Days turned into weeks.

He did what Elliot wished, left him be. The time even came when he didn't jump at every phone call and door knock. Toby knew how to compartmentalize his life. He knew those defenses that needed to be shored up, rebuilt old walls against pain. His heart was one big ol' wad of scar tissue now.

But he still harbored hope.

Then late one night there came a knock on the door. Lunatic hour. He had been hoping for so long, that he tore open the door without checking to see who it was first.

Not Elliot.

"Where's Marcie? Where's that bitch? Where's my son?

A hard-faced blonde man stood at the doorway, a fresh scar on his face closing his left eye.

"Who are you?"

"Who are you, you cunt?" screamed the man. "Cunt, fucking my wife!"

The last thing Toby remembered was bolting for the kitchen and snatching the knife off the table, still covered in chicken scraps for Jack and Holly's lunch.

Henry Hilyer let out a screech of rage and bore down on him.

Toby lashed out with the knife. Lashed out too late, was caught, his stomach exploded with fire. Such a familiar feeling.

So familiar...

Toby swept out with the carver, catching bone and rib. So much blood. Henry still writhing on the floor in a red puddle, screeching incoherently.

He ran for the bathroom, the corners of his vision blurring. The locks held a weakened Henry, but the door might not.

It's so cold.

With fumbling hands Toby searched for a towel to hold over the red blaze on his abdomen, tied it with a sash from Marcie's bathrobe, red satin slipping through his numb hands.

Then he passed out.

Olivia was alone at the desk when a small bird-like woman in black knit presented herself at the doorway.

"Uh, hello?"

She immediately was on guard - the front office rarely let unattended strangers through. But then she noted the silver cross around the tiny neck and immediately became deferent. A nun.

One of the plush toys on their ever-growing pile fell off, and the Sister picked it up with a half-smile. She rubbed the monkey face with a thumb before placing it back in it's precarious position.

"Hello, I'm Detective Benson," Olivia said primly, offering her hand for what was a surprisingly firm handshake. "How may I help you?"

"I'm looking for an Elliot Stabler. I'm told he works here?"

"Yes, he's one of our detectives."

"Ahh." The nun rubbed her hands together, clearly at a loss. Fin walked behind her with a frown on his face, Olivia gave in a slight nod. It's okay.

"And you are..?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. Sister Peter Marie. I'm a psychologist at Oswald Correctional Facility."

"Uh, huh." Olivia nodded, but in the back of her mind wondered what someone from an out-of-state prison was doing here.

The Sister answered her question for her.

"I'm here about a mutual friend of ours, a Tobias Beecher." Stresses on the word friend. So for a nun, she wasn't exactly innocent about their relationship.

"Oh," said Olivia in a warning tone. "Well, I don't know if you'll be made terribly welcome I'm afraid. Elliot burned his bridges with Toby a couple of months ago."

"Yes, I gather. I take it that you were aware of the nature of their relationship."

Olivia nodded, weary from knowing the nature of too many things. "Elliot's my partner."

She remembered her manners, and offered Sister Peter Marie a seat, which happened to be Elliot's. The Sister looked at the photos of the four kids, and trailed her fingers over them.

"Who does he take after most?"

"Oh, none of them. Kathy Stabler had powerful genes. Pity the marriage didn't work out. They were a lovely couple."

A cunning little smile. "Meaning than him and Tobias were not?"

"Gosh, what can I say Sister? Beecher was only about a year out of max security. He wasn't the sort of person I envisaged with Elliot."

That smile again. But before Sister Peter Marie spoke, it suddenly dropped, and the blood drained from her face. "Oh, good lord..."

"Sister?"

Olivia looked towards the scene of Sister Peter Marie's stolen attention. Don Cragen and Elliot were trailing the new DA through the desk maze. Elliot was looking twenty pounds too thin and had a savage look about him, Cragen was red-faced with rage, and the DA was stonily refusing to talk to either of them.

"Oh," the Sister breathed. "I understand now. God help me."

"When he told me that you reminded him of Christopher Keller, I naturally thought it might be something relatively obscure. But the likeness is close."

Elliot folded his arms. He didn't like what he was hearing. Sixty days without Toby. Sixty days in the desert without food or water. Similar things to be endured. But not with this added sliver of information to hurt him.

"That explains a lot," he said, cool. Easier now than in the first month, when he couldn't bear Toby's name, when he couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, and it had been so much worse than the first time - back then he had not have those knife-edge memories to torment him.

He pulled away from the wall, ready to usher the Sister out and let him get on with the business of turning into scar-tissue and stone.

Sister Peter Marie paused for a moment before tilting her head to one side, speculative. "Oddly enough, although someone might say you look like Christopher, you really aren't very much like him at all."

"Oh?"

"You've got this defensiveness that Keller never had, like there's depths to you that need more protection. But if what Toby tells me is true, there's humility too. Chris never could find it in him to forgive a wrong done to him until it was too late. I'm hoping that you could do the same."

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Foreboding, like the sky about to cave in.

"Why, what's happened to him?"

She sighed, walked over to the window and looked out past the grille. Elliot knew there was nothing there but the back of a factory and a few parked cars.

"There was an incident. The young woman he works with - Marcie Hilyer..."

"Something happened to Marcie?"

"No, but she had a husband."

Elliot remembered Toby complaining about Marcie's husband. A white-collar drug dealer who'd plunged into dirty waters and disappeared.

"I though Marcie's husband was dead."

"Unfortunately not. Elliot, there was an argument. He hurt Toby pretty badly. The hospital called me - they couldn't contact his family. They thought he wasn't going to make it. He kept asking for you."

Elliot swallowed his mouth dry. Toby...hurt...and if he'd been with him.
But he couldn't have. Not in any Hallmark card version of the world. Not in a world where Christopher Keller existed, a serial killer with his face.

"When did this happen?" he asked, trying to keep the urgency out of his voice. "Which hospital?"

"I was hoping you would ask. I would very much like for you to see him."

The feeling of impending disaster only became worse. He was getting a migraine just thinking about it.

"I don't think it's be such a good idea. I'm just getting over him. I can't see him. He really hurt me. Not as much as Chris hurt him but..." He wiped his face. "I don't want to pay for mistakes that aren't mine."

"Please."

"Why? Isn't he okay?"

She shrugged. "He's not himself. He's a little down. And he misses you Elliot Stabler. He does. See him. Just see him."

"I can't," he whispered.

"You're going to have to. I told my driver to wait outside and to hell with the traffic cops until I come down. And I'm not leaving until you come with me."

It wasn't always that he dreamt of Gary, but there was something about the smell of hospitals that brought him back. He had missed the births of all his children. He'd been far too busy, busy with work, busy with killing himself slowly with alcohol, busy with selfishness that he thought was responsibility.

As usual Gary waited for him at the end of a long corridor. Sometimes it was a prison. Sometimes it was a courthouse. Sometimes he was wearing his school uniform, the one he was on the verge of growing out of when Toby was sent to prison. And washed over that stark image the knowledge that something bad was about to happen, that Gary could be saved, but only if Toby reached him first...

Even in his dream he instinctively knew how this went. Running and going nowhere. Trying to get to the end of the row before the terrible, unseen thing happened.

Always, he would wake up before he could reach Gary, wake up just as a male shadow appeared behind his son's vulnerable little body. On the rarest of occasions he might catch a glimpse of Gary turning to face his attacker, little mouth in an O of surprise.

In these ones especially he woke up screaming. And just like before he expected to wake up. Dreamer's instinct. But he didn't wake. The film kept going. This horror was going to play to its end. Gary stood there as the shadow came closer. Toby tried to call his name. Tried to yell. Made no sound. His side was cut open. He gushed blood. He was wading through a river of his own blood, a river littered with children's hands, a little girl's pigtails. The face-down body of a man in a hack's uniform floated past.

Gary. Screaming.

Then the river was gone. He was exhausted. The man stepped out of the shadows. It was Chris as he remembered him just before he went to Cedar Junction, in his orange boiler suit.

Toby didn't know what to think. Should he shout a warning, or just watch?

Gary turned back to Toby, smile on his face. "It's Christopher, Daddy."

The dream man gave Toby a look. A cautious nod of acknowledgement, a dead man not permitted to talk to the living. He bent down and whispered something into Gary's ear.

Gary nodded, waved goodbye, and they faded into the shadows.

Toby woke up to an empty hospital room, and the pip of a heart monitor. The bed next to him was vacant, the old man there that afternoon, gone.

He slept for the rest of the morning, and the second time he opened his eyes they were to brown ones, tiny face, slivering hair.

"Sister P," he croaked. "I was hoping you'd come by."

She squeezed his hand. "How are you Tobias?"

"Bored," he said, waved the remote at the silent television where a hysterical audience screamed at a sullen man and two lumpen women. "No cable, and until the cut heals up, they won't let me out of the bed."

He touched the bruise on his forehead. "Not that I'm supposed to be watching TV anyway."

"I brought someone to see you."

"Yeah?"

"He put up a bit of a fight, but I got him here in the end."

Toby knew who it was by the sound of her voice. Toby was ready to tear out the IV lines and bolt out the door to find Elliot. He didn't need to. Elliot was standing in the doorway nervously, silently asking permission to step over the threshold.

"Hey," said Toby.

"Hey," said Elliot in return. "You okay?"

They were so cool and proper with each other. But, thought Toby, such a thin skin held all the hurt and love under the surface. Either one could bleed out. Toby held out his hand and Elliot stepped towards him. Toby didn't miss how thin Elliot was. This separation of theirs...it was a knife that had cut both ways.

He took Elliot's hand and hung on tight. "Missed you."

Elliot didn't answer.

Sister Pete jabbed her hands into the pockets of her slacks. "Boys, I'm going to leave you for a moment. A friend of mine is a nurse here. I'd like to catch up."

Toby flashed her a look of gratitude as she left. Elliot sat in the chair next to Toby, nervous and inarticulate.

"Was going to say how have you been but..." Elliot pointed towards the bruise on Toby's head. "Dumb thing."

"And you?"

"Oh, okay."

"Still missed you."

Toby didn't miss the flash of pain, the unspoken: Missed me? Or Him?

Toby brought Elliot's palm to his lips. Pressed them there.

"You."

Elliot brought his hand away, replaced them with his own lips. Chaste. Trembling with tenderness. Then even they were gone, and Elliot stood up, looking down at Toby intently.

"Make me believe it," he whispered. "Even if it is a lie."

The dance resumed, but this time a cautious two-step, bodies always held at arm's length, not the frantic tango of their first coupling. This time it was a slow courtship, Marcie providing chaperone duties, seven kids between three adults keeping them conservatively apart.

They kept the relationship as platonic as possible. Sex had proven far too complex for them to handle. It was a place that was too raw for Elliot, still unsure of Toby's motivations, though as Toby healed his libido returned with a vengeance.

"You look good tonight," said Toby, as they met to take the ferry across to Toby's new place. It was getting late in the evening. Elliot had been at a police white-tie function earlier on, hadn't changed out of the requisite tux. With the red suspenders, rakishly loosened cravat and jacket hung casually from his shoulder, he looked plenty good enough to eat.

"I'm sorry I'm so late. Hard enough to excuse myself," he said. "The Captain wanted me to butter up some visiting Fed. He'd gotten so wasted I really couldn't be bothered humoring him."

They boarded the ferry, and because the night was warm, stood out on the deck with a few straggling office-slaves on the way home.

They stood close together and watched the lights of the city.

"You know, Elliot, it'll be late by the time I get dinner ready. You could stay if you want. There's a spare bed."

A stiff breeze blew in across the water. Elliot frowned. "So you're not going to invite me to yours then."

Their eyes met. Toby's breath caught in his throat. Difficult to tell if he was teasing or testing.

"I don't want to make a mistake this time, Elliot. I want to be sure."

"Oh."

"What about you? Are you sure?"

"I don't know." Elliot looked out across the blackness, the last rays of sunset staining the horizon with blood red. "Your friend, Sister Pete. She told me that I looked like him."

So this was where it was going to be, the conversation about Chris Keller. Toby closed his eyes. He knew it would come, and would have to happen before they could move forward. A small part of him wished that they could just forget about Chris and move on. A much larger part needed to deal with these consequences.

"You do."

"You really loved him?"

"Yeah. I did."

Pause. A nod. Looking away to where a lone buoy swayed in the ferry's wake.

"What was he like in bed?"

Toby winced. But Elliot needed to hear what Toby had to say. Wanted to know the demon he was up against.

"I never...I was rarely on top, if you know what I mean."

Elliot's nostrils flared as he breathed in.

He didn't want to hear this.

He did want to hear it.

"Why not?"

"Things had happened to him in his life. Bad things. I tried once, you know, I was being a right asshole and said something like I wouldn't love him if he didn't let me. You know. Fuck him."

Toby gripped the safety rail, still shaking from the memory. "So he let me. And he was so quiet through it all. But I kept going, I guess I was angry at him for this thing, this obsession. And afterwards he just curled in a ball and wouldn't speak. Well. I'd been there. But he'd been there before, much worse and for much longer."

Getting fainter now, the buoy's rusted bell rang, a muffled, tuneless clanging out across the water.

"If you wanted to, I'd let you."

Toby shook his head. "I don't know. I went about it the wrong way last time. I hurt you too."

Elliot sighed. He put out his hand, covered Toby's own, briefly.

"Toby. I've missed you something fierce. I'd fucking tear my heart out right in front of you if that's what it would take to convince..."

A drunken couple staggered out through the door, giggled loudly about re-enacting the scene from Titanic. Elliot bent his head, said softly. "Want all of you. You inside me." He gave a sharp laugh, as if amazed at what he'd said. "I don't care if it hurts. I want to do it for you."

"I wasn't in my own head, Elliot. It wasn't you I was..."

"I don't care if you don't love me. Just stay."

His voice, lost. The lights on the harbor caught the pain in his face.

"My place," said Toby urgently. "Come to bed with me."

The rest of the trip took less than an hour, but seemed indeterminably long. They stayed quiet, stood apart from each other. But both of them were humming as if struck by a bell-hammer. Anxiously aroused, Toby pressed his stubborn erection against the railing, felt the thrum of the ferry's engine, wondered how he was going to make it home before forcing himself on Elliot, right there on the deck.

But they made it back to Toby's minimally furnished apartment, and hauled each other into their arms as if they were starving for each other, bruising lips, tearing clothes. Toby wanted to fuck Elliot across the coffee table, the sofa, the carpet, ended up pushing him against the closed door and grinding his cock into Elliot's groin, gasping, so close to coming he couldn't see straight. Christ, if he managed to even get inside Elliot before touchdown, it would be a miracle.

Then Elliot slid his sweet body away.

"I wanna take a shower first. I've been in this penguin suit all afternoon."

Toby let out a shuddering sigh, ready to refuse him. He ran his fingers around the waistband of his strides.

"Don't be long."

"Come with me."

Toby dragged Elliot into the stall, under the hard spray. The water was a little cool. Toby hoped it would calm him down. Elliot nuzzled Toby's neck, sending delicious aftershocks where his tongue caressed. Toby thumbed Elliot's nipples into hard nubs, growled gutter words to him, of how good his body felt to Toby, how desirable he was, what Toby was going to do to him.

With shaking hands they soaped each other up. Toby made his damnest effort to be gentle, even though he couldn't disguise his excitement. His balls were aching from tension. He brushed between Elliot's ass with soapy fingers, pressed in a little, and moved away when Elliot startled.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm just..." embarrassed smile, "I'm scared Toby, I've never..."

He gave a strangled laugh. That was right. He'd never.

Even though his body was screaming for him to turn Elliot around and change his never against the cool tiles. Toby resisted, pressed hard on his prick to make it behave.

Out of the shower, rough towels bringing the blood to the surface, and then to Toby's futon.

"Toby," breathed Elliot as he pulled him close.

Toby pulled away from Elliot's body, his cock burning his way through the towel. Elliot must have seen the harsh lust in Toby's face, because a wave of uncertainty passed over his strong features. He was ready to say no.

Foreplay was over.

"Turn over," muttered Toby, trying to control his breathing, trying not to pant through utter lascivious intent. "Get your ass over."

The brusqueness of it all made Elliot turn onto his stomach with the kind of resignation one did in preparing for a medical exam. It was going to be fucked up again. Unless he was careful, their relationship would not survive this hurdle.

Toby bent down to kiss the hollow of Elliot's back, to breathe in the scent of him, rub his face in the fine hairs. Elliot jumped, shivered, but not from passion. This would take time.

Slowly, Toby kissed down over the bump of sacrum, the residual tail bone.

Thumbs on either side of his ass...

Elliot nearly pulled away, and Toby could see all his muscles clench in fear, even the one that was going to be most important.

Gotta loosen you up, babe.

"Relax."

He flicked his tongue out at the tiny knot and was rewarded with a gasp of horrified surprise. He did it again and felt Elliot's control drain away. He could sense Elliot fighting his body's unexpected reaction to this unexpected pleasure where he'd only expected pain.

Elliot mumbled something into the mattress. A curse. A prayer. Pushed his hips up, wanting more.

"Oh Toby, you don't have to do that," breathed Elliot in the tone of voice that really meant, Toby, do that, do it to me...

Toby settled himself in to lick and tease and suck that pucker of hot skin until he could work the hard point of his tongue past the clench.

His moans became incoherent when Toby plunged his tongue in deep. Elliot bucked and cried out, almost dislodging Toby from him.

"Jesus...Jesus...Jesus," Elliot rocked his aching cock into the mattress and then canted back into Toby's wicked mouth, indescribable pleasure forking though him, ass to spine to the explosion of light behind his eyes. That tongue, that mouth, that wanton feeling that gripped him, he wanted Toby to bury himself there. "Don't stop," he wept, bunching the sheets up into his hands, body shaking with delighted, horrified sobs, "don't..."

And then Toby stopped and Elliot gave a harsh moan of disappointment, rolling onto his back, cock painfully hard, his ass almost throbbing with the kind of pre-orgasmic shocks that should have come after he'd come. Before he could protest Toby was on him again, lubed finger sliding into his ass, Elliot's cock straining up into the teasing pressure of tongue and lips and teeth. His legs fell apart and nonsense words fell from him, entreaties to God, Toby, God, and they were the same thing, the god of this terrible sinful pleasure that even the angels abhorred.

Too soon even they were gone, and Elliot lay open and boneless and aching with loss, temples throbbing and face flushed. Toby loomed over him, still prison-buff, still with that aura of danger and Elliot's skin shivered and sparkled in fearful anticipation. Toby growled into his ear.

"God, tell me what you want El, I'll do it to you."

"Fuck me," Elliot, managing no more than a whisper, lost to an oblivion of needing, wanting. "Fuck me."

Through slitted eyes he say Toby slide a condom on over his glorious jutting prick, slowly, letting Elliot see his hands caress each ridge and move along the broad length. Teasing him. His stomach clenched. This was it, this was definitely it, once this happened he could never go back. The lube shone off the rubber with insidious, lustful intent.

"You're so sexy Toby," Elliot breathed, transfixed by his lover about to take him and plunder him and open him up, and not even God knew how much he hungered for this. His fingers caught Toby's thighs, his arms, the smooth stomach, everywhere he could reach, but gentle, gentle, no more than a breath over soft skin.

A pillow under his hips, one leg raised into the crook of Toby's arm and he stared up, trust and vulnerability conjoined.

"This will hurt. Do you want me to keep going?"

"Yes," he whispered, that little affirmative that moved rivers and leveled mountains.

Toby eased inside, a half-inch at a time, gritting his teeth from restraint, pausing only to smooth in more lubricant onto his own prick, to stroke Elliot's own.

Elliot gripped Toby's thighs with hard hands. Oh god, it hurt, it hurt, it was-

With one decisive movement and a grunt, Toby slid into Elliot, to the hilt.

The head of Toby's cock pushed somewhere deep inside Elliot's body, a place he never knew existed. A sudden ecstatic rush punched through him and he jolted as if he'd stumbled into an electric current.

He looked up into Toby's face...

...and Toby saw his face reflected in Elliot's wide, dark eyes and for a blind, momentous second could see right through the optic nerve and into Elliot's most secret places.

"Oh God," Elliot whimpered, not in exclamation, but as if speaking Toby's true name. "Oh God."

Toby took the entreaty at face value, let himself go, plunged into Elliot's heated body with all that Elliot felt him to be: joy, reverence, power, utter ecstatic delight, his hips straining against powerful thighs, his mouth catching burning kisses between cries of worship, Elliot's fingers digging in to him as they clenched his butt, pulling him deeper inside. His entire physical focus was between his legs, his cock inside Elliot, hot, tight, beautiful, beautiful, Jesus god beautiful. His nerves sang like high-tension wires in a storm. Hold Elliot's leg higher, thrust into paradise, feel that muscular body collapse and writhe and submit to him, hear Elliot sobbing at having found the heaven he'd only just glimpsed before.

Elliot's neck lay open and vulnerable, head tossed back as he approached climax. The sight drove Toby all flavors of wild, greedily he dipped his tongue into the hollow of Elliot's throat, tasted the salt that pooled there, traced the straining tendons, grazed his lips on the stubbled chin until the urge to thrust hard became too great and he could hold himself off no longer, and the blood pounding in his ears matched Elliot's hoarse cries. Elliot bucked once and came, semen splashing against Toby's belly.

Toby locked his eyes with Elliot's, and the orgasm that followed was most fucking wonderful feeling he'd ever had in his life.

Couldn't speak of love. Could not speak. But he could feel it, and so much more.

They lay in the aftermath, just breathing, city noises floating up from the open window. Cars tooting, people yelling, a rowdy party a block over, emergency service vehicles wailing through the precinct, distant gunshots, the pulse and whine of a chopper.

"Want me to close that?" asked Elliot after a while.

Toby clutched Elliot tighter to him. "Leave it open. The sound. This city...reminds me of you."

"Can I say it now?"

Toby met Elliot's eyes, inches from his own. He'd looked into those eyes, and found something there he'd seen in nobody. Not even Chris. He pre-empted Elliot's reply.

"Love you El. Love your body, your heart, every thing about you."

Elliot nodded, breathed, knew that this was a confession that would be ruined by too many questions.

"I'm glad."

When Elliot finally slept, Toby got up and moved to the window. City lights at night, fading and dying with the rising dawn. Fading with the stars.

But bringing daybreak, a new world, a new life.

Toby breathed in deeply and smiled to himself. There were still many hurdles for them to overcome, still obstacles and traps and misdirections. They would survive them. He'd make sure of it. The time had come for all dreamers to wake and for the living to begin.

/In one, numbers were burning In another, I witnessed a crime In one, I was running, and in another All I seemed to be doing was climb Wasn't looking for any special assistance Not going to any great extremes I'd already gone the distance Just thinking of a series of dreams/ ...Bob Dylan

~fin~

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Afternote: Song fragments include "Funny How Time Slips Away" by everyone from Elvis to Willie Nelson (but I prefer the Tom Jones version myself!) Also, "Series Of Dreams" by Bob Dylan.