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by Blackchaps

art & fanmix by Kate J | art by Beechercreature

PAIRING/UNIVERSE: Stabler/Beecher - this is the second chapter of my One at a Time 'verse. The first chapter is Guilty as Charged in last year's Big Bang. Reading it first will help you understand the plot of this one.
SUMMARY: Chapter two picks up where chapter one left off with Toby struggling with drugs, arguing with Stabler, and trying to figure out his life. For Toby, that's the hardest part of all.
BETA: Suespur - thanks!
WORD COUNT: 25k-ish
WARNINGS: drug use, violence, and far too many adverbs

Toby stood outside the church for longer than could be considered normal. He hadn't called that he was coming, and now that he was here, he didn't want to go inside. Deciding to leave, he took a small step backwards to do just that.

"Can I help you?"

Toby tried a smile, but he felt caught now. "I was looking for the food bank." He hoped he looked innocent and somewhat harmless. He'd left the suit at home, wearing jeans that Rusty said showed off his ass and a nicer shirt.

"You're in the right place." The elderly man smiled wide, wrinkles everywhere. "I volunteer there. Want me to show you the way?"

"That would be nice of you." Toby followed him inside the church - The First United Episcopalian Church - and down wide wooden staircases to a basement. There was a large open room with tables set up in a horseshoe. Men and women were stocking them with different canned goods and boxed foods. Toby saw a woman struggling with a heavy box and helped her without thinking. She smiled and they put out the canned fruit together.

"We always need an extra hand." She smiled. "If you could take over this table, I'll go organize the bags."

"Sure." Toby thought he could do it. It wasn't brain surgery, but he did watch the table next to him just to make sure he wasn't screwing up. Most of the volunteers were the over-sixty set, which made him feel slightly self-conscious. Of course, after months of being the old guy with Shantille and her friends, he should be used to being the odd man out.

"Stop in to help today?"

Toby put the can of peaches that he'd been staring at mindlessly down, feeling stupid. He looked up, not bothering with his fake smile. "Yeah, that okay?"

"Always need people." The guy smiled, looking around the hall with an air of ownership. "John Deakins. I'm the pastor here."

"Toby." He swallowed his last name at the last second, unsure of his welcome and half the way to scared of being asked to leave before he polluted their nice church. "Are you in charge here?"

"Yes. We're privately funded, but I'm the de facto boss." He laughed. "Actually, Mabel runs the show. Don't cross her."

"Got it." Toby liked him instantly. This was the person to talk to, and he asked before Deakins could get away, "Do you have any printed information? Just so I know what I'm getting myself into."

Deakins nodded. "I'll get you a packet. Donations always welcome. We're non-profit."

Toby was glad to hear that. He could investigate their finances legally. Someone caught Deakins by the arm, and Toby went back to unloading cans. He stacked them carefully, wondering when the show would start.

"Fifteen minutes, people!" a tiny woman in a flowery dress shouted. She had a voice like a drill sergeant. That had to be Mabel. She started inspecting tables, and Toby wasn't worried until she glared at him. "Young man, make sure the labels face out!"

"Yes, ma'am." Toby started doing that quickly, hiding his smile at being called young when he felt older than sin. "You're Mabel?"

"And you're…" She didn't look as if she'd be hugging him in thanks for showing up.

"Going to do whatever you say." Toby gave her a small salute. He knew how to kiss ass with the best of them.

"Now that's the right attitude to have!" She marched away. She might have weighed eighty pounds, and it was all sass and muscle. He checked his cans again and saw Deakins smile at him. He thought he was ready, so he took a good look around. A food bank in Manhattan? He was still having a hard time wrapping his brain around it. Poor people? In Manhattan? And where the hell had his brother gotten the idea for this?

There were a lot of unanswered questions, and Toby had no one to ask. The man at the table next to him whispered, "You need about two more cases."

Toby looked around the big room, but didn't see any stacks of food. "Where?"

The fellow pointed at double doors, and Toby beat it through them to find a pantry. He grabbed up a couple of boxes of canned fruit and headed back to his table. Sticking them underneath, he caught the look from Mabel and heard her mumble something about rookies.

"Here we go! No extras!"

Toby hoped no one noticed that he didn't know the rules. People started coming inside, receiving a bag at the door and proceeding around the tables in an orderly fashion. His table was last, and he did his best to smile and help. Mostly, it was women, and they knew what they wanted. He re-stocked as needed, and when Mabel shut the doors, he was on empty. It was time to break down the tables, and he didn't consider leaving. When the floor was clean, Mabel slapped him on the shoulder.

"Good job, rookie." She gave him a harder look now. "Any chance you'll be back on Friday?"

"Twice a week?" Toby liked her. He wasn't sure why, but he did.

"We're open Mondays and Fridays." She nodded. "You're young, but we'll take you."

Toby wasn't sure about all this. He liked helping people, but he didn't know if this was how he wanted to spend his days. "Maybe. What do you pay?" He knew the answer, but he asked to see what she'd say.

"When we can afford it, I put coffee out." Her eyes were starting to get mean. "The word 'volunteer' used to mean something in this country!"

"Got it." He brushed his hair back, satisfied with her. "Bye." He beat it out the door before she made him paint the church or something, and he did it from guilt. Deakins was in the hallway, and Toby slowed down. He wasn't leaving without the information.

"Oh, Toby!" Deakins handed him a manila folder. "I got everything together for you. I hope it's in order."

Wincing, Toby groaned. "I'm busted, aren't I?"

"The law firm called. How many Toby's could there be who might walk through our door?" Deakins shrugged, but he didn't look upset. "And when we began this, I was given a picture of you. You've aged."

"Prison will do that to a man," Toby said and hefted the folder.

"I'm certain that God will help you do the right thing by us," Deakins said, a trace of worry in his eyes. "Thank you for coming here and seeing what we do instead of arbitrarily removing the funds."

Toby held out his hand to see if the pastor would shake it. "I'll be in touch."

Deakins shook Toby's hand firmly, without hesitation, which said a lot about him. Toby caught a cab back to his hotel room. He stretched out on the bed to see where his father's yearly portion from the law firm was going. He'd received his inheritance, and if he managed it instead of buying Ecstasy for his friends, it might see him through until old age. Angus hadn't told him anything about profit sharing, but it was possible that he hadn't wanted Toby to know. After all, Angus's loot was going to the Caymans, not to feed the poor. Maybe they were hiding in the Caymans.

Toby rolled to his back and shut his eyes. He wouldn't look for them. They wouldn't want that, and letting any amount of hope in his life was a huge waste of time and energy. "Shit," he whispered. He rubbed his face and forced himself to look at the information from the church.

His phone rang, and he got it. "Yep?"


"Hi, Benny. What're ya doing?" Toby knew, but he'd ask anyway.


"Benny, it's not even lunch yet." Toby turned the page, spotting one thing right away. There was plenty of extra money for coffee. Mabel was a grinch. Benny was giggling, and the music in the background grew louder. Toby sighed and tried to focus on the words and numbers.

"Hey! When's the funeral?"

"It's Saturday, remember?" Toby didn't think any of them would go. They'd all be high. "How's Maxi?"

"She's still in jail." Benny sounded really high. "I'm gonna go see her next time I can."

Toby hoped that Maxi wasn't counting on it. She was going through detox and was probably mad as hell. He sure as fuck wasn't going to go see her. She might shank him this time. Benny did some more giggling and then hung up. Toby did too. He should change his phone number, but then no one would call him. It rang again, and he wished he could stop answering it.

"What, Benny?" Toby snapped it open again.

"Are ya coming over?" It was Lex. "I kinda miss ya."

"Thanks." Toby was glad Lex had noticed, and it was pathetic. "I'll see you Saturday. Saturday!" he yelled over the music and hung up. The temptation to go over there was incredible. Get a little high, not much, but some, and find someone to fuck around with, and it'd feel good, and he had to turn off his phone. No. No. He wasn't going to do that. There was more to life than all of that, and it would only get him in trouble again. They were too young for him. All his reasons did nothing to eliminate the desire, and he went to take a shower. Fuck, he was a damn loser.


"I got a call from Narcotics," Fin said.

Stabler grabbed his straw and started to chew it. "Can't be good."

"El Termundo is making noise. Word on the street is that there's a certain funeral on Saturday."

"Beecher made the decision to get her from Potter's Field." Stabler couldn't believe that Termundo would open fire at his own daughter's funeral, but people who sold drugs were never predictable. "So, what's Narcotics' plan?"

"Trying to find the funeral so they can send a couple of undercover guys." Fin shrugged. "Just giving us a heads up."

"Hope they keep their heads down." Stabler threw his straw in the trash. Beecher had done a good thing in paying for her to have a real funeral, but he might pay a hefty price. Life was like that.


Toby couldn't stand the hotel one more minute so he grabbed a cab over to the funeral home to make sure that everything was on track. They reassured him that nothing could go wrong, which he doubted, but it was after lunch now so he allowed himself to be placated and hustled out the door. He ate at a corner hot dog stand and watched the people, telling himself again that he wasn't going to get high.

Sister Pete would bust his balls for being an addict again. He wasn't, not really, it was only marijuana, maybe some Ex, but she wouldn't see it that way. If he were honest, he would agree with her. Honesty, however, was over-rated. Stabler would come right out and call him a loser. Toby liked that about him. He never sugar-coated it. Of course, he was an asshole, but that was okay. Toby threw his trash away and seriously considered wandering over to the station house and waiting for him to come out. A look, one long look, would be enough to help him through the day.

Toby's cell rang and he got it after checking to make sure it wasn't Benny. It wasn't.


"Tobias, it's Steven. How are you today?"

"Fine. You?" Toby was very curious as to what this was all about. He walked enough to find a corner to tuck his back into and leaned.

"Good. Thanks." Steven hesitated. "Have you found a place to live yet?"

Toby hoped this call was only about his address. "No. I got a hotel. No furniture. I'm sorta stuck for the moment."

Steven was shuffling papers. "I understand. Are you staying in Manhattan? I have to admit - I was confused to see you living here."

"Well, I--" Toby stalled by switching ears. "I wasn't sure where to go when I got out of Oz. I've always liked New York. California seemed too sunny."

Steven laughed. "Would you let me recommend a real estate agent? She's good, and she won't take you to ten places that aren't in your price range."

Toby took a second to think about it. It would be a real commitment that he wasn't sure he was ready to make. All that he really cared about was his family, not where he slept. "Steven, have you been in contact with my brother?"

"No." Steven didn't sound as if he was lying, but he was a lawyer. "No one here knows where they are. I asked around. I'm sorry."

"Well, thanks." Toby hadn't bothered to get his hopes up, and he made a quick decision based on boredom. "Yes, give this real estate agent my number. I'm looking into this food bank, and the hotel is getting old fast."

"I'm sure she'll be in contact soon." Steven paused. "If you need anything, call me."

"I'll keep it in mind." Toby wasn't going to promise. He liked him fine, but there were limits. "Thank you, Steven."

"Any time." Steven hung up, and Toby put his phone away. He'd assumed that Steven wouldn't call again. This was a surprise. Steven wasn't gay, so what was his motivation? Nothing was free from a lawyer. Toby pushed away from the wall and started walking. The sun was out, and he wasn't behind bars. The day could be worse.


Stabler ate lunch at his desk. He had to push aside some files to make room for his sub sandwich, and the top one hit the floor. He picked it up with a grimace. It was the Oz file on Tobias Beecher. Oswald wasn't quite in the computer age yet, and he should return it. Stabler didn't think he'd be seeing him again.

"Fin, you hear any more about Termundo?"


Stabler ate his sandwich and idly flipped open the file. He still didn't understand how he could look so much like some skel that Beecher had killed in Oz. Stabler went to the back and read about it. He didn't really care, but it was something to do. Keller had screwed up Beecher's parole, and then he'd been shoved off the top of the cell block and died. They'd tacked five for manslaughter onto Beecher's original sentence. He'd done fifteen and gotten out on good behavior. He had sworn that he hadn't done it. Right. Stabler tossed his trash, drank some soda, and slapped it shut.

Beecher was screwed up. That was obvious. Stabler had seen that Beecher was attracted to him. At that party, Maxi had demanded they kiss, but Beecher had found another way to get the information. He should've forced Stabler into a corner, but he hadn't. Stabler hadn't understood then, and he didn't now.

"How are you, Elliot?"

Stabler put on his fake smile for Huang. "Hanging in there." He needed to piss, and he got to his feet. "Just out of curiosity - would you say that Beecher was gay?"

Huang's eyes widened and he cleared his throat. "No. I'd say that prison had a hand in shaping his sexuality."

"You see, I don't get that. The guy was around thirty when he went inside. Had a wife, kids, and then he comes out gay?" Stabler didn't really care. It was interesting. That was all.

"Things are rarely that simple. He was raped, brutalized, and he had to make himself over again. Now he's more open to different types of sexual experiences." Huang frowned. "Did it bother you?"

"Yes." Stabler left it at that and went to the locker room. He didn't get it, and he wasn't sure he wanted to think about it. Case closed.


"What do you think, Tobias?"

Toby looked out the window at the city. "Nice view." He smiled for her. "I know I can afford it, but I think we need to focus our search on smaller properties, something around a thousand square feet. A loft, maybe?"

She nodded and made some notes in her Blackberry. "One bedroom or two?"

"One is more than enough." Toby didn't want to live in a big house, or a big apartment, or anywhere big. He'd spent too many years confined, and he reluctantly admitted that all this open space made him nervous. "I'd like something different, out of the ordinary if you can find it."

"I can tell I have my work cut out for me." But she smiled. "Steven speaks highly of you."

"I'm not sure why." Toby was very confused by all that. "You're his friend?" He lightly emphasized the word.

She blushed, but only a little. "We're engaged. He idolized your father. I think he'd offer you a job, if he thought you'd take it." She laughed nervously, as if she'd said too much.

Toby smiled to reassure her. He hoped that Steven never did. They didn't need to have that embarrassing conversation. "Shall we get together tomorrow? I'm sure you have other appointments."

"Sounds good. I'll have at least two to look at by then." She locked the door behind them. "Would you be willing to get something that needs some work?"

"I'd look at it." Toby wasn't handy, but he had time to learn, and breathing paint fumes might make him crave joints less. He waved goodbye and caught a cab back to his hotel. He'd moved to another one. This one was closer to the precinct, but he had refused to go over there. Stabler didn't like him. Hell, Stabler thought nothing but bad things about him, and they were mostly true.

"Fuck," Toby said. He sat down in the lobby to read the newspaper. There were things he could be doing: studying up on the food bank, shopping for furniture, buying a television, but all he wanted to do was walk two blocks, find Stabler, and ask him for a kiss.

"Some company?"

Toby put the paper down and checked out the talent. "How much?"

"Fifty for a blow, hundred for it all." She was pretty in a hooker sort of way. "Condoms only."

Toby had left them at his destroyed apartment - stupid dog - but that wasn't the point. He wasn't sure he was in the mood. "Forget it. You do pretty well here?"

"Don't even think of horning in on my customers, blondie." She glared and strutted away. Toby laughed. He wasn't a whore yet. Stabler had recommended Toby put his dick in his pants for a year. That seemed excessive, but a week or two might not be a bad idea. Fuck. He should get tested. Maybe that Dr. Huang knew a clinic that was close. Toby bit his lip. He could look in the damn phone book, but what fun was that?

Toby walked to the precinct, found a place to watch the door, and did just that. He didn't see Stabler, and really, there was no reason to expect him to be there. He was probably out shooting people. Toby went through the metal detector and asked to see Dr. Huang. They told him to wait. He sighed, almost changed his mind, and then sat down to wait. This seemed stupid now that he was here. It was apparent that given half a chance, he'd stalk Stabler, hoping for even the smallest glance.

"Can I help you?"

Toby got up fast, wiping his hands down his jeans. "Hey, Doc." He didn't even attempt a smile. "I was hoping to ask you a question, in private."

Huang nodded. "Come to my office."

Keeping his eyes open for Stabler, no sign anywhere, Toby followed him upstairs. Huang's office was big enough and had a cool computer, but Toby wasn't going to sit down. "Nice."

"It's a place to work." Huang sat down behind his desk. "What do you need?"

"A new personality, but seriously, I thought, I might, um, get tested." He felt like a fool, stuttering. "Is there a clinic you recommend that's close?"

Huang nodded, focused on his computer, and printed out the information that he found. "Now why are you really here?"

Toby shrugged, caught in the lie. "Stabler shot anyone else lately?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Huang pulled the page out of the printer and handed it to him. "Call for an appointment."

"Will do. Thanks." Toby knew he should leave, but his feet didn't move. He folded the paper and stuffed it in his pocket. "Do you think, well, that I can ever be normal again?" He wanted those words back instantly. "Forget that I asked."

Huang stopped him from opening the door. "Tobias, I think the man you've become is still a shock to the man you were. Reconciling the two now that you're out of prison is going to be difficult. Drugs might make it seem easier, but in the long run, you're going to have to face who you really are."

Toby lowered his head, unsure how to feel about all that. "How do I know who I really am?"

"Listen to yourself. Don't rely on alcohol or drugs or another person. What does Tobias want, like, and feel?" Huang said all those words so easily, and Toby hoped the shrink couldn't see how much they hurt him.

"I tried that once and everyone died or left," Toby said, aching on the inside. "It's easier to fade away."

Huang's office door opened, nearly hitting them both.

"Huang, we could use your help."

Toby had wanted to see him, and there he was. He was still gorgeous, and he smelled good, and he was so much like Chris. Stabler had it all, and Toby was afraid to take a deep breath as shame poured over him.

Huang gave him a brief look, betraying no emotions at all. "I'll be there in a moment, Elliot. Is there anything else, Tobias?"

"No. Thanks." Toby couldn't even manage to look at him. The word 'slut' seemed to hang in the air between them. "Sorry I bothered you."

"It wasn't a bother."

Toby got the hell out of there, refusing to look above Stabler's shoes as he slipped away. He practically ran back to his hotel, slamming the heavy door to his hotel room. Furious, he crumpled up the page Huang had given him and threw it. "Fuck me."


"What'd the skel want?" Stabler had to ask Huang. It was chewing at him, and the look on Beecher's face could only be described as despair, and that made no sense at all.

Huang's eyes seemed to look right through him. "Name of a clinic. He needs to be tested."

"Guess he's forgotten how to use a phone book." Stabler couldn't manage a laugh. He'd nearly made out with a guy who was probably HIV positive. The idea was damn frightening.

"He's trying to get clean. He was reaching out." Huang pointed through the glass. "Unlike Tobias, guilt will never work on this guy. He's proud of himself. Get him to brag about it. He wants to tell the world about raping her."

Stabler rolled up his sleeves. He had to get back in there. He'd think about Beecher later.


"What do you think?" She was cautious now. This was the fifth property they'd looked at, and he hadn't been willing to live in any of them. He went to one of the two windows again. The church was about five blocks away, and the precinct a few more than that in the opposite direction. He'd tried to leave the area, but Stabler kept pulling him back. It was absolutely stupid.

"I like the neighborhood." He did. It was older and had more trees. The fire escape came up to the window in the bedroom, and he went back to it. He opened it up and climbed out. Nice view and he took a deep breath.

"Are you sure it's big enough?"

Toby nodded. It was a loft, but someone had built a partition that made up a rough bedroom. It was small, but the ceiling was high. Wood floors, a kitchenette, and posts that touched the ceiling made up the rest. The bathroom was only a shower, a toilet, and a sink, but that was enough. "I'm surprised this is for sale."

"It was rent controlled, but that ended, and now the owner is selling each apartment." She smiled. "This is a real bargain."

Toby pointed at the opposite wall. "It's the mural that drives everyone away."

"It is a touch bizarre, but nothing some paint wouldn't cover." Her smile never dimmed. He made sure the appliances worked - there was even a stacked washer and dryer tucked into the corner - and he knew this was the place for him.

"What about neighbors?"

"There's one more apartment on this floor, but I understand it's been sold to a couple of newlyweds." She checked her Blackberry. "They have a dog."

"If it's a German shepherd, I'm leaving." Toby was dead serious. He wasn't living anywhere near one of those disgusting animals.

She frowned. "I could ask."

"You do that." Toby walked back to the partition and gave it a push. It moved a little. "And this thing has got to go."

"You're sure?" She wasn't talking to him. "My sale rides on this."

Toby waited. He did want this place. She clicked off. "It's a Chihuahua."

"Give him his asking price plus ten grand." Toby could live near a yappy dog. "I'll go say hello to the neighbors." He walked out and knew she was scurrying to get the paperwork in her car. Their bid would be in by the end of the day. He knocked on his neighbor's door, but no one answered. They probably worked. Dimly, he could hear high pitched barking, and he was reassured. He went back to what he hoped would be his new place and smiled. This was what he wanted.

Huang had said to figure out what made him happy. He could do it. Of course, the old Tobias would be appalled, but ex-con Toby thought it was pretty cool. He slid down a wall to sit on the floor and laughed. God, he was fucked up.

"I have a tentative agreement. The owner likes our price." She beamed. "Let's go back to my office and put the paperwork in motion."

"Good enough." Toby got to his feet. "Maybe I could take you and Steven out to dinner tonight?"

"That'd be lovely. I'll email him and ask." She was nice, and she'd worked hard for him. He spent the rest of the day signing papers and trying to push the sale through so he'd have a place to live as soon as possible. Luckily, there was no one to move out, and he didn't have to secure a loan. The thought of all that cash so quickly convinced the seller to let him move in tomorrow.

"I'll meet you there in the morning with the keys," she said, smiling. "When you decide what you want, you don't fool around."

Toby shrugged. The problem was that he never knew what he wanted. All the things that he'd cared about were gone, and they weren't coming back, and the one man that he would've killed for was dead.

"Ten a.m.?"

"Sounds perfect."

Toby had a sudden thought. "No. Wait. I have to be at the church at ten. Let's make it one."

She looked surprised. "That'll be fine. Steven says that we'll take you up on that dinner as soon as he finishes the Renke case."

Toby managed a laugh, but he knew he was being blown off. "Remember, you're not marrying a lawyer, you're marrying the firm."

Now her laugh was forced. "I'll write that down."

Toby gave the marriage six months. He made a mental note not to ask them again. Apparently, Steven's friendship went only as far as drumming up business for his fiancé. "Tomorrow, then." He beat it out the door and walked until he found a cab. The next two days he'd be busy, but tonight he had nothing to do but wish he could go over to Benny's to get high.

Instead, he tucked up his balls, had the cab drop him at the precinct, and walked the parking lot until he found Stabler's sedan. He slid up on the hood, took a deep breath, and remembered Stabler's crotch pressing into his ass. Now, if Stabler was going to be at Benny's, Toby would beat a path over there, but the metal of the car was all that was pushing into Toby's ass, and he knew he was being an idiot. Fixating on Stabler was not the way to beat his other addictions. It hadn't worked with Chris, who really had been better than dope and it sure as fuck wouldn't work with a cop.

Huang would tell him to get a life, not another problem. Toby shoved his hair out of his face and checked the time - hours and more hours of being alone. Years he'd spent surrounded by men and now… nothing.

"Get the hell off my car."

Toby got off fast before he looked at him. One glance was enough to confirm that Stabler still didn't like him, and he said, "Sorry." He started walking for his hotel.

"Beecher! You still going on Saturday?" Stabler's voice carried easily.

Toby stopped, but he didn't turn. "Yes."

"Be careful."

Toby got the hell out of there before he was arrested for trespassing. He cursed his need and his want and his lack of control and hurried to put distance between them before he made an utter and complete fool of himself.


Stabler frowned and watched him practically run away. For some reason, he'd thought that Beecher wanted to talk. Beecher had just wanted to sit on a car? Was he high again? Stabler rubbed his forehead and drove slowly after him. He didn't seem to notice, and Stabler trailed him to a hotel that wasn't far from the precinct.

"What the hell is he up to?" Stabler reminded himself that he didn't care and went towards home. If it happened again, he'd know he was being stalked, but stalkers didn't usually walk off looking ashamed. He sighed. It was better not to try to figure out why - it would only make his brain hurt.


Toby dropped onto the bed. "Fuck!" He'd looked like a damn fool. He hadn't thought that Stabler would come out. Stupid. Stupid! Getting up quickly, he pissed and washed his hands. The balled up paper from Huang was still sitting by the sink. The maids here were so good at their job. He picked it up to throw it away, but… he sat down again. It was time to deal with this. Time to know so he didn't hurt anyone else. Condoms did break. A broken condom had led him here. Shantille had said not to worry but…

"Hi, I need to make an appointment." He wrote down the time and date they gave him and hung up. He'd go. His phone rang and he checked to see who it was. "Hi, Lex."

"Toby-wan, are you coming to the big party before the funeral?" Lex told someone to shut up that he was on the phone and that gave Toby time to find an answer.

"Lex, I'm trying to get clean." Toby rested his forehead against his hand. "Try not to get so stoned that you miss the funeral."

"I'll still be up." Lex sighed. He didn't sound high - not yet. "I went by your place. The landlord said you were in jail."

"No. He threw me out. I'm looking for a new place." Toby tried to make a joke. "You don't need an old guy like me around."

Lex said nothing for a second. "Not the same without you and Shantille." And he hung up.

Toby turned his phone off. He was not talking to Benny tonight. Lex wasn't a complete stoner like most of the guys at the party. He had a job, and he'd wanted to marry Shantille. Toby went down to the bar to have a club soda and smoke a cigarette. He didn't know why the fuck he was trying to get clean. It wouldn't last. It never did. He liked it too damn much, and he didn't have anyone to do it for, which was lame, but the truth.

Sister Pete had told him to do it for himself. Huang wanted him to find out what he wanted. Shrinks thought they had it all figured out. Did they ever consider that he wanted to get high, for himself? They took one look at his geek face and assumed he was struggling to become a better man. Well, he'd tried that, and it hadn't turned out so well. Chris was dead because Toby had opened up a can of self-righteousness on him.

"Why so glum?"

Toby flicked the ashes off and didn't smile at her. "I'm alone."

She sized him up. "Not traveling?"

"Staying here while I close on my new place." Toby shrugged. He made a motion for the bartender to get her another of whatever she was having - some sort of white wine.

She didn't smile. "Thank you. I thought maybe you were hiding from the wife."

"Nah. She's dead." Toby noticed her slight shock. "Long time ago. Kids are grown. You know, life moves on."

"It does, with or without us." She sipped her wine. "Dori Anderson. You?"

"Toby Beecher." Toby moved to the barstool closest to her. He hadn't seen her around the hotel before now, and she had a look about her that made his prison instincts itch. "You always talk to strange men?"

"Are you strange?" Her eyes glinted.

"Pretty much." Toby finished his club soda and regretted that it wasn't a scotch on the rocks. He fiddled with his cigarette, catching her slight smile. "Did you have dinner?"

"Not yet." Dori played it so cool.

Toby was interested in a game. It was better than watching TV. "You could buy," he said slowly and smiled.

She laughed now. "You are a charmer. I better watch out for you."

"Always a good idea." Toby put out his cigarette. "Can I get the steak?"

Dori smiled. "I think my expense account can stand it. Do we need reservations?"

"Nope." Toby got up and waited for her to collect her purse. It wasn't a night club purse. It was one of those big bags that a woman can put a gun inside. Her dress and shoes said party, her purse said differently. Well, he wasn't busy tonight. This might be entertaining.


Stabler didn't recognize the number, but he answered it. "Stabler."

"This is Espinoso over in Narcotics. I saw you talking to Tobias Beecher today."

"Skel was sitting on my car." Stabler muted the television. "What's going on?"

"We're trying to get someone close to him. Wanted to give you a heads up."

Stabler wished they weren't involving him. "Man or a woman?"

"Woman." Espinoso hesitated. "Did we pick the wrong sex?"

"Maybe so." Stabler thought quickly. "He's not selling."

"We'll decide that. He might be our way to Termundo."

Stabler wasn't going to argue about it. "I'm staying out of it, but for the record, it's a bad idea. Beecher is smart."

Espinoso hung up. Stabler tossed his phone. He didn't want to be called every time someone looked at Beecher, and Narcotics always seemed to get someone killed. It was the drugs - made people crazy. Beecher might end up dead. Stabler turned the volume back on loud. It wasn't any of his damn business.


Toby let the meal last. He even ordered dessert. She was growing more congenial by the minute, and most guys would have thought it was the wine. He knew better. He was enough of an alcoholic to know when someone was nursing their drinks, pretending to be a little drunk. She was waiting for him to put the moves on her. She wanted it. It was all too easy.

"Advertising must be a fascinating job. Ever get any big accounts?"

She licked her lips. "Not yet. I have to work my way up the ladder."

"Damn ladders." Toby smiled. He nudged her bag with his foot. There was something large in it. He reached across the table, took her by the hand, and asked, "Narcotics? Or FBI?"

Dori's eyes gave her away, but she was good. He had to admit it. Her face showed nothing. "The better question is Nike or McDonalds?" She smiled brightly.

Toby nodded. "Sorry I'm so suspicious. Nice girls don't usually like me." Usually it was the bad boys who came after him. "My room or yours?" He cut right to the good stuff.

"Mine has a hot tub." She rubbed his hand. Toby gave her hand a gentle kiss. She was hanging tough, but he could smell the panic.

"Want me to get the check?" He pulled away and wiped his mouth with his napkin. She insisted on paying, and he let her. Cops owed him that much. They went back out to the main lobby, and she was sticking with it. He was almost proud of her. Toby tugged her into an alcove and measured her willingness by her kiss. Weak. Very weak. He'd had better from straight guys in prison.

"It's been fun, Dori, but I have to get up early tomorrow. Thanks for dinner," Toby said, tired of the game.

She caught him by the arm. "I'm in town all week. Can we get together again?"

Toby shrugged. "Tomorrow, I'm volunteering at my church, and then I have to move." He left out the part about the funeral where he hoped to avoid being killed by a major drug lord. "Thanks again."

Dori bit her lip. Panic had ramped up to desperation. "Tobias, a nightcap?"

"I didn't tell you my full name. This was fun, but you're a cop." Toby walked away from her, but he was laughing. She was calling in backup right now, and he smiled at the obvious cop that met him right outside his door. "Dinner was great. Thanks."

"Cut the crap, Beecher." The cop flashed his badge. "Detective Espinoso. We need to talk."

Toby leaned back against his door. "I didn't mind talking to Dori, but I'm not so big on you."

"Oh, yeah? I hear you like guys." Espinoso moved closer and licked his lower lip. "I just sent the wrong crew."

"I'm not taking you to the funeral. Forget it." Toby smiled his best empty prison smile. He was burying her under a false name, and now he knew the cops were scrambling for a location.

Espinoso managed to get closer. "Going in alone is stupid, and lawyers ain't stupid."

"Do you know where the funeral is?" Toby snagged Espinoso's hips. "Lover."

"Word is that El Termundo is showing up, but we don't know where." Espinoso worked his hips in a circle. "I made a mistake sending a classy lady. I should've sent a rent boy."

Toby laughed. He wasn't insulted. "Should've asked Stabler. Poor department communication gets you every time. I take you, and Termundo will smell you. You'll die, and I don't need that guilt on my soul."

Espinoso shrugged. "Good enough. I'll tail you."

"Your decision." Toby slid his hands up, checking out those abs. "I got a joint. Wanta share?"

"You're playing with fire, slut."

Toby laughed, shoved him back, and went inside. He threw all the locks. Bravado aside, he was worried. If he came in dragging a shit load of cops, all hell could break loose. He turned on the TV and crawled on the bed. All he'd wanted was to do something nice, and it had set all this shit in motion. He should've known better. With a sigh, he got out the information from the food bank again and started reading. Eventually, he'd have to decide what to do about that. Of course, if Termundo killed him, it wouldn't matter.

His phone rang and he ignored it.


"Stabler, we want you to talk to him. Get him to agree to take one of us as his girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever." Espinoso planted his butt on the edge of Stabler's desk.

Stabler wasn't going to snap out an answer. He leaned back in his chair, glanced at Fin, and asked, "Where is he now?"

"Some church, working at the food bank." Espinoso rolled his eyes. "Bunch of crap."

"Charity starts at home." Fin didn't believe it either. Stabler wasn't so sure. Beecher had had a wake-up call, and he might be trying to clean up his act. It was possible.

"Tail him." Stabler shrugged. "We shot him. He doesn't look at us with much charity."

Espinoso groaned. "We go busting in there, and we're gonna get shot."

"What's your agenda? Are you going to try to arrest Termundo?"

"Hell, no." Espinoso shook his head. "We want to get someone's foot in the door. Sure, we know he's killing people, but we got no proof. None."

Stabler noticed that Cragen was listening. "I could ask him."

"He did take you to that, um, witness." Fin mumbled the last word. Stabler wanted to forget the party, not try to get mileage from it.

"Cooperate with Narcotics, Elliot." Cragen made it an order. "It costs us nothing."

Stabler made sure not to curse. Espinoso grinned. "Give Beecher whatever he wants."

"Not damn likely," Stabler muttered. He knew what Beecher wanted, and it was him, and it sure as hell wasn't happening.


"Ah, shit," Toby said when he saw Stabler come through the doors. The cop definitely wasn't here for the macaroni. Mabel headed right for him, and he flashed his badge and pointed. Toby groaned. Everyone was looking now as Stabler came right to him.

"Hey, Stabler." Toby caught the look from Mabel. She was not happy.

"We need to talk." Stabler frowned. He didn't look happy either.

Toby tried to smile. "Can it wait until we're done? I'll stop by."

Stabler stepped behind the table, and the line started moving again. Toby noticed that Mabel was listening. Stabler was chewing the inside of his lip. "I can wait."

Toby went back to passing out food. It was like working with a linebacker behind him. By the time Mabel shut the doors, Toby was sweating. Stabler hadn't really moved, but he radiated disapproval.

"Toby, take your business elsewhere," Mabel snapped.

Stabler looked surprised, and Toby didn't have a leg to stand on. "Sure," he mumbled and got out of there with Stabler right behind him. The fresh air filled his lungs, and he sat down on a stone ledge.

"What the fuck do you want?"

"We could get some lunch." Stabler looked away and back.

Toby let the anger out, pointing back inside. "They could've used my help. Why the fuck are you busting my balls? Lunch? Tell me what the hell you want!"

"We need to talk. Really talk. It may take a minute." Stabler frowned. "Go help them clean up. I'll wait for you."

"You made me look like shit for this?" Toby went back inside, ignored the funny looks, and helped break down the tables. His anger pulsed inside him. Stabler would always treat him dirty, but today seemed over the line.

Mabel caught him by the arm. "Are you in trouble?"

"Usually." Toby wasn't going to pretend otherwise. "I'm not going to lie and say he's my cousin."

"At least you're honest." She turned him loose. "We do appreciate the help."

"But this place doesn't need any trouble. The people look nervous enough." Toby caught her relief at his understanding. She was smart and tough and he liked her for her honesty. "Mabel, you have sons?"

"No." Mabel raised her hand. "Five daughters. Five of them."

"Oh, my." Toby rubbed his forehead. That was a lot of girls. "Well, you're guaranteed a spot in heaven. St. Peter will probably put you in charge of the door."

Deakins had come up, and he laughed. "I'm in real trouble then. Toby, did you have a chance to look over the material I gave you?"

"Yes." Toby wasn't sure what to say beyond that. "Given the size of the contributions, I'm surprised that your operation isn't larger."

Mabel nodded. "I've been saying that for years, but the pastor feels like we should stay small and conserve our resources."

Toby didn't have any trouble reading between the lines. "You were putting it away for a rainy day."

"For the day our benefactor abandons us. I hate to have to turn people away. If we stay small, we can help them longer." Deakins spread his hands. "It's a dilemma when you have a single, private donor."

"No other resources?"

"The occasional check, which we put in our Thanksgiving fund." Deakins smiled at Mabel. "She insists that we get turkeys. They're expensive."

"I'd imagine." Toby liked these people. He felt caught. They'd operated on the belief that he'd show up and stop the checks. He could and they'd get by, but he wouldn't feel good about it. "Perhaps we could gain the cooperation of a few restaurants. They throw out tremendous amounts of food."

Deakins slowly nodded. "Would you like to be in charge of that project?"

Toby had to laugh. "Well, I certainly worked myself into a corner. I'll think about it, and we can discuss it on Monday. Now, excuse me, Detective Stabler is waiting for me." He left without trying to decipher the looks on their faces. If he lived through the funeral tomorrow, he'd try to tackle the project of getting them more food. Right now, he had to deal with Stabler and Narcotics and Benny and moving and fuck knew what else.

Stabler was in his car, and Toby got in the front. He grabbed hold of the conversation. "I have less than an hour before I have to meet my real estate agent. Could you drive me to my hotel, let me get my stuff, and take me there?"

"You'd owe me." Stabler got the car started.

"Not very much. We can talk along the way, which was your idea." Toby rolled down his window, needing a break from the smell of him. "Thanks for giving them the impression that I was under arrest."

"Not a problem. Be glad I didn't distribute your sheet." Stabler smirked at him. "Vehicular manslaughter, DUI, drug charges, assault, oh, and manslaughter in the second."

"The drug charges were dropped," Toby growled. He wasn't amused. "They're nice people."

"You, on the other hand aren't all that nice, and you're usually high. Why don't you volunteer at an animal shelter where people can't get hurt?"

Toby wanted to hit him. "Shut the fuck up. It's my food bank. I'll volunteer there if I want."

Stabler stopped for a light. "What?"

"Never mind." Toby looked out the window and kept his eyes there. They did nothing but bitch at each other, and he still wanted to reach over and check out Stabler's equipment - for about an hour. "Turn--"

"I know where you're staying." Stabler turned and parked. "Why were you on my car?"

Toby felt off-balance, out of control, and he took several deep breaths to steady himself. Stabler was here, and that might mean he was in real trouble with Narcotics. He went inside, and Stabler followed him. He got his clothes together, considered stealing the coffee pot, and said, "I was bored. Nothing else."

"You're in deep shit, and I'm here to give you a hand out."

Toby snorted in disbelief, but didn't answer. He picked up his bags, tossed the key card on the bed, and went to check out. Stabler waited. Toby signed, thanked them, and headed back to the car. Stabler didn't offer to help. Toby tossed his stuff in the back seat and gave him the address.

"That's a nice, older neighborhood." Stabler got them moving. "You renting?"

"Bought a loft apartment." Toby didn't bother to lie. Stabler was a cop, and they didn't respect privacy. Toby put his hands on his legs and vowed to keep them there. "You talked to Espinoso, huh?"

"Yes." Stabler gave him a sideways look. "He wasn't happy."

"Poor guy." Toby licked his lips. He could almost taste him. "They should've leveled with me instead of sending some woman to seduce me into taking her to the funeral. How stupid was that?"

"I agree. I think they like the undercover stuff a little too much."

That was a surprise. Toby picked up the light and started to mess with it. It came on, and he watched it spin before shutting it off. "Stupid idea. Termundo may kill us all, and the cops need to stay out of it."

Stabler parked, and Toby jerked when a big hand landed on his leg. "You need some backup."

Toby looked at the hand and was very afraid he'd groaned. Stabler turned him loose, and Toby got out fast. He spotted his real estate agent, and she handed him the keys.

"It's all yours." She smiled. "Look it over one more time and we'll sign the final paperwork."

Toby got his things from the sedan. Stabler didn't look as if he were getting out. Toby said quietly to him, "I'm not taking Espinoso."

"Let me make a call." Stabler didn't sound happy. Toby went upstairs with her. He dropped his stuff inside the door and smiled. It felt like home. She got out a pile of paperwork, and he signed on the line. He was glad when it was done, and he walked her to the stairs. The neighbors were coming up, and the dog was indeed a small one - thank God. Toby introduced himself and they didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave.

"Hey, do you two have a partition?" He didn't like it at all. It practically had bars, and he'd had enough of that shit.

They looked at each other. "What do you mean?"

He took them inside and showed them. The husband shook his head. "It's very cool, but no."

"You like it? It's yours." Toby wanted it gone. "I'm going to throw it out."

The wife frowned. "We can't just take it." She suddenly smiled. "We do have an extra couch. How about a trade?"

"Deal." Toby didn't care what it looked like - it'd be a place to sleep tonight. "Do you think it'll come apart?"

"I've got tools." He smiled.

Toby laughed when the wife rolled her eyes at that statement. They all worked together to get the partition out and the sofa in his half of the top floor. The dog didn't help. Toby hoped that Stabler had left, but he turned up about the time the sofa hit the floor. The neighbors made their excuses and were gone. Toby opened the windows to let in some fresh air and watched Stabler look at the mural.

"Not my style." Stabler's eyes were taking in every brick and board.

"I like it. It's chaotic." He might paint over it, but he might not. Chaos was his life right now. "I'm going to order pizza."

Stabler pushed off his suit jacket. "Get soda."

Toby called in the order and went to lean against the windowsill that led out to the fire escape. "I'm waiting to hear it."

"El Termundo is dangerous, but we have no evidence to tie him to any crimes. Narcotics is looking to get someone inside his operation. They think you're the ticket." Stabler sat on the sofa. "Now this ain't bad. You gonna leave it in the middle of the floor?"

Toby rubbed his face, unwilling to discuss furniture. "I don't know him. I'm not selling, and he might kill me. I'm not an asset."

"They disagree. You have credentials." Stabler smiled, but it was false. "It's that rap sheet again. He'll never suspect you."

"Sounds really stupid. Lex and Benny, if they show up, will know it's a fraud. They may open their big mouths." Toby stripped off his sweaty shirt and went to wash up. He needed to think, and it was hard with Stabler looking at him. Towels, he'd need towels. Shit. He had a lot of crap to buy. Living in a furnished dump had been easier. He dried off with the dirty shirt and went out to get a clean one. A dresser. He was going to need one of those, and he didn't have a closet, so maybe storage of some sort. When he turned around, Stabler was looking at him.

"Dog do that?" Stabler felt the need to comment about Toby's ugly body. It was rude.

Toby clenched his jaw, swallowed hard, and refused to yell at him. He hadn't thought to hide his scars, and he should have. The fact that he hadn't suggested that he felt comfortable around Stabler, and that was a big mistake. He glared and kept his answer short.

"Yes." He would not re-visit that memory. "The idea is completely moronic. I don't want to be responsible for one of you cops dying."

"Not even me?" Stabler flashed him a grin.

He walked over to stare at the mural, praying that the pizza showed up soon. He didn't want Stabler dead. He wanted him on the sofa, legs open wide. "Why doesn't Narcotics send someone with Benny? That would be the perfect cover."

Stabler seemed to think about it. "They don't have a hold on Benny. They do on you."

"If Termundo starts killing, we're all dead." Toby shrugged. He should worry, but he didn't have that much of a life. "I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

"Not really." Stabler eased to his feet. He was a big guy, like Chris, and he took up room. There was a fast knock on the door, and he got it. Toby watched him pay and bring the stuff inside. They ate on the sofa with the pizza between them.

"Elliot, can't you guys leave me alone?" Toby asked quietly. "I'm trying to get clean."

Stabler's eyes snapped up. "I know, but it was your misfortune to involve yourself with the daughter of a drug lord, and here we are. Narcotics won't take no for an answer. They'll keep pushing until they find a way to force you to do what they want."

Toby knew what that meant. They'd plant drugs on him or dig up someone who remembered him buying. "I should've moved away."

"Maybe so. Too late now." Stabler wiped his mouth. "You get tested yet?"

"Why? You want to fuck me?" Toby saw the anger on Stabler's face, but he didn't care. His test was none of Stabler's damn business. "Huang should shut up more often."

Stabler drank some soda. "Shrinks." He shrugged. "I recommend you accompany me to the precinct, do what Espinoso tells you to do, and don't worry about the consequences. This thing is out of your hands."

"Those consequences may see me dead, and while that may make you happy, but I'd rather avoid it if at all possible." Toby shut the box and went to stuff it in the fridge. He had to get some groceries. Damn it. "There's a party tonight."

"You can still get clean." Stabler picked up his coat.

"Guess I'll start over Saturday, if I'm alive." Toby grabbed his drink. He was going. The decision had been made. "I may need rehab."

"I know a place or two." Stabler got the door. Toby shut off the light and locked up. He was a fool, and he was going to wind up dead, but they had him by the balls.


Stabler put Beecher in a room with Espinoso and walked away. It wasn't his case, his business, or his concern. His part of this was over. It was out of his hands. Beecher had put himself on this path by getting high with Shantille.

"Glad it's not me." Fin didn't look up.

Stabler wasn't sure what to say. The memory of Beecher's scars was in front of his eyes, and he opened the file to find out how Beecher got them. It took a little bit of searching, but he found the hospital report.

Inmate: Tobias Beecher - 97B412
Admitted: January 25, 2004
Injuries: Severe lacerations on chest. Some soft tissue damage.
Treatment: Over a hundred stitches. Pain pills administered for one week. No rabies shots required.

Stabler almost winced. He flipped the page and there was the report from the CO. It was simple and straightforward. Beecher had been inciting a riot with several Muslims, and the dog had been turned loose to quell the violence.

"What a bunch of bullshit," Stabler whispered. The CO had most likely set the dog on some prisoners for fun. It happened. No wonder Beecher had nearly thrown up when the drug dog had barked at him. Stabler shut the file and put it in his bottom drawer. He was done - for real this time.


Toby tried to keep his temper. He really did, but he finally lost it. "Listen, you stupid fucker, whoever you send with me tonight has to be willing to get high and get fucked! Otherwise, they'll stand out like a sore thumb!"

"I understand that, hombre. Sit the fuck down." Espinoso smiled, but it was an ugly sight. "You want a guy or a girl?"

"It doesn't matter. Everyone knows I like both." Toby sat down and put his head in his hands. He didn't want to do this. He didn't want the responsibility. "Stupid. So fucking stupid."

"Let us handle it. You do your thing."

"Are you going to arrest me when this is over?" Toby slapped the table like he'd seen Stabler do.

Espinoso got to his feet. "No, but I will if you don't help us." He encouraged Toby up, pushed him against the wall, and frisked him. Toby knew what was next and only dragged his feet a little. He turned his back so he didn't have to watch the bars slam in his face. Espinoso wasn't finished yapping. "I'm not taking any chances on you running. I'll be back, and you'll go party."

Toby sat down on the concrete, put his head on his knees, and shoved his emotions into line. He would not cry or feel bad. That was a waste of time. He would get pissed and stay angry until this was over.


Toby looked up. "Hey, Doc."

"What's going on?" Huang looked confused.

"Narcotics says I get to party with them. I reluctantly agreed since I don't want to be arrested." He rubbed his eyes to make sure there weren't any fucking tears. "I did get an appointment for next week. Thanks for the info."

"Good." Huang squatted down. "Are you high now?"

Toby put his head back on his knees. He was going to get fucking wasted tonight. One last blast, and if Termundo didn't kill him, he'd get clean. Again. Mabel wouldn't like him handing out food and giggling. Toby thought Shantille would approve. She'd liked him when he was feeling good. Of course, he did whatever she said then, but she was dead and part of the fault was his, so he was going to do this for her. Charity - that's what it was.


"Elliot, is Tobias Beecher under arrest?"

"I don't think so." Stabler didn't look right at him. "Want me to check?"

Huang stepped so Stabler had to focus on him. "He's in lockup. He said Narcotics put him there."

Stabler wasn't surprised. They were protecting their investment. "Narcotics wants him for an operation. He doesn't have much of a choice."

Huang stuck his hands in his pockets. "It will be difficult for him to stay clean if he's involved with that type of people."

"Staying clean ain't what they have in mind." Stabler didn't want to discuss it any longer. He headed for the locker room, and he didn't glance at Beecher. He didn't.


Toby looked up when he heard the lock click. He got up and avoided the guy who was shoved inside.

"Hey." Blond, blue eyes, and rugged: he looked strung out.

"Hey," Toby said. He didn't want to fight. "You high?"

"Not anymore." The guy sniffed and rubbed his nose. "Eric. You?"

"Toby." He sat back down. Time didn't seem to be passing, and he had about decided that they'd forgotten him when Espinoso opened the door.

"You two losers beat it." Espinoso smiled. "Have fun at the party."

"Asshole." Toby flinched when Eric put his arm around him.

Eric laughed. "Brothers or lovers?"

"Brothers." Toby wasn't touching him. "Let's go get some condoms."

"I got a box in my car." Eric kept hold of him. "This'll be fun."

"You are high," Toby muttered. What he wanted to do was run to Stabler and beg him to fix this, but instead he was going to party and pray no one killed him. Eric's car was a beater, and Toby filled his pocket with condoms. "Any Ex?"

Eric pointed at a packet on the seat. Toby put some in his other pocket. "Good stuff?"

"Excellent quality." Eric held out his hand. Toby watched him pop one. The world was going to be a blurry place for a while, and that's how he liked it.


Stabler saw them leave. Beecher was doing it. They'd made him. He might never beat drugs again after this. It was his own damn fault, but somehow it wasn't.

"Going home, Elliot?" Cragen asked.

"Yeah. I'll be in Tuesday, okay?" Stabler knew he'd need a short break to clear his head after tonight.

Cragen nodded. "Good enough, and Elliot, stay out of their investigation. That's an order."

"I won't go near it," Stabler lied.


Toby introduced Eric to everyone. They all believed he was Toby's brother. Eric was high, and that helped. He immediately found a girl to kiss, and Toby found Benny in the kitchen. "Hey, Benny."

"I'll be fucked! Toby-wan!" Benny grabbed him and kissed him. "Treats?"

Toby gave him some Ex. "Damn good stuff. My brother, Eric, scored it."

"Cool." Benny kept hold of him. "You bring that tight-ass boyfriend of yours?"

"Hell, no. Dumped him." Toby kissed Benny again. "He had a nice ass, but that stick wouldn't come out."

Benny laughed. "Missed you."

"It wasn't that long." Toby rubbed Benny's crotch. "Any for me?"

"Shit. I just fucked someone!" Benny groaned. "Give me thirty minutes. I'll take a blue pill."

Toby laughed. He backed up, bumped into Biggun, and shared a joint with him. Higher and higher, and he was truly amazed when Lex appeared in the haze of smoke. "Lex!"

"Toby-wan." Lex kissed him hard. "I thought you were skipping out on us, getting clean."

Toby kept his hands on him. "Didn't work out. Maybe next year." He put his head on Lex's shoulder. "You okay?"

"Not really." Lex kissed him slow and deep. "I'm leaving town after the funeral. I can't stay with her gone."

"Shit." Toby was glad and sad. "Get clean for me, okay?"

"I will." Lex pulled him towards the bedroom, and Toby thought that was a great idea.


Stabler parked his car across the street and down a block. He wasn't getting out, and he was only here in case someone got shot. Day after day, he walked away from skels and perps, and for some reason he wasn't doing that with Beecher. Damned if he knew why.

Beecher was trying, and after all the shit he'd been through, he should've quit, but Narcotics might have pushed him too far tonight. He might become just another pothead. Stabler took a tiny drink of coffee. He shouldn't care, and he had to believe that guilt was behind all this. Just guilt.


"Hey, my turn at him."

Toby woke up enough to see the sunshine streaming through the window, and he shoved until he had enough room to find his clothes. Dressed, he stumbled through the house, looking for Benny. There was something he had to do today, fuck if he knew what.

"Hey, bro."

Toby looked at him twice before recognizing him. "Seen Benny?"

Eric pointed. "When are we going?" He was stretched out on the couch, looking half-asleep.

"Dunno." Toby found Benny on the floor in the dining room and slapped him awake.

Benny groaned, moaned, and then sat up and hugged him. "You were hot last night."

Toby didn't feel hot. He felt stupid and wasted and strung right to the edge. "What day is it?"

"Saturday, uh, I think. We got that thing." Benny wrapped his arms tighter and tried to get up. Toby did the same. They swayed but made it, and Benny laughed. "I'm gonna need something to get me going."

"Me too." Toby leaned against the wall. "We taking her car?"

"Cops, remember?"

"Shit," Toby said. He rubbed his face. Loser didn't begin to describe him today. "Gotta find some wheels."

"I drove, ya dumb ass." Eric tossed his keys in the air. "You used to be the smarter brother."

"Fuck you." Toby followed Benny to the kitchen, and they washed up. Benny handed him something, and he took it. He'd feel better soon. Toby went through the house, getting everybody up and taking a head count on the funeral. Everyone said they were going, but how many made it out the door was another thing entirely. He checked his watch, saw they had about an hour to get to the cemetery, and yelled at Benny, "Where the fuck is Lex?"

"He left. Chill, dude." Benny shrugged. "Need another car."

"Fuck." Toby had to get some fresh air, and he went out the front door. He leaned over and took several deep breaths. Filthy. He was fucking filthy. Filthy slut filthy.

Benny rubbed Toby's back. "It's okay, Toby. She loved us."

Toby managed to stand up. "Benny, I'm too old for this."

"Nah." Benny stretched and looked around. "Fuck my ass! Toby, your boyfriend is parked down the street! Damn, you got a fucking stalker!"

Toby refused to look. "Don't fucking believe that. Come on, let's get Eric and get moving." He had planned on wearing a nice suit, but instead he was going as a slut and a drug addict. His parents would be so proud.

Benny grabbed him. "I tell you that's the car I saw him shove you inside. I figured he beat the shit out of you."

"Nah, just roughed me up a little. That's why I dumped him!" Toby needed to puke, but all he had in him was drugs and more drugs. Eric and about ten other people came staggering out the door, and Toby watched as Benny sent half of them with Eric.

"Benny! No, God damn it!"

Benny suddenly went crazy mean, grabbing Toby and shaking him. "You ashamed of us?"

Toby was only ashamed of himself, but this was the worst idea in the world. "He's a fucking prick!"

"Well, suck his dick, but he's taking us." Benny shoved him away, starting for Stabler's car, and everyone followed as best they were able. "Fucking cabs are expensive."

"I'll pay, but please, please..." Toby ran after them, nearly falling. Benny threw open the front door and shoved Toby in next to Stabler.

"Wake up, dickhead! We need a ride!"

Stabler jerked awake. "Get the hell out!"

Toby tried but Benny crammed in next to him, and the back seat was already full. Benny shoved him at Stabler's crotch.

"Suck him and we'll go."

Stabler's face turned an interesting shade of red and purple. "What the hell is going on?"

"Toby's gonna suck yer dick to say he's sorry and then you're taking us to the funeral." Benny slapped the back of Toby's head. "Get busy. Hell, he's the only guy you haven't sucked in the whole damn neighborhood!"

Toby tried to punch Benny in the face, but Biggun grabbed him from the back. Stabler yelled, "Stop it!"

Biggun turned him loose, and Toby shoved Benny against the door. "Let me out!"

Benny grabbed him tight. "Toby-wan, it's okay, man. If he's gonna follow you around, he still loves ya."

Toby stopped pushing at Benny and looked desperately at Stabler. "Get out. Please."

Stabler started the car. "Where to?" His eyes were mean as hell.

Everyone in the back seat laughed, and Toby saw the blood running down Stabler's neck before he saw the knife. Benny gave fast directions.

Toby grabbed Biggun's hand and jerked the knife away. "Leave him the fuck alone! He's driving!"

Biggun took Toby by the face and put the knife to his eye. "Don't fuck with me, Sluti-wan. Shantille liked you. I don't!"

Toby stopped breathing. Benny yanked him around and kissed him. "Don't worry. I won't let him slice ya. What's yer boyfriend's name?"

"Asshole McStupid." Toby found a napkin in the glove box and pressed it to the cut. Stabler glanced at him, and Toby wanted to slide through the floorboard. Everyone was too busy laughing to notice. The ride took forever in drugged out time. Benny petted him like a dog the entire way, and Biggun played with his knife.

"I'm going to get you for this," Stabler growled. Toby knew the cop meant it. It would have worried him, but he no longer believed he'd be alive at the end of the day.

Benny giggled. "I wish Maxi were here. She'd love this."

Toby slid further down in the seat and tried to will himself to death. When Stabler stopped the car, Benny whispered in Toby's ear, "If he leaves, I might let Biggun stick ya."

Everyone piled out, but Toby didn't move until Biggun and his knife were gone. "Go the fuck home," he said. Stabler said nothing, and Toby got out. He didn't look back, and he stumbled a few times, cursing the bumpy ground. The funeral home had set up a tent, and the casket was already there.

"Mr. Beecher?" The funeral director looked appalled.

"That's me." Toby rubbed his nose and took a deep sniff. He had to find his head. "Start any time and finish fast."

"Where's the damn beer?" someone shouted, and Toby slunk to a chair and sat down. Fool, slut, idiot, whore, and addict: there weren't enough bad words to describe him. His ass gave a twinge, reminding him of all the traffic last night, and he put his face in his hands.

"Buck up, bro," Eric said and sat next to him. "Who's that guy?"

Toby glanced over at Stabler's car. He hadn't left. Telling Eric that Stabler was a cop was out of the question. "My boyfriend. We're on the outs. Leave him the fuck alone and I won't beat the shit out of you."

"Touchy, ain't 'cha?" Eric grinned. "Nice funeral."

The pastor that Toby had hired started the eulogy, and it was a disaster from start to finish, but Benny cried buckets. Toby was so glad that Lex had decided to skip out. Eric was slouched in a chair and looked asleep. When Lex appeared near the end, Toby went to him. Everyone was crying, but it was mostly the drugs.

"I did love her." Lex put a dozen roses on her casket. Toby was more touched by that than Benny's hysterics. Lex smiled. "Thanks, Toby. Some day, I may call." He strode back to his cab, and he was gone. Toby hoped Lex was smart enough to save himself from all this insanity.

"Mr. Beecher, we're more than finished. Get these people." He sniffed. "Out of my cemetery."

"I'll try." Toby raised his voice and lied, "There's a keg at Benny's!"

Tears turned to cheers and people were going back to the cars. Toby walked to her casket, put his hand on it, and whispered, "They were your friends, and we're square."

"The fuck is this shit?"

Toby froze. He was sure no one at the party had a Hispanic accent.

"That's it? My daughter feeds the worms and that's fucking it?"

Toby had to turn to see El Termundo. Everyone who had a brain in their head was running like hell. Two of Termundo's guys had Benny by the arms, and Eric was on his knees with a gun to his head. Toby stiffened his spine and narrowed his eyes. He had to do something, say something, before the killing started.

"I did my damn best. She was at Potter's Field!"

Termundo raised his gun. "Who the fuck are you?"

"Toby Beecher." Toby pointed at Eric. "That's my brother."

"She was my damn daughter!" Termundo swung his gun towards the hearse and fired. "Sure, I have six other kids, but she was mine!"

Toby had no idea what to say. Even if he hadn't been mostly high, ashamed, and on the verge of begging for a bullet, there just weren't any words.

Benny sniffed. "She was our friend. We loved her."

Termundo sneered. "You and your sister whacked her." He made a motion to his guys, and there was a shot or two fired in the direction of the staggering crowd who were trying to hide behind stones and trees. It was more than pathetic.

Toby raised his voice. "Wait! Did the cops follow you?" he spat out each word, trying to buy time. Stabler would do something to help. Toby was sure of it.

"Hell, no. Fuckers are clueless." Termundo smiled and his gold tooth flashed. He took two quick steps and bashed Benny across the face with the gun. "My daughter!"

Benny opened his mouth, blood gushed, and there were three loud pops. Toby fell to his knees and dry heaved in the dirt near the casket. A strong hand jerked him to his feet. He was next, and he was ready, but it was going to suck.

"Benny and Maxi were in it together." Termundo smiled and caressed Toby's face with his gun. "They wanted her drugs. What about you, motherfucker?"

"She was nice to me. I spent fifteen grand getting her out of Potter's Field and to this funeral." Toby tried to speak loudly, but he was whispering. Scared shitless couldn't describe this. "We were friends."

"I know who you are. You got street cred." Termundo pointed his gun at Eric. "That Angus?"

"Please don't shoot him!" Toby was stunned by Termundo's research department. "Please! Kill me, but not him. I can't bear to lose another family member. Not after Oz."

"Turn him loose." Termundo rounded on him again, and the gun lingered along Toby's belly.

Toby watched Eric run towards Stabler's car, trying not to throw up. "Thank you."

"I owe you." Termundo stuffed his gun away. "Of all these fucks, you gave a rat's ass." He went to the casket, raised the lid, and began to cry. Toby moved slightly away, but he was still dead. The two goons made sure he didn't go far. Off in the distance, they heard the wail of the police car, and Termundo snapped to attention - the tears gone. "Time to go."

They hurried for their car, and Toby collapsed down. His legs wouldn't hold him. There was the sound of gunfire, and he couldn't summon the strength to move. But… Stabler. Stabler! Toby bolted up and ran for the car but didn't make it. Fifteen or twenty policeman swarmed out of their cars at the same time, rushing through the cemetery.

"Hands up! Hands up!"

Toby fell to his knees, put his hands on his head, and searched desperately for Stabler. They shoved him flat, zipped his hands together, and someone kept a boot on him.

"Get a damn bus!"

Toby felt a tear slip from his eye. That was Stabler. No mistaking that voice. Thank God.


"I don't care if you did save lives; you interfered in their investigation, disobeying my direct order!"

Stabler gently scratched the bandage on his throat. "I didn't have a choice."

"Yes, you did! You should've gone home!" Cragen was on a roll.

"Can I sit down a minute?" Stabler didn't wait for an answer. The come down after a shoot out was always rough. "Okay, bust my balls some more."

"I'd be happy to!"

Stabler listened, nodded, took the rip, and left when he was ordered out. Fin caught him before he sat down.

"Narcotics wants you down in booking. Espinoso said something about right damn now."

"Thanks." Stabler got moving. He'd been a damn idiot, getting involved, and he'd nearly been killed, and there were more than a few people at the morgue.

Espinoso had his hands on his hips. "Stabler, what the hell happened out there?"

"Didn't you talk to your guy?"

"He's at the hospital in surgery." Espinoso threw up his hands. "I need information!"

Stabler saw the answer to their problem curled up on a bench with all the other losers who were still alive. The fact that his hands were zipped behind him didn't seem to bother him.

"Did you ask Beecher?"

"Higher than a damn kite!"

Stabler didn't believe it. He got the door unlocked, pulled Beecher up, and removed the plastic cuffs. "You awake?"

Beecher's eyes rolled toward the back of his head. Stabler got a better grip on him and started walking. For someone that was high, he didn't even stumble. Espinoso followed, and Stabler put Beecher down hard in a chair.

"Wake up, Beecher!" Stabler slapped the table. "Drop the damn act! Now!"

Beecher put his face in his hands and rubbed. Stabler got right next to him and waited. Beecher groaned. "Give me another five hours."

"He's all yours." Stabler took two steps back, crossed his arms, and leaned against the wall. He wasn't leaving the room.

"What the fuck happened?" Espinoso yelled. Stabler couldn't wait to hear what Beecher would say.


Toby rubbed his face one more time, but he didn't bother faking it again. Stabler was onto him. He recounted the adventures of Slut Boy and Crazy Benny dispassionately. Poor Benny. Toby stopped, nearly puked, and looked at Stabler.

"Could you get me a Sprite? I swear I'm going to hurl."

"Again?" Stabler mumbled something about Jesus Christ and went out of the room.

Espinoso sat down. "Keep talking. How the fuck did Stabler get involved?"

Toby took a deep breath, swallowed, and wanted to spit on the floor. Stabler came back inside and slid him the soda. Toby opened it fast and guzzled. He didn't come up for air until it was gone. After a belch, he felt better. "Gah. Okay, what?"

"Shit. I need some drugs." Espinoso leaned across the table. "How the hell did you get to Stabler?"

Toby hooked his thumb at the dummy. "I have no fucking idea what Stabler was doing there. Benny saw the car, recognized him, wait, forget that." He saw Stabler's eyes, and that was panic. "That's not how it happened. Let me think." He rubbed his forehead several times. "Okay, Benny was crazy, okay? I'd never seen him so fucked up. He saw Stabler sitting in his car and basically car-jacked him. Biggun put--"

"Wait." Espinoso threw up his hand. "He recognized him?"

"No." Toby shook his head hard enough to hurt. "I can barely think! I recognized him, and I was screaming like a little girl, begging them to call a cab. Benny laughed and shoved me in the car."

"And Eric?"

"He took a shit load of people. The rest of us car-jacked Stabler. Biggun cut him." Toby quickly told the rest. He nearly puked at the end of it. "Is Eric okay?"

"He'll be all right." Espinoso got up fast. "What a fucked up operation!"

Toby couldn't agree more. "It was your damn idea. El Termundo was one crazy motherfucker! He wasn't interested in doing business, just revenge for his daughter's murder!"

"So, why'd you go?" Stabler's voice was soft, but it cut like a knife.

"We thought we'd get in and out." Toby realized how stupid it sounded. "If Benny hadn't helped kill her, we'd have made it. And another thing, Termundo had read my police file. You." He pointed at Espinoso. "Have a leak. A big one."

Espinoso frowned. "I guess we're lucky we got him. He's going away for murder in the first."

"Lucky, yeah." Toby put his head down on his arms. "How many are dead?"

"That's what happens when you deal with drug lords and their families," Espinoso said. "People die!"

Stabler made a soft sound. "Where do you want him?"

"Keep him here until I get everyone straightened out." Espinoso reached and lifted Toby's eyelid. "I have more people to interview."

Toby got to his feet. "Sorry about the cut. I tried."

"I know." Stabler tilted his head. He didn't look as if the cut bothered him. "Why didn't Termundo kill you?"

"He said he owed me." Toby felt so dirty, inside and out. "Any chance I could get a shower?"

"What do we look like - Holiday Inn?" Espinoso snorted. "Stabler, he better be here when I get back, and I want your fives pronto."

Stabler nodded, and Toby dragged his feet so Espinoso was far ahead of them. "What the hell were you doing, Elliot?"

"I was aiding the investigation." Stabler opened the cell door. "Nothing else."

Toby had told himself that. It had to be the truth. "I gotta sleep."

"Let me know if you need anything." Stabler shut the door but didn't slam it. "You saved Eric's ass, didn't you?"

Toby shrugged and lay down on the concrete shelf. It didn't matter what he'd done, he was still a drugged-up slut. He shut his eyes and let out the groan he'd been holding. His head spun around and he wanted something to make it all easier. Something. Anything. He dozed, but woke up when something hit him in the head. It was a pillow. A blanket hit him next. He smiled, curled up underneath it, and fell asleep.


"He did that?"

Stabler nodded. It had surprised the hell out of him too. "The guy, Biggun, what a name, nearly carved out Beecher's eyeball for it."

Fin frowned. "Next time you do something stupid, stop to get me first."

"I can pretty much promise that." Stabler kept pecking away at the paperwork. "Has Maxi been moved to protective custody?"

"That's what I heard." Fin shrugged. "Benny took two to the heart, huh?"

"And one to the head." Stabler had to stop for a minute. He got a soda, bought an extra, and took it to Beecher. Beecher was asleep, so Stabler set it down between the bars and went back to his paperwork. He had known a lot of skels, but not one had peeled a knife away from him or saved another cop's life, or lied for him. It all added up to something.

"Is he gonna try to beat it?"

"He didn't say." Stabler would try to give him a hand. Beecher had handed out some charity today, and he deserved some back.


"You're done, Beecher." Espinoso opened the cell door. "Go home."

Toby sat up and yawned. He'd slept, talked, slept, and signed his statement. He needed some more sleep. "You're not charging me with anything?"

"No evidence." Espinoso shrugged. "You saved my boy Eric. Thanks."

Toby got up and stretched. "Just tell me that I'll never see you again."

"You're in the system as a user." Espinoso pulled him out and shut the door. "Go back to the neighborhood, and we may end up talking again."

Toby brushed his greasy hair back. He was through talking. The craving for something was bad, and he would make up his mind about it as soon as he hit the streets. He went through the process of being released, glad to see his keys and cell phone.

"You want a ride?" Stabler hadn't walked away, and he should have.

Toby shook his head. "Gotta walk." He clutched his arms, ashamed, and didn't look at him. "Forget you know where I live."

Stabler nearly touched him and then backed away. "You're being an ass."

"No, I'm an addict. You're the ass. Keep it straight." Toby couldn't smile, and he made his way quickly out into the fresh air. The sun was up. He had no idea what day it was, and he wasn't sure he cared. The first two blocks helped clear his head, but by the third, he was hurting. He sat down on a small brick wall that edged a building and tried to breathe. His stomach ached but he'd eaten. Stabler had tossed him a burger, and it had stayed down.

"Move it, loser."

Toby clenched his teeth together around a dry heave and started walking again. He could do this - it was simple. It had only been one night of extreme drug usage, not six months. Stumbling, he sat down again. This time, outside an apartment building. He leaned back against the wall and hoped his place really was this direction. It was hard to think.

"I can't stand to watch." Stabler took him by the arm, lifted, and hustled him to the car. Toby fell onto the front seat. He wanted to curse and hit him, but all he could see was the knife, digging into Stabler's throat. Stabler handed him a soda. "Do not throw up."

Toby drank some. "What day is it?"

"It's Monday." Stabler drove a little faster. "Did anyone check you for injuries?"

"I'm not hurt." Toby shivered. He ached, but that was normal. "Why did you go there?"

Stabler shrugged. "Had that feeling in my gut that I always listen to."

"Does it usually get you knifed?" Toby held his stomach and prayed they stopped soon.

"Occasionally, but I never regret it." Stabler parked the car. "Need help up the stairs?"

"Go away." Toby opened the door and tried not to fall down. He was tired. That was all it was. He'd had a rough weekend. Nearly been killed, but he was fine now. Halfway up, he sat down and rested. When his breath came back, he went to his apartment. It was empty, but it was his, and he stripped off his filthy clothes and got in the shower. The water felt good, and he groaned. He washed thoroughly, feeling again like a whore, and dried off with a clean shirt. Dressing quickly, he lay on the couch.

"Fuck me," he whispered.


Stabler turned the car around and went back to the church he'd seen Beecher at on Friday. It was nearly noon, but they should still be there, and he went down to the basement. They were getting ready to shut the doors, and he waited for her to come to him.

"Can I help you, Detective?" She was full of fire. "Toby isn't here."

Stabler nodded and tried to sound smooth. "He's sick. I thought you should know."

"Why, thank you." She waved over a man that was probably the priest here, or wait, the pastor or something like that.

"Pastor Deakins, Toby is sick today." She seemed happy to spread the news.

Stabler edged closer. "I know you two don't know him, but he's having a rough time right now, and I hoped you'd help."

"You won't?" The pastor was no dummy.

"I'm a cop. He doesn't much like me." Stabler shrugged it off. "He just moved in to a new apartment, and now he's sick."

The old woman frowned. "Does he have plenty to eat?"

"He doesn't have anything." Stabler saw the intent look of the pastor and handed him Toby's address on a slip of paper. "I think you know why. Well, what you do is up to you. I just wanted you to know."

"Thank you, Detective," the pastor said. "I'll walk you out."

Stabler saw her start to spread the news, and the pastor walked him as far as the stone steps.

"Toby is the sole benefactor to our food bank." Deakins narrowed his eyes. "He's ill?"

"Yes." Stabler wasn't going to lie to a priest, pastor, whatever. "I'd like to see him get some help."

Deakins sighed. "Drugs are difficult to beat. I'll do what I can."

Stabler caught him gently by the arm. "I didn't say anything about drugs."

"No, but his family did. Thank you." He hurried off. Stabler went to his car. His family had spread the news? That couldn't be good. Toby funded the entire food bank? Guy must be loaded. He had hired one of the best lawyers in town. Stabler went back to work. He'd done his good deed for the day. Beecher was on his own now.


Toby flailed awake when there was a knock at the door. He hoped that it was the cops and they'd shoot him, but it was Pastor Deakins. Toby tried to find some words. "It's Monday, isn't it?"

Deakins smiled and stepped in the loft apartment. "Toby, you don't have to come to the church. I wanted to check on you, make sure you were okay."

Toby was half-asleep, but he didn't have any trouble connecting the dots. "Did Stabler talk to you?"

"He's concerned, yes." Deakins looked around. "Nice place. Strange mural."

"Stupid cop," Toby muttered. "Oh, yeah. Thanks. I'll be in Friday. I just couldn't make it today."

"Were you in jail?" Deakins went to look out the window.

"Yes." Toby rubbed his arms, covering the track marks. He would kill for a joint, and it wasn't pretty. "They didn't press charges."

Deakins nodded. "I'm glad. Are you going into a drug program?"

"Right now, I'm trying to recover from nearly being shot, watching someone slice on Stabler, and the murder of a friend of mine." Toby sat on the couch and rubbed his face.

"Traumatic events, but drugs won't help." Deakins put his hand on Toby's shoulder. "My door is always open for you."

Toby had heard that more than once, but he wasn't going to be rude. "I need some sleep."

"You need everything." Deakins made a sweep of his arm, taking in the apartment. "Mabel is coming over with food. Consider yourself warned."

"Oh, God." Toby cringed. "I don't think I take charity."

"Too bad. Her jaw was set." Deakins laughed. "When you get your feet under you, go shopping. It'll take your mind off things that should be avoided."

Toby sighed. "I'll try that. It's probably the one thing I'm not addicted to, yet."

Deakins patted him on the shoulder. "Here's my card. Call if you need to hear a voice."

"I will." Toby might. He lay back down as Deakins saw himself out. Shit. Mabel was coming over. Stabler was to blame for this - he was probably laughing. Toby shut his eyes. He would not buy drugs. He would not buy drugs. Oh, God, he needed something. He couldn't sleep any longer. Lifting the window, he went out to sit on the fire escape. Tired. He was so tired of fighting the drugs. He'd tried to get clean, over and over again, but it never stuck with him.

At least he didn't drink any more. Only because it tasted like Chris, but it was something to celebrate. Now if he could only get over pot, Ecstasy, heroin, and... he checked his arm again. Yeah, he'd shot up last night. He put his face in his hands. It had been two nights ago. He'd already made it nearly three days. It was nothing from here. Easy. His phone rang, and he reluctantly got it.

"This is an automated call to remind you of your appointment on Tuesday at three p.m. at the--"

Toby slapped the phone shut. He had more reason than ever to go, but he'd rather not. The knock at the door forced a groan from him, but he crawled inside to open it. "Hi, Mabel."

She had fire in her eyes. "You look like hell!"

"Uh, yeah." Toby backed up to let her inside. He was very ashamed. "Sorry I wasn't there."

Mabel took in his apartment with a glance. "Absolutely hopeless. You own nothing?"

"Well, some clothes. I did have a TV, but the cops... well, forget it." Toby felt about five years old. He didn't know what to say to her to make it all sound reasonable.

"That mural is awful. Paint it fast." She sighed. "And I was thinking soup would get the job done!"

Toby laughed. It sounded as raw as he felt. "Mabel, I'm fine. Once I feel a little better, I'll go shopping."

"I suppose after prison this seems comfortable. Well, it's not!"

Toby's mouth hung slack. "Uh, what?"

She put her hands on her hips. "I'll be back. I'm calling for reinforcements."

"Were you in the military?" Toby's head began to hurt. Pound. He needed some - no, no, no!

"Vietnam." She was suddenly gone, and Toby had to go lie down. He had no doubt that she'd be back. She was small, yet mighty, and he was helpless in his current condition. Why was it that little women bossed him around? He pictured his mother in his mind and had his answer.

"I need some drugs," Toby muttered and covered his face with his arm.


"Go home, Elliot." Cragen's voice carried the length of the squad room. "Take two days and don't get knifed!"

Stabler didn't turn around. "Sure, Cap." He started clearing his desk. He'd be on ass duty until he got his gun and shield back, but he didn't think it would be long.


"Are you supposed to be out of the hospital?" Stabler frowned and got Eric a chair.

Eric sat down gingerly. "Don't tell them, and they won't notice I'm gone." He smiled. "It wasn't that bad."

"Right. At this rate, you ain't making it to retirement," Stabler said.

"At this rate, it'll be next week." Eric shrugged. "Why the hell were you there?"

"It was our case originally, and when I found out Beecher was getting back into it, I thought I should keep my eye on it." Stabler shrugged. "Why didn't you have backup?"

"Wasn't possible. No one knew where the funeral was."

Stabler wasn't impressed with the planning. "GPS on your car? Hello?"

"In our world, people look for those." Eric smiled. "You called for backup."

"Damn right." Stabler didn't like the look on Eric's face. "You want some water or something?"

"Nah. I'm okay. Toby saved my ass. I watched him all night long. I don't know how he was walking and talking, much less thinking fast enough to get the gun out of my face." Eric grimaced. "You have his address? I want to thank him."

That wasn't a good idea, and Stabler shook his head. "Don't. He's strung out. Sick from it."

"He must have sampled the heroin. They cut it toxic." Eric eased up slowly. "Address?"

Stabler reluctantly wrote it down and handed it to him. "There are four flights of stairs. Give it a day or two."

"I will." Eric smiled and shook Stabler's hand. "Thanks for your help. Hope they didn't rip you."

"Didn't matter." Stabler wanted to call Eric a wheelchair, but he made it out the door.

Fin said quietly, "Some bad shit there."

"I could stop by and make sure Beecher's alive," Stabler grumbled, angry all over again. He hadn't known about the heroin, or he wouldn't have been so quick to drive away.

"I'll go." Fin got to his feet. "I'll take him to the hospital, if it's bad."

"Thanks." Stabler gave Fin the address. Fin was the better choice. He'd know if it was serious. Stabler leaned back in his chair. He kept telling himself that this case was over and that he wouldn't see Beecher again. For some reason, he no longer believed that.


Toby prayed the pounding would go away. It was in his head. It couldn't be the door again. He didn't have any friends.

"Damn it!"

"I heard that," Toby mumbled. He rubbed his eyes and fell off the couch. "Fuck, don't shoot, okay? I'm just sleeping."

Fin helped him sit up and seemed to be awful close. "You do the heroin?"

Toby wasn't dumb enough to admit it. "Nah."

Fin grabbed him by the arm. "So those needle marks ain't shit?"

Toby tried to yank his arm away. "You got a warrant?"

"Beecher! Listen to me. The heroin was cut with some bad shit. You're sick from it."

"Yeah, I'm sick." Toby didn't remember the needle, but his arm wasn't lying to him. "So leave me alone."

"Are ya pissing? Eating?"

Toby gagged. "Go the fuck away!"

Fin turned him loose. "Save me from stupid junkies. I'm calling a bus."

"No. Get out." Toby tried to get up, but his legs weren't very interested in helping him. "Asshole cop." That was the last thing he said. It all went black.


"I got your boy down here at Bellevue."

Stabler muted the television. "He okay?"

"No, but he'll get there. Some nasty heroin. Doc says he'll make it."

Stabler wasn't sure what to say. "Good thing you checked on him." It was lame but all he could think of at the moment.

"He's probably going right back out for more. This is a one shot deal for me."

"I hear you." It wasn't their job to chase around after skels with drugs habits. "Seen Eric?"

"Going there next. I hear he's back." Fin shut the phone without saying goodbye. Stabler put his down slowly. Beecher was going to have to make it on his own. He didn't have any back up. Stabler turned off the television. He wasn't volunteering.


"That you, Mabel?" Toby hoped it was a drug-induced hallucination.

"It certainly is, young man." She straightened his covers. "How are you feeling?"

"If someone shot me, I'd be grateful." Toby caught her hand. She squeezed back, and he tried to smile. "How'd you know I was here?"

"I was there when the ambulance took you out." She shook her head. "Poison? You were poisoned?"

"Guess so." Toby didn't want to think about it. He should have stuck with pot. "Mabel, you're too nice a lady to be hanging out with me. Don't you have five daughters to pester?"

Mabel laughed, and it was the first time he'd heard it. "As if they listen to me. Their father always said they were too much like their mother!"

"I can believe it." Toby's eyelids felt heavy. He was glad she was here.

"Go to sleep. I have the keys to your place. We'll put some food in the fridge for when you get home." She patted his arm.

Toby hoped he thanked her. Sleep hit him hard. What woke him up was someone taking his blood pressure. He ignored her, but when she was gone, he sat up and stretched. The IV pulled, and he grimaced. They'd probably keep it in until he paid the bill. He turned on the TV to have noise.

"How are you, Mr. Beecher?"

Toby tried to work up a smile. "Better. Can I go?"

The doctor checked Toby's chart. "No dizziness? Nausea?"

"I just woke up." Toby thought about his stomach. "I'm a little hungry."

"Let's check your catheter."

Toby realized at that moment how sick he'd been. They'd shoved a tube up his dick, and he'd missed it. The doctor looked and then held up the bag. "Better. Almost a normal color. Eat for me today and we'll talk about sending you home tomorrow."

"Take that out." Toby couldn't even look down there. "Please."

"I'll speak to the nurse." The doctor made no promises. "Are you in a drug program?"

"No." Toby wasn't going either. He'd deal with it. He'd done it before. The doctor looked as if he smelled something bad and left. Toby tried to get comfortable, but it was difficult now that he knew what was in his cock. He was damn grateful when the nurse showed up with his breakfast. She smiled, chattered, and told him to eat.

"The catheter?"

She checked the chart. "Six more hours."

"Fuck." Toby was glad she wasn't so cheery after he cursed at her. She did get him a paper, and he felt guilty. "Sorry. I'm just tired."

"You'll feel better soon. Eat." She cleaned up the room, and he tried to eat. Halfway through the tray, he had to quit. He was full to the point of gagging. The coffee was good, and he sipped it while watching TV.

"Hey, can I come in?"

Toby turned the TV off. "Eric, you okay? I heard Stabler yell for a bus."

Eric brought his IV inside with him and sat down, but it was easy to tell he was hurting. "Took one to the shoulder. Espinoso is babying me."

"You look half dead." Toby smiled. It wasn't that he didn't like Eric, it had just been a bad situation.

"Thanks. So do you." Eric smiled also, but neither of them meant it. "Going back?"

Toby knew exactly what he meant. "Benny is dead, and Biggun wants my throat cut. I think I'll avoid it."

"Biggun is dead too." Eric sighed. "Shot in the back."

"Cops?" Toby hadn't been able to see much from his position in the dirt.

Eric shrugged. "I dunno. Someone. Hey, before we fall asleep again, thanks."

"I still don't understand the plan. Did you really think you could find a way into his organization?"

"I was gonna try." Eric rolled his eyes. "Benny was the problem. Did you know he was in on it?"

"Fuck no! I'd have kicked his ass into one of Stabler's holding cells." Toby was glad to see the belief on Eric's face. "You have a shitty job."

Eric laughed. "I'm not going to argue that. So, you gonna get clean?"

"Why should I? I like being high," Toby said easily. It wasn't the complete truth, but he was curious as to what Eric thought. Eric had done his fair share of drugs Friday night.

"Did you like the violence?" Eric didn't sound like he was preaching, but he was. "And all that sex, was that fun?"

"Wasn't bad." Toby had enjoyed Lex, but everyone after that was a blur. "You aren't clean."

"Ain't all that dirty either. I palmed that Ecstasy." Eric used the pole to get to his feet. "But, either way, thanks for saving my ass."

Toby shook Eric's hand. "Thanks for not shooting me." Eric made it out of the room, and Toby felt a tiny bit better about the whole mess, but he was still a filthy slut. Nothing would change that. He drank the rest of his coffee and read the newspaper. Six hours couldn't pass fast enough.


"Eric's doing good." Espinoso appeared at Stabler's front door uninvited and unannounced. Stabler let him in because it was polite.

"I'm glad." Stabler sat back down in front of the TV. "Sorry I interfered with your operation."

Espinoso put his butt in a chair. "Good thing you were there, but don't do it again."

"I wrote that on my calendar." Stabler smiled but didn't mean it. "Next time, arrange for backup."

"I'll write it down, but don't hold your breath." Espinoso smiled falsely back at him. "So, how'd you miss Benny in your arrest?"

Stabler turned the TV on, a subtle hint. "Nothing pointed at him. No evidence, and his sister didn't give him up."

Espinoso got up fast. "Well, Termundo delivered his own justice. Okay, gotta run. I hope you ain't thinking you'll cut Beecher some slack. Guy's an addict."

Stabler got the door for him and waved goodbye. He knew what Beecher was, but it wasn't that easy. Life never was.


"If you use your credit card today, you'll save thirty percent!"

Toby stared at the financial counselor in total disbelief. "And you promote putting thousands on a card at eighteen percent when a person can pay you monthly with no penalty?"

She swallowed hard. "It can damage your credit report."

"Do people actually do this? Poor people? People without insurance?" Toby was still amazed.

"Um, yes." She had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "So, would you like to pay today and save?"

Toby blinked twice, came to understand again that he had been out of American society for too long, and directed her to his wallet. She beamed. So happy. He signed the paperwork and waited impatiently to be rolled downstairs so he could walk to a cab. On the way home, it dawned on him that Mabel had his keys. He checked his phone, but it was dead.

The cabbie took Toby's money and he went up the stairs. This time, he didn't have to stop to breathe, but he was tired when he got there. He tried the doorknob, and it turned. Relieved, he stepped inside and stopped in shock.

"Oh, you're home. Good." Mabel rose from his couch and put her magazine on the coffee table. Coffee table? "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good. Tired, but that could be from the nurses." Toby waved his hand. "Um, did I give you my credit card?"

"No." She laughed, and he had to smile. "It's not much, but it'll get you through until you have the strength to go shopping."

Toby stared at the bed, the furniture, and the television. "Seems like a lot."

She started packing her purse with various items. "We have a rummage sale every year. I made some calls. Anything you don't want just put in the sale that's coming up in two months."

"Wow." Toby had this strange emotion sweep over him. He hadn't felt it in years. It was almost like love. "Thank you."

Mabel nodded. "God helps those who help each other. Now, Toby, the fridge is full of food. Heat it up before you eat it."

"Yes, ma'am." Toby had to hug her, and he did, but she didn't look as if it set well. "Thank you." He had to say it again.

"Thank me by painting over that mural." She put her purse on her shoulder. "My number is on your fridge. Call if you don't know how to cook food in the microwave."

"I have a microwave?"

Mabel sighed. "I donated a few towels so you don't have to dry off with your clothes!" Her eyes rolled. "Men. Okay. I'm due at home. Will I see you tomorrow?"

"Yes." Toby had to sit down. He was overwhelmed. "Thanks."

"You said that." She shut the door quietly, and he continued to sit. Someone had cared about him. It was more than astonishing. They didn't even know him. Of course, maybe that was why they cared. Once they found out he was a loser, they'd take their stuff and run. He pushed off his shoes and pulled the quilt off the back of the sofa. He'd sleep and then worry.

Toby woke in the dark and had no idea where he was. He lay quietly, breathing, trying to remember, and it came to him. "I'm home," he said. He vaguely remembered a lamp on a nightstand near the bed, and he padded over to turn it on. The bed seemed too nice for a rummage sale, but who was he to argue? He was glad they'd put it near the window, and he opened it. The wind came rushing inside, teasing his hair, and he went out to sit a minute.

The drugs called his name, but he wasn't as tempted as he had been a few days ago. It was less today, and he breathed deep, glad to be alive. If Fin hadn't come over, it might have gone the other way. The doctor had emphasized that point several times, trying to force him into a program. He leaned his head back and relaxed. Someone had given a damn about him. It was like a Christmas miracle.

Had Stabler cared? Was that why he'd gone to Benny's? Toby had a hard time believing that. Stabler was just nosy. That was all it was. If he knew what a slut Toby was, he'd never look at him again. Toby sighed. Stabler knew. He had to know. It didn't matter. They weren't friends, and Stabler would never speak to him unless it was police business. Stabler wasn't Chris. Chris was still dead, and there was no replacing him.

Toby went inside to find his phone charger. He turned on the TV and investigated his fridge. There was even Jell-O with bananas, and he scooped up a bunch into a bowl. Wait, he had bowls? He really looked inside his cabinets. Someone had given him a set of dishes. It was fucking amazing. He found a spoon and went to eat his Jell-O on the sofa. It had been pushed against the wall, and the room was really, sorta, well, cozy. He settled into the quilt, took a bite, and stared at the spoon. Charity. The only charity he'd ever received was a set of broken legs. Vern had been happy to give him those, and Chris had laughed. Toby didn't want to think about his arms. He changed the channel to the news and ate his Jell-O.

Tomorrow, he had some place to go, and he was grateful.


"Your boy got out of the hospital."

Stabler didn't raise his head from the file he was reading. "Fin, he's not 'my boy,' and I don't give a damn if he's in or out of the hospital."

Silence dropped over the squad room, and Stabler suddenly felt like an ass. He looked up, an apology on his lips, but Fin shook his head.

"Not a problem. Thought you'd want to know."

"Well, I don't." Stabler got up and went to piss. He had given everyone the impression that he cared about Beecher, and he didn't - not at all. Beecher knew that. He had to know that.


"Mabel, let's splurge on coffee and donuts today." Toby smiled. He'd gotten there early so he could ask. She instantly frowned, and he continued quickly, "I'll buy."

Now, she nodded. "That'll be fine. Ralph! Go for donuts! You know what to get!" The power in Mabel's lungs sent Toby back one step. She'd been a drill sergeant. He was sure of it.

"Toby, go with Ralph. Betty, let's get the coffee pot going."

Everyone smiled, and Toby beat it out the door with Ralph. Ralph was teetering on the edge of seventy, but he was still straight as an arrow and mentally fit. He was also the nicest guy in the room. Toby got in the car without a qualm.

"Have you ever gotten donuts before?" Toby was curious.

Ralph smiled. "Holidays. Mabel is picky, but I know what she wants."

Toby could believe that. "I'm buying. Should we get enough for people to take a box home with them?"

"That's a lot of donuts!"

Toby laughed. "Might be fun to see Mabel's face."

Ralph laughed with him. "Hey, is that TV working out for you?"

"It's great. You sure you don't want it back?"

"The kids got me a new one for Christmas. Last thing I need is two of them." Ralph was a good driver, better than Stabler. Toby saw the precinct go by and did his best not to think about him. Ralph was still talking about how terrible the TV shows were today.

"They need to be more honest. Make it a show about smut or don't, but putting a naked woman in there when it doesn't advance the plot is ridiculous!"

Toby blinked and tried to think of something intelligent to say. "I find myself so overwhelmed with the choices to the point I usually watch the news."

"FOX News?" Ralph parked the car carefully.

"Uh, no." Toby hoped that wasn't a black mark against him.

"Good." Ralph was out of the car before Toby, and Toby caught up with him inside the donut shop. The guy behind the counter went from happy to stunned. Toby handed over his credit card, and Ralph went to open the trunk.

"Think we got enough?" Toby shut the trunk, and Ralph slammed the back door.

Ralph laughed. "Did your credit card melt?"

"About." Toby got in the front seat. They went back towards the church, and Toby got a crazy idea. "Ralph, do me a favor and stop at the police station."

Ralph nodded and parked. "Going to report a stolen donut?"

"Take a box to Detective Stabler, will ya?" Toby grinned and pulled one out of the back seat. "Tell him it's from Mabel."

Ralph looked puzzled, but he was gone quickly and back almost as fast. "He gave me a funny look and said thanks. The other cops were moving in for the kill."

Toby laughed. "Let's get back before Mabel beats our asses."

The morning passed quickly between donuts and people laughing with him about the look of total surprise on Mabel's face. When the last table was put away and the floor clean, Toby was tired, and he sat down to take a deep breath.

"Feeling okay, Toby?" Deakins sat down next to him. "I told Mabel to take it easy on you today."

"Yeah." Toby shoved his hair back. "Tired is all. Having a hard time shaking it."

Deakins gave him a long look. "Why did you mistreat yourself in such a fashion?"

Toby frowned. He had never thought of it that way. "The cops in Narcotics forced me to help them plant someone inside a drug ring. I was angry, upset, and I got totally wasted."

"They forced you?"

"It was that or jail." Toby stared down at the fading needle marks on his arm. "They wanted me to get high, so I did, and then people were shooting and dying, and it was terrible."

"Detective Stabler was there?" Deakins kept on pushing for answers that made sense, but he couldn't know that there weren't any.

Toby nodded. "They cut him, but I made them stop. He shouldn't have been there. He's not Narcotics."

Deakins made a soft sound. "I'm sorry. What did you learn from the situation?"

Toby thought that was an interesting question. No one had ever asked him that before today. They were always too busy blaming him and telling him to get his damn act together. "That I have no control over my drug habit. None."

"But you helped Stabler and you helped the police." Deakins patted him on the knee. "Things are rarely black and white, Toby. Are you craving heroin today?"

"The idea makes me faintly sick." Toby would hurt someone for a joint or a scotch on the rocks, but the thought of heroin made him shiver. It had almost killed him, and he wasn't that ready to die. "I was stupid."

"Maybe, but the police didn't give you many choices." Deakins stood. "Any donuts left for me?"

Toby nodded. "I happen to have two boxes left." He handed him one. "So there's a rummage sale in two months?"

"A big one." Deakins smiled. "I'd put you in charge, but you're going to be busy finding restaurants or supermarkets that are willing to donate to the food bank."

"Ah, shit. I forgot." Toby rubbed his forehead. He was an idiot. "We have a freezer?"

"We certainly do. Coordinate with Mabel or--"

"She'll hurt me. I know." Toby stood. "Thanks."

Deakins nodded, dug out a donut, and left him. Toby picked up his box and started the walk home. He didn't rush, and he sat down once to eat a donut. There was nothing else he had to do today, except figure out how to approach restaurants for free food, reschedule his HIV test, and pound his head against the floor until he stopped craving pot and Stabler. Simple. Really. Oh, and he still needed to do some shopping. He shut the donut box, brushed the crumbs off his jeans, and noticed the grease stain. Rusty would kill him.

Groaning, Toby got to his feet. Rusty and Brian were good guys. They might know someone in the restaurant business. It was possible.

Toby took the donuts home and then went to find Rusty and Brian. Their shop was near his bank, but he wasn't sure exactly where, and it took him some searching to find it. He went inside, didn't see either of them, and decided to look at the clothes.


Toby jumped and nervously laughed. "Hi, Rusty. How are you?"

"Good." Rusty gave him a fast hug. "You?"

"Not bad." Toby stopped flipping through the shirts and stuffed his hands in his pockets.

Rusty looked him up and down. "You look like hell. Gotta cut back on the drugs, baby."

"I know." Toby didn't want to talk about it. He wandered over to the counter to look at the extras and stall for time. "Business is good?"

"Not too bad," Brian said, appearing from the back of the store. "But we always like to sell a suit."

Toby laughed at the brazen attempt to get his credit card. There were a few things he still needed in his wardrobe. "How about some wife beaters?"

Brian looked appalled. "Did you try K-Mart?"

Rusty covered his eyes. "You poor thing - I thought you were gay!"

"Want some proof?" Toby raised his eyebrows, and Rusty was close one second later. Brian laughed and smoothed Rusty's hair back. Toby wrapped his hand around Rusty's neck and pulled him down for a long kiss, using his tongue until he felt Rusty groan.

Brian pulled Rusty away. "Is he gay?"

"Oh, God, yes." Rusty leaned against him. Toby smiled. He had enjoyed that too much. Slut. Slut. Slut. Rusty giggled. "We do have some wife beaters, but we don't tell people."

"Good." Toby went to find them. When he glanced back, they were kissing. He found the shirts in the back of the store and picked out some white ones and some blue ones. They reminded him of Chris, and yes, it was pathetic, but really, who else had he ever loved to the point of stupidity?

"They're on sale," Rusty said brightly. "Another kiss and they're free."

Brian smacked Rusty on the butt. "Go work on that inventory before I beat your ass."

"Fine, but if you kiss him, I want to watch." Rusty went towards the back room with a jaunty wave.

Toby put the shirts down on the counter and screwed up his courage. "Brian, I need some help."

"Not with kissing." Brian grinned. "There's a methadone clinic about ten blocks from here - that way." He pointed.

Toby noted that he looked pathetic. He shrugged and tried to sound serious. "I run a food bank, and I was hoping to find someone in the restaurant business who could help us out with some free food. Do you know anyone?"

"Hell, honey, I know everyone, but to say I'm shocked would be an understatement." Brian rang up the shirts, fussing with the cash register, and Toby handed over his credit card. Toby signed while Brian found a bag.

"Brian, I'm trying to do something for other people. Help me out?" Toby hated begging, but it was for a good cause. If he walked in cold to some restaurant, they'd throw him out, especially looking like a junkie.

Brian handed him the bag. "Let me get with Rusty. What's your cell?"

Toby gave him the number. "Thanks. Next time maybe I'll splurge on a suit."

"Don't hurt yourself." Brian rolled his eyes. "Lawyer. Right."

Toby left before Brian changed his mind and caught a cab for home. He'd try to figure out what he needed and go shopping somewhere. Living in a drug-induced fog, he hadn't exactly explored Manhattan. He had no idea where anything was except Times Square and Benny's place. It was time to get a phone book.


"Who bought donuts today?" Cragen asked.

Stabler didn't have a chance to open his mouth. Munch laughed and spoke up. "Some old guy came in, handed them to Elliot, and said they were from Mabel. Now, I'm not a detective or anything, but I think Elliot has a girlfriend."

Everyone laughed. Cragen looked puzzled. "Named Mabel?"

"She's about seventy and works at the food bank over at the Episcopalian church." Stabler threw his straw at Munch.

"Those May-December romances so rarely work out." More laughter.

Stabler rolled his eyes. "Shut up!"

Cragen patted him on the shoulder. "John's just jealous. Okay, where are we with the Walker case?"

Stabler let Fin give a run down. Mabel was a nice old lady, but donuts weren't her style. Someone had been having a subtle joke, and he thought he knew who - Beecher.


Toby rescheduled his test first. It'd be next week on Thursday, and he wrote it down and posted it on the fridge so he wouldn't forget. Only then did he wonder where the magnets came from. Mabel. Her phone number was still there in big, block numbers. He smiled and dug some food out for lunch. The microwave worked fine, and he felt almost human after he'd eaten. There were other things he should do, but he took a nap instead. He was tired. When he got up, he felt better, and he went to find his mailbox, something he should've done days ago. It was full, and he groaned but went back upstairs to look through it all.

It was time to get some checks or buy a computer and pay bills on-line. Living here wasn't free, like prison. It was also time to consider investing his money in something besides drugs. He swallowed hard. Fuck, just a small joint would be nice. He chewed his lip and forced himself to remember the shame, not how good it was. Abandoning the pile of bills and other crap, he went to sit on his fire escape. It was still a nice day, but Fall was coming. He didn't even have a winter coat. His mother would be aghast, and he wished she were alive to feel that way.

So many people had died while he was in prison, and he blamed himself for most of them, rightfully. His mother had never been the same after his father had been shanked by that scum Winthrop. She'd lost too much, and it had killed her. He eased out a shallow sob. His brother had been right to run and not look back.

The sound of the ladder being dragged down pulled Toby out of the past, and he looked through the bars to the street below. "Fuck," he whispered, sure he'd screwed up again. He'd probably be in lock up before the sun was down. He made up his mind to stay sitting, and he crossed his legs, trying to look casual. It wasn't long before Stabler was looking at him. The suit was gone, and in its place were jeans and a sweatshirt. His badge was on a chain and hung in the middle of his chest.


Toby shrugged. "We had donuts at the food bank. We shared. Got a problem with that?"

Stabler crossed his arms, glaring. "I know you. It was a joke."

"You know me?" Toby laughed bitterly. "Well, sit down and tell me all about it. I'm clueless."

"You're a smartass." Stabler seemed sure of that.

"Thanks." Toby thought that was the nicest insult he'd ever heard. It could've been a lot worse. He searched for a topic other than himself. "I think I need a computer. Where should I go?"

Stabler looked surprised at subject change. "You think?"

"The guy at the bank said I could pay my bills on-line." Toby sighed, hating the idea of doing anything. "He wasn't real keen on checks."

"What did you do over at the other place?" Stabler sat down on the steps that went to the roof. He looked so damn sexy, and Toby wanted to bury his head between those muscular thighs. Chris had always made the greatest noises when Toby was sucking him off.

"Are you listening?"

Toby jerked back to reality. "Yeah. Having a flashback. Um, the landlord took care of everything. One payment a month. I used my credit card."

"How'd you pay that?"

"The bank does it." Toby felt like he was being interrogated. This conversation was surreal, but he needed some advice, and he had no friends. Unless he counted Mabel, and he wasn't sure about that. "The cell I prepaid for a year. It was cheaper that way."

"You don't have to worry about money."

"Not this year," Toby said defensively. "The problem is that I don't know New York. We lived in Connecticut, and I worked here, but things have changed in fifteen years." He stopped, afraid he was whining.

Stabler suddenly smiled. "Get a phone book."

"Where? Do people even use those any more? I'd look it up on the computer, but... you see my problem." Toby ran out of words, not sure he was making any sense, and he was tired of Stabler staring at him. Toby pointed at the window. "Want a soda?"

Stabler got to his feet with a long stretch that made Toby's mouth water. "You look like shit, Beecher. Have you considered a program?"

"No, but thanks." Toby went through the open window and headed for the fridge. He'd just wasted ten minutes of his life. He popped a soda and went to watch television. Why did he talk to him? Why did he bother? But more importantly, why the hell had Stabler shown up?

"You have furniture." Stabler was so good at stating the obvious.

Toby watched him raid the fridge. "The church has a rummage sale every year. I was beneficiary of it. Mabel helped me out. I like her."

"You should." Stabler sat down in an old La-Z-Boy that Toby wasn't sure about keeping. "Let's talk about getting you in a program." He dug in his pocket and slid some business cards on the coffee table. "Any of these places are good. I can make some calls - get you in quickly."

"Forget it. Either I'll do it, or I won't." Toby saw the clenched jaw and really didn't care. "Don't pretend you give a shit. I'm just another junkie." Which didn't explain why Stabler had shown up at Benny's house, but it was the truth.

Stabler made a funny face that was beyond interpreting. "You pulled that knife away from my neck. I'm trying to return the favor."

Toby turned on the TV. Some part of him wanted to pretend that was Chris over there, but he shoved that away mercilessly. Chris had loved him. Stabler was nothing but a poor copy.

"You've made up your mind." Stabler took a noisy sip. "Why?"

"Since you came bursting through my door, I've been shot, harassed, oh fuck, you were there for all of it! I can't handle a program right now. I need some time."

"To get high again?"

Toby refused to yell, but it was aching to get out. He focused on his soda for a minute, trying to think of something that didn't include the words 'fuck' and 'you.'

Stabler made a sound like an exasperated sigh. "Well, I tried. I'm not going to lose any sleep tonight over you."

"When I heard the gunfire, I got up and ran as fast as I could." Toby took a shallow breath, talking fast, unsure of why he had to tell him these things. "To you. I wish I knew why. It must be that face 'cause you sure haven't been nice to me." He snorted. "Except for that cheeseburger."

Stabler looked right at him. "I know you've got a hard-on for me."

Toby had a moment where he knew he could drive Stabler away with a simple crotch rub and a leer. It would be so easy. Stabler obviously wasn't comfortable with gay men. He probably laughed with his cop buddies about the faggots he arrested.
Instead, Toby told the truth. "When I was high, it was easy to pretend that you were Chris Keller, but that's not true any longer. I don't want you, and I know you don't want me."

Stabler frowned. "But you ran to me."

Toby didn't have an explanation. "You got dragged into it. I felt bad."

"I went with my eyes wide open. I had a gun on my leg and another under the seat." Stabler drank some soda, and Toby had a revelation. He opened his mouth, but Stabler interrupted him, "No, I wasn't asleep."

"I had no idea that Benny was such a lunatic."

"Drugs make people nuts." Stabler gave him a look that called him stupid. "You didn't know that?"

Toby laughed because he did know it, but he'd thought it was just him. Chris would call him a selfish bitch, and he'd be right. Toby's cell phone rang and he got it. "Hello?"

"Toby, it's Brian." Brain paused. "I made a few calls, and we need to get together and discuss the particulars."

"Sounds good." Toby checked the time. "When?"

"About an hour. Meet us at Le Monde." Brian laughed. "Shut up, Rusty! Wear that suit I sold you."

Toby would think about it. "No promises. Bye." He shut his phone and met the intrusive eyes of a cop. A strange thought coiled through him, and he asked before he could change his mind. "Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"

Stabler narrowed his eyes. "Why?"

"Because if you come, I won't drink or do drugs. Otherwise, all bets are off." Toby put his cell on the coffee table. "I'm going to take a shower. I smell like donuts. If you're still here when I get out, I'll take that as a yes." He didn't bother with hope. Stabler would leave.


Stabler finished his soda, refusing to glance as Beecher stripped and went to the bathroom. The guy obviously wasn't shy. Prison would do that to a man. Stabler looked at the last second and saw the swastika that Fin swore had driven Beecher over the edge. Maybe it had. It sure as hell would've hurt.

The shower started, and he knew it was time to go. He had no interest in going out to eat with Beecher and whoever had been on the phone. There wasn't any point in it. Beecher would drink if he wanted to, and there was nothing Stabler could do to stop him. The same went for the drugs.

Getting up, Stabler shut the window, and locked it. He had delivered the cards, given his speech. It was time to go. Beecher didn't need him. No one did. He stood for a minute with Kathy in front of his eyes. She was gone. Olivia too, and he was sick to death of losing people. But he cared for them, and Beecher was nothing - a skel. Nothing. He'd run to help him. It didn't make any sense.

"Shouldn't you have left?"

Stabler felt his temperature rise. He was a fool. "I'll drop you off and save you a cab."

"Thanks." Beecher dressed, and Stabler kept his eyes away. He went to the window instead and watched the sunlight fade between the buildings. Things changed. Time marched on, and he was still going nowhere but to work. He turned and looked at him. Beecher tried to hide his scars, and Stabler felt his hold on the world slip.

"You swear you aren't attracted to me?" Stabler tried to make Beecher look at him.

Beecher's eyes didn't even flick at him. "You're attractive, but I never, ever go where I'm not wanted, and you will never want that. Having a friend would be nice, but I know that's not possible. Drop me off, drive away, we're good."

Stabler heard only the truth, and for some reason, it made him sad. He hadn't wanted anything, but now that he knew it wasn't possible, it seemed a damn shame. "All my friends are cops."

"I was sure of that." Beecher laughed, but it sounded bitter. "I'm all the things you hate: a lawyer, an ex-con, a druggie, an alcoholic, and a killer. There isn't anything inside me to like."

"Don't you believe people can change?" Stabler asked, and then realized that he didn't believe it, not any longer.

Beecher put on a belt one loop at a time and then his Rolex. "The things we do shape us. All of those horrible things that happened changed me. Now that I'm out of prison, I have to find a life. The problem is that it's too damn easy to get high or drunk and leave it for another day."

"I thought the problem was that you didn't have a phone book?" Stabler raised one eyebrow.

Beecher laughed, surprise on his face. He wandered back to the bathroom still laughing. Stabler went to turn the television off. He hadn't seen Beecher drink. Beecher had avoided it at the party, but he had been going at the joints. Maybe that made the difference.

"Okay. I think I'm ready. It doesn't matter what I wear, I'll never look as good as Brian and Rusty." Beecher scooped up his phone.

Stabler didn't want to know who they were, but there was something that he curious about. "What the hell was that Toby-wan stuff?"

Beecher shrugged. "Shantille thought it was funny. She called me Toby-wan-Kenobi. Stupid, and everyone started doing it."

"That was dumb." Stabler was sorry he'd asked.

"Yeah, he was one of the good guys." Beecher pointed at the door, went through first, and locked it behind them. "Great movie though."

"My son likes it." Stabler started down the stairs. He would see his kids tomorrow, and he was looking forward to it.

Beecher was quiet, and they went out to the car. Stabler knew that Beecher had family. It was in the file. So, why didn't he live with them? Asking didn't seem like a good idea.

"Where to?" Stabler glanced down at his fuel gauge, hoping it was close.

"Some place called Le Monde. You know it?"

Stabler certainly did, and he wasn't going inside. "Yes." He pulled out into traffic.


Toby saw Stabler shut down on him. "Is it a known drug place? I'll call him and cancel."

"No." Stabler's back seemed more rigid than ever.

"Well, what then?" Toby wasn't going to look under the seat for a gun.

Stabler didn't take his eyes off the road. "It's a restaurant that caters to a gay clientele."

"Well, that's just wrong. I'm surprised you cops haven't gone in there and kicked some ass." Toby wanted to kick him in the nuts. "Is there an orgy room? That would be sweet."

"How the hell can I know?" Stabler snapped. "One cop sees me go in there and it'll be all over Manhattan that I'm gay."

Toby had expected this prejudice, but it still stung. "That would be awful! Your wrist might not bear the weight of your gun, and you'd redecorate the precinct in lavender. Oh God, the horror!"

Stabler slammed his hand into the steering wheel. "Shut up!"

Toby smirked at him. "Hey, I understand. I'm not gay either. I've been known to punch guys that called me gay, even if I just got through kissing them."

"You need to keep it zipped!" Stabler did an illegal u-turn and parked. "You could be infected."

"So could you." Toby got out. Anger, now, was all he felt. "Thanks for the ride, fuckhead."

Stabler glared. "Not a problem, Toby-wan." He managed to infuse a lot of scorn into that name. Toby slammed the door and walked away. He'd talked way too damn much, and he sure as fuck was never going to be friends with a cop like Stabler. God, no. He'd stick with Mabel.

"Can I help you, sir?" The maitre'd looked him over.

"I'm here with Brian and Rusty. Are they here yet?" The anger drained away, and all he felt was dumb. He didn't even know their last names, and he should've put on that suit.

The maitre'd changed his attitude instantly. "Of course. Come this way."

Toby thought this was a pretty nice place, and he smiled when he saw Brian and Rusty. They got up and gave him a peck, and they all sat down. Toby ordered coffee and tried to banish Stabler from his mind.

"You two look handsome."

Rusty preened. "I know. You look good too."

"You better wear that suit more than once a year," Brian growled. It was funny, but Toby didn't dare laugh. He tried to relax. He could do this.

"Need some Ex?" Rusty was very serious, going for his pocket.

Toby groaned and made sure not to stretch out his hand. "Guys, I'm trying really hard to get clean. If you tell me you have drugs, I may push you down and take them."

Rusty widened his eyes. "I was just asking. I don't actually have anything! I swear!" He shook his head. "Really!"

Brian rolled his eyes. "You should get laid, take your mind off it."

"I can't. I might be positive." Toby had to tell them the truth. They were nice guys, trying to give him a hand. "I've been in prison - hard time - up at Oswald."

They both looked shocked. Toby was glad the waiter picked that moment to bring the coffee. It gave him something to fiddle with while they stared, and he said into the awkward silence, "If you want me to fuck off, I will. Most people won't give me the time of day once they know the truth, so it isn't a big deal. I'm used to it."

Brian shook his head firmly. "No. You're just not what we think of when we think of prison material. You need a tattoo or something."

Toby wasn't showing them his ass. "I did fifteen, and I don't ever want to go back."

"You better get clean then," Rusty said with a squeak in his voice. "I've been kissed by a convict. I may swoon."

"He has a thing for prison movies," Brian whispered in Toby's ear. Toby sighed and added a bunch of sugar to his coffee. He needed it. Telling the truth was never easy, but he liked these guys too much to lie. Brian patted him on the hand. "We'll help."

Toby didn't know why, but he wasn't going to turn them away. Prison had taught him never to rely on anyone, trust, care, or even give one damn. He stared down at the hand lightly placed on top of his and didn't have strength for that attitude any longer.

"You sure?" Toby wouldn't blame them when they changed their minds later.

Rusty reached to put his hand on top of theirs. "Now it's official."

They laughed, and Toby found himself joining. No matter what happened, he'd find a way to thank them. They were good guys, and they'd reach out their hand even knowing the truth about him.

The moment shifted to talk of food and places to dance, and slowly Toby relaxed. He could do this, pretend to be normal, pretend he had friends. He didn't need drugs, damn it. Sipping the coffee cautiously, he got some of the sugar into his body.

The waiter returned for their order, and Toby let them handle it. When Brian was through, he gave Toby a nudge.

"Food first, and then business, okay?" Brian gave Rusty a quick peck. "He doesn't like to mix them."

Toby nodded, keeping his hands on his coffee. "Sounds good, and then I'll catch a cab home."

Rusty raised his eyebrows and smirked. "We'll see about that. I have plans."

Brian grinned and kissed Rusty again. "Don't scare him."

A smile came easy this time. Toby was willing to go along with whatever they wanted. He didn't have anyone else.


Toby woke slow and easy, took a long stretch, and tried desperately not to think about anything. Nothing. Not pot or coke or whiskey or wine or--.

"Fuck!" He buried his head under the pillow and prayed that aliens would kidnap him and give him a brain transplant. Of course, with his luck, he'd get anally probed. He threw off the covers, blinked from the light, and almost changed his mind about getting up for the day, but something caught his eye outside his window, and he opened it. Cool air rushed over him and he stared for a moment before picking up the huge phone book. With an oof, he tossed it on the bed and shut the window again. He locked it. Sitting down, he tried not to laugh, but a chuckle forced its way out.

Stabler. He'd been right there. Had he watched or thrown it and ran? Toby had a hard time seeing him running away, so probably he'd tossed it, sneered, and swaggered away. Or was that Chris?

Rubbing his face, Toby went to take a shower. He smelled like smoke. Rusty and Brian knew how to 'work the scene,' as Rusty said. They'd eaten, laughed, danced, and moved through the city as if they owned it. Toby had gone along for the ride, and it was a world away from Benny's house. He'd gone from scum to the scene in record time, but if it hadn't been from Brian, he'd still have been high.

Brian had actually taken it out of Toby's hand, and before Toby could hit him, Rusty had kissed him and whispered, "You don't need that."

Toby made the water hotter and ended up sitting down, letting it stream over him. He would not do drugs. Desperately, he searched for a reason why, but nothing came to mind. A glimmer emerged, and he knew Mabel would be disappointed, and she knew where he lived. It was... something, and he latched on to it and held it tight. It might get him through today, and tomorrow he'd find another reason. He hoped.

Getting up with a groan, he snapped off the water and grabbed a towel. Today, he'd get his life in order, and then he'd only have one more day until he could work at the food bank. If he planned it right, it could take two days to get organized. He dried his hair, put the towel around his hips, and went to the phone book.

A long time ago, in another life, when he wasn't drunk, he'd been able to accomplish tasks, hadn't he? He told himself that he'd never have graduated Harvard and had a career if he hadn't been good at doing stuff. Good? He snorted and started flipping pages. A computer first and then he'd keep shopping until he was tired. Since he wasn't buying drugs, he had some extra money.

The selection was enormous, but he managed to find one that was within walking distance. He'd go there first. He dressed in one of his wife beaters and jeans, knowing that Brian would be appalled.

Toby's cell rang and he went to get it. "Yes, I'm wearing a wife beater."

"Toby! Take that off this instant!" Rusty laughed. "Just calling to check on you."

"That's sweet." Toby laughed, but he thought maybe it was a painful noise. "I'm up. It seems like a lot. What are you two doing?"

"Working. Of course." Rusty yelled off to the side, "Brian! Are you talking to Toby or not?'

Toby wandered to the fridge while they fussed at each other. Lord, they were so married. He wasn't sure he could face food yet, but he grabbed a soda. Sugar would help. He sat in Stabler's chair and popped it open. Wait. Stabler had a chair? Toby was reminded again how pathetic he was.

"Hey, you okay?"

"Yep. I'm going to go buy a computer." Toby didn't need someone clucking over him, but, well, hell, he did. He sighed.

"No, honey, blue socks, not brown." Brian came back to Toby. "You know the deal with Le Monde, right?"

Toby rolled his eyes. "I was sober. I'll get with Mabel and find a way to coordinate it."

"Rusty! Stop that!" Brian exclaimed.

Toby drank some soda and wondered how he'd never had a gay friend in his life. "Gotta go. You two are making me hard."

Brian laughed. "Please don't tell anyone where you got the wife beater."

Toby hung up. He made sure he had everything and locked the door on his way out. He could do this.


Stabler leaned back in his chair and rested his eyes for a second.

"You still here?" Munch asked.

"I guess." Stabler didn't open his eyes. He wanted to think a minute. Being conflicted about right and wrong seemed to come with job, but mostly he knew. He knew. Except that right now, he didn't. He should, but he didn't.

Beecher was a good example of everything Stabler disliked. Beecher knew it, and he'd looked almost devastated by the knowledge. What did he expect? Stabler wasn't attracted to men. He pictured himself pulling Toby back hard against him, and he'd felt the groan. It had done nothing for him. Not a damn thing. Watching him kiss other men had repulsed him. Or had that been anger? He wasn't so sure now. It had been something dark, and he hadn't liked it. He was not a homophobe. He had nothing against it. It wasn't for him, but it was fine.

"Your wrist might not bear the weight of your gun, and you'd redecorate the precinct in lavender!"

Now, that was funny, but then it had made him furious. Hell, he knew gay cops, and they didn't have any trouble with their guns. They did take heat, but they knew they were in for it when they came out. He wasn't gay. He was Catholic, and the two didn't mix well. Even if most priests were gay and the rest were pedophiles.

"Are you growling?"

Stabler sat up and tried to dig up a smile for Benson. She was back in Special Victims - for now. He was glad she was here. She belonged here, and her competence made his job easier. "I think I was asleep."

"So, tell me how you got that cut on your neck." She pointed at it.

Stabler had hoped she wouldn't see it. It was low on his collarbone, and he thought his shirt covered it. "I thought Fin would fill you in."

Benson shrugged. "He might have, but I was curious about your side of the story."

"Wrong place, wrong time, but for the right reasons. Story of my life." Stabler didn't want to go into detail. He still wasn't sure why he couldn't walk away from Beecher, but talking about it with her was a bad idea.

"That Beecher guy is dangerous. Shame Narcotics didn't have any evidence against him. He nearly got you killed." She knew everything, and yet, she had it all wrong. Stabler forced his jaw not to clench. They disagreed about everything lately. She was his best friend or she had been. Now, he didn't know what they were. One thing for sure, he'd rather fall into bed with Beecher than her. The thought made him surge up and head for the locker room. He was losing his mind.

"Touchy," she said to his retreating back. He didn't slow down until he could sit and hide his face in his hands.


"It doesn't seem big enough." Toby liked the little laptop, but he didn't believe it had the memory capacity of a real PC.

The salesman smiled. "It's loaded, and comes with satellite internet. You can enjoy the internet, pay your bills, and do your taxes, music, anything you want."

"Music?" Toby felt like an idiot.

"Download the song and then upload it to your mp3 or IPod, whichever you prefer." The salesman was patient. It was a point in his favor.

Toby ran his hand over the top again. It was sleek, shiny, and he wanted it more than a joint.

"You can even watch movies on it."

"You can stop. I'm buying it." Toby put his hands in his pockets so he'd stop fondling it. IPods had been contraband in Oz, which was reason enough to get one. He went to look at the movies, picking up a few that he'd wanted to see. Buying a TV seemed wasteful. Ralph's was practically new.

Toby had to look at everything. He was very tempted to get a video game system, but he didn't. The only other thing he bought was a printer. They talked him into the warranties, and he caught a cab home. It was a step in the right direction, and he had something to play with to keep his mind off dope.

Next, he might tackle a grocery store or go buy some paint for that mural, but today, he'd get his bills organized and have a better understanding of how much he'd be spending a month, and from there he could decide on an investment plan. Pot would not produce long-term dividends. Unless he sold it for a living. He shoved that idea away. Mabel would kill him. Mabel. He had to call her, and he did that first before opening his computer.

She picked up after one ring. "Hello?"

"It's Toby. Got a minute?"

"Did you paint over that mural yet?"

Toby groaned. "I knew I forgot something!" He laughed. "No, but I did find a restaurant that's willing to provide us with all their leftover rolls and baked goods. What do you need from me to organize it?"

"Tactfully done." Mabel paused a moment. "We'll need to get someone to pick up and deliver to the church, and we'll need to set up an extra table. All easy enough. Which restaurant?"

"Le Monde." Toby didn't want to pick up sacks of rolls and take them to the church in a taxi, but Mabel would have someone that could do it.

Mabel was quiet too long. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. I have a friend who knows the owner." Toby wasn't going to let the food go to waste because of prejudice. "Ralph has a car. Does he have a key to the church?"

"No, but I'll have to talk to Pastor Deakins about this before we commit ourselves." She sighed. "You're going to cause trouble, aren't you?"

Toby began to think he might. "No one said anything about which restaurant would be appropriate. I'm lucky I found one that's willing to give us a hand."

"I'm not arguing with you." She sighed again. "I'll call the pastor and get back with you."

"Sounds fine." Toby didn't want to argue about it. "All the food is great. Thanks again."

"Eat some of it. You're skin and bones." She hung up with a click. He smiled. He'd eat, but first he wanted to open that box. It could've been ten minutes or ten hours later, he wasn't sure, and he almost ignored his cell phone.

"What?" Toby didn't look to see who it was.

"Tobias, it's Steven." Steven waited one second. "I hear from a colleague of mine that you're going to be a witness in a capital case."

"What the fuck?" Toby stopped looking at his computer, stunned disbelief becoming horror.

"Do you need a lawyer?"

"Lord, I hope not. I just found your bill from last time." Toby rubbed his forehead. "Witnesses in these kinds of cases sometimes end up dead."

"Yes. Be careful, and if you need me, call. Please."

Toby shifted the subject to something else. "I will. Are you married yet?"

Steven cleared his throat. "She called it off. Said she didn't want a law firm for a husband."

"Sorry about that." Toby was glad she'd saved herself. "Better sooner rather than later."

"I completely agree." Steven must have been at work because Toby heard someone talking in the background. "Okay, I have to get back at it. I'll keep you updated, if I hear anything else."

Toby was glad to hear it. "I have email now - TBeecher412 at tricast dot net.

"Got it." Steven was typing. "I hate to ask this, but are you using?"

"Not today." Toby hated the shame that oozed through him. "Thanks for calling."

"Bye." Steven hung up, and Toby tossed his phone. He might have to move. El Termundo had let him off once, but that was probably his only pass. He shouldn't have assumed the drug lord would plead it out. Thinking back to his statement, he didn't remember what all he'd said, but he knew he hadn't lied. No one knew better than him that the law wasn't always about the truth.

Toby could only pray someone shanked Termundo at Rikers. Putting his face in his hands, Toby had that feeling in the pit of his stomach he used to get in Vern's pod right before the lights shut off. His ass was getting it soon.



art & fanmix by Kate J | art by Beechercreature