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Guilty as Charged
by Blackchaps

art by Beechercreature

Title: Guilty as Charged
Author: blackchaps
Characters/Pairing: Elliot Stabler/Toby Beecher
Rating: Adult
Warnings: Slightly AU
Word count: 25,000
Summary: This story falls in that time period during season seven when Olivia Benson was gone and Elliot had no partner. It's slightly AU in that Elliot is divorced. Toby has been released from OZ after serving fifteen years. Elliot is working a case of what he believes is rape and murder. Toby is trying to get by, eating nachos and smoking pot. DNA brings them together and Elliot is sure he's found his murderer.
Notes & acknowledgments: Beta by Suespur! Woohoo! Story consultant: Watergal, who is good with doctor and lawyer stuff.

"Police! Open up!"

Toby barely had time to get to his feet and they were through the door. He saw black flak jackets, guns, and a face that he'd last seen falling off a balcony. That was the only thing that stuck with him. The only thing that mattered.

"Chris?" His head spun, and he nearly fell to the floor.

"Down! Down! Get down!"

Toby heard the words, but they didn't make sense. There was no way he'd smoked enough weed last night to make Chris magically appear with a bunch of bloodthirsty cops. Toby reached for him, wanting to know if this was real, and was slammed backwards to the floor. Rough hands flipped him over and cuffed him. He did his best to find Chris in the crowd.

"Get a bus! Rodriguez! What the hell were you thinking?" That was definitely Chris yelling.

Toby grunted as they wrenched him to his feet. "Chris?" It was the only word his brain was spitting out. In one second and a broken door, his life had turned upside down, and something in his gut whispered that Chris had come back to finish screwing him over.

"That ain't nothing. He'll be fine."

Toby looked at his upper arm. It was bloody. The pain registered now, and he couldn't believe that Chris had come all the way back from hell, or heaven, just to shoot him. "You shot me?"

"Tobias Beecher, you're under arrest for the rape and murder of Shantille O'Neal. You have the right to remain silent--"

Toby blinked five or six times, trying to drive the image of Chris away, but all he could see was Chris' mouth moving, talking about some bullshit, as usual. "Who the hell are you?" he managed to ask.

"Detective Elliot Stabler. Do you understand your rights as I've read them to you?"

"Uh, well, yeah." Toby licked his lips, staring up at him and trying to understand what was happening. Chris might possibly still be dead, and his look-a-like was some cop named Stabler, and Toby's intellect stalled at that point. "Are you arresting me?"

"Boy ain't the brightest criminal." The black guy started tossing the place.

"You drunk? High?" Stabler took him towards the bathroom and pressed a towel into his arm. Toby couldn't feel his feet, and he didn't think it had anything to do with the gunshot wound or last night.

"You need some shooting practice." Toby breathed deep to see if the smell was the same. It wasn't. Chris had been muskier, but that could have been the prison over-scent. Toby saw the deep blue eyes shove through him, and that was the same. "Not drunk. Not high. Confused."

"You know the drill." Stabler took the towel off. "Just nicked ya."

Toby had the perverse desire to drop to his knees and find out if the rest of Stabler matched Chris.

"Why'd you kill her?"

"She's dead?" Toby blurted without thinking. His brain had managed to process one thing - Chris had a twin, and he was a cop. The rest of it wasn't sticking with him. "I guess I should shut up."

"Elliot! The ambulance is on the street!"

"Come on." Stabler took him downstairs, and out to the street. His grip was hard, rough, and Toby might've dragged his feet just to make sure Stabler kept him close. The paramedics bandaged his arm. Toby flexed it and didn't worry. It wasn't deep. Stabler slapped the cuffs back on him the instant the paramedics turned him loose. "Hurt?"

Toby leaned hard against him, just to touch him, make sure he was real. He was built like rock, solid muscle. Toby bit back a soft groan.

"Come on, tough guy." Stabler opened the back door of a sedan. "Watch your head."

Toby didn't bother trying to get comfortable - his arm ached and his groin did also. Stabler slammed the car door, and Toby forced his brain to work. His friend, Shantille, was dead, murdered, and he knew why they'd broken down his door. There was a good chance he'd be wearing orange before the day was out. The fact that he was innocent wasn't important. He was an ex-con and his DNA was present at the scene. It was probably enough to get him twenty-five to life. Unless they could prove rape, and then it would be more. Shantille was dead. He didn't know why or who'd done it, but he'd miss her.

Stabler got in, and Toby wanted to hang his head over the middle. If he was going to prison for the rest of his life, he wanted to look at Stabler for a few minutes first. Maybe he could drag out the booking process. The interrogation could take hours, especially if he didn't get a lawyer. They'd smell blood, and he'd give them just enough to keep them on the hook. The random thought that he wasn't taking this seriously popped up, but he pushed it away.

The precinct wasn't as grimy as he'd expected, and Stabler pushed him in a room with a big window. Stabler removed the cuffs and pointed at a chair. He clearly expected to be obeyed. Toby rubbed his wrists and sat down. He took a good look at the bandage before licking his lips and focusing on Stabler.

Stabler smiled - it was a fake one - Toby had seen it many times before, but his heart still flipped over. He wasn't sure what his mouth was doing.

"Got any brothers?"

"We're here about you. Did you understand your rights as I read them to you?" Stabler sat down across from him.

"You must know that I was a lawyer," Toby said dryly. He put his arms on the table to lean as close as possible and stared at Stabler's very blue eyes. "I answered your question. You answer mine."

"Yes, I have brothers." Stabler's eyes were just as mean as Chris' on a bad day in lockdown. "One for you. Now me, what was your relationship with Shantille O'Neal?"

Toby was willing to answer that question. "We dated casually. Fuck buddies, I think, is the latest term for it. We had sex yesterday afternoon."

Stabler wrote it down, and Toby studied Stabler's hands. They were similar, but not the same, and the more he looked, the more disappointed he became. A casual resemblance, yes, however, the details were missing.

"My turn. Any tattoos?" Toby asked.

Stabler seemed surprised. He pointed at his forearm and upper arm on the other side. Toby wanted to see them. If one was a crucifix, he was going to start going to church regularly. There was a rap on the window, and Stabler left with a look that meant stay put. Toby leaned back in his chair, smoothed his hair, and checked for blood on his arm. The bandage had turned a little pink. It hurt, but not too much. He put his head down and rested.

The months since he'd been released had been strange, odd, and nothing like he'd expected. Gone was the chance to work at his father's law firm. Gone was his family, and if he'd had any friends, they wouldn't look him in the eye. And now this. He was fucked, but he'd gotten to see Chris again, and somehow those things evened out.


"Is this our guy?" Cragen asked.

"He admits to the sex. He's good for it." Stabler started rolling up his sleeves. It was time to get serious. "He's playing with me."

"He wants something from you, Elliot." Huang pointed through the glass at Beecher.

Stabler hoped not. "Think he'll cop to it?"

"He's intelligent, decisive, and analytical, but his file portrays him as an addictive personality. Find out what he's hooked on, give it to him, and then he'll cooperate. He won't be able to help himself."

"His DNA puts him there. Find out why." Cragen didn't look convinced. Stabler collected everything he had so far on the case, went inside, and dropped it in front of Beecher.


Toby wasn't asleep. He'd been waiting and thinking. Guilt had been tugging at him. He leaned his face into his palm, tired of the silence. "Elliot, is it true that homicides that aren't solved within twenty-four hours usually aren't?"

"It's a misleading statistic. Our squad keeps at it." Stabler slid a picture at him. "Like your handiwork?"

Toby picked it up and took a good look. It was nauseating, but he forced himself to study it and notice the details. "She liked to keep the window open." He put it down and pointed at the closed window. "Yesterday afternoon, before we got busy, I shut it. She laughed and called me a prude."

Stabler took the photo back. "You're saying that you didn't do this?"

"Well, I was going to mess with you for an hour or two, but the guilt would mess with me for months. I hate guilt. Hate it." Toby rubbed his lips and tried not to think about kissing him. "We had sex, but she had a date afterwards. I went out and then back home alone. Next thing I knew, you guys busted down my door and shot me."

Stabler pointed at Toby's guts. "You made an aggressive move towards my men."

"I'm not going to sue." Toby took the picture back. He should sue, but he wouldn't win, so forget it. He went to the heart of this problem. "Let's put it all out on the table. I'm an ex-con, you've got my DNA at the scene because the condom broke, and I live in the building. So, I've got to be guilty. That's what every murderer does. They go home, eat nachos, and wait to be shot."

Stabler slapped the table. "Yes, you're guilty! Was it a lover's quarrel?"

Toby turned the picture upside down, trying to see a weapon. "Was she stabbed or shot? I can't tell. I liked her. She was realistic about what a woman can expect from a man."

"I can see you feel terrible about it," Stabler drawled.

"Well, yes, I do." Toby did feel bad, and he would miss her, but he hadn't done it. "Did you dust the window for prints? I'm sure she opened it after I left, and it's closed. The guy came up the fire escape, shut the window, and went out the front door. Easy."

Another knock on the glass window behind them. Toby raised his eyebrows, trying to look earnest. "I could find out who she went out with, if you want."

Stabler left the room instead of answering. His boss obviously kept him on a tight leash, and Toby wondered what the big dog had done to deserve it.


"Who shot him?" Cragen asked.

"Rodriguez." Stabler shrugged and manipulated the truth to protect a fellow cop. "He bolted towards us."

Cragen looked skeptical. "He obviously wasn't packing in a wife beater. Talk to Rodriguez about his trigger finger."

"I will." Stabler crossed his arms over his chest, hoping that was the end of the lecture. "Beecher's playing with me."

"Find out what he knows. Make him help us." Cragen was serious. "An ex-con like him would've run. Not gone home to eat nachos."

Huang nodded firmly. "He might have done it, but he's convincing me otherwise."

Stabler wasn't sure at this point. "Make sure the forensic team dusts the window."

"Will do." Cragen walked off. Stabler didn't like Beecher's attitude. It was too casual. He went back in the room.


Toby got up the instant Stabler entered the room. Finding out how tall he was seemed important. They stood toe to toe, but Toby had to look up. Stabler was an inch taller than Chris. They were like flawed carbon copies.

"You married?" Toby looked for a ring but didn't see one.

"Not going there." Stabler didn't move away or look down. This copy of Chris was pure alpha male, and Toby had to tell his dick to behave. Casually, Toby went back to a chair, pulled it out, and sprawled. This wasn't how he'd planned to spend his day, but staring at Chris - the cop version - was no hardship.

"What was your motive? Jealousy? Anger? A burning desire to see Oz again?"

Toby laughed, but it was bitter. "I miss the chicken nuggets. Elliot, I didn't do it. Toss me in a holding cell and go find the guy, or girl, who killed her. I'll still be here when you get back."

"Girl?" Elliot had a note of surprise in his voice, and he began to move around the room in a manner that was almost like pacing but not quite. His muscles flexed under his shirt, and Toby had to force his brain out of the gutter to answer the question.

"Shantille was... flexible." Toby had also liked that about her. "Tell you what. Call Maxi. She'll know who Shantille was out with. You do have Shantille's phone, right?"

Stabler frowned. "Why haven't you asked for a lawyer?"

"I am one." Toby licked his lips. He was willing to sit here and look at him all day. "Catholic?"

"What else can you tell us?" Stabler moved fast to get right in Toby's face, and Toby wanted two more inches so their lips would be closer. Stabler put his hands on his hips. "Ready to wear orange?"

Toby looked him up and down, noted the slight bulge, and wanted a taste. He folded his arms and put his chin on them. Staring at him brought back some good memories of Chris and his beautiful dick. Had God giggled when he made two of them? One good, destined to be a cop, and the other rotten to the core, destined to be a killer, and both of them sexy motherfuckers. Stabler probably had women throwing themselves at him in this little room.

"Did you care about her at all?" Stabler pulled out the scorn, and it rang true.

"Yes." Toby wasn't going to elaborate. "I haven't known her very long but she seemed like a nice lady."

"And you banged her," Stabler snapped out each word, showing his anger now. He was good at this interrogation stuff.

Toby was surprised at how seeing the pull of neck muscles made his heart speed up and his mouth go slightly dry. This man was dangerous too. His arm started to ache and he moved it. "She asked, and I said yes. Prison makes a man grateful for every bit of pussy he can get."

"Her idea? You didn't force yourself on her?" Now he was working the disbelief.

Toby sighed. "If you look at my file, you'll see that I would never rape someone. Never."

Stabler started throwing pictures at him. Toby knew he was supposed to break down and confess, but all he did was calmly pick each one up to analyze it. Finished, he made a stack, but on the third one he stopped. "Wait. That's not her purse."

"What?" Stabler took it back fast. "Whose is it?"

"Do I have to do everything?" Toby licked his lips. He was thirsty, and he knew they were waiting for him to ask. "Can I have a soda or something?"

"Sit tight." Stabler snatched up the photo, but he paused at the door. "Look through the rest of those."

"Yes, sir." Toby looked at the window. He was curious as to who was on the other side, and there was a way to find out. Getting to his feet, he went to the door. It opened before he could touch the knob, and the black man from earlier came inside.

"You going somewhere?"

"Am I under arrest?" Toby put on his toughest attitude, courtesy of Oz.

"Hell, yes! Didn't we explain that? Now sit your ass down before I put you down!"

Toby went back to his chair. "My arm hurts. I was hoping there was a doctor out there with some pain medication. It might be tomorrow before I can get to the hospital at Rikers."

"Ain't happening. Sit down!"

Toby put his ass in the chair. "I'm down." He wasn't going to fight with this homeboy. One bullet wound was enough for the day. He picked up the next picture and studied it for any clue as to who had done this.

"Why'd you do it?"

Toby didn't look at him. "Tobias Beecher. What's your name?"

"Detective Fin Tutuola." Fin sat down across from him. "I called the warden. He's preparing something special for you."

"Probably another ass fucking. That was nice of you." Toby turned the picture slightly. "Gun or knife?"

"You tell me."

Toby sighed. He went to the next photo. "Too much blood. I'm thinking knife. Someone was pissed off. Did you check the security camera that's at the bank across the street? It points right at our door."

Fin slammed his hand down.

Toby forestalled the yelling. "Elliot already did that. I didn't kill her. We had sex, but it was consensual. It was even her idea." He flipped through the rest of the pictures but didn't see anything unusual. "Were you the one who shot me?"

"No." Fin glanced at the door. "I'll be back."

"Soda?" Toby asked, but he didn't think it would happen. The door slammed. He rubbed his arm and winced.

A uniformed cop opened the door next. "Come on."

Toby got up and went with him politely, but a big hand stayed wrapped around his arm. The cell wasn't much of one, more like a dog kennel. The locks clicked and he stuck his hands in his pockets.

"This sucks!" he yelled to the world. No one gave a shit, but that was nothing new, and he sat down on the concrete floor. At least he wasn't naked. He leaned back against the fence and wanted a joint. Leaving the state, if he got out of this, was a good idea. Sooner or later, someone else he knew would end up dead, and of course it would be his fault. They always blamed the nearest ex-con. It wasn't as if he had anything to hold him here. Hell, he didn't have anything.

"Elliot! Where we at?"

Toby rolled his head and watched Fin and Stabler walk and talk until they were out of sight. They might actually solve the case, but either way, he was going to be charged with something. Obstruction. Assault. Something. They might throw down a gun and get him on that. He shut his eyes and smiled. Chris' face was still on this earth. He was dead and gone, but he wasn't. It was a comfort. Stupid fuck. The day crept by, but he didn't bother bitching about it. At least they weren't beating him up.

"Get up."

Toby rubbed his eyes and looked for who was talking before moving. "Hey, Elliot."

Stabler threw the locks and opened the door. "Need me to drag you up?"

"It's the blood loss and dehydration." Toby fumbled to his feet. He was a little groggy, but complaining would get him nowhere. "Was it you who shot me?"

"No." Elliot took him back to the interrogation room. "How's the arm?"

Toby sat down. "Hurts. Can I go now?"

"You're still under arrest. Would you like a lawyer?" Elliot slid a soda down the table, and Toby popped it open. He took a long drink.

"Isn't it your job to bust my balls and make me confess? No lawyer. Just you, me, and a broomstick." Toby smiled and drank some more.

Elliot leaned back. "Good idea. Let's get started."

Toby laughed. He was enjoying this, and while he knew it was sick, he just didn't care. "So, you're Irish, divorced, and Catholic with two tattoos. You have few prejudices and you struggle with your temper."

"Let's talk about you instead." Stabler thumped a huge file down on the table. "Was there anyone in Oz you didn't kill?"

"Just doing my part to clear the parole board's schedule." Toby finished his soda quickly before they took it away. He hadn't killed many, but they all stuck with him, even the ones Chris had killed for him.

Stabler grinned. It was a flash of strong teeth. "You have no alibi."

"Yes, I do. Glad you asked." Toby held out his hand. He'd had time to think about it. "The pictures?"

Stabler handed them over, and Toby shuffled through them until he found the one he wanted. "See the clock?"

Stabler took it. "So?"

Toby dug out his wallet and handed over the receipt from the store. "See the time stamp?"

Stabler smoothed it out. "So they'll remember you?"

"I doubt it. I didn't hold up the place." Toby twirled his empty can. "Now don't get worried. I didn't kill her, but I did assault a cop, so you can get me on that."

"You did?" Stabler tilted his head to the side, frowning deeply.

"Hell, yes. Why else would you shoot me?" Toby leaned way forward. "Elliot, are all your brothers accounted for? Still alive?"

Stabler shrugged, never losing his frown. "Yes."

"So God did make two of you." Toby felt half the way to high. "The file, please."

Stabler slid it to him. Toby flipped through it fast and found a picture of Chris near the back. He gently took it out, wished he had a copy, and slid it to him. "You see, I knew you once already."

Stabler took it, stared, and then looked up at him. "Not my brother."

"God is just having some fun with me again. Occasionally, I think the big man upstairs hates me, but beyond that, you have my alibi, and I have no motive. Can I go?"

"No." Stabler got to his feet. "We're going to book you. We can always vacate the charges later."

"Fuck." Toby put his head down on the table. This wasn't how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. That beautiful face had led him astray again. "Elliot, tell me what you want. I'll give it to you."

Stabler leaned across the table. "Confess. I'll ask for leniency. You can plead it out to man one."

Toby put his hands on top of his head and squeezed. "If I'd have done it, I would!"

"You sent us running around today, but all we got is you." Stabler was so close. "Where'd you ditch the knife?"

A tiny bit of desperation pushed its way through to the surface, and Toby really thought about it. "I'm going to throw out a guess. The guy, or girl, wouldn't want to walk out with it, so he or she threw it down the garbage chute. It's near Shantille's door." Toby shrugged and pretended he didn't care. "Wow, I gotta piss. Is that trash can okay?"

Stabler pulled him up. "I'll take you. You know you're going away for this. Jury will come back in five minutes, especially after they hear you knifed someone else."

"Prejudicial. It won't be allowed." Toby tried to walk in Stabler's space again, bumping into him over and over again. Stabler was beefier than Chris, and he gave Toby a real push once they got inside the restroom. Toby grinned annoyingly and went to unzip. He kept his eyes on the urinal.

"You still haven't booked me. I think you're dragging your feet, waiting for forensics and praying I'll confess, which I won't because I didn't do it."

"We got all the evidence we need. How does twenty-five more years sound?"

Toby shook off, zipped, and went to wash his hands. "I can do them, but I'd rather not. I wasted enough years getting ass fucked."

Stabler gave him a look that was almost a smirk. "Tell us what happened and I'll see you go somewhere upstate."

"Oz is upstate." Toby didn't believe that shit. Cops lied all the time. "How many kids you got?"

"Four." Stabler seemed to instantly regret his answer. "You?"

"I had three." Toby leaned against the wall. He wasn't in any hurry to go back to the room. "I'm down to two. They're long gone and grown. Fifteen years will do that."

Stabler escorted him back to the room. Fin was there. They exchanged a short look, and Toby knew they were about to run a game on him. He ignored the chair and went to stare at the glass. His arm had begun to ache again, and he gently tugged on the bandage.

"Leave it and sit down."

"Fuck me." Toby used the mirror to find the edge of the tape. He bit his lip and tore it off. It had bled, and he turned his arm to look at the shallow grove. It wasn't bad, and he was glad they'd missed his forehead.

"Cuff him to the chair, Fin." Stabler was about ready to get mean. Toby could hear it in that sexy voice.

Fin moved right behind him. Toby turned, suddenly tired of the bullshit. They had no right to rough him up. He wasn't convicted yet. "Touch me, and I'll lawyer up."

Stabler laughed, and it was a harsh sound. "You should have done that hours ago."

"I was cooperating with New York's finest, but I think I'm about finished." Toby turned again to the glass. He wasn't going to let them think they were winning. "I want a doctor for my arm."

"Pretty sure you can't doctor up." Fin laughed. Stabler did too, but it was forced. Toby watched their faces in the mirror, and they were regrouping, worried they were losing him.

"Let me take a look." An Asian man opened the door and came inside the room. "Give me a minute, detectives."

Toby smiled for them as they trudged out. The shrink had finally made his appearance. "And no listening. Remember doctor-patient confidentiality."

"That doesn't work for medical doctors." Stabler shook his head and looked stern, pausing in the doorway.

"Does that lie work on other people? Stupid people? And anyway, he's a head doctor, and they're anal about it. I want my privilege. Beat it." Toby sat down now. He had enjoyed putting that look of chagrin on Stabler's face, but he also knew that their doctor would tell them everything. "Tobias Beecher. You?"

"Dr. Huang." Huang gently began to examine Toby's arm, keeping his hands far away from the actual wound. Toby noticed the resemblance to Father Mukada, but not mentioning it was the polite thing to do. They might be cousins. After seeing Stabler wearing Chris' face, anything was possible.

"What's your job?" Toby assumed that Stabler and Fin were listening. There was no such thing as confidentiality inside a police station unless lawyers were directly involved.

"I work here in the Special Victims Unit as a forensic psychiatrist." Huang was very serious. No jokes in him. "Swollen and still oozing slightly. Why'd you remove the bandage?"

"It was bloody, and how else could I get you in here?" Toby smiled in that way that Sister Pete had always liked. "Get me a pain killer?"

Huang managed to look more serious. "Do you worry about triggering your addictions?"

Toby thought that was a hilarious question, but he didn't laugh. "It hurts. Stabler isn't going to score me any smack or get me a beer anyway."

"Why'd you kill her?" Such a soft gentle question and Huang managed to look as if he expected an answer.

Toby wiped away some blood and drew a frowning face on the table. "Why would I kill a woman who liked casual sex and didn't make me take out the garbage?"

"Murder of the moment is rarely rational. You know that." Huang turned him loose. "I'll get my kit."

"Thanks." Toby threw him a bone to chew. "If I was going to kill in passion, I wouldn't be caught."

"It sounds as if you have experience." Huang stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"Really?" Occasionally, when he was low on guilt, he felt guilty that he didn't give one shit about killing Metzger. There was nothing more fucked up than that. He waited until Huang had the door open. "Get gloves. I haven't been tested for AIDS."

Huang nodded sharply. Stabler came in the instant that Huang was gone. Toby wanted to lick him, see if he liked it. Chris had.

"Anything you'd like to share with me?"

"Don't pretend you weren't listening. I know exactly how this game is played." Toby felt his stomach growl. He'd been here all day with no food, but he knew it was cop bullshit. They wanted him to ask for things so he'd feel weak, rely on them, confess to them. He'd already had to ask to piss and for a soda. He wasn't doing it again. "Did you eat today?"

"Yes." Stabler sat back down and opened the file. He was a master at this game, and Toby waited for Stabler's next move. The silence was heavy, but Toby had nowhere to be. Stabler finally sighed and said with fake regret, "Toby, holding out on us only hurts you."

Toby brushed his hair back. He was going to take this a different direction. "Why aren't you using my last name? What makes you think we're intimate?" He purred out the last word. The memory of fucking that gorgeous body played itself out before his eyelids. Chris would catch his breath hard right before he came, and Toby could still hear it in his ears.

"I think we can get you a needle in the arm."

Toby lifted his hands and shook them in mock fear, broken out of his daydream and slightly resentful because of it. "I'm so scared. I bet that works with guys who haven't sat in a six by nine day after day after day, bored out of their damn minds, watching their family and friends slip away and knowing their life is shit and worth even less."

Huang came back in the room. Stabler frowned and left without another word. Toby sat on the table to make his arm easier to get to, and Huang snapped on some latex gloves.

"Why haven't you been tested?" Huang asked sharply.

"I don't care to know the results." Toby knew how ugly that sounded. He should've cared, but he didn't. "I always use a condom."

"It broke." Huang probed the wound hard to make his point. Toby went with the pain, using it to wash away the lust for Stabler. Huang cleaned the blood off. "Have you always been prone to fits of violence?"

"Only since I was fucked up the ass by a Nazi." Toby winced from the sting of the alcohol wipe. "Shantille was a kind, gentle soul. She liked tofu and bean sprouts and bitched at me to recycle. Killing her was bad karma, and I sure as shit don't need that guilt."

"You didn't do it?"

Toby smiled just to mess with him. "I swore off killing people when I got out of prison. It's the guilt, you know? Seeing their faces in my dreams and watching them die again and again. I hate guilt. Satan invented it. I'm sure of that."


"Because God's too nice a guy, so he had Satan do it. The only thing worse than guilt is hope." Toby bit his lip. "That hurt! Damn!"

"Almost done." Huang moved quicker. "Hope is a good thing."

"Why?" Toby kept talking just to hear himself. "Is it good to hope for something that never happens? Is hope worth the price our souls pay for it?"

"Do lawyers have souls?" Huang looked almost mischievous. Toby laughed. He pulled his arm away, smoothed down the bandage, and made sure not to even grunt. He snitched a wipe and cleaned the blood off the table. Huang took everything to a small trash can. When he came back, he got his bag again and asked, "Shot or pill?"

Toby didn't believe it. "Which would satisfy your needs?"

Huang tilted his head. "I don't care."

"Neither do I." Toby hoped it was a big shot of morphine, but he knew he was out of luck there. Huang handed him two pills. It was Tylenol. He swallowed them dry. "Did you enjoy that lie?"

"It wasn't one."

Toby snorted. He went back to his wooden chair and sat his ass down. "Thanks, Doc. Send me a bill."

"Guilt is a powerful weapon."

"Stabler knows that." Toby folded his arms and put his head down. It had been a long day, and they'd keep at him all night. "Should I get a lawyer?"

"What do you think?"

Toby didn't answer. He refused to believe that it would make a difference. Shutting his eyes, he thought of Chris. Chris should've lived to see this. He'd have laughed his ass off, and then they could've fucked.

"No sleeping, Beecher!" Fin was back.

Toby didn't react. He wasn't talking to anyone but Stabler from this point on. Fin threw things, banged the table, yelled, and said a lot of things that were very rude, but Toby didn't move an inch or say a word. This was nothing. Nazis were worse. They'd put him over the table and fuck his ass raw. Fin wouldn't dare touch him.

"Fin, we got a call from forensics." That was Stabler. Toby opened his eyes and winked at him. Stabler put his hand firmly around Toby's bandage and started for the door. "Back to the holding cell."

Toby refused to give him the satisfaction of crying out from pain, but it hurt like hell. "Did you find her car yet?"

Stabler stopped in the hallway and pulled him around. "She's not licensed to drive."

"She had one." Toby didn't know any more than that, and he didn't know if it was important, but God was in the details, every lawyer knew that. "Your abuse won't gain you any advantage over me. In the end, all you'll have is the faint taste of guilt in your mouth that you intentionally hurt an innocent man."

Stabler shoved him in a cell. "One thing you aren't is innocent."

"Oh, but I was." Toby sat down on the hard concrete and waved goodbye. Stabler had a stick up his ass, but it was such a pretty ass that Toby decided to forgive him.


Stabler waited in the hallway to talk to Huang. "What will you tell me?"

"Elliot, he definitely has issues with anger, but I don't think he did this. He keeps coming back to the guilt. It drives him. If he had killed her, he'd confess. He wouldn't want to, but he would."

Stabler wasn't so sure. "After fifteen in Oz, I'm not sure he can feel anything."

"He does. More acutely, not less. Trauma is written all over him."

"So is nutball. Okay, I gotta go." Stabler collected Fin and they went to forensics. He needed more information, and Munch had to find that car.


Toby rolled to his side, pillowed his head with his arm, and let the familiar feel of concrete lull him to sleep.

"Tobias, I recommend that you see a professional upon your release."

Toby smiled humorlessly. "Like it'd help. I'm done, Sister Pete. Turn it loose. I did."

"Your family--"

"My family moved away and didn't leave a forwarding address! Chris is dead! You tell me one thing I have to live for!"


"That's nothing." Toby didn't give one damn, and he hadn't for years. "Goodbye, Sister. God willing, I'll never see you again."

She frowned and turned away.

"Rise and shine, cupcake!"

Toby was on his feet before sleep had faded, and he mindlessly threw himself at the fence. "Don't you ever call me that, you fucker!"

Stabler stepped away from the door. "Calm down, or I'll take you in cuffs."

Toby tried to catch his breath. He was furious, and it wasn't fading away. It was like raw sewage pumping through his veins. The lawyer was out to lunch. Stabler was going to have to deal with inmate 97B412, and he was seriously pissed off.

"What the fuck do you want?" Toby panted. It was damn hot in here, and he didn't understand what they wanted from him. He'd told them everything. Stabler narrowed his eyes, opened the door, and reached for Toby's arm. Toby backed up. He didn't have far to go, but he put his back against the fence. No one was touching him. He was done with that.

"Fin! I need a hand here!"

Toby tried to calm down. He took a deep breath. "Just tell me what you want!" Rational wasn't part of him right now. The cell, the gun shot, no food, Chris: it all balled up inside him.

"On your knees! Hands on your head!"

Toby hated that he did it instantly. So many years of it, and his body reacted before his brain could protest. Stabler had him cuffed in two seconds.

"Good job, Fin."

"Old prison habits die hard." Fin got Toby's arm, and Toby wanted to fight like hell. Instead, it all drained from him, and he stumbled on his way out the door. He put his head down and walked. None of this shit mattered. He didn't matter, and he sure as fuck didn't give a damn. They needed to hurry up and send his ass to Rikers where he could maybe get a pain pill and a halfway decent cot instead of concrete floor.

Stabler shoved him into a chair and tossed a bag of evidence at him. "Good news - we found the murder weapon. The bad news is that it was right where you said it would be."

Toby licked his dry lips. Thirst and hunger pounded at him. "Okay."

"That's it? That's all you have to say?" Stabler picked it up and put it in front of Toby's face. "A perfect homemade shiv, wouldn't you say?"

"Looks like good work." Toby felt a small bead of sweat trace its way down his temple. Guilt thrust his way through him, and he knew that he was responsible, even if he hadn't done it. "I prefer a shorter, thinner blade, but that one looks effective."

Stabler dropped it and leaned so their faces were closer than they should be. "Why?"

"Less liable to kill. Assault is one thing. Murder is another." Toby shivered. "Can, um, I pee again?"


Toby actually winced, and he wasn't proud of it. He wanted to crawl under the table until they finally decided to ship him out. Fin pulled a chair close, turned it around, and sat down.

"Beecher, prison don't scare you. Tell us why you did it, and we'll get you processed. Her parents deserve a little peace!"

Toby frowned and looked up at Stabler. "She told me her parents were dead. We had that in common."

"I thought you were just fuck buddies?" Stabler asked calmly.

"Yes, but after about five minutes, talking is all I got." Toby wished he could wipe his brow. He twisted his hands in the cuffs, but he'd be damned if he'd beg for them to come off. "Did you turn the heat up in here?"

Stabler smiled. "Guilt makes men sweat."

Toby stared at that fake smile. "Better get a mop then. I got enough guilt to drown you, but I didn't kill Shantille!"

"I'll get him a jumpsuit." Fin slammed the door on his way out. Toby quivered again and felt his arm begin to throb. The cuffs were making it worse.

Stabler shrugged and sat down. "I tried to help you out."

Toby felt his teeth begin to chatter, and he clenched his jaw. "Elliot, I think I'm gonna puke."

"You aren't so tough." Stabler dropped his voice low. "And who said you could use my first name?"

"Fuck," Toby whispered. He would probably confess if Stabler asked him in that voice. Sexy didn't begin to describe it. Toby's arms began to tremble and he dry-heaved. Good news - he hadn't eaten lately. Stabler was yelling a bunch of stuff, but Toby could only see Chris. Chris got angry too. He killed people when he was mad. Did Stabler?

"Elliot, I think he's ill."

Toby leaned back. He was hot, no cold, no hot. "Hey, Doc. They're transporting me soon. I'll see the doctor at Rikers."

Stabler put his hand on Toby's forehead. Toby shamelessly leaned into the touch. If he squinted, it was Chris, and his hand felt so good.

"He's burning up."

"The wound is infected. Get a bus."

"I'll take him. It'll be quicker." Stabler yanked him up again, and Toby bit back a cry of pain and frustration. He struggled to get away, but Stabler pushed him against the wall and held him there. "Settle down!"

"He's panicking. It's probably the cuffs."

"They're staying on!"

Toby loved the dispassionate voice of the doctor in direct contrast to Stabler's anger. He stopped fighting, slid down to the floor, and whispered, "The truth never works for me."

"Elliot, get a bus. Trust me." Huang's hands were on him. "Hold on, Beecher."

Toby screwed his eyes shut and prayed that when he opened them again this would be over. A cell was fine. Just, let this be done.


"Where are we at?" Cragen asked.

Stabler wasn't sure. This case was like sand shifting under his feet. "Beecher's in the hospital. Huang's half-convinced that he didn't do it, and we haven't found her car."

"Anything new off the knife?"

"The shiv was clean for prints, but there was blood residue." Stabler chewed his straw. "Beecher knew where it was. He made it. If he were here, I'd book him."

"And the security camera?"

Fin spoke up. "Shows her leaving with her girlfriend and coming back alone."

"Beecher isn't on it at all. He lied." Stabler pointed to the receipt in an evidence bag. "They don't remember him, and there's no date, just a time. He stayed back, waited for her, and killed her. We have him."

"So, why'd he do it?"

"He's damn crazy is why." Fin taped a picture of Toby's butt up on the board. "Has been ever since the Nazis did that."

Stabler leaned back in his chair. Bits and pieces of this case nudged at him but Beecher looked good for it. "I'd feel better if we could find the car."

"Maybe there isn't one."

"I think there is." Munch came over with a file in his hand. "It's listed among the assets of Mrs. O'Neal's will. Ninety-four Buick Skylark, red, with a red interior, four-door, and worth about three grand."

"Run the VIN and plate number and see what you turn up." Cragen pointed at Stabler. "Did you speak to Rodriquez?"

"Not yet." Stabler would find the time.

"Do it now. No excuse for it."

Stabler stood and tossed his straw. He'd do that, and then he would start processing Beecher - case closed unless something turned up, but it wouldn't.


"We're asking for remand, your Honor. He's a flight risk, and the community is in danger while he's at large."

Toby didn't even glance over at her. "Your Honor, I have no passport. I don't even have a license to drive. We request bail."

The judge gave him another hard look. "Mr. Beecher, wouldn't you be better served by retaining a lawyer?"

"We'll find out, won't we?" Toby made sure not to smile. "How does half a million sound?"

"Your Honor, if he were on parole, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Given his history, remand is the only logical recourse."

"I paid my debt to society. It has nothing to do with these proceedings, unless the police want to prove they were prejudicial from the outset." Toby caught sight of Stabler in the back of the courtroom. "I want my day in court."

The judge looked at the paperwork again. "Bail is set at five hundred thousand." He banged his gavel down. Toby gathered his things, half-smiling. That had gone well, and the money wasn't a problem. He'd get bonded and be out of here by noon.

"Beecher, do yourself a favor and get a lawyer." Novak had this look about her that made Toby's teeth ache.

Toby shrugged. "You could win this with your eyes shut. What are you offering?"

Her eyes flashed to surprise. "Plead to murder two and we'll drop the rape charge. You get twenty-five, no parole."

"Interesting. You sure you can't see your way down to manslaughter? Your detective indicated to me that it might be possible." Toby was baiting her and hoping to get Stabler in trouble. He had no intention of taking any deal. Stabler eased up behind her, and his eyes were somewhere between confused and angry. Toby stared into those blue eyes. "Detective, did you locate her car yet?"

"No. Case closed." But Stabler didn't look sure.

Toby hadn't thought so. "It'll give me something to do while I wait for our next court date. Elliot, you look great in blue. You should wear it more often."

Now Stabler was angry. It was all over his face, but Novak furrowed her brow. "You're gay?"

"Doesn't everyone find him sexy?" Toby laughed to tease him. "Excuse me, I have to get bonded." He smiled falsely for the impatient deputy, and they took care of business. It was after lunch when they turned him loose, and he went out with pure relief. Waiting for trial at Rikers would have sucked.


Toby stopped on the steps and waited for him. "You can call me Toby. I feel as if we shared an intimate moment when you were hurting me."

"We didn't." Stabler just looked pissed now. "How's the arm?"

Toby didn't want to talk about that. "The other purse. I'm going to need the information on that. For some reason, I don't have it." He continued down the stairs.

Stabler was right with him. "Lots of women have more than one purse."

"You didn't dust it for prints?" Toby rubbed his forehead. "Shit. I'm going to have to save myself. Elliot, put aside your prejudices and think for a moment."

"We watched the video. You never left the building. You lied." Stabler edged closer when Toby stopped walking. "And don't pretend you're gay now. That shit won't fly."

Toby laughed and let his tongue out to play for a moment. "I'm flexible, like Shantille. God made two of you. It would be a shame not to sample both."

"Shut up, Beecher." Stabler started walking away. He was practically running.

"I want that surveillance tape," Toby said loud enough to carry to him. Stabler didn't look back, but Toby had a feeling that he'd get it. He'd made a mistake there. He'd gone out the fire escape. That camera made him itchy, and now he looked guiltier. He watched Stabler's back until it was out of sight. Stabler had wanted to check on Toby's arm? That was hard to believe, but guilt made men do strange things, and he had been shot.

"Is your pride making you do this?" Huang asked softly from behind him.

Toby turned. "No. I'm not sure I have any pride left. I'm doing this because they got me. In all honesty, I can't win, so why pay someone to sit there and look sad when they find me guilty?"

Huang didn't smile or frown. He'd learned to control his expressions. "Are you guilty?"

"Not this time." Toby smiled for no good reason. "I'll be calling you to the stand. Consider yourself warned."


"Stabler will attempt to twist my words when he showed me the shank. I'll need you to testify to my state of health and mind." Toby didn't think Stabler would actually lie, but there was no telling.

"Detective Stabler would never lie."

"Of course not, but interpretation is everything. His reality may not be mine, and I was a little out of it." Toby started looking for a cab. He was going to sleep for an hour or two, and then try to save his ass. For some reason, the car was important, and he had to find it.

"Are you enjoying this?"

Toby had been bored, but this was ridiculous. "Doc, go find someone else to shrink wrap. Start with Stabler. He obviously has anger issues out the ass, and don't leave out Fin. I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me."

Huang frowned, a cab stopped, and Toby made his getaway. He brushed his hand through his hair and relaxed back. They didn't have him yet.


"Is Beecher going to file a motion against Rodriguez?"

Stabler shook his head and rubbed his eyes. The car had fallen off the face of the earth. It worried him. "He may whine about it in court, but nothing will happen there."

Huang came striding up. "He should've claimed brutality, and you both know it. Tell me now so I'm not surprised on the stand. How many hours was he here before he collapsed?"

Stabler didn't like the way this was going. "Thirty. Give or take an hour."

"No food? No water? One soda in all that time?" Huang wasn't happy. That was easy to hear. "You let him piss once. He'd been shot! Explain to me how that isn't police brutality."

"'Cause it ain't." Fin shrugged. Stabler wished he could push away guilt so easy. Beecher hated guilt, and he wasn't the only one.

"He's an ex-con who brutally killed his girlfriend! Breaking him was our job." Stabler saw the flash of anger across Huang's face. That had been the wrong thing to say.

"He didn't break. Maybe because he didn't do it!" Huang walked out fast. He was on Beecher's side now, and it could get ugly in the courtroom. Stabler rubbed his face. He'd done nothing wrong, and Beecher had never asked for a lawyer. Beecher had played right along, messing with them, until he'd passed out.

"You didn't feed him?" Cragen asked quietly in the silence. "What are the odds he can claim he was denied his rights and interrogated while he was half-conscious from being shot and deprived of food and water?"

Stabler pushed the guilt away. "It was a damn scratch. He played with us!"

Cragen walked away, but his face said it all. Fin muttered, "That skel might've been smarter than we thought."

"Munch, where's the report on the extra purse?" Stabler had never thought that Beecher was dumb.

Munch frowned. "I didn't get that memo. What extra purse?"

Stabler groaned. He was going to have to fix this, and then he'd shove Beecher's guilt right in his face. Huang was wrong. Beecher was guilty. He was.


"Maxi, if I don't find out who killed her, I'm going to jail forever," Toby used his patient voice, but he wanted to choke the shit out of her.

"Everyone knows you did it, Toby-wan." Maxi pouted. She was such a baby. Toby felt about a hundred years old. He sighed and went to sit by her.

"Sweetie, did you leave your purse at her place?" That was the obvious answer to the purse problem.

Maxi snuggled into him. "Hell, no. I carry a wallet. I know it's kinda man-like, but I hate those things."

"Shit." Toby kissed her on the side of the head. "Where'd you guys go?"

"Strip club." Maxi giggled. "It was fun. Shantille got a lap dance. I dropped her off and went to Benny's place - spent the night there."

Toby believed her. Benny was her brother, and they were close. "Okay, so did you see anyone follow Shantille inside?"

"Nope." Maxi ran her hand up his leg. "I miss her. You sure you didn't do it?"

"Yes." Toby didn't stop her from playing around. She'd get mad if he did. "So, where's her car? Did you guys take it?"

Maxi nodded and unbuckled his jeans. "I drove. It's an old person's car, but it's wheels."

"Where is it?" Toby asked gently. He spread his legs a little and let her jack him. For her, it was nothing but play. She liked women more often than not.

"My place. Want me to bring it over?" Her eyes were on his cock.

He gave a soft grunt. "We'll go get it. Want a touch?"

"Not ever." She laughed, and he came. He let her work him through it. Felt pretty damn good. She giggled again. "That was cool. Ready to go?"

Toby shook it off, got to his feet, and put himself back together. He'd clean up the floor later. Right now he wanted to get his hands on that car. He opened the door and stopped cold. "Hello, Detective."

"Here's the information you wanted." Stabler's eyes were all over Maxi. She bit her lip. Toby tried to think fast. He had to help his case, not hurt it. Stabler smiled his lying best. "Where are you two going?"

Toby kept his arm around Maxi. "Honey, did you talk to this guy?"

"Uh, no. I'd remember a big guy like him." She probably wanted to know how far his come would shoot. "Why?"

"Stabler, we were on our way to get Shantille's car. Would you like to join us?" Toby rubbed his forehead and wished they hadn't been so convinced it was him. He took the packet and tossed it on the couch.

"You bet." Stabler looked frustrated. "Fin interviewed her. She doesn't know anything."

Maxi immediately switched to angry. Toby did damage control fast. "Maxi, he's a dumb cop. Fuck him. Let's go get the car, and then I'll take you out shopping."

"Really? A nice place? Not Wal-Mart?" Her face lit up with hope.

"You bet." Toby put himself between her and Stabler. "Why didn't you drive here?"

"You know Shantille, she doesn't like me to drive it unless she's with me." Maxi tucked her head onto Toby's shoulder. "I miss her."

"I know. Come on." Toby petted her. He didn't quite understand how he'd made so many odd friends over the last months, but not giving a damn had probably played a big part in it.

"We can take my car," Stabler said.

Toby felt her tense up. "We'll catch a cab. Follow us." He saw Stabler start to argue, and he ignored it. They found a cab, and she gave the address. She'd moved again.

She whispered in his ear, "I got a joint in my pocket."

"Figured it." Toby didn't look back for Stabler. The cop would follow. Maxi's place was in Alphabet City, and it was a dump, but she didn't exactly have money. The red car was in the back. Toby saw by the set of Stabler's jaw that this wasn't the time to pretend that he was in charge. Stabler was on the phone, and he opened the car door after he put on gloves.

Toby patted Maxi on the ass. "Go get changed, and then we'll go shopping."

"Very cool." She dug in her pocket and tossed him the keys to the car.

Toby opened the trunk. "Tell me again, Elliot, why you couldn't find this car?"

Stabler glared at him. Toby looked for a clue. Something. Anything to keep his ass out of prison, but he was careful not to touch anything. Prints would damn him, even if Stabler saw him put them there.

"She your new buddy?" Stabler seemed to enjoy being rude.

"She's into chicks." Toby heard the disgust, but it didn't faze him. "She likes my credit card." He was about ready to give up. Maxi had dropped her off and taken the car home. Nothing here but a dead end.

Stabler was in the back seat. "What do we have here?"

Toby moved fast to see. Part of the back seat pulled down and there was a big plastic package taped to it. The tape was the same color as the interior. It would be very hard to see from the trunk.

"Smack." Toby knew it when he saw it.

"Is this Maxi's?" Stabler pointed but didn't touch the stash.

"I'll ask. You stay quiet. She's like handling dynamite."

"I'll get the crime lab here. If your prints are anywhere in this car, you're as good as gone." Stabler snapped open his cell phone. "Looks like we have motive now."

Toby thought so too. Whoever had killed her had been looking for that. Thank God he'd invited Stabler along. "I haven't ever ridden in her car."

"Of course not." Stabler didn't look convinced.

Maxi was back, and she looked about the same but the shirt was cleaner. "Find anything good?"

Toby pulled her close and whispered in her ear, "You got a stash I should know about? I'll get it before he sees it."

"Not my car." She shook her head. Toby believed her. She had this weird system of property. "We going?"

Stabler pulled his head out of the car. "Get lost, Beecher."

"Looks like we are." Toby tossed Stabler the keys. "What else is on the keychain, Maxi?"

"You know, her private stuff at the bank, they wouldn't let me get it, an extra apartment key, and that storage building with that shit from her mom. Nothing." Maxi looked sad again. "I miss her."

Toby hugged her and took her to find another cab. He'd buy her some clothes. It was the least he could do. She'd managed to sprinkle some doubt on Stabler's cop donut.


"Damn!" Fin's eyes actually widened. "Shantille was selling?"

Stabler refused to jump to that conclusion. "They're running prints. It was practically a communal car. Maxi had it parked, unlocked, at her place."

"That airhead?"

"She had pertinent information. You didn't get it out of her." Stabler was thoroughly disgusted. Beecher had been out half a day and he'd found the car. That was sloppy police work. Fin made a noise that meant he got the message, and Stabler shut up about it. This case had been closed, but it was wide open again, unless Beecher's prints were on the drugs. Even then, it didn't make any sense. Why would he invite a cop along if he were going to pick up his drugs?

"Beecher's a heroin addict," Fin said. "Gotta be his. I'll find out."

Stabler sat down, found the file, and started looking through the pictures again. This time, he used a magnifying glass. "He took me to the car. He's not a damn idiot."

Fin didn't reply to that. They both knew Beecher was smarter than both of them. Summa cum laude at Harvard meant something. Stabler focused on the purse. The level of violence in the killing usually meant a man, but a woman desperate for her drugs might get it done. But leave her purse? Women never did that. Maybe it wasn't important, but the car had been. He picked up the phone and called forensics. That purse had to be somewhere.


Toby watched the tape until his eyeballs bled. He spotted three people that he didn't know come in the building, and four that he didn't know go out after she'd been killed, but there was no way for him to track them. He needed help, and he hated to do work that the cops had already done. Instead, he read the report that went with it. Then he read it again. They'd used it to prove he was in the building, nothing else. The receipt that was his alibi had been worthless because it hadn't had a date.

Frustrated, he opened the window to the fire escape, crawled out, and sat down to watch the sunshine fade away. He was fucked. The heroin they'd found might make it worse, not better. A horn blasted and he flinched. About the only thing he had going for him was the fact that they'd tortured him, and that didn't count for much. They did that to everybody.

Chris would tell him to run and not stop until he hit the other ocean. Toby put his head on his knees and knew he wouldn't. If he went back, he went. No one would give a shit, not even him.


"Are you ever going home?" Cragen asked, coming up behind him.

Stabler leaned back and rubbed his eyes. "For some reason, this case keeps picking at me."

"You don't think he did it."

"Oh, I think he did it, but I hate loose ends. One shred of doubt and he'll walk. The stash of heroin is a huge package of doubt." Stabler got to his feet and stretched, disgusted with the whole damn thing. "The shiv has to be his. He knew where it was."

"Actually, he said it was a likely place to look. Anyone could've thought of that."

"The forensic guys didn't. I didn't see it." Stabler shook his head. "Okay, the guy kills her, runs out of the apartment, and sees it? I don't think so. It wasn't that easy to spot."

"You're assuming the guy or girl was panicked. If it was planned, or if he knew her well, he might have known about it." Cragen shrugged. "Why would Beecher send you after the weapon?"

"Guilt. He carries a full load of it. It eats at him." Stabler knew it, recognized it easily. "His alibi was bogus."

Cragen stuffed his hands in his pockets. "So, find out where he really was. Just to reassure yourself, of course."

"If we'd have found something in his apartment, this would be over," Stabler grumbled. "Whoever did this had blood on their clothes."

Cragen wasn't listening any longer. He'd gone back to his office. Stabler's cell rang and he got it with a groan. "Stabler."

"There is no purse," Munch said with a yawn.

"John, tell me this is a damn joke!" Stabler wanted to kick his chair through the wall.

"Elliot, she has no living relatives. Everything she owned is down here. There's no purse like the one in the picture."

Stabler rubbed his forehead. "Someone took it from the crime scene. Damn it!"

"I'm going home. We'll talk tomorrow." Munch hung up. It was late, and Stabler sat down heavily in his chair. He needed some sleep, but he had the feeling that he was losing control of this case. Beecher couldn't have stolen the purse. He'd been here. Stabler got out the picture again and stared at it. Cragen was right. It was time to find out where Beecher had been, assuming he hadn't done it.


Toby stumbled up from the couch when he heard the pounding on the door. He wouldn't have been surprised if the door was kicked in and he was shot again.

"Open up! It's Detective Stabler!"

Toby yanked the door open. "What the fuck?"

"Good morning to you too." Stabler strode inside, and Toby lamely shut the door. His brain struggled to kick in, and he desperately needed coffee. Stabler looked wide awake, full of trouble. "You asleep?" he asked.

"Well, yeah." Toby slumped on the couch and rubbed his face. "Are you going to shoot me again?"

"Wimp." Stabler nosed around the apartment. "We need to discuss your alibi."

"I'm sorry. You'll have to wait until my lawyer is present." Toby made his way to the tiny kitchen and started a pot of coffee. He washed his hands and face, wiped off with a paper towel, and turned to find Stabler eye-fucking him. He was glad he had a shirt on to cover his scars, but he purred, "Like what you see?"

"Just wishing you had on pants and boxers that weren't quite so tight."

Toby laughed and scratched his ass. "Give me a minute."

"Take all the time you want, but find clothes." Stabler looked away. Toby found some jeans, a clean T-shirt, and took the time to fold the blanket on the couch. Stabler was still in the kitchen, probably snooping in the cookie jar, not that Toby had one. Toby stretched, combed his hair with his hands, and went back for coffee. He poured Stabler a cup and sat down at the tiny table.

"Is your lawyer here?"

"Not until this cup is empty." Toby sipped it. He always splurged on the good stuff, and he needed it poured into his veins today. "I was up late."

"I can tell." Stabler's clothes looked as if he'd skipped going to bed. He leaned against the cabinets, refusing to sit down. "Have fun with Maxi?"

"She's kinda weird, but who isn't?" Toby shrugged. "She loved Shantille."

"Did new clothes help?" Stabler sounded so cynical - must be from working as a cop.

Toby took another drink. "No, but she enjoyed it. I bought her some perfume too. She broke down and cried when I dropped her off."

Stabler was suddenly concentrating on his coffee. "I'm surprised she didn't claim the body."

"Wait. What?" Toby put his mug down. He didn't like the conclusion he was drawing. "Shantille went to Potter's Field?"

"Yeah." Stabler was hunched now. "No relatives. Nothing."

"Fuck!" Toby hadn't even thought of that. He'd have to fix it. "I'll get her. God damn it!"

Stabler suddenly joined him, and the table seemed even smaller. "Guilt eating at you?"

"When I moved in here, I had no friends. Nothing. Shantille was nice. She didn't care that I was an ex-con. Her friends became my friends, and, well, I wasn't alone. So, yes, I'm going to see she gets a proper burial." Toby shut his mouth and went back to his coffee. He had the feeling he'd said too much.

"You have family." Stabler studied his coffee again. "You're rich. Go home. Buy some new friends."

Toby was surprised the words didn't hurt him. Maybe nothing could any more. "If only it were that easy." He picked up his coffee and went to the living room. "I studied that tape last night."

"Good. We can talk about your alibi." Stabler took the chair. "Anything you say to me can be used against you."

"I know." Toby rolled his eyes. He turned on the TV and started the tape. "Before what you say was the time of the attack, which I assume is based on the coroner's report that I have yet to see, there were three people that I don't know entering the building. Now, if the intruder came in the window and shut it, he or she would've gone out the front. After said time, I count four people. Let me show you." He'd made a record of the time on the tape when each person appeared.

"You should know the time. You killed her."

Toby ignored that. He showed Stabler the people. "Three of them go in and out. The fourth person didn't come in but left out the front. I don't know any of them."

Stabler took the remote and ran the tape forwards and backwards. "This one?"

"Yes. Notice the hat and the coat. It's summer time, Elliot." Toby went back to his coffee. He watched Stabler play with the tape, letting him think it through. "No else had a coat on that day."

"Tell me where you were again." Stabler paused it on the image of the person. "Coat is zipped."

Toby told the entire truth this time. "That surveillance camera makes me twitchy. I even complained about it once, but the assholes said it was a matter of angles. Anyway, I had sex with her, she got dressed to go out, and I came back here. I took a shower, a nap, and used the fire escape to head down. Got some food and came back the same way. Ate, stayed up late watching TV, and woke up just in time to get shot."

Stabler went to the window, opened it, and looked down. "You do that a lot?"

"I don't like surveillance cameras." Toby had been violated enough. He finished his coffee and went back for more.

"All that talk about credit cards got me to thinking." Stabler shut the window, turned, and frowned. "You used a card, didn't you?"

Toby had to think about it. "Uh, yeah, my MasterCard." He slowly smiled. "They'll have a record of the transaction. Jesus fucking Christ, I have an alibi again!"

Stabler shrugged, sitting down in the chair. "Maybe. We should talk about the shiv. Where'd you make it? How'd she get it? I know you had something to do with it. Come clean."

"No." Toby wasn't discussing it. It would make him look guilty as sin again, and he was guilty enough. He should've kept his damn mouth shut with her, and he wasn't opening his big mouth now.

"Forensics time of death is never exact. You could've killed her and gone out for food." Stabler smiled, sharp and hard. "You have a key to her place?"

"No." Toby put his coffee down, careful to remain in control of his temper. "Did you check out the safety deposit box and the storage building?"

"Going there next."

"I'll ride along." Toby took the remote back and turned off the TV. "Tell me something before we go. Why didn't you feed me?" He knew why, but he was pushing some guilt at him.

Stabler took his mug to the sink in the kitchen. "Can't talk without my lawyer."

"Oh, good one." Toby found his shoes and a light jacket. "You want to cuff me?"

"Yes, but I'm controlling myself. You shut up and let me do the talking." Stabler opened the door for them. "Turn off the coffee pot."

"Oh, yeah." Toby wanted to smack him for that, but Stabler might be serious about the cuffs. Shutting off the pot, he locked the door behind him. "Some water would have been nice. I'd been shot, for fuck's sake."

Stabler didn't seem to be listening. Toby followed him out to the car and got to ride in the front this time. Stabler gave him a funny look.

Toby took another shot at the guilt. "We should get Fin. You two could yell at me some more, just like old times."

"Fin is on another case. I'm just picking up the loose ends. You're still going away."

Toby sighed. "Comforting. Are you going to get me something cushy upstate?"

Stabler grinned and glanced at him. "Oz is upstate."

Toby laughed against his will. He had been fascinated with Stabler at first, and then disillusioned, but now he was genuinely curious about this guy. "Aren't you the slightest bit angry that the murderer is still out there?"

"I'm convinced he's sitting right next to me." Stabler kept his eyes on the road. Toby didn't hear any doubt, and really, as long as Stabler was against him, it was bad. Novak would slice his flimsy alibi to shreds on the stand.

"Do you think I should take the stand in my own defense?" Toby threw it out there. The sound of Stabler breathing was giving him ideas that could get him shot again.

"I hope you do. It'd be a win for our side." Stabler made a sharp turn and parked in front of a bank. "My turn for a question. Why didn't she use the bank across the street?"

Toby didn't know. "Had she moved lately? Or maybe she has a relative who works here?"

Stabler shrugged and got out of the car. He went inside without even glancing at Toby, and Toby let him play it that way. It didn't matter. Stabler opened the box, the banker left them alone, and they both looked inside. Money. Lots of it. Toby made sure not to touch it. He watched Stabler's face. Stabler did look surprised, but he had a hell of a poker face. He put on gloves and bagged it as evidence.

"Did you know she was rich?" Stabler asked.

"She never hurt for money like most of her friends." Toby had never given it a thought. This was Manhattan. He trailed Stabler back out to the car and got inside. Drugs. Money. Murder. It was adding up, but he wasn't going to be much help in catching her killer. He hadn't known her that well, but he'd think about it. Maybe a list of known associates would help. The drive to the storage building took forever in heavy traffic, and Toby had to fight off the impulse to touch Stabler on his muscular thigh. His life was on the line and he was horny. Typical. It was always some sort of addiction with him. His family had been smart to leave him behind.

They finally found a place to park, went inside a huge brick building that was nothing but storage, and Stabler worked the padlock. He threw open the door, and Toby stayed back.

"There's enough hemp in here to keep Willie Nelson happy," Stabler muttered. "What the hell is going on?"

Toby moved away and leaned against a wall. There was no way he was contaminating that evidence. He rubbed his face, wished for a huge joint, and had a thought. "Well, maybe her name wasn't Shantille O'Neal. I mean, I called her the Shaq more the once."

"It's weird, but it's her name. We found her birth certificate among her personal effects." Stabler opened his phone and made some calls. Toby didn't really listen. He had to think. There was more going on here than he was qualified to investigate, but he didn't have much choice. He'd go back at Maxi and then talk to Benny. There might be others who could help, if he could find them.

"I think I'll catch a cab from here." Toby opened his phone to call one.

Stabler was suddenly close and staring in Toby's eyes. "You didn't know?"

"Don't I look stunned?" Toby frowned, hoping he sounded honest. "I trust you to make full disclosure. I've suddenly got the munchies."

Stabler glared, and he did look mean. Toby called a cab and got the hell out of there. He'd been staring at Stabler's lips a little too hard. On the way, he called Maxi.

"Hey, cutie."

"Toby-wan!" She laughed, sounding high already. "Big party tonight at Benny's. You coming? Everyone is gonna be there."

Toby didn't even have to think about it. "You bet. Tell Benny I'll bring something good. Hey, was Shantille rich?"

Maxi shouted something at someone else. She laughed some more, and then said, "Uh, well, she didn't like to talk about it. Secrets, ya know?"

"Can I kiss it out of you?" Toby was willing to do that if it'd get him some information.

"Yuck. Bring a girlfriend and we'll talk." Maxi hung up on him. Toby shut his phone. He had to get organized, and he might hire a hooker. Maxi had answers, but getting them out of her would be a job for a woman.


"Elliot, you're making this case worse, not better. Could you please stop investigating?" Novak rolled her eyes at him. "Please."

Stabler wished he could, but he wanted to know the truth. "It is possible that Beecher and her were selling drugs."

"Do you really think he'd have let you find the cash and the drugs?" Casey looked at him like he was a fool, and that was how he felt. Nothing about this case added up.

Stabler didn't know what to think. "Maybe I should bring him in for another talk."

"It would be very nice if you could find someone who saw them fighting."

"I'll work on it. Fin is handling the drug angle. I know the shiv was Beecher's. He looks guilty every time I mention it." Stabler got to his feet. "How about moving the court date up?"

"Not a chance." She opened a file. "Keep me up to date."

Stabler nodded and went back to the squad room. He believed Beecher when he said he hated guilt. But there were worse things than guilt, like doubt, because doubt led to more guilt. He bought a soda and sat down to go over everything again, and this time he was going to believe Beecher's alibi and take him out of the equation. If Beecher had been nothing more than a lawyer, they'd have believed him.

"Elliot, against my own will, I did a little more digging on your case."

Stabler pulled his head out of the details and focused on Munch. "Fin made you."

"Yes." Munch put a file in front of him. "Her mother is dead. No record of a father, and the mother's identity looks fishy."

"How?" Stabler was going to throw something if Beecher had been right. Cragen eased up behind him, actively listening to them.

"Social Security number is fake. Driver's license was real." Munch reached and turned the page. "Also, there is no record of a Shantille O'Neal before ninety-four."

"But we found her birth certificate!"

"Elliot, you can buy those on the internet."

"Why didn't we see this before?" Stabler threw his empty can the length of the room, drawing a frown from Cragen.

Munch shrugged. "We had our guy. No reason to check. Everything still points at Beecher."

"This case is officially back open." Cragen didn't sound happy. "Narcotics wants to take it from us, and unless you guys want to hand it over, I suggest you start investigating again."

Stabler unclenched his jaw. "Munch, get with TARU and find out who the person with the coat and hat coming out the door but not in is."

"What?" Munch looked at him over the top of his glasses. "Did you sample the product today?"

"I wish." Stabler got to his feet, feeling tired and grumpy. "Stick with tracking down who she really is. I'll get with TARU, and someone call Fin and find out what the hell he's doing."

"Will do." Munch hesitated. "We couldn't have known."

"We should've investigated instead of crawling up the ass of the nearest ex-con." Stabler refused to feel guilty, but it was trying to push its way through the doubt.


Toby started the process of getting her out of Potter's Field. It was going to cost him, but he didn't care. No one should be buried in that landfill. That done, he started making a list of people she knew and any inconsistencies that he'd seen over the last months. He was still half-convinced she was living under a false name, but he didn't have any way to check on that. Maybe Stabler would get off his sweet ass and look into it. Maybe not.

His phone rang, and he got it. "Yeah, what?"

"I need to talk to Beecher's lawyer." Stabler sounded tired.

"Let me get him." Toby switched the phone to his other ear and bit back laughter. "How can I help you?"

Stabler might have actually sighed. "Full disclosure coming your way. Drive over here, will ya?"

Toby checked the time. "I have a business meeting with a potential witness tonight. I'll swing by in the morning."

"Who?" Stabler demanded an answer, sounding wide awake now. "I want a name."

"I don't have to disclose to you and your team." Toby hung up, feeling a trifle smug. He wanted a shower, some food, and then he'd head over to Benny's.


"Beecher says he's got a witness."

"He's lying his swastika off." Fin shook his head.

"Someone stole that purse, and it wasn't Beecher. I want to find out who." Stabler didn't want to think about Beecher's ass. That had been a crime. "I'll tail him, find out where he goes."

"He has the right to an independent investigation." Cragen shook his head, vetoing that idea. "If you interfere, it could be considered harassment."

Stabler had to lean back and rub his tired eyes. "Can I ask politely if I can go along? I took him on my field trip this morning."

"Play the guilt card. Yes." Cragen pointed at them. "Shantille's little group of friends held out on you two. Find out what they know."

"Beecher's the way in to that bunch of losers." Stabler got his jacket. He'd make Beecher take him one way or another. "Fin, we have to find out who her father is."

"We're on it."


Toby dressed accordingly, ate some leftover pizza, and loaded the dishwasher. He didn't want to show up early. The loud knock at the door made him groan, but he went to get it. "No, you may not come in and shoot me." He blocked the door, not even opening it all the way.

Stabler smiled, but it was so very fake. "Quid pro quo. I gave you some professional courtesy this morning. I want some in return tonight."

Toby thought about it for one second. "Not gonna happen." He stepped away from the door and went to get his cell phone and a little money, just enough for cabs. Any more was an invitation to be robbed.

Stabler shut the door hard. He was going to plead his case, but Toby didn't want to hear it. "Look, Detective, these people hate cops, authority figures, and guys with sticks up their asses. You're all three. I need some information, and I won't get it with you standing there in your suit, looking like a badass cop."

"They like you?" Stabler didn't look upset or worried by any of those accusations.

"I'm a loser, like them." Toby believed that. He'd been many things in his life, but his family hiding from him had shown him what he really was - loser.

"You're a geek lawyer with a swastika on your ass because you weren't tough enough to fight off a few Aryans." Stabler raised his eyebrows.

Toby had heard worse. He wasn't impressed. "And?"

Stabler poked him in the chest with a strong finger. "And I did you a favor. You owe me."

"Was that when you were shooting me, dragging me around by my bloody arm, or denying me food and water to prove to me that you were the boss?" Toby didn't slow down, "Oh, maybe you mean when Huang forced you to call an ambulance?"

Stabler narrowed his eyes. He was pissed now. "If we'd had better aim, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Toby sat down in a chair. He wasn't going to try to bully his way past the big idiot. "You're right, and you'd sleep better at night knowing that one more dirty ex-con was dead. However, you guys suck when it comes to shooting unarmed people in their own homes, and here we are."

"Take me with you."

"No. There will be drugs, alcohol, sex, and possibly fighting at this party. You're a cop." Toby leaned back and crossed his legs. "Exhibit one: my clothes versus yours."

"You look like a scuzbucket."

"Exactly. A look you couldn't pull off on your worst day." Toby was getting tired of this. "And Maxi knows you're a cop. She'd tell everyone in five minutes, and they'd beat the crap out of you, and I'd enjoy the show."

Stabler bit the inside of his lip. Toby could practically hear the gears turning. He didn't even want to know what Stabler was going to come up with. Stabler suddenly nodded. "Okay, let me get changed, and I'll meet you there."

Toby gave up. He'd tried his best, and when they beat Stabler up, he might be willing to call an ambulance. "Your funeral." He found a piece of paper and wrote down the address. "If you show up with thirty of your buddies, I am going to be extremely disappointed in you."

"I'd hate that." Stabler took it and left. He looked determined. Toby knew he was missing information. There had to be a reason that Stabler was willing to go undercover, and it was most likely the drugs. Toby locked the door and hurried downstairs to grab a cab. He'd focus on what he could tonight - finding out Shantille's secrets.


"Elliot, the captain finds out, he'll kill you," Fin said.

Stabler thought that might be true. "He said I could go, I'm going."

"I'll be parked around the corner. Stagger out and throw up if there's a problem."

"Not funny." Stabler tugged the hole in his jeans wider.

Fin caught him by the arm. "You will get high in there. No way to avoid it. You might even get laid."

"I can handle it." Stabler was going to stick with Beecher and get the hell out as soon as possible. That was the plan. "Do I look scruffy enough?"

"Sure do. The lack of sleep helped."

Stabler grabbed the six of beer he'd brought, slammed the car door, and headed for the house.


"Toby-wan! You know this fucker?"

Toby managed not to groan. He didn't even have to look to know who it was. "Yeah! He's with me!"

Maxi put the joint to Toby's lips and watched him take a drag. "He's a cop."

Toby smiled and blew the smoke up her nose. "He's dirty, and he's my boyfriend. Let it ride, okay?"

"If you two fuck, I get to watch." Maxi giggled, and Toby grinned. He could see it in his mind, but it was Chris doing the fucking. Toby would admit that Stabler did look the part of a scum tonight. That blue wife beater looked like someone had puked on it, and he hadn't shaved in a few days. Toby got up and wandered over to him and his beer.

"Where you want this?" Stabler held out the six.

Toby took it and gave it to Benny. Stabler snagged one before they were gone. He twisted it open and drank some. Toby saw the tattoo, gawked, and remembered his promise about church, but he could start next week. He leaned and licked Jesus Christ from bottom to top. Memories shuddered through him.

Stabler looked stunned. "Ew."

Toby laughed. "You look good enough to eat."

"That must be some good shit you're smoking." Stabler didn't sound as if he approved.

"Low-grade. No one has any money." Toby headed back to Maxi, knowing that Stabler would follow. The music was loud, the smoke was thick, and Toby thought he heard Stabler cough. Maxi dragged him down.

"You bring me a girl?"

"Couldn't find one. Will he do?" Toby pushed Stabler's head at Maxi's tits. Stabler jerked away before impact.

Maxi made a gross face. "No fucking way! Tell you what - you kiss on him and I'll tell you about Shantille. She's dead, so I can spill it."

Stabler's eyes went wild. his lips. "One kiss?"

Maxi gave him another long drag. "If he won't, you're lying, and we're fucking done."

The music seemed to pound louder, and Toby saw the next years of his life flash in front of his eyes, and they were all behind bars because Stabler would never kiss him. Toby got to his feet slowly. He was going to have to go to Plan B. "Maybe later. I gotta talk to Benny."

Maxi shrugged. "You know what you gotta do." She wiggled into Stabler's lap. Toby didn't watch her grope him.

"Toby, you got anything good for me?"

Toby had come prepared. He didn't want Stabler to see, so he ducked into the kitchen. Benny pushed him against the wall and kissed him while digging in his pants. Toby enjoyed the treasure hunt. He was still a slut.

Benny slid the ecstasy into his own pocket. "Shantille was right to get to know you."

"She liked my tongue." Toby wiggled it.

Stabler pulled him away. "Thought you came with me, bitch," he growled.

Toby about fell over dead. Chris was here. Right here and he was getting ready to kick some ass. It was a dream come true. Toby leaned against him and pretended.

Benny laughed. "Jealous boyfriend. I like it, but hey, there's always enough Toby-wan to go around."

Stabler put his arm around him. Toby laughed. This was funnier than hell, and no one would ever appreciate it like he did. Some girl grabbed Benny, and they were dancing. Stabler tightened his arm, choking him.

"Get with Maxi and let's get out of here."

Toby ground his ass back into him, knowing that would be enough to get loose, and it was. "Gotta pay to play. You up to it?"

Stabler was suddenly interested in his beer. Toby went to find Sherrie. She might know something, but she was busy, and he didn't think she'd appreciate the interruption. He got out of the bedroom before he ended up on his knees. Stabler appeared from behind a woman who had her hands on his dick. A terrible ache for Chris swept over him.

"You're better than this," Stabler said in Toby's ear.

Toby wrapped his arms around Stabler's neck and danced. "I was, and then our fine justice system bent me over and taught me to be the bitch I am today. Enjoy it."

Stabler wasn't really dancing, but he was moving enough. Toby shut off the rational part of his brain and pretended it was Chris. For a few minutes, there was nothing but the music and the love, and then Stabler opened his damn mouth.

"Maxi, now."

Toby spotted a guy everyone called Biggun and went for him instead. "Hey, got a joint?"

Biggun handed him one. "Found a bull, huh?"

"Yeah, supersized." Toby laughed and pressed back into Stabler. "Is there going to be a funeral for Shantille? Or at least a big party?"

"No one has the damn balls to tell her old man. We're all pretending nothing happened." Biggun shrugged. "He'd fucking kill us all. Me, you, Maxi, and any other fucker who knew the truth."

Toby thought it was interesting that they assumed he knew the truth. She'd told him that her dad was dead. Obviously, she'd lied. "She was hiding out, huh?"

"Fuck, yeah. Her old man is crazy!" Biggun frowned. "You didn't kill her, did ya?"

"Fuck, no. Cops like me 'cause I'm an ex-con. Assholes." Toby lit the joint and passed it to Stabler to see what he'd do. Stabler faked it, but he was good at it. Toby took it back. "You?"

"I knew her since grade school." Biggun grabbed a handful of Toby's shirt. "Keep your damn mouth shut and we'll all live."

Toby nodded. "I don't know shit." He took a deep drag when Biggun turned him loose. He needed it. Biggun wandered away, and Toby handed Elliot the joint just to mess with him.

Stabler took it, pinched it out, and put it in his pocket. "Who's her father?"

"Hell if I know." Toby wondered who else in this crowd did. He noticed Stabler's beer was empty and went to get him another one. Anything to loosen him up.

"Thanks." Stabler twisted the cap off and tossed it. "When do the cops usually show up?"

"After midnight. I'm always careful to be gone by then." Toby found an empty patch of wall and pulled Stabler to him, close and then closer. "Relax, asshole. We just need to talk."

Stabler practically smashed him against the wall and put his lips near Toby's ear. "Someone went back to the crime scene and removed the purse."

"Shit. Well, it wasn't Maxi. She won't carry one." Toby wiggled enough to find some breathing room, put his arms around Stabler's neck, and wished desperately that it was Chris. "Landlord might have done it. Everyone knows he steals stuff when we're not home."

"What?" Stabler jerked back enough to look indignant.

"Yeah. He stole my CD player." Toby brushed his lips down Stabler's face. "Place isn't uptown."

"Why do you live there? You have money." Stabler's eyes bored into him, demanding an honest answer.

Toby didn't care if Stabler knew the truth. "I didn't know where to go, and I don't own anything of value. Does it matter?" He slid his hands down and cupped Stabler's sweet ass. "Give me one minute and I'll get that stick out."

"Very damn funny." Stabler wasn't laughing. His eyes were blazing, and Toby got ready to duck and run from a very large fist.

Maxi shoved herself between them. "Toby-wan, Lex is looking for you."

Toby made his getaway while Stabler had his hands full of Maxi. Lex might actually know something about Shantille's last hours. He was dancing alone in what should have been the dining room. Toby wasn't surprised when Lex danced close to kiss him on the lips.

"Everyone is saying you killed her." Lex looked higher than the smoke in the room could account for, and he did have a thing for coke. "I'm really sad about that."

"Lex, I didn't kill her." Toby wrapped him close. "I swear. She was my friend."

Lex put his head on Toby's shoulder. "We fucked you, and you hurt us like this?" He flashed to rage instantly, and Toby hit the floor hard. He got up fast, ducked, and punched Lex in the mouth. Lex collapsed to the floor, stunned, and Toby sat down next to him.

"You swear?" Lex sobbed, wiping his face with his hands.

"On my life." Toby pulled Lex close and hugged him, not caring about the blood. "I'm sorry. I miss her too."

Lex began to cry. "Can't even bury her. Her fucking dad will kill us."

Toby wiped Lex's tears away and kissed him. "Lex, we're going to bury her."

Real fear flashed over Lex. "El Termundo will kill you. Dead. Shit! I shouldn't have said that!" He scrambled to his feet, awkward and shaking. Grabbing him so he couldn't run off, Toby jumped up and hugged him tight. Stabler, who had taken up space by the door, rolled his eyes. Lex kissed him again.

"Are you sure? Shantille would like it." Lex used his shirt to blow his nose.

"I'm working on it right now. There is no way I'm letting Shantille rot in Potter's Field. I'll have Maxi pass the word when I get everything ready." Toby wanted to make it right by her.

"Don't put it in the paper," Lex said softly. "She'd be mad if her dad showed up to ruin things."

"Does he know her fake identity?" Toby hoped not. That would really complicate things.

"Not fucking yet, but people like Maxi will blab now that she's dead." Lex rubbed his nose, sighing. "I gotta get higher. Try to forget how much this hurts. Later."

Toby turned him loose. Stabler's hand instantly curled around Toby's shoulder. Toby ignored the warm touch and gingerly felt his face. He was going to feel that in the morning.

"Maxi show you a good time?"

Stabler had the gall to pull him towards the front room, and Toby fought back by wrapping his arm around Benny along the way. Benny laughed and grabbed handfuls of both of them. "Threesome? Cool. I want that sweet mouth of yours."

Toby knew that Benny would feel Stabler up. It happened, and Toby broke away. He glared at Stabler and went to the kitchen with Benny in hot pursuit. The fridge was full of beer, but Toby found some orange juice for vodka and had some of that instead. He might smoke a little pot, but he never drank.

"Bedroom?" Benny was eager, practically unzipping his pants.

Toby licked his lips, but he wouldn't dare. "Benny, did you have your stash in Shantille's car? You know the fucking police impounded it."

"There were drugs in that piece of shit?" Benny's mouth dropped open. "Motherfuck! The good stuff?"

"Yep." Toby laughed loudly at Benny's honest upset. "Shantille always had something good on her."

Benny nodded. "She did, but she didn't sell. She was... friendly." He grinned and grabbed Toby by the ass. "Like you."

"Back off, you little horny shit." Stabler leaned against the wall and pulled Toby's ass back against his crotch. "Toby promised me first."

Toby's head swam at the thought. He didn't think it was the pot that made him gasp and grind back. He didn't really waste time with wishes anymore except when it came to Chris, and Stabler in a wife-beater was close enough tonight. Benny grinned, rubbing his crotch, and Toby tried to think through the lust that was making his jeans too tight.

"Fuck." Benny was close enough, and Toby pulled so they were stacked three against the wall. Stabler gave a soft grunt, and Toby nearly came in his pants. Hot breath was in his ear and how he could feel it over the pot smoke swirling was a mystery.

"Where'd she keep her Ex? We should get it before the cops do." Toby licked his lips and kissed Benny with plenty of tongue, but it was Stabler who he wanted to maul.

Benny groaned, shoving his groin back and forth. "She had this special purse. Remember, the gold one?"

"Never saw it." Toby ground his ass back into Stabler's crotch, wanting more and more. "You sure?"

"She kept it inside that other bag she carried. Only took it out for, well, me and a few others. Spreading the love." Benny rubbed Toby's dick. "I gotta get some of you."

Stabler managed to flip Toby around. "Tell him you aren't doing it."

"Fuck." Toby sagged against him, wanting, wanting, wanting so much. "Beat it, Benny. Next time, I'll leave the boyfriend at home."

"Or get him high first. What a downer." Benny sniffed and wandered off. Toby leaned against his fake boyfriend and wanted to make it real. There was always a mattress somewhere. He needed it so much, but he'd rather not be shot again this week. With a groan, he decided to make a run at Maxi. She might have seen enough to keep her happy, and she had the information they needed.

"Who else are you gonna kiss?" Stabler growled, so damn sexy.

Toby laughed and shoved away from him, even though the loss physically hurt. He threaded his way through the party, leaving Stabler behind, until he found Maxi. The living room was so smoky it looked like there had to be a fire somewhere. He took deep breaths, feeling the pot now. A nice buzz and it made him smile wide.

"Maxi, where you been hiding those pretty tits?"

Maxi flashed him, screaming with laughter, and Toby sat down mostly on her. She groped him good and held him tight. "Where's your boyfriend?"

"Fuck if I know. He's a prick." Toby giggled. He had to act higher than he was. "Oh, shit. There he is. Maxi, remind me to dump the asshole tomorrow."

"No prob with that shit." Maxi stuck her hand down his jeans. "Nothing for me?"

"Keep at it." Toby grinned. She pulled her hand out and smelled it. Toby was glad he'd showered. He tugged her closer, whispering in her ear. "Maxi, we're gonna have a funeral. I'm paying."

"That's a damn bad idea." She slapped him but not hard to leave a mark. "I hope it's the fucking Ex talking."

"Nope. Gonna do it. You gotta pass the word when I get it all set. Okay?" Toby nuzzled her neck.

She pinched his nipples hard, twisting. "Don't tell a damn soul. Not one motherfucker!"

"I promise." Toby would be careful. He sagged against her. "Got any of Shantille's coke left?" It was nothing but a guess because that was the only drug they hadn't found so far. "The good stuff?"

Maxi groaned. "Cops must have got it. It was at her place."

"Gold purse?" Toby licked her shoulder, knowing she'd hate it.

She punched him in the arm hard enough to leave a bruise. "Nah, a red shoe box. Ask your cop friend to snitch it."

"I'll do that." Toby rubbed his arm, feeling Stabler's glare from across the room. It was time to go. The big dumb cop would screw up eventually, a fight would start, and Toby didn't want to end the night in the drunk tank. "I gotta go get something to snort."

"Not gonna make out with your stud?" Maxi pouted.

Toby wiggled his tongue at her. "I made out with Lex. Doesn't that count?"

"Shit! I missed it."

Toby swayed up, slapping her grabby hands away, and started for Stabler. Stabler seemed happy to leave. More than happy, fucking ecstatic. Toby took several deep breaths of the night air to clear his head. Didn't work. "Damn, I gotta get them some better pot."

"That better be a joke." Stabler fished out his phone. "I'm calling a unit to come pick these losers up."

Toby patted him on the back, really hating cops. "You do that, and I won't tell you anything, and I got it all, baby."

Stabler grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and took him down the street. Toby was too high to fight, but tripping him and landing on top sounded good. Before Toby could figure out how to do that, Stabler shoved him in the back of a car. Fin was in the driver's seat, and he looked pissed.

Toby leaned back. "Elliot, if I were you, I'd ditch the joint before you get to the station house." He burst out laughing as Stabler frantically dug it out, rolled down the window, and threw it away.

"Where are we ditching him?" Fin had no sense of humor, except that he did, and he was very funny when Toby was high.

"House. Let's go." Stabler kept the window down. Toby hoped the cop was as high as he was. Felt pretty damn good. No worries for a minute or two. He went ahead and lay down on the back seat, watching the street lights flash above the car.

"He high?"

"Pretty much." Stabler laughed, which meant he was feeling the buzz too. "The mice were high."

"Stabler, take me home." Toby refused to spend the night in lockup when Stabler was high too.


Toby laughed. "Unless you're arresting me, take me home. I need to have a short talk with my landlord about a purse."

"Damn." Stabler rolled up the window. "Head for the apartment building. The gold purse was full of Ex, and the landlord might have stolen it."

"No shit?" Fin made a quick U-turn at a stop light. "Was this chick a drug lord?"

Toby laughed some more. This case had just turned around, and he was still probably going to prison, but he was going to muddy the waters beyond belief. They'd beg him to shut up at some point. He'd sow so much reasonable doubt that the jury would have to let him walk.

The sober realization that he needed a real lawyer now to do those things because he was incompetent made him groan, but he dug out his cell phone, flipped through the memory, and dialed the only number he'd had left. He'd refused to call it earlier out of pride. Pride that he could no longer afford to clutch. It was late, but he wasn't worried.

"Beecher, Greensburg, and Smith. How can I help you?"

"This is Tobias Beecher. I'd like to speak to Mr. Smith." There was a long moment of silence and then he was reassured that it would be only a short wait.


"Hey, Steven." Toby could practically feel Stabler listening. "I need to retain your services."

"When? Where?"

Toby couldn't help but smile because he might have a friend left in the world. "Let me ask." He pulled the phone away from his mouth. "Stabler, when were you planning on busting my balls?"

"Eight a.m. sharp," Stabler growled.

"Ten a.m., down at the Manhattan Special Victims Unit, you know it?" Toby hoped so. He wasn't smart enough for directions right now.

"I'll be there. Don't say one word until I get there. Can you send me some information on the case?"

Toby loved this guy. "I'll have it sent by messenger tonight. Thanks, Steven, you're a great friend."

"Some of us here remember where our loyalties lie." Steven shuffled some papers loudly enough to be heard through the phone. "Not one word."

"Got it. See you there." Toby shut his phone and tucked it away. "It's a lovely night."

Stabler rolled the window back up. "Fin, it's time to pull Narcotics in, give them the details of this case."

"If you say so." Fin parked in front of Toby's building. "You think Swastika Boy finally got a real lawyer?"

Toby crawled out of the car and slammed the door for fun. He gave Fin the finger and used the key to get inside the building. They could get their own damn key. He went upstairs and collapsed on his sofa. The room gently swayed, and he giggled. Dancing with Chris tonight had been wonderful. All he wanted to do was sink into the memory and never move again.

"Open up, Toby!"

"Fuck you!" Toby laughed, but it wasn't funny. Stabler was still after him, but the pot thought it was hilarious.

Stabler opened the door but didn't step inside. "We have to talk."

"You can speak to my lawyer tomorrow." Toby rubbed his dick. He was so damn horny. "I wanted to kiss you, but I knew you'd kill me."

"Not as dumb as you look," Stabler growled, dangerous and mean, and Toby wanted to crawl to him, suck him hard.

"You're a good dancer." Toby would jack off later to that memory, but it'd be Chris holding him. Chris. "Oh, hey Fin, can you two shut the door? I gotta sleep this off."

"We'll get it out of him tomorrow." Fin didn't sound happy. "He's high and drunk."

"He's faking it. He didn't even drink." Stabler was grumpy now. Toby heard the door shut, and it took a few minutes before he was able to get moving. He gathered everything on the case together and called a late night delivery service to come get it. He dozed until the service buzzed him, and then he took the packet downstairs. He paid them well and trudged back upstairs. Now, he could dream, sleep, and dream. Tomorrow, he'd deal with this again, but from now on he wouldn't bother with the guilt. He hadn't killed her, and being the child of a drug lord was dangerous. He wasn't to blame. Not much.


"I think Beecher finally wised up and got a lawyer." Stabler poured another cup of coffee. He had slept, but not enough, and he was damn tired. Watching Beecher kiss every man, woman, and farm animal last night had made for a long evening, and he was never discussing the pot buzz or the feel of Beecher's ass against his groin.

Casey leaned against the desk, crossing her arms. "On the surface, this is bad. What else did you find out?"

"I think he found out who the father is, but he didn't tell me, and the place was loud." Stabler had wanted to scream at them to turn the damn music down more than once. "Why would he get a lawyer now?"

"He thinks he can win. Earlier, he was sure he was going away, and he was, but now, there's no guarantee." Casey sighed. "Did the purse turn out to be important?"

"Only in that it was full of ecstasy." Stabler felt as if he were out of control on this case. He needed to pull his head out of his ass and get focused. "The landlord stole it for his wife. He swears it was empty. Forensics found traces of the drug. They're still working on prints, but I wouldn't look for much there."

"And you found nothing at Beecher's apartment?"

"Not a damn thing."

Casey frowned. "The search warrant is still in effect. Do it again. This time, take a drug dog."

Stabler would do it, but he no longer believed Beecher was guilty. Too much evidence was pointing away from him, and he had an alibi. Some guilt for wasting all this time on an innocent man pecked at him. The guilt for hurting him intentionally wasn't as easy to push away. Beecher had warned him about that, damn it.

"You still think he did it?" Stabler had to ask her.

"Yes." Casey didn't hesitate. "He killed her and stole the drugs. Case closed. His history of drug use alone will win me that point."

"Isn't it prejudicial?" Stabler spotted Beecher and his lawyer coming through the door.

"We'll see." Casey snapped to attention. "He definitely has a real lawyer."

"Yep." Stabler took one last drink of coffee, shut the file, and stood. Their suits alone were more than he made in a month. He caught the flash of a Rolex on Beecher's wrist and he knew to some extent they'd been played. Beecher had just kept his cannon from the field until it was needed.

"Steven Smith, good to see you," Casey said. "Are you representing Mr. Beecher now?"

"Yes, Miss Novak." Steven shook her hand. "And a clearer case of police brutality I've rarely seen."

Stabler watched Beecher's face. Beecher had on glasses, and the free-wheeling dope-smoking kissing bandit from last night was long gone. He was cleaned up, buttoned down, a lawyer today, and he looked ready to beat any charges they threw at him.

"We didn't use a broomstick on him. He was disappointed." Stabler smirked at the flare that lit up blue eyes behind glasses.

"This way." Casey took the lead, and Stabler brought up the rear. Beecher glanced over his shoulder once and mouthed the words - still high? Stabler pretended not to notice. He wasn't, but he'd seen the look Fin had given him. Another wave of guilt shoved at him and he knew at some point, he'd have to deal with it.


"My client is innocent, as his alibi shows. If you drop the charges, we'll share the information that our independent research exposed." Steven was good at his job, and Toby was going to stay quiet and watch him work.

"Not going to happen." Novak smiled, but it was a cold one. "Your client brutally raped and murdered Miss O'Neal before stealing the drugs. We have his DNA at the scene, a shiv that screams ex-con, and his alibi is flimsy at best."

"Where are these mythical drugs?" Steven didn't wait for an answer. "They did have consensual sex, but that's not a crime. We've both seen the tape of her leaving the building alive and well. My client was shot and denied basic care because of his recent incarceration! You have no proof, just a prejudice against him. That's all you have!" Steven was getting warmed up now. "We have ample evidence to prove who she was and the dangerous lifestyle she was leading. Her murder, no doubt, stemmed from her activities."

Toby knew it was true, but it was still sad.

"Your so-called detectives never would have found her vehicle, full of heroin, if my client hadn't given you a hand!"

Novak was pissed now. "We have nothing further to discuss."

Toby looked at Stabler and waited for it. Stabler wanted the information. He'd say something. He seemed to take a deep breath. Toby made sure not to smile.

"Giving us the information now would be helpful to our continuing the investigation," Stabler said slowly. "If your client is innocent, it could prove it."

Steven looked at Stabler as if he were an idiot. Toby put a hand on Steven's arm to stop him from answering. "Detective, it should be obvious by now that her murder was drug related."

Stabler looked at Novak, and she gave him the look of death. She was going ahead with this. Well, Toby would let Steven deal with her. That was his job, and it'd give Toby time to find Shantille's killer. At first, this had been about survival. Now, it was about finding the asshole who had killed his friend and letting Stabler rip him a new one.

"We're done here." Steven got to his feet and handed her a stack of motions. "We'll see you in the judge's chambers."

"I'll look forward to it." Novak stormed out, but Stabler lingered, and Toby winked at him, knowing it would be enough to get him to come around when Steven was gone.

Steven hustled Toby out of the room. "Their case is dead in the water."

"Stabler is on our side. Eventually, he'll get her to see reason." Toby saw Stabler pulling on his coat and making a phone call. Stabler wasn't quitting, so he was planning something. Toby had a feeling that he'd see him soon. "Steven, stop glaring at him and come on."

"There needs to be a full investigation into this squad."

"Oh, stop." Toby rolled his eyes. "I'm an ex-con. They knew exactly how to get me to talk, and it would've work if I'd done it. SOP."

"And that's exactly what's wrong! Being an ex-con doesn't strip you of your basic rights in the eyes of our judicial system." Steven was thoroughly indignant.

Toby loved the naiveté of it. "Yes, it does. Hey, at least they didn't ship me off to a secret prison in Europe and deny that I was there. Steven, the law, right now, is under siege from all sides, courtesy of nine eleven, and you and I both know that the end justifies the means in our system today."

"You're not a terrorist," Steven growled, but he was rubbing his forehead. "It's just wrong!"

"It filters down. Once we deny rights to one group, it spreads like the poison that it is." Toby clapped him on the shoulder. "You have to give Detective Stabler credit. He's still pushing at this case, searching for answers. Most cops would have walked away as soon as I was booked."

Steven flagged them down a cab. "Okay, enough with the speeches. How's your family?"

Toby wished they could discuss the law some more. He let Steven get in first and didn't answer the question until after he'd shut the door and given the cabby an address.

"Steven, they've refused contact for the last eight years. I don't know where they are or what they're doing."

Silence, thick as the guilt that coated every word. Even the cabbie looked uncomfortable.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know. We all assumed that Angus was working in California." Steven managed to look him in the eye. "I could find out for you."

"No," Toby said quickly. "I don't blame them. Hey, I'm surprised that Dad's name is still on the letterhead."

"Your family still receives a percentage of the profits every year." Steven frowned. "Part of that money is yours. Tobias, I have to look into this."

"Ah, fuck."

The rest of the ride was in silence. Toby didn't want to talk about his family or the money, and Steven used his time to skim a file. When the cab stopped, Toby paid him, and got out, leaving the door open.

"Steven, keep me out of prison. Ignore the rest of it."

Steven shook his head in clear disgust and made no promises. "Call me if they do anything, even look at you."

"Will do." Toby waved goodbye before making his way inside. His landlord was lurking near the elevator, and he didn't stop to talk with the fucker.

"Beecher, I want you out of my building," the asshole said, coming up close while Toby waited for the door to open.

That was clear enough. Toby smoothed his hair back. "You're blaming me?"

"You should've kept your damn mouth shut. I could go to jail!"

"Yeah, that'd be a shame." Toby grinned, hoping it happened. "Fine. I'm gone."

"Forget your fucking deposit. It's mine."

Toby shrugged. "Don't worry. I'll find something to take as compensation." He got in the elevator, tugged the cuffs on his suit, and remembered the words Stabler had whispered last night.

You're better than this.

Not that the cop was right, but Toby could be persuaded that it was time to make some changes. He got out of his suit, relieved to be in jeans and a wife beater, and went to find some boxes. The alley was always full of them. He took as many as he could upstairs. Should be enough. It wasn't as if he owned anything besides clothes, a few dishes, and a television.

"Police! Open up!" A very familiar voice yelled.

Resigned, Toby yelled back at him, "Come in, you assholes!"

Stabler handed him the warrant. Toby called Steven before reading it. Steven cursed, Toby agreed and hung up.

"Boxes?" Stabler asked, putting on some gloves.

"My landlord threw me out. For some reason, he blames me for his recent problems concerning theft." Toby put his phone away. "Can you have your guys fill the boxes as they go along?"

"Always cracking jokes." Stabler scanned the mess. "Where will you go?"

Toby ignored that because he only had eyes for the huge German shepherd that was coming through the door. He hated those dogs with a passion. Hated them more than guilt, more than anything. He backed up until he bumped into the window, opened it, and scrambled out on the fire escape. He'd sit here and shake until they were gone.

"Any drugs you'd like to confess to right now?" Stabler smirked, leaning halfway out the window. "Before the dog tears your bed apart?"

"I don't have anything." Toby knew it sounded weak. He didn't keep a stash. It wasn't smart since he was an ex-con, and a couple of puffs at a party meant nothing. Sure, he'd bought some Ex for Benny, but that was like party favors. Stabler went to search the kitchen, and the dog came sniffing by, stopping to bark at him. Toby squeezed his body up tight so he didn't piss himself.

"Get that dog away from my client!"

"Oh, shit," Toby whispered. He hadn't expected Steven to come back. This time, they were really tearing the place apart, and Toby was glad he'd decided to move. The dog lunged at him and went berserk, barking and snapping. Stabler got into the mix this time, and Toby tried to bolt down the fire escape, but Stabler stopped him by grabbing tight hold.

"I have to search you. The dog is hitting on you." Stabler waited until Toby was inside, and then shoved him into the position. It came as easy as breathing. Toby blocked out the feel of the hands digging into his crevices and pockets. Stabler asked softly, near Toby's ear, "These your jeans from last night?"

"Yeah." Toby quivered, but it was the damn dog not Stabler. The dog growled softly, and Toby tried to control his fear. It was just a dog.

"He's clean." Stabler pulled him away from the wall and let him sit on the window sill. "Are you gonna puke again?"

Toby wanted to curl up and hide, but luckily Steven got in front of him. "Are you quite finished?"

"Maybe," Stabler said.

"Are you okay?" Steven put his hand on Toby's shoulder.

"Hate those dogs." Toby rubbed his face and tried to find some spine. "There's nothing here."

Steven nodded. "Anything they find, I'm going to have thrown out. Good decision to move. This place is known for its drug dealers."

"It is?" Toby hadn't known that. "They should give us ex-cons maps of the city with arrows pointing at the places to avoid."

The dog went insane again, and Toby hid his face. He knew his fear was irrational, but it pulsed through him. A few minutes later, Stabler threw the shirt that Toby had worn last night at him. It was torn in half and had dog slobber on it. Toby didn't catch it.

"Are you finished, Detective?" Steven projected his voice over the dog.

Stabler shook his head. "Beecher, if you have any drugs from Shantille, now is the time to tell me."

"Don't say a word, Tobias."

Toby saw the open door and made a break for it. He didn't have to be here for this, and Steven stayed right with him. He leaned against the wall across from his door. "Fucking Novak did this."

"I'm inclined to agree with you. A warrant is usually a one shot, and she will be hearing about this later today when I meet with her and the judge." Steven put a gentle hand on him. "Just breathe and don't worry."

Toby saw the landlord smiling at him. Asshole.


Stabler did a more than thorough job. He even had them search the television, but there was nothing. If Beecher did drugs regularly, he was too smart to keep them here. The dog had torn a huge hole in the bed, but there had been nothing there that humans could detect. Beecher had probably smoked a joint in bed one night.

"Fin, get the dog down to Shantille's apartment. She might have had something hidden."

"Good idea." Fin, the handler, and the dog left, and Stabler surveyed the damage. It was bad. He went out to find Beecher and was surprised to see him plastered against the wall in the hallway. The guy must really be scared of dogs. The shepherd gave him one last growl and then the handler pulled him away.

Stabler didn't like what he was feeling. It might have been guilt. The forensic guys shrugged and left, and it was the lawyer that came after him.

"This was nothing more than a terror tactic."

"Your client is the one that turned this into a drug investigation and those are always pursued very vigorously." Stabler saw Beecher come in, sit down, and put his face in his hands. "And we both know Mr. Beecher is far from innocent, very far."

Beecher got to his feet, face still pale. "Steven, go on. I'm fine. This is over, and make sure you add the time to my bill."

Stabler blinked in surprise. He'd thought Beecher would throw him out, not his lawyer. Smith hesitated, and Beecher walked him to the door.

"I have to get packed and moved. I'll call you with my new address as soon as I get there." Beecher smiled, but it was weak. "Thanks."

"He has no business staying here."

"He'll leave after he threatens me again. Go on. Please." Beecher gently shut the door. He turned, leaned against it, and wiped his brow. "God save me from lawyers."

Stabler laughed, and he knew it sounded weird. "We agree on something." He picked up the blanket that was on the floor and folded it. Tossing it in a box, he asked, "You have something for me?"

Beecher stared at the mess. "That dog licked everything."

"Some of them are more slobbery than others." Stabler had a feeling that if he stood here another minute Beecher would give him some information, but he had to get the conversation going. "I had a good time last night."

"Oh, wow, you are funny." Beecher picked his coat up off the floor and found his glasses and his watch. "You know, I think I'll skip it."

Stabler didn't get that. Beecher dug in his pocket, pulled out a key, tossed it on the floor, and opened the door. Stabler followed him. "Wait, you can't just walk away."

"He's keeping my deposit because you pissed him off. He can clean up the mess." Beecher fished his wallet out, going through it quickly. "Yep, I got everything."

"You're leaving it all?" Stabler felt as if his gears were grinding. He'd never expected this.

"It isn't much. Some clothes that have dog slobber on them and a TV that's in three parts." Beecher flipped off the landlord and went out the front door. "Wow, I feel better already."

Stabler didn't understand this guy at all. "Where will you go?"

"I don't know, but rest assured, I won't leave the state." Beecher sniffed his hands. "I need a shower. I can still smell dog."

Stabler put his hands on his hips. He should say something to impress on Beecher the seriousness of all of this and how desperately he needed the information. "I didn't think the landlord would throw you out."

Beecher gave him a sideways look. "Right. Does anyone believe your bullshit?"

"I need to know what Maxi told you last night," Stabler tried again. The wrong words kept coming out. He didn't care about this skel or where he lived. Damn it.

"We found heroin in the car, marijuana in the storage building, ecstasy in the gold purse, which is missing. What major drug is left?"

"Coke." Stabler watched him carefully for lies. "Where is it?"

"Maxi told me that Shantille kept it in a red shoe box, but the police had to have it." Beecher flagged down a cab and opened the door. "There's only one more thing I can tell you."

"Give me the name," Stabler said forcefully.

"El Termundo." Beecher slammed the door and was gone. Stabler didn't think he'd see him again unless it was at court. The name meant nothing to him, but it was a lead. He went back inside to Shantille's apartment. Fin was arguing with the landlord, and Stabler stepped around them to speak to the dog handler.

"Raphael says it's here." The handler tapped the floor with his shoe.

"What's his hit ratio?" Stabler wasn't ready to get out the saw yet.

"Upper nineties - best dog I've ever had. That guy upstairs was dirty."

Stabler nodded. Beecher had been. "There must be a trick to it." He knelt down and searched. The dog whined and growled in his ear. "Can you move him back?"

The handler took the dog out, and Fin joined him. "Must be here."

Stabler pushed the boards, looking for give. One of them moved slightly, and he used his car key to pry it up. "Jackpot."

"I'll get the forensics guys back." Fin made the call.

Stabler left it so as not to disturb any prints and went out to the dog handler. "Make sure Raphael gets some extra kibble tonight."

The handler smiled and patted him on the head. "Will do."


Toby went to the bank first, got some cash, and finally opened a checking account. It was time to start acting like an adult. Living from one party to another wasn't bad, but it wasn't a life. Maybe that dog had snapped him out of it. Whatever, he was going to make some changes.

"Should we continue to pay your credit card automatically?"

"Of course." Toby gathered all his paperwork, made a note to get a briefcase, and ignored the glares usually reserved for the homeless. He was ragged and smelled like pot, at least to dogs, but there was nothing he could do about it right now. "We'll print checks later. All I need are some temporary ones."

"How about a check card instead?" The man smiled brightly at him.

"I can't pay bills with a check card," Toby drawled.

"You can if you use your computer!"

Toby hated rampant enthusiasm. "Do I look like I own a computer? Please, just a few temporary checks."

"No one will take them. You don't have a driver's license." Now the guy was patient. That was almost worse. "Call me when you get your new address." He pushed a business card at Toby. "Check card?"

"Sure." Toby gave in. He wasn't going to enjoy being respectable. He could tell right now. "Can I use it immediately?"

"Yes." The man typed about a hundred words a minute, swiped a card, and handed it to him. "Anything else today?"

"God, no," Toby muttered and beat it out the door. A camera blinked its red light at him, and he stared up at it. The image of the person leaving the building jumped up in front of him, and he leaned against the wall to think about it. Everyone knew about the camera. The killer had come in the window, locked it, and gone out the front. Why? To make him look guilty. The shank did the rest. He'd been set up. "Shit."

"Move along," a woman in a security uniform said. "Now."

Toby gave her a sloppy salute and started looking for a clothing store. He didn't mind walking. Someone had made sure he'd take the fall of the murder, and strangely enough, that limited the amount of people it could have been. The person had to know that Toby was an ex-con, that Shantille had the shank, about the security camera, the window, and the drugs. The gold purse had been left behind, and why? Too flashy? Too cumbersome? No, it was easily tucked inside a coat.

"Maxi, you bitch," Toby muttered. He had to stop, leaning against a building and breathing hard from shock. Had it been about love or the drugs or both? And why hadn't she taken the coke? Toby flipped open his phone. "Steven, find out if they have the coke. They took that dog down to her apartment."

"Will do. I'll call."

Toby suddenly realized in was in front of a man's clothing store, a nice one. He needed everything, so he went inside.

"Excuse me, perhaps you're looking for St. Mark's Goodwill?"

Toby pulled out his platinum credit card, waggled it, and took a good look at the salesman. Gay, definitely, but the question had been kind, not a sneer. Working the sympathy angle was the way to go on this one. "I'm gay, and I was thrown out of my building with nothing but the clothes on my back. Could you, um, maybe give me a break today?"

"Oh, my God." The salesman did horrified very well. "Brian, get over here! We have to help this guy."

"Tobias." Toby smiled and extended his hand. "I went to a rave, got trashed, and came home to find I'd been evicted. Sucks, big time."

"Rusty." Rusty shook Toby's hand but gently. "You looked trashed."

"Yeah, but it was a good party. I'm a lawyer." Toby grinned at the memory of Stabler's hands on him. For two seconds, it had been perfect.

Brian, it had to be him, came around a clothes rack. "You smell like the inside of Willie Nelson's tour bus!"

Toby blinked. Brian had a nose like a drug dog. "What's with all the Willie Nelson jokes?"

"Oh, you know, it's the thing." Rusty laughed. "Brian, could Tobias here use the shower in back?"

"Sure." Brian smiled, and it looked honest. "The clothes go in the trash, and we'll trick you out."

"I need at least one nice suit for court." Toby smiled for them. They did seem nice. "First, some jeans and a shirt."

"You need it all." Rusty waved his hand and took Toby to the back. "Get naked, sweetie, and those shoes suck."

"Thanks." Toby stripped, deciding not to hide his body. It didn't matter if they saw. He'd never see these guys again. A shower was a good idea. He knew he didn't smell bad, but he felt dirty after that dog had been in his face. "You guys are great."

"Gotta stick together." Rusty checked him out thoroughly. "Some nasty scars."

Toby didn't answer that. He got in, shut the shower curtain, and cleaned up. When he got out, Brian was there with a towel and underwear.

"Boxers or briefs?"

"Boxers." Toby dried off and took them. They were silk. "Nice."

"Nothing but quality in this store." Brian pointed at Toby's small pile of stuff. "Rolex says it all. Your landlord was crazy."

"Yes." Toby brushed his fingers through his hair. He needed a comb. There wasn't anything he didn't need, including a life. "You two married?"

"Not yet." Brian suddenly looked shy.

Toby took the slacks and dress shirt, noting the correct sizes. These guys were good. "After this, I gotta find a place to live."

"You'll look good enough for Trump Tower." Brian straightened Toby's shirt and gave him a belt to thread through the loops. "Why'd they really throw you out?" he asked in a soft voice. "Rusty is a romantic."

"My landlord liked to steal things, so I complained to the cops. The cops told him, and he accused me of being a druggie. Cops tore the place apart looking for drugs, and my landlord threw me out." Toby raised his hands and shrugged. Brian wasn't quite as gullible as Rusty. "He also didn't like the gay thing."

"I think I got all that. Your life is confusing." Brian handed him some shoes. "This'll be fun. Let's get busy."

Toby's phone rang, and he tucked it in the curve of his shoulder while he put on a pair of Gucci shoes that weren't ugly. "What'd you find out, Steven?"

"It was hidden under a floorboard in her apartment, a red shoe box, full of coke." Steven sounded pleased. "Things are looking good for us. Find a place yet?"

"Working on getting some new clothes. I'll get there. Thanks." Toby shut the phone. Maxi had torn the place apart looking for the coke, but she'd scored the ecstasy. She hadn't known about the heroin or the weed. Toby tied his shoes and knew it was time to come clean with Stabler about the shank. That was one conversation that he didn't want to have. "Fuck."

"Are you sure you're a lawyer?" Brian asked with laughter in his voice.

"I was. Now I'm mostly lazy." Toby wasn't exactly proud of that. He should do something with his life besides eat nachos, but as usual, he didn't have a clue as to what. "You'll still sell me a suit, right?"

"Oh, honey, I'm going to make your credit card smoke." Brian took an armful of shirts from Rusty. "Or, you could go waste your money at Sears."

The laughter came easily. "I'd rather you have the money, but I can't buy too much. No luggage."

"I'll have Rusty help you to a cab," Brian had a glint in his eyes. "You are way too fine a man to pull off the grunge look."

"You think?" Toby refused to meet their eyes, instead finding that he was looking in a floor-length mirror. He looked… old, tired, but he was clean and his clothes were nice. This wasn't a side of himself he'd seen in years, and he wasn't sure if he liked it. That man in the mirror loved his booze and occasionally ran over small children. He swallowed hard and looked away. "It's not an image I'm comfortable with."

"But you look good." Rusty slipped his arm around Brian's hip. "And it'll give you confidence to make good choices. Everyone knows that."

It should've come off smug, but all Toby could see in Rusty was a man with a kind heart. "I could use some good choices."

"This is going to be fun!" Rusty might clear the racks in his enthusiasm, and Toby, so used to people who lived in misery when they weren't high, considered letting him. It was just money.

Brian smacked Rusty on the ass. "Don't scare him. We almost had him hooked!" He followed that with a mischievous grin.

Toby sighed loudly and dramatically, throwing his arms up. "Fine! Dress me!" Maybe he could look good enough to impress Stabler, or at least shut him up about the pot.


Stabler ended his day ass deep in paperwork and surrounded by guilt and doubt. Even Fin looked worried. The guys from narcotics had left about an hour ago, and everyone was damn unhappy. They no longer wanted this case, saying that it would take too long to get up to speed.

"Ain't anyone willing to deal with El Termundo," Fin said softly. "He shoots first and asks you what you want while you're twitching."

"Someone in his organization was feeding his daughter drugs. Either that or she helped herself to a large severance package." Stabler leaned his face against his palm. "Her father could have killed her, but probably not. She could've asked for too much, but she was loaded so that's stupid." He thought back over Beecher's statement. "Why the shiv?"

Fin came over and slumped down in Olivia's old chair. "Everyone agrees that Shantille liked to share. Why steal from her?"

Stabler got out the photos for the hundredth time. "This was a crime of passion. The drugs might have been nothing more than opportunity, and the shiv was used to frame Beecher. It was someone who knew he hated the camera, knew about the shank, and knew he was an ex-con, and we'd go after him first."

"How many of Shantille's friends fall in that category?"

"Beecher would know." Stabler stared at the photo of the purse. "Did they get any prints off it?"

"I'll check." Fin went back to his desk. Stabler found some money and went to get a soda. If he could figure this out, so could Beecher. Beecher was no idiot, and it was barely possible that he knew who'd done it. Getting him to cooperate after the incident with the dog might be tough. Beecher had been more than scared. Stabler took a drink and sat down. He would not feel guilty about that. It had been Novak's idea, and it had been a good one. They'd found the coke.

"Elliot, that was the front desk. Beecher is here to see you." Fin put the phone down. "Not me. You."

Stabler got moving. He was going to take this outside the precinct and get some answers from him.


Toby didn't sit down. He stuck his hands in his new jean pockets and watched the clock. He was leaving in three minutes. Coming clean to Stabler might be a terrible idea, so if he didn't show up fast, Toby was getting the hell out of here.

Stabler rounded the corner, face determined. "You had dinner? I'm starved."

Toby almost said no, but he didn't want to talk in here, and Stabler probably knew it. "So now you're going to feed me?"

"Come on." Stabler got the door. "My car?"

"Okay." Toby wasn't sure he was comfortable with this halfway pleasant version of Stabler. The growly version was easier to dislike. He buckled up. "Where to?"

"There's a place close that isn't bad." Stabler glanced over at the light. "New clothes?"

Toby didn't answer the obvious question. "You found the coke, huh?"

"The dog did." Stabler nodded. "The landlord wants you arrested, by the way."

"Did you tell him you'd taken care of that earlier?"

"Yeah. He seemed pleased." Stabler parked, and they went inside a corner diner. It was open all night. Cops probably loved it. Toby sat down and tried not to look right at him but it was impossible. Stabler furrowed his bushy eyebrows. "What?"

"You look like him. I miss him." Toby shrugged, embarrassed. He shouldn't have told the truth. "It's nothing. You find the killer?"

Stabler smiled at the waitress who interrupted the answer. "Hey, Mandy. I'll have a double cheeseburger, fries, and a coke."

Mandy looked at Toby.

"Same for me."

She got them their drinks and smiled at Stabler. "Working late again?"

"People keep messing with each other." Stabler didn't smile. She wandered off, and Toby took a drink. Stabler looked as if he was gathering his arguments.

Toby knew what Stabler wanted, but he was going to make him work for it. "You're being somewhat nice, so what do you want?"

"You came to see me." Stabler smiled at him, but it was forced. Toby wondered if Stabler ever really smiled or if the killing and the raping made it impossible for him to feel happy. "So spill it."

"I think I was set up." Toby didn't say it loudly, and he looked close for any sign of derision on Stabler's face.

"I agree." Stabler pushed off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. "Uh, you aren't gonna lick my tattoo, are ya?"

"No." Toby blushed. He'd been a little high, but he could still taste Stabler's skin on his tongue. "Steven will kick my ass if he finds out I talked to you."

"Novak might have my badge." Stabler nodded. He got out a pen and pulled a napkin. "But let's talk anyway. The killer knew three things."

Toby leaned and watched him write them down. He agreed with all of them. "The killer also knew that we were having sex."

"Maybe. Maybe not." Stabler handed him the pen. "Who knew?"

Drawing a quick line, Toby wrote three names: Lex, Benny, and Maxi. His best guess was Maxi, but he had to be fair. "The person on the camera. Any clues?"

"Too far away." Stabler tucked the napkin in his pocket. "Which one hated you the most?"

"I didn't think any of them hated me. I buy them things and let them crash at my place." Toby wasn't going to say her name. She'd framed him, but he was having a hard time blaming her for it. She'd loved Shantille too much, and he understood that so well.

"Tell me about the shiv."

Toby skidded his hands down his thighs. "I'm going to use the restroom." He needed a minute, and he stared at his face in the mirror after washing his hands. Still an alcoholic, still a loser, and still very much alone, but he was better than all that. He was going to believe it and try living it. It wouldn't be easy, but it was worth a try. If he failed, he could always go live with Benny and be a druggie. When he got back to the table, Stabler was eating, and Toby joined him. They didn't talk until the last fry was gone.

"If you'd have brought me one of these, I'd have confessed to get another one." Toby tried an honest smile, but he was afraid his face had forgotten how.

"Next time." Stabler gave him half a smile. It might have been a smirk. "I'm waiting."

"Not here." Toby finished his coke. "I'll get the tip."

Stabler nodded and went to pay. Toby watched that sweet ass going away. He should've kissed him at the party. He'd never have another chance. Laughing softly, he put down a ten and went out to the car. Stabler caught up with him there.

"It was like this," Toby said and slid up on the hood. It was a nice night for a confession. "Shantille was fascinated with the fact I'd been to prison. She got off on it."

Stabler put his hands on his hips. "Some women seem to like it."

"She wanted to know everything. She'd fondle my swastika for hours if I let her." Toby had thought it was damn weird, but he'd like her anyway. "One night, we were all, well..."

"Higher than kites and acting like idiots," Stabler finished for him.

"I wasn't that high." Toby rubbed his face. "She wanted me to make her a shank."

"So you did 'cause you're a damn fool." Stabler had the sarcasm down pat, but he couldn't make Toby feel any guiltier than he did. He nodded slowly. He hadn't thought about the consequences of making a shank, and for a lawyer that was inexcusable. Stabler stepped closer. "Who knew about it and where'd she keep it?"

"Those three people were there, and she kept it under her pillow. She said she needed it for protection." Toby sighed heavily. "My fault."

"Her killer would've used something else, but yes, your fault." Stabler didn't make nice. He never did. "Tell me about Lex."

"Nice guy. Shantille loved him. He punched me in the face at the party, thinking that I'd killed her." Toby didn't think Lex could kill a fly. "They, uh, invited me to join them once, and I took them up on it."

Stabler didn't look happy to hear that. "I think you should put your johnson in your jeans and keep it there for a year or two. You're twenty years older and should have some sense!"

Toby didn't exactly disagree, but there were excuses for his behavior. "Sudden freedom doesn't make for good decision making."

Stabler's phone rang, interrupting them. "Stabler."

Toby slid off the car. He should go. He'd spilled his guts, looked like an ass, and felt guilty enough for one year.

"Did they get a hit on it?" Stabler was getting out his keys. "On my way." He hesitated, putting his phone in his pocket. "You knew it was her."

Toby walked away. He didn't look back, and he didn't stop walking until some of the guilt receded to a level he could live with for a day or two.


Stabler stepped out of the interrogation room and avoided Huang's eyes.

"She'll recant soon. She's highly unstable."

Stabler nodded in agreement, but it was legal, and he had hopes that it would stick. "Now she's guilty."

"And you?"

There was no reason to answer. Huang knew the truth. Stabler went to his desk to start the paperwork, and Fin could take her down to booking. There was guilt enough to go around on this one.


"The state apologizes, Mr. Beecher, for the inconvenience. You're free to go."

Toby shook Steven's hand, and they shared a smile. He saw Stabler duck out the back, but Novak came over to talk at them.

"I suggest you clean up your act, Beecher, or you will be a guest of the state soon," she preached.

"And I suggest you tighten the leashes on your detectives before they kill someone in their efforts to gain confessions through torture." Steven let her have it. She actually turned a little pale, and Toby couldn't help but smile triumphantly.

"Let's go before another police dog shows up," Toby said. He and Steven went out, but Stabler wasn't around. Toby didn't get why Stabler had even bothered to show up today, unless he really did feel guilty.

"Tobias, we have to talk." Steven guided him to a bench and they sat. "First of all, do you intend to sue the NYPD?"

Toby would rather be shot again. "Absolutely not. The hassle would be a huge pain in the ass. But, thanks for asking."

Steven sighed. He'd most likely been looking forward to the fight. "I won't insist."

Toby clapped him on the shoulder. "But you'd like to."

"Yes." Steven opened his briefcase and removed a file. "Now, your brother set up guidelines for the use of the profits that your family receives. One half goes to an account in the Caymans. That's his, and the other half goes to fund a food bank that's here in Manhattan, run out of a church."

"A food bank?" Toby felt only confused, not angry. He wouldn't dream of criticizing his brother's decisions, but that was odd, even strange.

"You're their main source of income, and you have the right to stop funding at any time." Steven handed him a file. "You can take the next check, effectively shutting them down, or you can meet with them, or you can pretend you don't know about it."

Toby needed a minute to process all that. "Could I give myself a salary?" Eventually, he was going to run out of money. Not soon, but some day, especially if he kept buying dope.

"Yes. It's up to you." Steven nodded and snapped his briefcase shut. "I made a call to tell them you were here in Manhattan. They're, well..."

"Panicking?" Toby would open the file later. He'd take a long look and decide what to do, but he wouldn't rush into a decision.

"Good word for it. No matter what you decide, would you do the courtesy of calling them?"

"Of course." Toby got to his feet and stuck out his hand. "Thank you, Steven, you're a good man."

Steven shook hands with him. "So are you. Don't forget it."

Toby watched him stride away, the folder heavy in his hands.

"You were right about the guilt," Stabler said softly from behind him. "Any chance you'll accept an apology?"

Toby turned to face him. This was a complete surprise. "Yes. We all make mistakes, and yours was an easy one." He brushed his hand through his hair, a little nervous for no reason. "And I was an idiot."

"Yep." Stabler nodded, and they headed for the elevator together. "Try to stay out of my precinct, okay?"

Toby smiled, nerves fading away. He was going to have a hard time not stalking him, but he would do it. "Promise me you won't send any more dogs to my place."

"Deal." Stabler pushed the button. Toby let his eyes devour him for the ride, trying to remember every detail. The doors opened, and Stabler took a step out, but he paused.

"You are a good dancer," Toby said with a dirty smirk, unable to resist. He hit the close button fast. Stabler glared at him until the doors were shut. Toby laughed in real amusement, glad despite the circumstances that he'd met him. It was almost as if a tiny bit of Chris was still around. Toby left the building in a hurry and didn't look back. He had things to do, people to see, and drugs to avoid. It wouldn't be easy, but he could do it.




art by Beechercreature