, Kathy and the kids. It was Elliot's whole life in pictures. They looked happy for the most part. Really happy. Chris could tell that from the body language. He wondered why the marriage had broken up after so long. Elliot wasn't getting up to all the shit that Chris had. Other than some recent pictures Chris didn't have any photos and for the most part he thought that was a good thing. He tried to imagine for a moment that Elliot's picture perfect life had been his, but it was too much of a stretch.
On a whim he photomanipped recent photos of himself and Elliot together. He had tried to duplicate Elliot in an earlier picture to make a picture of "the two of them" at a younger age. How it might have been. Should have been. But it just looked like two Elliots.
In his private movie, the one where he and Elliot were on the talk show, he imagined going the old New Jersey bungalow, where he last saw his folks more than twenty years ago. He knew that in reality they'd probably retired to Florida or something. But in his mind they'd always be in that living room looking at him as if he were shit. At least his dad would and his mom just followed his lead. She'd've been different if his dad hadn't been around. Would've taken his side, he knew. He liked to give her the benefit of the doubt. In his fantasy, he went back to meet them again after all this time, with the photo of him and Elliot together.
"This is a picture of me and my brother. You tell me which is Elliot Stabler?" he'd say.
They can't. He doesn't think to ask them if they know which is him. He thinks they'd be more impressed by Elliot, who is a cop. His dad always admired cops, especially plain clothes cops. He'd have admired Elliot. Chris turns to face the camera.
"You see? They don't even know who it was they raised."
Sometimes his fantasy involved him going to meet his folks, with Elliot. They still couldn't tell them apart and he and Elliot would pretend to be each other. Another fantasy involved Elliot visiting Chris's parents. He comes back to tell Chris what it was like.
"They thought I was you," he tells Chris over a beer.
"Must've scared the shit out of them," says Chris approvingly.
"Yeah, they seemed a bit tense."
"When'd they realize you weren't me?"
"Don't think they did. Must've forgotten to tell them."
Fantasy Elliot had jizz alright. Real Elliot would probably shake his head in disapproval or laugh in disbelief.
Playing with Elliot's stuff helped take his mind off Toby, so when Elliot suggested he help him clean out his garage, he agreed to help out. Give him a chance to see more of Elliot's life. God, the guy had a lot of stuff. The garage was crammed with boxes of junk. Did they never throw anything away? There was old sports equipment that hadn't been used in years, lampshades that didn't match the present dcor, certificates, books, magazines, small kids' toys, bushels of clothing, mementoes from trips to god-knows-where. Half the mementoes looked Mexican, but Elliot never mentioned visiting Mexico. And of course more photographs, in albums this time.
Elliot was throwing things out. Chris thought Elliot should probably wait for Kathy before he threw out a lot of that stuff. Elliot couldn't part with the albums though. Instead he sat down on a box and waved Chris over.
"Look at this - Maureen's christening. The whole family was there, other than my dad who'd died the previous summer."
Chris was good at reciprocating and supplying emotions on demand. How he'd got close to all his wives in the first place. Toby too, come to think of it. He knew what they needed and he gave it to them. It was almost a reflex. Right now Elliot needed to relive his daughter's christening. So Chris sat down next to him on another box, prepared to be agreeable.
What he wasn't prepared for was seeing a face that had haunted his childhood dreams. Chris had had many nightmares in his life, but only one had the power to haunt him. It was a recurring dream he had had for as long as he could remember.
In the nightmare, a woman whose face he could see clearly and had seen so often that he could describe it in detail had chased him and chased him and he'd ran and ran. Down corridors, across fields, once through a basement filled with clutter. She'd followed him where ever he went. There was nowhere he could hide. She always seemed to know where he was and he would hear her shouting his name, "Christopher! Christopher!" He'd known that if she caught him, something unbearable would happen and he'd disappear forever. Because that's what she did. She made little boys disappear. And here she was in front of him.
"That's my mom," said Elliot.
"I don't remember," Chris said obstinately. "I remember her, but I don't remember you at all. Leave me the fuck alone."
Elliot stared at him, arms folded.
"You got other things to worry about than what happened to you as a kid," Chris added.
"It also happened to you," said Elliot quietly. "All I want to know is..."
"What d'ya need to know? She chose you. Not me. She didn't want me. She only wanted you. She knew."
His eyes glinted angrily.
"Knew what?" persisted Elliot.
"That I'm a shit. Happy now? Got your insight?"
"Chris, that's not true. She told me when I confronted her that she and dad decided they could only take one child. She didn't say anything about choosing me particularly. They didn't know anything about us. They just picked one of us. It could quite as easily have been you."
He let that sink in. Chris smiled a smile that started at his mouth, but didn't go all the way up to his eyes.
"Sure," he said. "Let's get the rest of those boxes out of the garage."
Elliot caught him by the arm as he walked past.
"Remember what you told me when I told you about how my dad said I was a failure as a kid?"
Christ, the guy was a hoarder. Couldn't he let anything go?
"You said a grown man had no right to call a child a failure. You weren't a failure either."
He stared into Chris's eyes. Shit, what did Elliot want from him? Another hug?
"Gotta shift those boxes," muttered Chris. This was starting to remind him of his work detail in Oz, stacking copy paper. Boring as hell and full of unexpected dangers.
"I'll always remember that," said Elliot. "I just want to know what else was in your dream. What else you remember. My mom must have been there the day we were separated. But I don't remember that. I remember other stuff though, when ... when they came to take me away. I just want to know what you remember, `cos you've gotta remember something if you can remember that."
You've gotta remember me. Chris didn't have to be Elliot's twin to hear that in his plea.
"Nah, I know she chose you, `cos she sure as fuck didn't pick me. She left me behind."
She left Chris behind to cry in that room. She must have been the woman who had carried Elliot off, but Elliot could not remember the woman's face at all, just Chris's three-year-old voice crying for his brother.
"I'll make you lunch," said Chris.
"What?" said Elliot.
"About twenty years ago I worked in this Italian restaurant. Bonnie got me the job. We used to make these real great sandwiches for take out lunches. I started out as a waiter, went to work in the kitchen."
Chris didn't tell Elliot (just as he hadn't told Bonnie) that this was where he'd had his first initiation in contracting to the Mob. It had all been great. Lots of money, lots of jizz. `Course it went slightly sour when they found out he was also contracting to the Russians.
There was something else he didn't tell Elliot. In all the years he'd had the dream, one time it had been different. That time the woman had actually caught him and carried him away. And in that dreamlike way he had found himself watching himself being carried away until he disappeared, powerless to stop it happening.
"I barely knew Howell," Toby insisted. "All I knew was that she had a reputation for sleeping with the prisoners."
Seeing Pete's expression, Toby added: "A lot of guys together - prisoners - they'd say anything. I stayed away though."
"I never said you had anything to do with Claire's murder, Tobias," Pete studied him as she poured cream into her coffee.
"I barely knew her," said Toby, gripping his cup with both hands.
"And what about Chris?" asked Pete, stirring her coffee.
"He didn't know her either," Toby replied.
He hoped his answer hadn't sounded too quick. Since staying with his mother again he'd been taking the train to work and had time to work out that Howell's body had been found not too far from the route Chris normally took to campus. He knew that if he could trace Chris's movements he'd discover Chris had taken the train through to campus that day. He didn't want to be right so he had dropped the matter.
"Tobias, I'm not trying to blame either of you for what happened to Claire. She made some very foolish choices in her life and, while I'm not suggesting she deserved what she got, I do think it was almost inevitable."
"I'm sorry, Pete," said Toby and felt it. "It's just... Oz, you know. You get used to being found guilty. People expect the worst of you always - even now, when they find out you've got a record. The other day one of the secretaries at the firm lost her credit card and assumed I'd taken it. It turned out she'd dropped it in her car. She found it when she got home. Had to tell her I hadn't gone down for credit card fraud. Kind of changed the office dynamic."
Pete squeezed Toby's hand.
"I was just asking how Chris was doing. You haven't said anything about him today."
"Uh... Chris and I... we've decided to slow down a bit. I...I need a little time with my family."
"You've fought, haven't you?"
"We fight all the time," Toby told her. "I wouldn't read anything into it."
Pete raised her eyebrows and dug into her carrot cake. She did not say anything. It was almost worse than when she did.
"You don't understand," said Toby. "You never did. When I say I love Chris, I really mean I love him. I'm in love with him, but there's more to it. Sure he's attractive. I find him sexy. He's great in bed."
Pete's eyebrows climbed. Toby pushed on in defiance tinged with desperation.
"Actually the sex is fabulous. But it's not just that. I care about him. I tried not to, the first time I was paroled. I tried to forget him, put him behind me and move on. I couldn't."
"He made sure of that," said Pete.
"No," said Toby. "I did. You see I tried to go back to what I was before Oz, but like you said, maybe I didn't learn what Oz was meant to teach me. I tried to be straight. Have a relationship with a woman. Be normal again. But I'm not anymore.
"I've been thinking about it. Maybe at some level I wanted to break my parole - not to be punished or to go back to Oz, but to be with Chris again. God, I missed him so much. I worried about him all the time. How he was doing, whether he was lonely, whether he was safe. I craved him so much it scared me. Made me stop trusting myself. I felt incomplete without him and half alive."
The way I do now.
"Tobias," said Pete. She didn't say anything more. Just held his hand.
"Pete, I know you think Chris is dangerous, but we're all dangerous under the right circumstances. I'm dangerous. Look at Rebadow. Hell, even Busmalis could be dangerous with certain givens. In Oz the circumstances were right all the time. It's different now. You say Chris is obsessive, but maybe I'm obsessive too when it comes to him. I'm not exactly the poster boy for mental health, remember."
"Is Chris alright without you around?" Pete asked, wondering what he did without Toby there to focus on.
"He sees a lot of his brother," Toby looked guilty.
"I hear they look very similar," said Pete.
"Want to see?" Toby took out his cell phone. "I took this once when they were busy eating. I don't think they noticed."
Two identical profiles over two identical loaded forkfuls of spaghetti bolognaise. Two slightly different leather jackets, two grey sweat shirts. One pair of spectacles.
"Good heavens," said Pete putting on her glasses to see more detail. "They really do look alike. Tim tells me his brother is in the police force?"
"He's a detective with the New York Sex Crimes division. Special Victims' Unit."
Pete looked thoughtful.
"It's a good thing his brother wears glasses. You wouldn't be able to tell them apart otherwise."
"Actually that's Chris. He's been wearing them for a while now. He's always been slightly short-sighted. Luckily I can always tell them apart."
If he could see Elliot's Marines tattoo, that was. He'd had a couple of close calls coming home to Chris's apartment and finding Elliot making himself coffee in the kitchen. The first time he still didn't know they had the same crucifix tattoo. Luckily Elliot called to Chris, who was in the gym, "Beecher's here" before Toby got too close. He shot him a hard look too.
The tattoo threw Toby. Later, when Elliot had gone, Toby asked Chris, "Why has he got your tattoo?"
"It's a birthmark," said Chris deadpan. "We were born like that."
"So all those tattoo stories you told me were just made up? I thought they sounded a little far-fetched."
"You should hear Elliot's tattoo stories sometime," said Chris.
"Must be genetic," Toby quipped.
The second time Toby came home to find "Chris" in the kitchen, he was a little more cautious. "Chris" stared at him. Toby stopped in the middle of the kitchen and said, "Hey". "Chris" relaxed slightly and said "hey" too. "Chris is in the john," he added.
After talking to Pete about Chris, Toby no longer felt angry, just sad and a little guilty. He missed Chris. When showing Chris's picture to Pete, he'd itched to see if there were any messages from him in his inbox. While waiting for Pete to join him in the coffee shop, he'd set his cell to "vibrate", but he hadn't felt anything during lunch. He checked it now. No new voice messages; one text message. He opened it quickly. Mother. When would he be home for dinner? Nothing from Chris. He sighed.
He didn't want his relationship outside Oz to be the same as it had been inside Oz. He knew you couldn't change the past, but he wanted the future to be better. One of the many good things about being out of prison was mobile phones. They allowed you not to do everything face to face. They made facing rejection easier. They made it easier to prevent the same old dance. Things should be different now. He should be different. He could start by telling the truth. Some of it anyway. He started writing a text message of his own.
He wrote: "Hey, I miss U. R U OK?"
He read it through a couple of times. He hadn't gotten the hang of sms speak yet. He hesitated, then pressed "send".
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