REMNANTS


Toby didn't have a chance to answer the knock at his door. It opened to reveal his parole officer before he got there. He really needed to start locking up, not that it would have made a difference.

"Search and piss test, Beecher."

Toby took the cup that the dickhead held out. "Good to see ya, Natalini."

"Go piss." Steve Natalini wasn't a nice guy. It wasn't in his job description. He was overworked, underpaid, and annoyed - 24/7. Toby managed to squeeze out enough to test, washed his hands, and took it out to be sealed and tagged. Natalini was busy tossing the place. "There's beer in the fridge!"

"I have company occasionally, so I keep a six." Toby leaned against the wall and watched him. "I prefer Jack or Jim."

"Always making cracks." Natalini wasn't putting things away. "Staying out of bars?"

Toby rubbed his eyes. This was ridiculous. "How am I supposed to pick up girls?"

"Smartass. Everyone knows you're gay." Natalini laughed. Toby had heard worse, so it rolled off his back. Natalini looked under the cushions. He found a couple of quarters, but not much else. "I'm taking the beer, and you better hope your piss is clean."

"I'll hope you don't contaminate the sample." Toby put on his lawyer face. "Anything else?"

"Don't even think about buying a car." Natalini headed for the bathroom, and Toby resigned himself to cleaning the place instead of going out to lunch. "Got a real job, yet?"

"Yes." Toby waited for the disbelief and scorn.

"I don't believe it. Did you blow through all of your mom's money?" Natalini laughed at his own joke. Toby didn't like his parole officer, but that was no surprise. Natalini came out with a bottle of Tylenol in his hand. "How stupid do you think I am?"

"I get headaches. Doesn't everyone? If I were going to hide my drugs, and trust me, I had plenty of practice at Oz, I'd think of some place better than that!" Toby rubbed his forehead. "Take it. Waste your time."

"Don't fuck with me, Beecher." Natalini held out his hand. "Cell phone."

Toby handed it over and watched while Natalini zipped through the memory. "Did you get the latest from my shrink?"

"Yep. You're still nuts." Natalini handed it back. "Did you enjoy visiting Oz?"

"It should be a resort." Toby tried not to glare and failed. "Are you done?"

"I want paperwork from your new employer at our next meeting." Natalini gathered the things he'd confiscated. "You do still have it?"

"I do." Toby opened the door for him. "It might be bogus. I'll check with them and let you know."

Natalini snorted. "Get a job, Beecher. And no more beer."

Toby just stared at him. Natalini stared back. Neither of them would look away, and Toby finally answered, "I'll get non-alcoholic."

"Tastes like shit." Natalini left him, and Toby wanted to slam the door, but it was very stupid to piss off his parole officer. He locked the door, wandered to the couch, and sat down. Occasionally, well, often, he marveled at how thoroughly fucked up his life was. It would be so nice to have someone else to blame. His cell phone rang, and he went to get it. It was his mother, again, and he couldn't deal with it. She would leave a message if it were important. He started cleaning. He was halfway done when he came to the realization that he wasn't going to go see Detective Stabler and beg him to fill out paperwork. Stabler would give him Chris's eyes, and Toby would have nightmares for another week. Fuck the job. Stabler had been yanking him around, and Natalini could go to hell.

********

"Hey, Elliot. Have you run into Beecher lately?"

"Shut up, John." Stabler didn't even look over at him. So what if his legs had killed him to the point of actually groaning when he stood up?

Benson laughed. "Pride and all that."

Fin had to join in the fun. "Next time take your car."

They all laughed. Stabler put his face in the palm of his hand and wished for a transfer. Benson put a cup of coffee down next to him. "Seriously, did you talk to his parole officer about the job?"

"No. Beecher can get his ass down here with the paperwork," Stabler growled. "Momma's boy."

"Ouch." Munch laughed. He would never turn this loose. "I hear he's good with a shank though."

Fin nodded, as if he knew. "He's tough in a fight."

"How the hell could you know that?" Stabler fixed his eyes on Fin.

"Just what I heard."

"Right." Stabler picked up his coffee and escaped up to the mezzanine. He was through talking and thinking about Beecher.

********

Toby caught a cab over to Times Square. He might see a show or shop or just hang around and watch the people. It was better than staying home. It was Friday night, the kids were busy with friends, and he didn't want to hang out with his mother, not another night, please.

Times Square was almost as noisy as prison, but in a good way. He ducked into Toys R Us and bought the kids some candy. The indoor Ferris wheel was still amazing. When his kids spent the night, they always wanted to come here, and he always brought them. He watched it and scanned the crowd - tourists, mostly, and a few New Yorkers.

Virgin Records was his next stop, and he bought a new CD. He'd recently purchased a CD player, but he was holding out on the TV. It was harder than people realized to buy something that meant he lived in his apartment. The bed had been a big step, but it was comfortable.

"Tobias Beecher?"

Toby suppressed a deep groan and turned. "Hello?"

"Rick Barnes! Remember me?" Barnes had been a junior lawyer, very junior, ten years ago, and Toby remembered him too well.

"Good to see you." Toby put his hands in his pockets, forestalling any male rituals.

Barnes smiled and slid closer. They were just inside the door, but out of the way of traffic. "How have you been since, um, you got out?"

"Fine." Toby didn't smile and wouldn't. "Have you made partner yet?"

"No." Barnes laughed easily. "I left your firm about five years ago. I work for the D.A."

"Good for you." Toby wasn't going to ask questions. He gave Barnes another look. Yep, still gay and he definitely went to the gym. Barnes was also looking Toby over.

"You ditched your suit."

"I'm not a lawyer anymore." Toby started for the door. "Take care."

Barnes walked with him, and when they were out, he tentatively touched Toby on the arm. He wasn't giving up. "Do you want to see a show together?"

Toby sighed softly. He gave him another look, but there was nothing there. No spark. No tingle. Nothing. "No. Thank you."

"Maybe some other time." Barnes got the message loud and clear. "Good to see you."

Toby nodded and started walking. He wasn't even tempted. Maybe he needed a woman. He wasn't sure. Masturbation was getting old, but he didn't know what he needed. On impulse, he grabbed a cab and headed for a less savory part of town. He paid the cabbie and started walking. Streetwalkers, peep shows, gay bars, anything a man could want, and he had no idea what he wanted.

"Hey, honey, let me help you out."

Toby spotted the Adam's apple. "Had the surgery yet?"

"Getting there." She smiled. "You could help fund it."

"No thanks. I'm into guys that like being guys."

"Your loss." She swayed away. Toby stared at her, uh, his ass for a moment before starting to walk again. Did he really like guys? He'd loved Chris, but hated Schillinger. Shemin had been fun in a pathetic way. Browne boring as hell, and Barlog, well, pretty good. There had been other brief encounters over the years, but they'd been nothing to brag about - all guys though. Toby rubbed his hand down his jeans. Of course, they were guys. He'd been in prison! O'Reily had gotten laid by a woman, but that was completely different. A police car came barreling past him and knocked him back into New York City. Sirens blaring and lights flashing. Toby hesitated in front of a movie house dedicated to smut. He was used to jacking off with people watching or listening, but out here, it seemed wrong, even disgusting.

"You look like a man with a problem."

Toby shrugged and glanced over at the fellow leaning against a poster advertising boobs and more boobs. "Good description."

The guy laughed and strolled over. "What's up?"

"Trying to ascertain the direction that my sexuality is going to take, now that I've been released from a maximum security facility." Toby loved to push people away with his vocabulary.

"Taking it up the ass can do that to a man." The guy laughed. "Name's Jesse. You?"

"Toby." Toby looked him over. He hadn't pushed Jesse away at all. "You gay?"

"I'm always open to new career opportunities." Jesse winked at him. "Been with a woman yet?"

"No." Toby pointed up the street. "I'm going that way."

"I'll walk with you."

Toby didn't mind. He should have, but he didn't. He was lonely, and he'd always been easy, if not gay.

********

Stabler let his partner drive. They were cruising, hoping to catch sight of the perp. The guy loved hanging out with hookers, so they were hoping to get lucky. That had been two hours ago.

"This is stupid."

"I know, but the captain said to try it one night." Benson slowed down. "We have no other leads."

"I noticed, but we're looking for a whore in a stack of whores." Stabler never stopped looking for him though.

"He's not a whore. He just loves pretending to be a whore. It is weird." She turned the corner. "Maybe we can pick up some girls."

"You're not funny." Stabler scanned the corners and as she slowed down, he sat up straighter. That was a familiar face, and it didn't belong down here. The idiot was going to violate his parole. "Stop at the next corner."

"See him?"

"No, but stop." Stabler got out the instant the car slowed, and he stalked towards his target. "Beecher!"

Beecher stopped instantly and looked straight at him. The guy next to Beecher turned and ran. The little prick ran! Stabler held his temper by the thinnest of margins. He didn't screw around. He shoved Beecher against the wall, frisked him, and cuffed him.

"Good evening, Detective," Beecher said smoothly.

Smart ass. Stabler dragged him towards the car and stuffed him in the back seat. Only when Benson had them moving again, did he turn and snarl, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I was attempting to get laid. I'm sure you remember it. Well, maybe you don't." Beecher stared out the window. "Nice to see you again, Benson."

"Don't you have a curfew, Beecher?" Benson asked.

Stabler saw Beecher's eyes go to the clock. "I'd have made it."

"I doubt it." Stabler started looking for their perp again. "I'm sure picking up whores is a violation of your parole!"

"Is he always this loud?" Beecher leaned his head back, and Stabler wanted to smack him around. "Do you wear earplugs?"

Benson laughed softly. "Not entirely a bad idea."

"Wait." Stabler shrugged off his jacket. This time he might have to run. "There he is. Stop now!"

She slammed on the brakes, and Stabler got moving. He needed to thump somebody.

********

Toby watched Stabler dash from the car and start chasing some poor schmuck. "He's pretty fast with those cuffs, but does he carry spares?"

"No. Oh. Right." Benson put the light in the front window. "Wait here."

"Okay." Toby didn't laugh softly until she was gone. He should have been angry, but it was that kind of night. He'd been hit on by a gay guy, picked up by a guy that was a whore, and cuffed by a straight guy. He nearly burst out laughing. Fuck. It was funny. Chris would laugh. Toby did regret not getting to fuck Jesse. Jesse had been friendly, and not shy about what he wanted, which was him.

Suddenly, Stabler tore open the back door and shoved a whore on top of him. Well, it looked like a whore, but it smelled like an old man.

"Hey baby, going my way?" Toby giggled. This was beyond surreal.

"Shut up, Beecher!"

Toby heard Benson laughing. The whore, or whatever he was, managed to get seated next to him. "Isn't this cozy?" he said in a very deep voice.

"Hit the siren," Stabler snapped. Benson put on her seat belt. Toby smiled at his fellow passenger. The guy was obviously fucked in the head, and that made him a friend.

"I'm Betty Lou."

"I'm Elliot Stabler." Toby smiled at him. "Want to exchange numbers?"

Stabler's big hand reached, and Toby didn't bother to duck. The hand knocked him back to Oz, but he didn't mind. He stared out the window and wished he'd gotten laid, instead of laid out.

********

"Cut Beecher loose," Benson said stubbornly.

"If I do, he'll be in violation of his parole. I'll take him home."

"That's what you said last time!" Benson threw up her hands. "I give up! You should have left the poor guy alone. He's been in prison!"

Stabler lowered his head. He was not going to argue about this in front of the entire squad. She backed off, and he gave her the perp. "Come on, Beecher."

Beecher whistled a happy tune. "I got his phone number for you."

"I might have to shoot you."

"Been there. Done that. No big deal." Beecher grinned, and he looked insane. Stabler took him right up to the mezzanine and removed the cuffs. "Sit down. Try to leave and I'll call your parole officer."

Beecher raided the fridge. He looked unconcerned, completely. It was very annoying. Stabler left him and went to process the weird guy. Some nights, it didn't pay to go cruising.

********

Toby found something cold to drink. Now that Chris, oh wait, Stabler was out of the sight, he could breathe again. Some insane part of him giggled madly, but he pushed it away, slumped down in a chair, and put the Coke can against his face. That was better. Stabler knew how to hit a man.

A guy in suspenders came through the door and stopped to stare at him. "Did Detective Stabler hit you?"

Toby had no idea who this was, but it was definitely a cop. Lying seemed like a good idea. "No sir."

"Captain Cragen." The captain stuck out his hand. "I'm finally meeting the famous Tobias Beecher."

Toby shook Cragen's hand firmly before sitting back down. "I think that's infamous, and Stabler didn't hit me. The whore they picked up managed to clip me when they pushed him in the car." He put the coolness back up to his face. "It's nothing."

"So you're not suing the department?" Cragen poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Na. That's more my brother's style." Toby popped the top and took a drink. "Catching lots of perps?"

"Doing our part." Cragen went to the door. "Wait for a ride home."

Toby stood up. "Captain, that stuff about me working here. That was bullshit, right?"

Cragen turned back around. "I was under the impression that Stabler was filling out your paperwork."

"I never brought it in. After I thought about it, I didn't believe he was serious." Toby told the truth reluctantly.

"I think we could use your help occasionally, but I'm just the boss." Cragen shut the door quietly. Toby sat back down and thought about it. He had acted like a pussy bitch, but since it was Stabler, it was okay.

********

"Are you trying to get us sued again?"

Stabler raised his eyebrows at the quiet intensity. "What did I do this time?"

"Smacking Beecher around! He says the whore did it. I know better." Cragen snorted. "The handprint on his face looks familiar!"

"He was being a smart ass." Stabler put his hands on his hips. He hadn't hit him that hard. What a whiner.

"And where's his paperwork? I thought you were taking care of that." Cragen frowned. "If you can't deal with this like an adult, I'll send him to help out Manhattan South."

Stabler was tempted. So tempted. "I can deal with it."

"Good." Cragen looked towards the heavens. "He seems nice enough, and he can help us. Get over it."

Stabler nodded and went towards the mezzanine. He'd get Beecher out of here before any more shit started flying.

*********

Toby didn't look up when the door opened. The back of his neck told him it was Stabler.

"Come on."

"Roll it up, huh?" Toby finished his soda and stood. "Which cell now?"

Stabler sighed. "I should've hit your head. I could get clean prints off your face."

Toby nearly smiled. That was funny. He tried to look tough instead. "You hit like a pussy bitch."

Stabler pointed out the door. He looked very angry and so much like Chris that Toby felt a wave of pure fear course through him.

"Sorry. That was out of line. Actually, you hit damn hard, and I've been hit by the best that Oz has to offer." Toby stopped at the door. "Okay?"

"Okay." Stabler glared at him. "The captain wasn't fooled by your little story. In the future, don't cover for me."

"Old habit." Toby wished those eyes would look away. He was going to dream of Chris again tonight. "I won't. Not again."

Stabler started walking and Toby followed him out of the station house and to the car. The ride to Toby's apartment was a quiet one. He got out on the sidewalk and hesitated one second, but Stabler drove off. Toby went straight up and locked his door. There was an ice pack in the freezer, and he pressed it to his face. This was an awful lot like when he'd been involved with Chris. No sex, but a fast hand upside the face in the vain hope of teaching him a lesson.

 

********

Stabler went back to work. He ignored the fact that he wanted to rip the steering wheel off and throw it out the window. When he got back inside, Benson was right in his face.

"Did you get him home safe?"

"Left him on the curb," Stabler snapped. "Can we not talk about Beecher?"

Benson sighed softly. "What is it with you and him?"

"He makes me nuts. Hear the mouth on him?"

"He saves it for you. Just ignore it." Benson smiled. "And it was your fault for breaking up his date."

Stabler took a deep breath. Beecher had been with a guy that was a whore. That wasn't a date. "He was with a whore."

Benson shrugged. She wouldn't care. "Let me deal with him."

"Good idea." Stabler nodded at that. "Captain wants the paperwork."

"I'll take care of it."

********

Toby yelled at the door, "Come on in!" He'd just gotten out of the shower, had a towel around his hips, and was raiding the fridge for bottled water.

"Hello, Toby."

"Motherfuck!" Toby had erroneously assumed it was his brother. He blushed. He shouldn't have cursed. "I'll go get dressed."

"Good idea. I'll wait out here," Benson said with a gleam in her eye.

Toby made sure his towel stayed on and got to his bedroom with his pride intact, mostly. He had the feeling that Benson had enjoyed the show. Sliding into some jeans and pulling on a T-shirt didn't take long, and he went out to talk with her. "Sorry about that. My brother sometimes stops by about this time."

"You two go to lunch often?"

"Occasionally he has a case that . . . well, I can't-" Toby stopped. He was disbarred. She knew it, and he didn't want to get his brother in trouble.

"Brothers talk about their jobs." Benson smiled. "Nice place you got here."

Toby grabbed his water off the counter and opened the fridge. "Want something to drink?"

"Water is fine." She took it with a small smile. "Thank you. Have you spoken to your brother about the job at the precinct?"

"No." Toby hadn't and wasn't sure he would. "He would think I've lost my mind, and I don't have any room to argue that."

Benson sat down on the couch and made herself at home. She had an easy style about her - strong, confident, and smart. Toby liked her. She'd gone out of her way to give him some hope when he was in Oz by mistake, and he wouldn't forget it.

"No TV?"

"I have a small one over on the counter." Toby sat down in the wing-backed chair that faced the couch. His mother had insisted that he have one, and now he was glad. "Are all detectives nosy?"

"I think so. It's why we're good at our jobs." Benson drank some water. "You need to cut the attitude around my partner."

"Yes, ma'am." Toby nearly threw her a salute. "I won't even ask why."

"Good, just do it." Benson got up and went to look out the window. "Nice view. Not many guys out of Oz can afford it."

"I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth." Toby stayed where he was and sipped his water. He would back off Stabler, since she wanted it. "If it hadn't been so damn funny the other night, I wouldn't have gotten so mouthy."

"Why was it funny?" She came back to the couch.

Toby had to smile, but he made sure it was a small one. "I went to Times Square just to watch the people. I bumped into an old acquaintance, that happens to be gay, and he tried to pick me up."

"You were a long way from Times Square." She was patient. All the good cops were.

"I turned him down. I wasn't interested, so I head over to the cheap, seedy side of town . . ." Suddenly, Toby wasn't sure what to say.

"Toby, if you're confused about your sexuality, no one would be surprised, least of all me." Benson suddenly laughed. "Wait. Let me guess. You picked up a guy, probably by sheer accident, and then Stabler picked you up! That is funny."

"I thought so. You're a good detective." Toby tried not to blush. He was confused, and hopefully, she wouldn't tell anyone. "I was married for years. I never even gave men a second thought until I ended up in a cell with a guy named Vern who needed a prag."

"Prag?"

"A bitch." Toby shrugged. Saying it now didn't hurt quite so much. "Then there was Chris, and now I'm standing here going, uh, what next?"

"I know you see a shrink. Have you told him?" Benson did care. It oozed out of her.

"Yeah." Toby got up and went to look out on the park. It was his turn. "He thinks I should keep it zipped, and the anti-depressants that he wants me to take have this wonderful side effect - no sex drive."

Benson said nothing. She was thinking. Toby drained his water and went to toss it in recycling. She crossed her legs. "You're not on anything?"

"I refused it." Toby had to wonder why he was telling her things he hadn't told his mother. She was actually listening, maybe that was why. "I'm not depressed. I'm confused. There's a big difference."

"Ten years is a long time. The transition will be a tough one, and it was made harder by us losing you back into the system." Benson stood up and tossed him her empty bottle. "Who's your parole officer?"

"Steve Natalini." Toby hit recycling without trying.

"You really do have bad luck."

"Yeah. He confiscated my Tylenol the other day." Toby suddenly chuckled. "No telling what he'd do with something like Prozac!"

She laughed softly. "I'll send Stabler to talk to him."

Toby brushed his wet hair back off his face. He didn't think that was a good idea, but time would tell. "Did you stop by to give me on the spot counseling, or did you want something?"

"A little of both." She wandered over to his weights. "I need your paperwork. I'll fill it out and get it to Natalini unless you've changed your mind."

Toby had changed his mind - six times - and he still wasn't sure. "Tell me what happened to that guy, Saville."

"His attacker got seven in Attica. Saville got three months probation." Benson gave him a bold look. "He's doing better. You made a difference."

Toby turned away from her bright eyes and went back to the window. He had done something right and helped someone that needed it. It felt good now, but it had felt awful at the time. "I'll give you a hand, but no children, right?"

"Right. You're not qualified." Benson came over to him. "Stabler and I won't put you in a situation you can't handle."

"I hope you realize that I can't handle all that much." Toby went to get the paperwork and handed it over with regrets. "Give me a call. I'll come get it and take it with me when I go see Natalini next week."

"Something like that." Benson went towards the door. "And if I were you, I'd get rid of the beer."

Toby rolled his eyes and locked the door behind her. It was just beer. What was the fucking problem? It wasn't even for him. He stared at his feet and went to finish dressing.

********

"Toby has a meeting with Steve Natalini today at three p.m." Benson held out a small stack of papers.

Stabler didn't take them. "Toby, huh? And why do I care?"

"Because you're going to give Natalini these papers and explain to him that Mr. Beecher is not all that bad of a fellow." Benson gave him a lovely smile. "And his name is Toby."

"Beecher got Natalini?" Stabler went ahead and took the papers. He couldn't say no to that smile, and she knew it. "They must bump heads frequently."

"Natalini took Toby's Tylenol. I'd say you're right." Benson went to her desk. "You're the man for the job. Natalini won't give me the time of day."

Stabler hated to agree with that, but some men didn't think women belonged on the job, and Natalini had retired from the force just last year. It was an uncomfortable reality. "I'll go, but Beecher better watch his mouth."

Benson shrugged. "I bet he'll be a good boy. He'll be scared to death of your right hand."

"I didn't hit him that hard!"

"Don't tell me. Tell Natalini when he assumes that Toby has been in a brawl and starts the paperwork to ship him back to Oz."

"Damn." Stabler had to go now. Beecher must have a bruise - the wimp. Stabler checked his watch. "Guess I should get moving."

"Guess so. Have fun, and tell Toby hello for me."

"You really like him."

"You would too, if you'd stop yelling and worrying that he's going to come on to you."

Stabler jerked his head back and refused to comment on that. He put on his jacket and left her there. His lips remembered the brush of Beecher's fingers. Beecher had already come on to him, but she didn't need to know that. Stabler got his car rolling, cursing silently. He'd ignore the facts and act like an adult.

********

Toby sat down, grabbed a magazine, and waited his turn. The office assistant had been his usual rude self, not even looking at him. Jerk. The fucker always made Toby itch to pull a shank, not that he carried one.

"Hey, Beech."

Toby jerked in surprise, his magazine falling to the floor. He flushed, picked it up, and mumbled, "Stabler." It was all he could push out of his mouth. Chris was somewhere laughing about all this; Toby knew it. Stabler sat down next to him and crossed his legs. He certainly did take up a lot of room. Toby reminded himself to be more polite for Benson and stomped on the urge to dash to another chair. The other parolees looked at Stabler with a mixture of disgust and fear. It was so obvious that he was a cop. Toby wondered if he had the same look on his face.

"Beecher, get your wealthy ass in here. I ain't got all day."

Toby got up fast and prayed that Stabler would stay behind, but he didn't. Stabler smiled at Natalini's comment, and Toby took it without snapping back. Toby took a vow right there, which he knew he'd break, to shut up. If Stabler and Natalini started smacking on him, he'd end up at the hospital.

"Got in a fight, huh? Give me the details or I'm calling Oz to come pick you up!" Natalini snapped and pointed an ugly finger at him.

Toby had forgotten the bruise on his face. He swallowed his spit. He was fucked. So fucked. "I-"

"I hit him." Stabler tossed some papers down on Natalini's desk. "How are you, Nat? Beecher, sit your ass down while us cops talk."

"Okay," Toby mumbled. He hadn't felt this helpless since he'd been a prag. It choked his throat and heart, and he wanted to put his head on his knees.

Natalini stared up at Stabler. "Good to see you, Stabler. You arrested him?"

"No. I helped him get home in time for his curfew. He got mouthy so I let my right hand do the talking." Stabler smiled. "He was sorry."

Toby said nothing. He chewed on curses.

"Beecher, you're a no-good con." Natalini loved stating the obvious. "Stabler, you want me to ship him back? It's your call."

"Not this time. He was very respectful when I left him." Stabler pulled up a chair and sat down, but he was a good distance from Toby. "Beecher has been employed by my department to give us a hand on certain cases."

"Are you fucking with me?" Natalini leaned back and his mouth fell open. Toby looked away. He wasn't going to say a word, but Stabler was going to pay for all of this.

"Nope. Beecher has expertise in an area that we're lacking." Stabler was such a prick.

"What? Getting ass-fucked?" Natalini laughed.

Toby cracked right down the middle. Humiliation poured over him, and he could smell his burning flesh again. He stood up, and Stabler got right in Toby's face. "Sit down."

"I'd rather go back." Toby couldn't and wouldn't listen to this shit. Stabler's eyes bore into him, but he wasn't backing down.

"No. You wouldn't. Sit." Stabler, the prick, enjoyed every minute of this show. God damn it. Toby sat, slowly. His children depended on him to stay out, and they were precious to him. Today, he was finding out how precious.

Natalini snorted. "He's aching to go back."

"Captain Cragen wants Beecher available for consult. I'm making it happen, even if I don't agree with it." Stabler smiled again. "He's clean, right?"

"This time." Natalini frowned. "You'll have to keep a sharp eye on him. He's mouthy and prone to minor violations."

Toby felt violated. He wanted to puke on Natalini's desk. "Can I say something?"

"No," Stabler barked at him. "Beecher is going to help us out. He was a lawyer after all, and he's going to behave himself. It'll be good for him."

Natalini looked over the paperwork silently. He finally shrugged. "I'm thinking this is a mistake. If his fancy lawyer brother hadn't yanked him out, he'd be in Oz where he belongs."

Toby would have a hard time arguing that, but he wanted to, with a shank. His fist clenched, and his shame burst into rage, silently. There wasn't anything he could say, and Stabler had made it clear that Toby's opinion was shit.

Stabler shrugged. "The system isn't always fair."

Toby had to put a hand on his stomach. He was going to puke. This was fucked. They couldn't force him to work for SVU, but they had. Natalini expected it now. Toby tried to take a deep breath and couldn't. No way out. Fuck.

Natalini nodded. "Okay. I'll end his curfew, in case he's helping you out, but no car, no booze, no drugs, and he still sees his shrink."

"Definitely, and my right hand and I will be helping him home, often."

"Good." Natalini stood up. "Go home, Beecher, and when Stabler says jump, you ask how high."

Toby didn't even nod, much less talk. He clutched his hands together and started for the door, refusing to look at Stabler. He stumbled out to the sidewalk, found an alley, and threw up behind a dumpster. It was not his finest hour. His head buzzed, and he trembled. He had sworn never to play the victim again, but Chris always led him astray, even if it was Stabler. Damn it. There was nothing he could do about it, except go back to prison, and he couldn't face that - not today.

"You okay?"

Toby leaned into his hand and didn't answer the stupid question. He wiped his mouth on his shirt and pulled his back up straight. Stabler had his hands on his hips as if he expected something. Toby clenched his fist in impotent anger and walked away. He quickly found a cab. If Stabler was talking, Toby didn't hear him. Toby didn't stop until he could lock his door and slide down it. He had only himself to blame for this, again, and it was bitter indeed.

********

Benson wandered over to Stabler's desk. She was acting cool, but Stabler knew this was about Beecher. She was looking out for him like a mother hen. Huang came though the door and made a beeline for Stabler. He leaned back and smiled at them both. "And?"

Huang went first. "If we're going to have Tobias Beecher as a consultant, I want his mental health care transferred to me."

Benson went next. "Did it go okay?"

Stabler raised his hands. "How can I know? I went in there, kept him from getting transported back to Oz, convinced Natalini that the job was legit, and left."

"And Beecher, what did he do?" Huang wouldn't give up. Benson wanted answers also.

"Well, he staggered out of the office, found an alley, and threw up. Then he caught a cab home. I made sure of it." Stabler nearly groaned at the frowns. "What?"

"Did he say anything?"

"No, but I told him to sit down and shut up." Stabler had a bad feeling about this. "What?"

"You treated him like a skel?" Benson asked.

"He is a skel!" Stabler wanted to make that clear.

Huang sighed. "I've read his file forwards and backwards. You took all the decisions away from him. He had a physical reaction to the stress."

"He's on parole. He doesn't get to make decisions."

"He agreed to help us out!" Benson went back to her desk with a snort of disgust. "I should have gone."

"Stabler, did he say anything at all?" Huang still wasn't satisfied.

"He said, 'I'd rather go back and can I say something.' That was it."

Huang sighed deeply. "This is bad. Did you, at any point, get physical with him?"

"He got up. I got in his face until he sat back down." Stabler stood up. He was at a disadvantage here.

"Did you threaten to hit him?"

"Well, I might have mentioned it." Stabler looked at his shoes for a second. He wasn't the bad guy here. "It was all a show for Natalini. I got Beecher's curfew taken off."

"You treated Beecher exactly how he was treated in prison. Exactly. He might do anything. He has a history of alcohol, drugs, and violence. You're lucky he didn't have a weapon with him." Huang paused. He was just getting started. "I agree with your idea that he's perfect to help us with certain victims, but he's been destroyed today. If he doesn't end up back in prison, it'll be a miracle."

Benson shot him a glare. "Good going, Stabler."

"I tried to do the right thing!" Stabler protested. "Natalini had to be handled."

"One last thing - did either of you mention the fact that Beecher had been raped?"

Stabler flushed. "Natalini did and laughed about it. Asked me if Beecher was giving us advice on getting ass raped."

Huang shut his eyes. "I'll call him and schedule an appointment. You're Catholic, Elliot, and if I were you, I'd get my knees dusty."

"Why?" Stabler knew why, but he wanted to know what the shrink thought.

"Pray that Beecher doesn't kill someone."

********

Toby woke up with a start and fumbled to his feet. Where the hell was he? He leaned against the wall and breathed. His head slowly cleared. His cell phone rang, and he blindly pulled it out of his jeans. "Yeah?"

"Tobias Beecher?"

"Uh-huh." Toby thought so. He leaned his head against the wall. His apartment, that's where he was. Not Oz. Not Oz.

"You okay, Toby?" Chris knelt down close to him.

"This Dr. Huang. I've spoken to your psychiatrist, and I've asked to take over your case."

Toby pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it. Who the hell was this? He shut it with a snap and put it back in his jeans. Stumbling to the sink, he washed his hands and scrubbed his face. He blearily focused on the clock. Seven. Shit. His phone rang again, and he ignored it. His brain began to work, and he realized he'd collapsed on the floor after meeting with his parole officer and Stabler. Damn. He was a fucking weakling. Turning, he opened the fridge and found water. The beer whispered to him, and he stared at it and licked his lips. He could almost taste it, but six wasn't even enough to get him started on a drunk.

Unscrewing the water, he drank it fast and went to sit on his couch. The sun was down, and it was dark in his apartment, but he didn't care. Thoughts of slicing Natalini into small pieces skipped across his mind, and he went to find his shank. Out here in the real world, it was called a knife, but the hiding place was the same. He pulled it out of the slit in his mattress and caressed it. Natalini hadn't found it yet, and if he did, Toby would get a one-way ticket, but he couldn't sleep at night without making sure it was there. It was irrational, but that's just who he was.

Toby sat quietly and wished for balls. Stabler had worked him over, and a real man would fuck him up. Chris would do it and smile. He whispered, "I say we shank him." Toby slowly put the shank back in its hiding place and smoothed the sheets back down. He took a very deep breath and tried to find himself. Stripping off his clothes, he went to take a shower, and then he'd try to eat. His stomach felt like Chris had given him a knee, but it was Stabler who'd done the kicking.

"Damn you, Chris Stabler." Toby let the water fill his mouth, and he spat violently against the wall. Some part of him whispered that nothing had changed. Nothing. Natalini was still a fucker, and Stabler would never actually call him to 'consult' on a case. Stabler thought it was a stupid idea. He'd said so himself. It would never happen. Toby heaved out a huge breath. He could go back to running, lifting, and not doing much of anything. The water rolled down Toby's back, and he soaped himself. He would not go to death row for shoving his shank deep in Stabler's guts, but it would feel so good. Toby shuddered and shut off the water. He dressed quickly, grabbed some money, and headed out into the night. No fucking curfew, huh?

********

Stabler wasn't sure why he drove over to Beecher's apartment, but he wasn't going up - no way. He glanced at his watch, nearly eight, and still no lights on. Well, this was a waste of time. Beecher must have gone to his mom's house. Stabler got the motor going and took one last look. There he was. Damn. Even in the streetlights, Beecher looked terrible. Stabler shut off the engine and got out. Beecher would have to walk right past him.

"Where ya going?"

Beecher looked at him and spat on the sidewalk. Good answer.

"That's a misdemeanor."

Beecher looked more than crazy. He snarled, "Go fuck yourself."

Stabler shrugged. He'd expected that. "Natalini's a prick and he's itching to send you back."

"The first thing we learn in therapy is to take responsibility for our own actions." Beecher stepped into the street. A cab slowed down.

"Wait a damn minute!" Stabler had thought they might get a bite to eat and talk it out.

"Fuck you." Beecher got in the cab. Stabler sure as hell wasn't going to yell after him. He'd tried. It was enough. Damn. He got back in his car and drove home. Sure, he'd played the dickhead, but it had achieved the correct results. Beecher should've been man enough to see that. Stabler sighed and locked the door. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down to watch some TV. Guilt was something Catholics were good at, but he hadn't done anything wrong. Beecher was on parole. He had to toughen up.

The phone rang, and he answered it, "Stabler."

"Did you go see him?"

"Benson, I ain't his keeper!" Stabler sighed. "Yeah. He told me to fuck off."

"Did you arrest him?"

"Not this time." Stabler thought he probably should have. "He looked like hell."

"Huang talked to him briefly on the phone. Toby hung up on him."

"He has to see a shrink."

"Sounds to me like you're going running in the morning."

Stabler put the phone down without answering. This wasn't his responsibility, and he had enough cases on his desk and paperwork to finish without Beecher making it harder. Beecher would go see his shrink because he didn't want to go back to Oz. That was enough. Stabler glanced around his quiet house and wished his kids were upstairs. He had to fix that problem first. Beecher was going to have to take a number.

********

Toby had the cabbie drop him off at a diner that stayed open late and served a decent meal. The food stuck in his throat tonight, but he ate it. He told himself not to even think of Stabler, but the sight of him wouldn't get off the inside of Toby's eyelids. Stabler had stopped to check on him. Guilt? Doubtful. He sure wasn't looking to get laid. Toby rubbed his eyes, trying to scrub the image away. He'd done Chris. Stabler was the same. No reason to go there again. What the fuck had Stabler wanted?

Cell phone, again, and this time Toby answered it. "Hello?"

"Tobias Beecher, this is Dr. Huang. Can we talk for a moment?"

"On the phone or in person?" Toby had no idea who this was, but if it was doctor, it was probably for him.

"I think I'd prefer in person. Where are you?"

"Sam's Diner on eighth. You know it?" Toby hoped not.

"Wait for me." The phone went dead, and Toby shut it. He cleaned his plate because his stomach demanded the food and got a refill on his coffee. Wanting to leave, he sat and waited. The day's events swirled through his mind again, and he told himself that he was in control. He was fine. Stabler was a prick, nothing but a prick. They hadn't been friends. They never would be friends or anything else. He was nothing.

"Tobias Beecher?"

"You have me at a disadvantage." Toby slid out of the booth, and they shook hands. "But sit down."

"I'm Dr. Huang. I work with the SVU and the FBI." He sat down opposite of Toby.

"You're the doctor that Stabler said is good?" Toby was impressed. The FBI wasn't an easy club to get into.

"That would be me." Huang smiled a little. "How are you?"

Toby wanted to bang his head on the table at the stupid question. "I had a hard day, which I'm sure you're aware of. Let's cut the crap. I have a shrink. I even kind of like him."

"He asked me to take your case." Huang shrugged. "He said he was out of his depth."

"Great. I'm so fucked that he had to call in the cavalry." Toby drank some coffee and wished for bourbon. What a crappy day. "I'm sure you're too busy for me. I'll find someone else."

"Are you afraid?"

Toby raised his eyes from the cup. That was a perceptive question, and he didn't really want to answer it. "You know the answer to that."

"Can you say it?"

"No." Toby smoothed his hand down his thigh. He had to get through this. "Showing fear is a good way to get killed in Oz."

"You're not in Oz."

"Really?" Toby shrugged. "Are we on the clock?"

Huang laughed softly. "I'll order some food. Tonight's a freebie."

"That's a relief." Toby caught the waitress's eye. She got the message and came back to the booth. Huang gave his order and peeled off his coat. Toby wanted to walk away. He could. He had a choice, but he wouldn't. "Can I go?"

"Talk to me. You don't have anywhere else to be, do you?"

"Of course I do," Toby snapped. "I have a family, children, and somewhat of a life."

"Is that why you threw up? Fear you'd lose it all?"

Toby hid a tremble. Stabler had a big mouth. It was one more strike against him. Toby refused to look directly at Huang. "It wasn't fear."

"It was rage."

"Yes." Toby looked at him now.

"You have a pattern of it. Humiliation followed by extreme rage." Huang said that shit so easily. Toby drank some more coffee and was very glad that the doctor only knew the half of it. Huang smiled at him. "It's normal."

"I don't think what happened to me can be classified as normal, nor were my reactions." Toby didn't get this doctor. Was he an idiot?

Huang shook his head. "The events were extreme, but the emotions were normal."

Toby just stared at him. This was turning out great. He was normal, and soon, he'd be well. Maybe they'd give him a car. Right. What a bunch of shit. "Where'd you get your degree? California?"

"Same place you did." Huang leaned back as the food arrived, and he began to eat. "This is good."

"It isn't the country club." Toby had her take his coffee away. He began to watch the cars out the window. "Let's cut the crap. You and I both know Captain Cragen isn't going to have me consult. I figure it's the guilt talking."

"Guilt for losing you in the system?"

"Yep." Toby didn't watch him eat. "That and I think Stabler likes my ass."

"That kind of talk won't push me away." Huang sounded so calm. "It's not guilt. I think it's frustration from having those cases always slip away from them. Men don't talk about rape."

"There's a reason for that." Toby tried to stay patient with him. "We fuck. We're not designed to get fucked."

"Interesting. That might be the psychology behind the straight male. You're gay though."

Toby pushed his hands through his hair. Irritation pulsed through him at those simply words, and he understood again Chris's anger at it. "Is that in my profile?"

"Actually, yes."

"I'm glad you guys got it figured out." Toby laughed softly. It was a bitter sound. "I should have asked months ago."

Huang merely looked at him.

"I was married. My wife never thought I was gay. Weak, yes, but gay, no. I've also been involved with women since her." Toby wasn't sure if he was defending himself or merely explaining. "I even had a woman interested in me while I was in Oz." Somewhere, Chris was probably still mad about that.

"I guess there are a few things that aren't in your file." Huang's fingers twitched. He probably wanted to take notes.

Toby ran a hand through his hair. He was frustrated with this. "I haven't read it. Gary, the shrink you stole me away from, didn't understand prison, at all."

Huang shrugged, ate some more, and finally said, "He didn't understand that sex in prison isn't about being gay?"

"Got it in one."

"But you loved Chris Keller."

"Chris wasn't gay either and he'd shank the man that said he was." Toby laughed softly with Chris, and for a second, the doctor wasn't even there. "Love doesn't make sense," he said softly.

"I agree." Huang pushed his plate away and sipped his coffee. "You had a shock today. Keep to your regular schedule, eat right, and stay away from environments that could tempt you."

"The shock was discovering that I would rather be humiliated than go back," Toby said softly. "Stabler's right. You're not too bad."

"Benson was right about you." Huang got up, threw down some cash, and grabbed up his things. "My secretary will call and set up a schedule. Don't even think about missing an appointment."

Toby just looked at him. So he'd skipped out once or twice. Big deal. He left enough money to make the waitress smile and walked out with Huang. Huang got in his Beemer and left. Toby leaned against the wall and wanted a cigarette, no filter. He thought that he might like Huang, but time would tell. This was the first night that he didn't have to be home by ten, and he was going to go find some fun, or at least some place noisy.

********

"Please, honey."

"We're not coming home. The kids like their new school, and I'm finding a life again."

"Isn't there any way to work this out?"

"No. You made your choice years ago. Live with it."

"I'll drive there this weekend. We can talk."

"Come see the kids." She paused. "Elliot, you don't love me anymore."

********

Toby grabbed a cab and got out at the closest drugstore. He bought some condoms and after thinking for a minute, some lube. One way or the other, he was getting fucked tonight. He walked instead of finding another cab, and it slowly dawned on him. Without actually going into a club, which could get him in trouble with Natalini, it was going to be hard to pick someone up. Stopping on the sidewalk, he leaned against a wall and listened to the music throbbing through the bricks.

"Going inside?"

Toby shrugged. "Got a cigarette?"

Their hands brushed, and Toby smiled - the one he saved for people he'd like to fuck. He lit up and took a deep drag. Smoking wasn't a habit with him. It was more like a treat.

She smiled back. "Going inside?"

"If you go with me." Toby paid the door for them both, and the noise was incredible. No need for a cigarette, he could breathe happy from the second-hand smoke, and the music pounded. She laughed, or at least her mouth opened, and she pulled him out to dance. Toby didn't remember how, but he learned fast. It was heady, like heroin, everything beating around and over him. The night began to blend, and when someone handed him a hit of ecstasy, he almost took it. Almost. So close. Just once. He gave it back.

She pulled him into a corner and thrust her tongue deep in his mouth. He drowned, going down in wave of lust, music, and smoke. Their hips bumped, and he wanted more of her, of everything he'd been denied so long. She gyrated against him, and it was then he realized that the hands on his hips weren't hers. His ass reacted to the erection behind him before his brain could swim up from the depths.

"This is the deal," a deep voice said right in Toby's ear. "She sucks your dick. You suck mine."

Toby looked over his shoulder. "What do we get out of the deal?"

"My gratitude." He waved some ecstasy in the air. Toby turned back to her, and she was grinning and nodding. She wanted the drugs, not him. Her drug dealer boyfriend wanted his cock sucked by a guy.

Toby suddenly wanted some fresh air. "No thanks." He set her away, made sure he had his wallet, and walked away from them both. He made it out the door into the cool, moist air of New York. The street, the mist, the cars, and the press of people combined and he breathed deeply. This was definitely an environment that could tempt him. He shook off the noise and started walking. After two blocks, he replayed the scene in his head and tried to figure out which of them he'd wanted more: the cute girl or the handsome drug dealer. He'd have taken them home to fuck and suck all night long, if they hadn't turned it into a drug transaction. His blowjobs were great, or so he heard, but he wasn't selling one so she could get high. Stupid bitch. Stupid fuckers. The fog had settled around the city's skyscrapers, and he walked until his cock and feet gave up. A cab took him home.

********

Stabler swung by Beecher's apartment before work. He wasn't going up. He was just checking that Beecher was going for his usual run, but there was no sign of him. It was eight, and Beecher was a creature of habit. Not today though.

"Damn it." Stabler gave up and went to work, but hours later he cornered Benson by the coffee pot. "You think I screwed up?"

"With Beecher? Yes." Benson shrugged. "He's just a skel. We don't really care."

"That's out of line." Stabler stopped pouring his coffee. "Natalini gets all the guys from Oz that relocate down here."

"Forget it. I'm sure you handled it the best you could."

Stabler made sure she was gone before sighing and rubbing his face. He'd work. Huang would look after Beecher.

********

Toby felt like the floor of a New York taxicab. Sticky. He shoved the covers off and stared at his cock. "Give up! It ain't happening!"

His cock laughed at him. He suddenly had a thought. He had a membership to a gym. He'd go this morning, and maybe, he'd find the answer to his cock's dreams. The gym wasn't close, but he decided to walk. He flashed his card and surveyed the equipment before going to lift weights. No one knew him, and he got plenty of looks, but he knew his way around a bench. He worked out hard and made sure to check everyone out.

"You new here?"

"I usually work out at home." Toby racked the weights and sat up to wipe his face. "Toby."

"David." David smiled. "Nice pecs."

Toby had never heard a more blatant come on. "Thanks. You aren't half-bad yourself."

"I'm never going to be as ripped as you, but I keep at it." David sipped his water. "Need someone to show you where the showers are?"

Toby stared up into hopeful, lustful brown eyes and hated himself. David was about twenty years old. This was wrong. His cock was going to have to settle down. "No. Thanks. I'll shower at home." He forestalled any more conversation by heading to the treadmill. That was the reason he hadn't wanted to come to the gym. Young, gay men hoping to pick up someone. The women were smart enough to work out and go home. He found a comfortable speed and started running. Tomorrow, he was going to the park.

********

Stabler got off work very late. It was after midnight. He decided not to go home and instead found a cot upstairs. They weren't exactly comfortable for a guy his size, but some sleep was better than none. He took off some clothes, lay back, and tried not to think about anything.

"Bunking here?"

"The house is very empty." Stabler smiled up at her. "Want to have a sleepover?"

Benson laughed. "You're a real charmer. I'll come wake you up in the morning."

"Bring coffee, will ya?" Stabler punched the pillow and shut his eyes. The thing with Natalini still bugged him, and he suddenly knew why. Natalini thought it was funny that Toby had been raped. It wasn't a damn bit funny. Stabler worked his butt off every day trying to help people find some peace after rapes and abuse, and Natalini thought it was hilarious. Toby needed a new parole officer. One that had blood in his veins instead of ice water. Stabler groaned at the thought of taking care of it, but he would. He'd participated in the fun, and it was time to pay for it.

********

"Let's grab some lunch, Toby." Angus smiled.

"Sure." Toby slipped into his jacket and found his cell phone. "You look - oddly happy."

Angus laughed and went out into the hallway. Toby locked the door, and they went down to the car. Angus didn't say anything until they were buckled up. "I have good news."

"You're pregnant."

"Asshole." Angus laughed though. "Four kids are enough. As your lawyer, I received word today that you have a new parole officer."

"No fucking way." Toby clicked his teeth shut. "Really?"

"Really. A guy by the name of Brad Johnson. I dug into him a little." Angus smiled. "He's honestly trying to help people."

"What the hell is he doing in the prison system?" Toby wanted to clap and cheer. Natalini could rot in hell. "Damn!"

Angus pulled the car out onto the street. "I think this deserves a huge lunch to celebrate."

"I agree. I may even have a martini." Toby laughed. This was great news. "You realize though that he's going to read my file and all good feelings will vanish."

"Maybe. When you go see him tomorrow, don't kiss his ass, but be friendly. It might work out. It has to be better than Natalini."

"The prick." Toby agreed with that. "I don't know how you did it, Angus, but thank you."

"I didn't do it. I petitioned the court once and was turned down - flat." Angus shot him a grin. "It's good you have new friends in the police department."

Toby's brain seized up and stalled out. He managed a whisper, "Stabler?"

"None other." Angus pulled into the restaurant. "Let's go eat."

Toby got out of the car in shock. Stabler had helped him? Why? They weren't friends. The prick had laughed at him, humiliated him. Toby followed his brother inside. Fuck Natalini, but Stabler was almost human again.

********

Stabler paced through the hospital corridors and hoped that Benson showed up soon. She was better in these situations than he was.

"Stabler!"

Stabler turned. "What's going on?"

"We found this guy in an alley, beaten, and well, he's definitely one of yours." The officer fidgeted with his hat. "Definitely."

"Raped?" Stabler knew the answer from the look, but it never hurt to ask.

"He's being treated. I'm sure the doctors can fill you in." The officer glanced at the door. "You got it here?"

"Go on." Stabler waited as long as he could, but Benson didn't show, so he stuck his head in the door. "Doctor?"

"Give me one minute, Detective."

Stabler went back out in the hallway. Dr. Saunders was the best in these situations. Benson finally came around the corner. "What have we got?"

"Now you show up." Stabler glared at her. "I don't know much yet. Guy, raped and beaten."

Benson nodded. "Who's the doctor?"

"Saunders."

"Good."

They waited together a few more minutes, and Dr. Saunders came bursting out of the exam room. "I'm glad to see you two."

"That's never good news," Stabler said.

"It's not. My patient is Thomas Morrison, age twenty-eight. He's been beaten, raped, and branded."

"Excuse me?" Benson looked astonished. "Branded?"

"I have him sedated. He's not available for questioning." Dr. Saunders shook her head firmly. "Not today. He's completely traumatized. I do, however, have some pictures."

"Let's get started," Benson said. Stabler agreed. They needed to catch the perp that had done this - fast.

********

Toby kissed his children goodbye at the door. Holly was getting so tall, and Harry was far too smart for his own good.

"Coming in for coffee, Toby?"

"Not today. Thanks. I have to get back." Toby smiled at his brother's wife, Mary. "You're a great mother."

"It's easy with these kids." Mary laughed. "You know you're always welcome to move in."

Toby sighed. He knew that. His mother also wanted him home, but there was a part of him that couldn't do it. "I can't take the chance."

"You'll stay clean," she said so matter-of-factly.

"They could send me back for nothing. I can't do it to them, not again." Toby searched her face. "Do you think less of me?"

"You're a big part of their lives. I understand, but I do wish you'd come home." Mary didn't lie. She was as honest as the sunset. She stepped out the door, shut it, and her eyes were suddenly sad. "Do you ever consider taking them?"

Toby saw the fear on her face. His brother had never asked that question. "Mary, I love you and Angus too much to ever hurt you like that. The court awarded you custody, and I'm not going to argue about it."

Mary smiled weakly at him. "They were all we had for a long time."

"I know. I feel the same." Toby edged down another step. "Family dinner on Sunday?"

"Don't you dare miss it!" Mary laughed, and her world was right again. Toby waved goodbye and let the cab driver take him home. Mary was a remarkable woman. She'd taken his children into her heart, not every woman would do that. Holly and Harry were in a loving home, and that's what mattered.

Toby paid the cabbie and glanced at his watch. He had the evening ahead of him, and he had the option of doing most anything, but one thing kept nagging at him. Stabler. Toby owed him a thank you, not that Stabler would care. Toby did though. His new parole officer had made Toby's life much easier, even if he had re-imposed the curfew. He wasn't angry about it. Johnson waived the curfew if Toby was working and called to tell him, but that was it. Otherwise, he had to be home by ten. It sucked, but Johnson might have seen that Toby was right on the edge. And then there was Stabler. Toby wanted to thank him, a small thank you, not much of one, but something.

********

Stabler stared at the faces of the men on the board and tried to connect the dots. Was there something in common or was this all random? Three weeks, three men, every Saturday night, and the low-life who was doing this always left them some place public. None of the men would talk about it. They were all shut down. Huang was working with them and getting nowhere. Stabler looked closely at the brands; he was forgetting something important. It'd come to him.

"Detective, you have a visitor at the front desk."

"Thanks." Stabler stared for one more minute, but his brain refused to give it up, so he went to see who was bothering him. Beecher. Stabler stayed out of sight and watched him. Beecher looked like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. What the hell was he doing here? Details turned over in Stabler's mind and he went back upstairs.

"Sergeant, this is Detective Stabler. Please don't let Tobias Beecher leave the building."

"Do you want me to put him in a room?"

"Please." Stabler paused. "Don't alarm him."

"I'll use kid gloves."

Stabler doubted it, but it was the best he could do. He found Beecher's file and rummaged through it quickly. Nothing. Damn. "Benson!"

She came out of the captain's office. "Why are you yelling?"

"Look at the pictures. Look at them."

She did. "And?"

"Does it remind you of anything? Someone? Think Oz." Stabler waited. He wanted to know if she'd see it.

"Beecher." She turned and stared at him. "Beecher!"

"Who happens to be downstairs, waiting to talk to me." Stabler nodded. "He's nervous. And he looks like he's not sleeping."

Huang came up behind him. "I haven't seen his brand."

"I have. It's the same, almost." Stabler reached and traced. "I think I should have prayed harder."

"What do you mean?" Benson wasn't usually this obtuse.

"Come on. Beecher is our number one suspect, as of right now." Stabler handed her Beecher's file.

Huang looked again at the photos. "He could be acting out his rage, but I have doubts. You said he's downstairs?"

"He asked to see me. Hopefully, he'll confess." Stabler looked again at the black eyes of the beaten men.

"Elliot, why would he come down here if he's guilty? He's smart." Benson furrowed her brow at him. "He was a lawyer!"

"I'm going to find out, but he's not leaving the building for awhile." Stabler shrugged. "I'll talk to him. You call his parole officer and find out what's going on in his life."

"Okay, but go easy." She would make the call.

Huang walked with Stabler. "Let him talk. Don't yell and accuse him of anything. Approach this as him helping us with the case."

"He's our only suspect!"

"He could have three perfect alibis. Let's find out the easy way." Huang caught him by the arm. "I mean it, Detective. Don't get rough with him. It will have the opposite reaction of what you want."

Stabler choked down that advice and opened the door. Beecher already looked about ready to shove his way out. His eyes. It was those damn eyes.

********

Toby had told himself that this was no big deal fifty times, but he wanted to kill himself for wanting to say thank you. He should've remembered Chris's first rule - fuck the hacks.

"Sorry it took so long. I'm working on this case, and let's just say I'm not sleeping at night," Stabler said. He said down and slumped in the chair. "You got three minutes."

Toby stood up, so he could bolt the room at the first opportunity. Luckily, Stabler didn't like him. "I wanted to say thanks. That's all."

Stabler lowered his eyebrows. "For what?"

"My new parole officer. He's not that bad of a guy." Toby put his hand on the knob, saw the glint in Stabler's eyes, and almost panicked. This felt wrong. "My brother told me you were responsible, so . . . thanks." It was weak, and he wanted to run. This had been the absolute worst decision he'd made in months, even worse than trying to get laid.

"No rush, Beech." Stabler unfolded from his chair. He looked dangerous. He looked like Chris on a bad day, and Toby tried to smile, but he failed miserably.

Toby opened the door, but was careful not to move too far. Chris - damn it - Stabler was right with him. "I guess I could say hello to Benson."

"Good idea." Stabler smiled, but it didn't go near his eyes.

Toby wanted to cry, but instead he pulled his Oz self together and stiffened his weak spine. "Stabler, I'm not a fool. Can I go?"

"We need your help on a case." Stabler was lying. It was easy to see in those damn, blue eyes. "It's a bad one, and I'm not sure you can handle it."

"Then I should go." Toby looked hopefully at the door to the street. He knew in his gut that he wasn't going anywhere. "What's Dr. Huang say?"

"That you're a tough guy." Stabler pointed down the hallway. "You signed on. It's just talk, for now."

Toby knew he had no choice. Stabler's jaw jutted out dangerously. Whatever case this was had pushed him, and Toby had to go with him or make a futile run for the door. "Okay."

Stabler herded him to an interrogation room. "Wait here while I get everything."

"I'm fucked. Again." Toby didn't even listen to him. Just being here in this room told him everything he needed to know. "Someone in this fucking city is fucking with me. So fucked. Christ. I finally get a deep breath because Natalini is off my ass. I got to spend a weekend with my kids, and now I'm back to being fucked. Just bend me over the table and get to it."

"Beecher."

"I don't know why I bother to stay clean. Hell, I'd be safer in a cell." Toby stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned his head against the wall. He was a fucking idiot. "Welcome to Oz."

"Beecher! Shut up!"

Toby sat down. Stabler slammed the door, and that said it all. Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO, do not see your children grow up. Get fucked up the ass. No, don't complain. It won't do a damn bit of good.

Chris smiled at him from the opposite corner. "Ya never listen to me!"

*********

"Did you hear that shit?" Stabler pointed through the window. "Has he lost it?"

Huang shook his head. "I heard him. It's a defense mechanism. He knows. Don't lie any longer. Lay it out. Get his alibis and get ready to hear the word 'fuck' four hundred times. And consider the fact that he's been branded also."

"If Beecher did this, I'll get it out of him." Stabler knew he could break down Beecher. He'd use Keller, if he had to. Benson came up and handed Stabler the file. Stabler shook his head. "Me and him. You watch."

"It's Friday night. We have one day. I want to talk to our latest victim one more time." Benson had on her coat. "I'll call you."

"Good." Stabler went inside and sat down. Beecher raised his head from the table, and Stabler started laying it out. "This is what we've got."

"Motherfucking son of a God-damned bitch!" Beecher went pale and moaned. "I'm gonna puke."

"Really?" Stabler didn't think so. "Trash can in the corner."

Beecher picked up each photo and took a good, hard look. "You think I did this."

Stabler thought it was interesting that it wasn't phrased as a question. "We need your help."

"I -" Beecher stood up and put his hands on the table. His eyes never left the photographs, and he was breathing hard. "Some Nazi animal is out of Oz."

The words were soft, low, and Stabler didn't think Beecher was aware of him any longer. Stabler decided to keep quiet and see what Beecher would say.

"The brands are the same, uniform. He had one made, the prick. Fuck." Beecher picked up the last photo. "All young men, blond hair, prag bait. Fuck. Are they alive?"

"The second guy was the worst. I have them in order." Stabler pointed. "He's still critical."

Beecher rubbed his eyes, turned away, and paced over to the glass. "Who's watching?"

"Dr. Huang." Stabler went ahead and told the truth. It wouldn't hurt.

"You see the difference between my brand and these, don't you?" Beecher was very pale.

"Not really, and I'm not sure I want to." Stabler held his breath. He didn't want to see it again, but he might have to.

"Mine was homemade. Its lines aren't perfect, these are." Beecher came back to the table and sat down in a chair. "Are they connected any other way?"

"If they are, we can't find it." Stabler stood over him. "I guess I could check who's been released from Oz lately."

Beecher nodded. "I need my lawyer, don't I?"

Stabler started collecting the photos and stuffing them away. "I need an alibi for the last three Saturday nights." He shoved the pad at Beecher. "Write them down. If they check out, you're free to go."

**********

Toby picked up the pencil and thought back over the last three weeks. Stabler's look was intense. "You honestly think I would do this?"

"You've been angry lately."

"At you!" Toby had killed before, in rage and in calm deliberation, but he could never hurt anyone like that. He smacked his closed fist into his hand. "You treat me like the lowest fuck in the city." He watched Stabler's eyes get meaner. "Sure, I'm a fucking ex-con, but I never did anything to you!"

"You've been nothing but a pain in my ass, and you touched me!"

Toby jerked his head back in astonishment. That was the last thing he'd expected to hear, but it brought everything into sharp focus. "So this is about your homophobia. I'm sorry I touched you." He was. He shouldn't have.

"Don't give me that shit!"

There was a knock on the glass. Toby hooked his thumb at it. "They want you. I'm sure you and your gay-bashing buddies can figure out a way to fuck me over for this."

Stabler pounded his finger into the table. "Write it down!"

Toby watched him stride out before casting his mind back and beginning to write. He didn't have any alibis. He lived alone. His cell phone might say who he'd talked to, but that was pretty thin. Swastikas. Fuckers. Someone was out. Someone that he should've taken care of earlier.

********

Stabler put his hands on his hips and waited for it.

Cragen glared at him. "You're lovers?"

Huang stepped into between them. "No. They're not. Toby probably touched Stabler in a manner that wasn't quite appropriate, but some of that is him still learning how to function again, and it doesn't help that Stabler resembles Toby's lover from prison. It meant nothing."

Stabler pointed at the doctor. "He said it."

Cragen backed off. "Fine. I can accept that. You really think he's good for these?"

"No," Huang said. "He didn't have anything to do with them. It was all over his face. He might kill in a rage, but these were calculated and brutal."

"Maybe," Stabler said, "the doctor is right. Alibis would make me feel better."

Cragen nodded. "Get him to go over the files of the guys that have been released from Oz. He knows them better than we do."

"Good idea." Huang nodded. "And no holding cells."

Stabler resigned himself to babysitting a guy that wanted to kill him. "I'm running out of time."

"Take him with you everywhere you go, but no holding cell." Cragen pointed to emphasize. "Beecher might be able to help us. Let's not make any mistakes."

Stabler didn't like the way this was playing out, but if Beecher could help, they could use it. "Fine. We'll play it your way."

"I would hope you'd say that, Detective." Cragen glowered. Stabler went back inside to face the man that was becoming his worst nightmare.

********

"These aren't alibis!"

"I did my best." Toby raised his hands. "I didn't fucking do it!"

"And why should I believe you?" Stabler stared at the pad. He looked angry.

Toby didn't have any idea. He felt like an idiot, a fool, a bitch, and man heading down a slippery slope that would land him in prison. "Just send me back. It'll be fucking easier on both of us."

"No doubt about that. Come on." Stabler opened the door. "Stick with me today."

Toby didn't have any choice, and he went out first. "Hey, Doc."

"Toby, as long as you cooperate and tell the truth, nothing will happen," Huang said.

Toby gave him a look. "Right. Like that's ever worked before." Stabler gave him a small push, and Toby went with him to his desk. Stabler pointed at a nearby chair, and Toby sat down obediently. Toby wanted to pick up a computer and throw it, but he had to behave.

"Sit. I'll get you some stuff for you to go over. Start with this." Stabler dropped the file in Toby's lap. "The captain says it's time for you to earn your way."

Toby didn't say anything. He wanted to curse and scream, but that wouldn't be productive. Helping to find the animal that was doing this was the best way to stay out of Oz. Stabler wouldn't mind shipping him out again. That was obvious.

"Hey, Beecher."

"Hi, Munch." Toby started reading. "Who's your partner?"

"That's Fin." Munch wandered over and parked his ass on the edge of the desk. "What about the guy who branded you? Could he be out?"

"Does everyone in this precinct know about my ass?" Toby rubbed his face. He should've stayed home.

"By now. Yes." Munch shrugged. "So?"

"He's dead. Very dead." Toby wanted to wince at the details he was reading. "But there were lots of guys that he gave lessons to."

Munch nodded and left him alone. Fin was the quiet type. He was intent on something on his computer screen. Toby read faster. He tried not to worry about where Stabler had gone. Shit. These poor fuckers. This was brutal even by Vern's standards.

"After you finish that, start on these." Stabler dropped a pile of files down on his desk.

Toby didn't argue about the files, roll his eyes, or sigh. His ass was on the line here.

********

Stabler watched him. It wasn't intentional, but every time he looked anywhere, Beecher was there. Cell phone rang, and it wasn't his.

"Hey, bro."

Stabler told himself not to listen. It didn't work.

"I'm at the police station." Long pause. "Put your car keys down. I'm not under arrest. Not yet." Another pause, this one even longer. "I do need your help though. Dig out that file on Schillinger that we made."

Stabler stopped pretending. He met Beecher's eyes.

"It's on your laptop, not the home computer." Beecher sighed. "Send it to . . ."

"Stabler four at New York City dot org slash crime dot SVU." Stabler listened to make sure Beecher got it right.

Beecher wasn't quite finished. "I'll call you later. I promise. Sooner if I get arrested."

Stabler waited until the phone was tucked away. "Why?"

"Information is power." Beecher pointed at Benson's computer. "May I?"

"Why?" Stabler knew he was being difficult, but Beecher was acting like a lawyer instead of an ex-con, and it was making him edgy.

"Sister Pete might be able to help us narrow the search." Toby pointed at the stack of files.

"Don't give her any information that could hurt us later."

"I won't." Beecher went to work, and Stabler found another lead to run down. Stabler checked his email, had the new file printed, and dropped it in front of Beecher. Beecher nodded and kept working on something. Stabler tried hard to look at him, but at some point, he looked across his desk and nearly smiled in amazement. Beecher was using the computer and reading two files, simultaneously from the looks of it. Harvard must stick with a guy.

Stabler's phone rang, and he got up to answer it, just in case, Beecher could also listen and type. "Stabler."

"It's Benson. I've got nothing. He won't talk to me, and he did nothing but cry with Huang earlier today." Benson sighed. "They gave him something to help him sleep. I can try again tomorrow."

"We'll send Beecher." Stabler didn't shout it. "You okay?"

"No. I'm coming in." She clicked off, and Stabler went back to his victims.

"Anybody got anything?" Stabler projected his voice the length of the room. "Please!"

Fin turned. "None of them go to a gym. They didn't socialize in the same places, and they didn't have a single friend in common."

"That's helpful." Stabler went to his board. "Did the lab have anything for us, Munch?"

"The brands were made from heated iron. The DNA rape kit matches to one guy, and he's not in any database."

"Stupid not to use a condom." Beecher tossed in two cents in. "He must have known."

"He didn't care," Stabler said. "Why didn't he kill them?"

"Because they're his property. His livestock." Beecher was dead serious. "He's collecting them. He might be back."

"Not if we can help it." Stabler pointed at the first one. "So we got three guys, raped and beaten in one location, dropped in another, and they have nothing in common. Not even where they shop?"

"Big city." Munch walked over next to Beecher. "We know he likes blonds, like our new friend Beecher here, and that's about it."

"He also likes a certain physique. Not too tall, not too muscular, and all three wore glasses." Beecher was not intimidated by the company.

"Fin, cross their eye doctors." Stabler stared at Beecher. "Anything else, Toby?"

Beecher flinched. "Please don't call me that. They were all found in the morning, so he had them at night. Also, did you notice they all live in apartments that face the park?"

"The park is huge," Munch said. "We noticed."

Stabler crossed his arms. Beecher really didn't like him. "No one mentioned it to me."

Benson came striding up. "What if he's grabbing them at night in the park?"

"But why would they go there? They're not joggers." Stabler needed more before he was going to ask the captain to stake out all of Central Park.

"Call their doctors. Find out if they'd recently had a checkup," Beecher said. "And what clothes were they found in?"

"Sweats and T-shirts." Stabler nodded. It was something. "Maybe they were just getting started and running after work."

"Hey, can we keep him?" Munch smiled at Beecher. Stabler wanted to yell at both of them. It was irrational.

"Update, please. Tell me you have something," Cragen groused.

"We're starting to think they were picked up in the park." Stabler frowned. "It's a big park."

"Keep working." Cragen vanished back into his office.

*********

Toby paid attention to the exact moment that Benson wanted her desk, and he smoothly left her chair. "I didn't break anything, I promise."

"Find your own desk." She almost smiled at him. "But first, show me what you're doing."

Toby leaned over and pointed. "I'm cross-checking recent inmate releases from Oz with the database that my brother and I compiled over the years of known Nazis."

"Why did you do this?" Benson asked.

Toby shut his eyes and spoke softly. "They killed my son. They also shanked my brother and my father. My father didn't survive it."

Benson looked up at him. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you." Toby squatted down. "The Brotherhood that operates in Oz is brutal beyond belief. They never forgave me for any number of things."

"Like shanking Vern Schillinger?" Stabler asked from across the desk.

"Yeah." Toby didn't bother to defend himself. "Look. Three of them have gotten out in the last two months. I know this guy, but not the others."

"Is he dangerous?"

"Crazy motherfucker." Toby blushed. He shouldn't talk that way in front of Benson. "Sorry. But he never had a prag. He wasn't into that."

Stabler snapped his fingers. "Print their names. We'll check them out. Now."

Toby pointed and clicked. "Sister Pete tells me that this guy - Samuel Bekin - he had a prag."

"And the other one?"

"She didn't know, and I don't either. I know people I could ask, but I'd have to go to Oz." Toby controlled a shudder at the thought. He didn't want to look weak in front of the cops. They already knew he had a swastika on his ass. "All of these guys are huge, and I mean big. Don't try to reason with them. Grab them and hope they don't kill one of you."

Stabler grunted. "I'll make a call."

Benson pointed. "How about this list?"

"I'm looking into them. They aren't Nazis, but these two are bikers, and there isn't much difference between the two." Toby grabbed a pen and check off four guys. "These guys are harmless - Christians and Muslims."

"Harmless? In Oz?" Benson shook her head.

"As harmless as me." Toby smiled at her. "In other words-"

"Dangerous, but not lethal." Stabler stood up. "Let's get moving. We have to pick up equipment and people."

Benson got up. "Good work, Toby."

"Thanks." Toby almost smiled at her. He did like her. "I'll stay here and keep digging."

Stabler narrowed his eyes. "Let me update the captain, and he'll tell me where to put you."

Toby didn't like the sound of that. He might have a holding cell in his future. He stood up and went to stare at the board. If it wasn't someone from Oz, some crazy fucker liked to pick up blonds and torture them. Maybe Schillinger had a brother out there.

********

"So, you're going after all three of them and tracking the doctors?"

"Right. We've got tonight and one more day."

Cragen nodded. "Send me Beecher and get moving."

"Thanks." Stabler did exactly that and went to get his armor. Nazis. Well, the Marines weren't exactly pussies.

********

Toby sat down in the captain's office. He didn't ask any stupid questions. He waited for Cragen to tell him what to do.

"Why aren't you worried?" Cragen finally asked.

"Captain, I've been sitting around waiting for people to tell me what to do for years. I have mastered the skill of being quiet."

"For a lawyer." Cragen pushed his chair back. "Go home. You've done enough for tonight. Tomorrow, we might send a black and white to get you."

"Could you call instead?" Toby widened his eyes. "It'll be less damaging to my post traumatic stress disorder."

Cragen pointed at the door. "Out. And stay away from the park with that blond hair."

Toby nodded and went back to Benson's desk. It couldn't hurt to check a few more things. Everyone else was off rounding up Nazis. He did fit the profile. If he wore his glasses, instead of his contact lenses, but he wasn't out of shape. Of course, baggy clothes would help that. But he was thinking crazy. Hadn't enough Nazis beaten him up? And one brand was more than enough. What would his attacker think? He'd think he'd trespassed on someone else's property. He went over their files again. They were missing something about these guys. All three of them were unmarried. Gay? Maybe. Wait. Wait. Wait. He read it all again. Damn. They all had Jewish-sounding names. Of course. It all made sense now. Schillinger usually killed Jews though. This guy was marking them as property of the Nazi empire or whatever bullshit he'd thought up.

"Beecher!"

Toby jumped. "Sorry. I was a lawyer!"

"Obviously. Go!"

Toby shut the files but left a big note on top for Benson. They're all Jewish? and single. Temple? Bar Mitzvah? It was enough to push them that direction if nothing else panned out. He made it out the front door without being arrested and checked his watch. It was about eight. Plenty of time to get home, and he might even wander over to the park.

********

Stabler put the ice pack on his face and winced. "Beecher wasn't kidding."

"He sure wasn't." Benson washed her hands and face. "We have a long night ahead of us."

"Let's get at it." Stabler didn't ask where Beecher was. He had enough trouble with a house full of angry Nazis.

********

Toby went home and sent his brother and Sister Pete an email, thanking them. His new laptop was a beauty, much better than a television. He could watch DVD's now. Johnson had approved the purchase, but he would be by to check it occasionally. Toby wasn't sure why. It wasn't as if he could drink whiskey over the internet. He had an hour to curfew, and he found some baggy clothes, took out his contact lenses, put on his geek glasses, and walked to the park. It was a big park. The guy could hunt any section of it. Toby did some easy stretches and started walking. It wasn't smart to jog in certain sections at night, and he stayed away from the dangerous places. He stopped a lot and did more stretching.

Could anyone understand how much he hated Nazis? Angus did, and maybe Sister Pete, but it was a short list. When he'd finally gotten honest with himself, he'd realized that he'd forgiven Chris for breaking him, but never for kissing up to Vern's pack of loser Nazis. Never for that. Chris had probably known it.

"Excuse me, do you have the time?"

Toby turned completely around and looked at his cell phone. "It's about nine thirty."

"Thanks." The guy smiled. "You getting back into shape?"

"Trying." Toby did his best to smile. "I'm getting old."

"Not yet." The guy laughed and jogged off. Toby watched him go. No tattoos, nothing, and he didn't know him. Toby started for home. If he were late, it would be his luck that his parole officer would stop by to check on him.

********

Stabler leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes. They were running out of time. A physical description was crucial. Benson was asleep at her desk. Munch and Fin had gone upstairs to sleep.

"Nothing? Absolutely nothing?"

"They all have alibis that check out. Apparently, the Nazis always have Saturday meetings." Stabler stretched. "Fin did manage to track down the vics doctors, and they all were starting to jog. It's all we have."

Cragen sighed. "Get Beecher over to the hospital. Maybe he can get something we couldn't. Try the first one. He's had the longest to recover."

"Will do." Stabler stood up. "Let her sleep." He got his coat and headed out the door. Beecher could skip his morning run.

********

Toby didn't go running. He slept late and had a bowl of cereal. The knock on his door was unexpected. "Come in!"

Stabler stalked inside. He looked more like Chris when he was exhausted. "You are asking to be robbed."


"I got the paper a few minutes ago." Toby shrugged. He was not going to run for his life this morning, even if Stabler did look scary as hell. "It's just crap anyway, and I'm used to losing everything. Every time I got something good for my cell, we'd have shakedown, and it would be confiscated or destroyed."

"Something good?"

"You know - chocolate, a CD player, pictures, or magazines. It never failed." Toby started eating again. He wanted to finish before Stabler dragged him somewhere.

Stabler leaned against the cabinet. "My kids like that cereal."

"So do mine." Toby pushed it at him. "Want a bowl?"

"No, but I'd take a cup of coffee."

Toby poured him one and set it close. "Have you ever fallen asleep on your feet?"

"Yes."

"Me too." Toby nodded. "It's weird when you wake up."

Stabler nodded and started drinking. "Was there any part of Oz that you liked?"

Toby kept eating, but he was thinking about it. Why did Stabler want to know? Toby finished the bowl, set it in the sink, and said, "Keller, Sister Pete, the library, and Dr. Nathan."

"Short list." Stabler shrugged. "You must have liked lifting weights?"

"Have to be strong to survive in Oz, and the gym was dangerous in Em City. Good place to get killed. In Gen Pop, it was tightly regulated, only ten guys at a time. So when it was my turn, I didn't complain."

Stabler looked down. "I hate to say this, but that's actually interesting. Why aren't you cursing?"

"Dr. Huang says it’s a stress reaction. I'm calm." Toby would go right to freak out if Stabler got any closer. "We don't have to chat. You can give orders and yell. I'm used to it."

"I'm really not that kind of guy." Stabler smiled, and Chris peeked out. "You don't believe me."

"No, but I'm not going to argue." Toby drained his coffee and went to put on his shoes and grab his cell phone. "I went to the park for a late run last night."

"Have you lost your mind?" Stabler was loud.

"Not since, well, for a while, and that was yelling." Toby looked outside. He'd need a coat. "And this guy wouldn't hurt me."

"Why the hell not? You fit the profile!" Stabler looked as if he might throw his coffee mug out the window.

"I'm branded. I belong to a Nazi already," Toby explained quietly. It was just words, and they couldn't hurt him. "He'd find my owner and return me. Oh, he might smack me around, but not too much."

Stabler's eyes were deep. He finished his coffee in one drink. "That's sick."

"I agree. Sick fuckers need to be rounded up and shot." Toby smiled at his familiar fantasy. "Ready?"

"Yes. Lock your door."

"You bet." Toby did lock it, after he hid his laptop. Stabler didn't say anything, but Toby thought he understood. "Where are we going?"

"Hospital. So pull up the guts Oz gave you and help us get a description from our first victim." Stabler gunned the engine. "And feel free to curse."

"No fucking problem, S-Boy." Toby nearly laughed at Stabler's expression. O'Reily would approve of that nickname. Toby should go visit him, but maybe a letter would be enough.

"I honestly thought you'd throw me out on my ear this morning." Stabler was driving much faster than Toby found comfortable.

"Because you accused me of these heinous crimes, you fucker?" Toby clenched the door handle. He had the feeling that Stabler loved this.

"Well, yeah." Stabler shot him a glare and turned a corner.

"Shit! Slow the fuck down!" Toby made sure his seat belt was secure. "Good fucking thing we're going to the damn hospital. I'm going to need a valium."

Stabler went faster and hit the siren. Toby pushed away the fleeting thought that a cell would be safer than this. When Stabler parked, Toby felt his heart to make sure it was still beating.

"Not so tough?"

"Not anymore." Toby got out, slammed the door, and made sure his balls were still dropped. "Damn."

Stabler smiled at him. "Still got them?"

Toby bit back a laugh. "Shriveled, but intact." He made sure not to glance at Stabler's bulge. The man always had a bulge. "I'm going to need some drugs."

Stabler just shook his head and led the way through the hospital corridors. "Here we are - Thomas Morrison's room. I have no idea what to tell you, just don't make this worse."

"You're staying out here, right?"

"Right, and I'm not listening. Get what you can and try to convince him to work with a sketch artist." Stabler paused. "Toby, this is important."

Toby flinched at the use of his first name. He had to look away. "Me and my ass know it is." He pushed open the door and tried to look casual. What he was feeling was pure panic, but he slumped down in a chair. He would wait for Morrison to say something. The guy still looked like a Nazi had been at him.

"Who are you?"

"Toby Beecher. You?" Toby picked up the paper and started glancing through it. He wasn't in any rush to talk about this, and he figured Morrison wasn't either.

"Tom Morrison." Morrison struggled up, messed with his covers, and grimaced. "What do you want?"

Suspicious fucker. Toby didn't blame him. "Nothing. Stabler asked me to wait here so he could talk to us both at the same time."

Morrison was on too many meds to realize that a cop would never do that. "You can do all the talking you want. Wait. You . . . too?"

Toby didn't drop the paper. "I was first." It was the truth. Ten years ago, but still, he had been first.

"God damn him."

"Yeah." Toby finally put it down. "Did you tell them anything?"

"No!" Tom turned red.

"Me neither." Toby rubbed his forehead. "Good to know I'm doing the right thing. At least, you know, I'm not alone."

Tom was about ready to cry. It was all still fresh. Toby wished he didn't remember it so well. Tom nodded. "He said he'd kill me if I told."

"Think he'll be back for more?" Toby whispered.

Tom shut his eyes. "He said I belonged to him now, and he'd fuck me whenever he wanted."

"With any luck, he'll be busy with me." Toby put his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. "I'm gonna buy a gun."

"Me too." Tom nodded and wiped his eyes. "Maybe a bazooka."

Toby managed a small smile. "That'd stop him." He made sure not to laugh, but it was a nice picture. Tom returned the smile tentatively. Toby picked up the paper again and turned to the sports.

"When's Detective Stabler going to get here?"

"He said he had to talk to the other guys. It could be awhile." Toby shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I'm not telling him anything."

Tom was quiet for a moment. "Why not?"

"And have him laugh? Or get all sympathetic and then laugh with his buddies? Forget it. I've got about one scrap of pride left, and he can't have it." Toby tossed the paper and shook his head. He hated lying like this, but it was working.

"What if - What if they could catch the guy who did this?"

Toby frowned, but on the inside, he was pleased. Tom was about ready to help them out. He just needed a nudge. Toby sighed. "I'd have to testify against him. I'm not sure I could."

Tom nodded almost frantically. "I know. I know, but maybe he'd plead out. There's DNA evidence."

Now Tom was thinking. Toby tapped his fingers on his chin. "Maybe. But there are two other guys. They could do it. Well, that one guy might not live, but the last guy isn't any worse off than we were."

"He might die?"

"Yeah." Toby didn't know, but it was possible. "I feel bad about it, but . . ."

Tom swallowed hard. "If you and I did it together, maybe it wouldn't be so bad."

Toby covered his eyes. "Hey, I'm not strong enough."

"We can do it." Tom sat up straighter. "I just don't want to be alone."

Toby got up and sat on the edge of the bed. "Show me your brand first."

Tom flinched, but he slowly pulled the covers down, the robe apart, and there it was. Fresh. Right in the middle of his chest. Toby gasped. It was bigger than his was, and uglier, if that was possible. "Shit, man."

"Show me yours, and then, when Stabler gets here, we'll do this." Tom grabbed Toby by the arm. "Don't leave, okay?"

"Okay," Toby promised. He felt like someone had stomped on his guts, but they had to catch this guy, before tonight. "You sure? Mine, um, isn't there." He pointed at his chest.

Tom's eyes got huge. "Where?"

Toby got up and eased his jeans down. Tom whimpered. Toby buttoned up fast. "Sorry you had to see that."

"I know you're scared. I am too, but let's put him away, so no one else has to wear these damn things."

"Okay." Toby brushed a real tear away. Tom was braver than Toby had ever been. "Give me a minute."

"Sure." Tom looked away. He'd had enough for now, and Toby went to the door. He went out and leaned against the wall. His hands shook and his breath came fast in a reaction to the stress. He wished his shank were in his pocket.

Stabler put a very gentle hand on Toby's shoulder. "It's okay."

"Get the fucking artist." Toby shuddered. He wanted to push the hand away, but he didn't have the strength to deny the small amount of comfort it gave. "And no, it's not, but this guy is going to be fine - someday."

Stabler stepped away and snapped open his cell phone. Toby went to wash his face and hands. He felt filthy, and whether it was for the lies or the truths, he didn't know.

********

Stabler hated to be impressed, but Beecher was doing a good job of dealing with Morrison. Beecher stayed right with him until the sketch and report were complete.

"You've done a great job, Morrison. We'll get this animal." Stabler was careful not to touch him. "Why don't you rest?"

Beecher was right there. "Tom, get some sleep. I'll check on you tomorrow."

"Will you?" Tom asked. He lay back, and a nurse gave him a shot. Stabler was glad. It would help.

"You have my word." Beecher smiled at him. Those smiles weren't given to just anyone, and Stabler knew he'd never earn one. Stabler went out in the hallway and waited for him.

Beecher came out, leaned against the wall, and rubbed his face. "Poor fucker."

"You helped him."

"It isn't enough." Beecher pushed away from the wall. "We're still fucked."

Stabler hated to agree. "The sketch is useless."

"Half the men in the city look like that." Beecher sighed. "I gotta get out of here. Later."

Stabler didn't agree with that. "No. You're with me."

"Fuck off." Beecher walked away. Stabler almost let him, but this wasn't over. They had five or six hours before it was too late, if the perp kept the pattern. He went straight after him, and pulled him from the cab.

"Wait."

Beecher ripped his arm away and glared at him. "You don't need me."

Stabler motioned the cabbie to move on. What Beecher said was probably true, but there had to be something they could do. "Let me take you home."

"I'd rather take my chances in a cab." Beecher eyed him distastefully. "You drive like you're on tits."

"Excuse me?"

"Ah, never mind." Beecher stared at the pavement. "Go back to work. Please."

Stabler began to nudge Beecher towards the car. "Get in. I'll drive normal."

Beecher seemed to give up, but he put his seatbelt on tightly. Stabler didn't drive like a cop. He stopped in front of Beecher's apartment building. "Thanks for your help."

Beecher got out and shut the door carefully. He didn't look back, and Stabler watched him until he was inside. Beecher was tough, and yet, fragile. But still, very tough. Stabler went back to work. Someone might have come up with something, and they were about out of time.

*********

Toby grabbed some water, but the thought of food was revolting. He stripped, got into some shorts, and started lifting. It was these kinds of days that made him seek refuge in the mindless sweat and strain of weight training. He'd missed his morning run, but he could go this evening. This evening. The face in the picture snapped back at him. Could it be the guy from last night? Possible. The man in the park had been faceless, even bland. A Nazi? Or a wannabe?

Muscles straining, he pushed out five more reps and then quit. The shower was next, and then he'd go have a talk with Captain Cragen. Stepping around Stabler was the best decision, especially after this morning.

********

"Nothing?"

The squad room was uncharacteristically quiet. Stabler was out of ideas, and time had run out on them. At this point, there was nothing to do but circle the park and pray they got lucky. Cragen threw up his hands. "Hit the streets then."

"Can I speak to you, Captain?"

Stabler knew it was Beecher and that this was an end around instantly. He got to his feet. "Spit it out, Beecher."

Beecher walked to the board and pointed at the sketch. "I think I saw him in the park last night. He asked me for the time."

"I told you to avoid the park!" Cragen snapped.

"I guess I forgot that I work for you." Beecher ran his hand gently over the sketch. "Let me go again tonight."

"With a wire."

"No. He'll spot it instantly." Beecher shrugged. "He won't hurt me, much, because I'm already branded."

Stabler had heard enough. "He might kill you."

Cragen looked from Beecher to Stabler and back. "He's all we got. Set it up, and we'll hope that Beecher is right, not you."

Benson got to her feet and whispered something in Beecher's ear. Beecher looked at Stabler. "I have a plan."

Stabler groaned. Anything a rich, convict lawyer came up had to be right on the edge of insanity.

*********

Toby watched them set up before putting on his sweat suit and glasses. Stabler was camped out on the sofa, watching TV - a real one, in his opinion. They'd brought it from the precinct. It had a camera in it, and it was going back.

Only when the tech guys were gone, did Toby talk to him. "I'm going."

"For the record, I think you're nuts."

Toby didn't get in front of the TV. "If I am, it's Nazi fucks like this guy that got me there."

"Don't provoke him. Get him here and let me tear him to pieces." Stabler looked more than capable of doing it. The Nazi tattoo on the side of Stabler's neck made Toby want to run screaming from the apartment. Stabler looked directly at him. "Leave your shank at home."

Toby felt a brief flash of rage. He didn't have to listen to this fucking hack.

"Put it back in your mattress, Beecher." Stabler began to watch TV again. That bravado must have come with the face and form.

Toby went back to the bedroom and put the shank away. He took several harsh breaths and tried to reclaim some calm. Nope. He was pissed. "I can do this. I can do this. It isn't Vern. It's some loser wannabe that wouldn't know a real Nazi if one fucked him up the ass."

Chris was suddenly there, nodding and grinning. "Mindfuck him, baby."

"Good idea. Fucking good idea." Toby went back out. It was eight o'clock. Time to hit the park and hope for the worst.

********

Stabler stepped to the corner and watched Beecher hide the shank. Veins stood out on his forehead and his eyes raged. He spoke almost inaudibly to someone. Stabler went back to the TV and told himself not to worry. Nope. He was going to worry.

"Now, I'm going."

Stabler blocked the door. "You're under control?"

Beecher looked down and then right into Stabler's eyes. "If you don't move, I'm going to touch you inappropriately again."

"Think I'm scared of that?" Stabler growled. "I need to know that you're thinking!"

Beecher reached, and Stabler wouldn't move. The hand brushed his lips again and lingered. Beecher edged closer. "So much like Chris, and yet, nothing at all. What makes a man one thing and not the other? Why aren't you him?"

Stabler caught the hand on his face, but didn't snap fingers or shove violently. He just held it and tried to sound calm. "I'm not him. We can do this, and if we don't, we'll figure something else out."

Beecher sucked in a deep breath. "I'm okay. Don't be surprised at anything I say or do."

"Don't get killed." Stabler had to mention it. He did care about Beecher, and he wasn't sure why. They didn't even like each other. "And don't kill him."

"I'm nothing but a prag. Tonight." Beecher pulled his hand away. "Tomorrow, I'll need extensive therapy." He laughed, and he was gone out the door. Stabler didn't find it funny, and neither had Beecher, but he was going. Stabler sat back down on the couch slowly. This was the only shot they had, and he hoped they missed.

********

Toby followed basically the same route as he'd taken last night, and he made sure to rub his muscles as if he were sore. Stretch, rub, jog a little farther, and never too far from the safe zones. If the police were around, he had no idea where.

"Didn't I see you here last night?"

Toby leaned over and breathed. He shrugged and checked his watch. "Do I know you?"

"We just chatted." The guy moved closer. He was six feet, dark hair, dark eyes, no tattoos in sight, but his sweatshirt covered his arms. Bland-looking guy. One of ten million and they all looked alike. "Take a break. You looked tired."

Toby checked his watch again. "I, well, don't have all that long. Have to make the most of it."

"Hot date?"

"Not exactly." Toby had to lay the groundwork for later when he was screaming and writhing in pain. "Later." And he trotted off, but he knew he had him. The guy jogged up beside him instantly. Toby stopped and whined, "You're kinda freaking me out."

"I'm Jake Werner. You?"

"Tobias Beecher." Toby didn't hold out his hand. "I really gotta go."

"You a Jew?"

Toby ran, not too fast, but fast enough. Werner's face had switched over from bland to pissed off in a blink, and the chase was on. The air wrenched from his body, and his glasses flew off his face as he smacked into the grass. His leg twisted under him, and the pain drove away all other thoughts. Werner straddled him and slapped him hard across the face. Toby put his hands up. "No! Stop! You have the wrong guy!"

Werner laughed. "I got the right Jewboy for the job I have in mind."

Toby struggled, but carefully. He was strong enough to break this guy, but it would prove nothing in a court of law. "Please!"

"Beg all you want. You're mine." Werner jumped up and dragged Toby to a dark spot near a big bush. "I'm going to teach you your place in my new world."

Toby managed to end up on his stomach. He could feel his sanity slipping away. His breath evaporated and his mind sunk. Not again. Not again. He gulped for air. "You can't!"

"I can and will." Werner shoved Toby's face in the dirt, held him with a knee, and tore his sweats down. "Nice ass. It's going to feel good when I breed Aryan babies in it."

Toby saw red dots in front of his eyes. He was losing the fight. "He'll kill you!" It burst out of him. Werner laughed again and spread Toby's legs. It was dark. Too dark? Toby put his hands in the dirt and braced himself. He was going to kill this guy in one more minute.

"Motherfuck!" Werner's hand slapped the back of Toby's head. Toby covered it again with his arms, but this was good news. Werner hit him three more times. "Who owns you? Who?"

Toby cringed and cowered in the face of the screaming. It went against every nerve in his body that ached to lash out and kill.

Chris laughed at him. "Mindfuck him, Toby!"

Toby heard the words clearly and knew he was back in the madness. "Elliot Stabler! I live with him! I'm supposed to be home by ten! Please, for God's sake, just let me go!"

Werner ripped him up off the ground. "Dress, you Nazi bitch."

Toby straightened his sweats fast and swayed on his feet. His leg. Damn it. It was bad. "I need my glasses. He'll beat me if I'm late. Please!"

"Sounds like my kind of guy." Werner wrapped his hand around Toby's arm and squeezed hard. "Where? Where?"

Toby shook his head. He went down hard from the blow, took the boot that crashed into him, and then screamed, "Stop!"

Werner slapped him again. "Take me to your master or I'll beat you to death!"

Toby sobbed and weakly pushed at him. "Okay! Don't hit me anymore. I'll do what you say."

"You Jews are all pussies." Werner brushed him off roughly and shoved him. "My van's close."

Toby staggered - his leg wanted to explode - and cried. The tears were real. Tears for the other men this fucker had tortured, and tears for himself that he'd ever let Schillinger treat him like dirt. Werner hit him again when they got to a white, panel van. "Address?"

Toby gave it quickly, and Werner tossed him inside the van and shut the door. Werner didn't have to drive too far, and Toby could smell blood. There was plenty of evidence in this van. Werner jerked him out and quick marched him inside and up the stairs. Toby prayed his leg held, handed him the key, and cringed. That part had been easy. The next part would be hard. Stabler was inside, and wow, he was going to be pissed.

********

"That you, Beech?"

"We, uh, have company," Beecher said softly, his lip bled and he limped through the door.

Stabler lost his temper immediately, and in this case, it wasn't a bad thing. "What the fuck?"

"Jake Werner." Werner hit Beecher in the kidney, forcing him to crumple to his knees. "I found your little bitch in the park."

"And who the fuck are you?" Stabler got right in Werner's face and managed to nudge Beecher to a safer position. Beecher was having trouble breathing.

"One of the Brotherhood." Werner took off his shirt, and he was a Nazi wonderland. It was sickening. "I was out looking for fresh blood when I rounded up your stray."

Stabler casually smacked Beecher across the back of the head. "Okay, then. Come on in. Toby will get us a beer."

Werner nodded, put on his shirt, and smiled. "We can compare notes."

"Always good to talk to a brother." Stabler leaned over and pulled Beecher to his feet. "Move it, Toby."

********

Toby limped to the fridge and got them a beer. He hurt, but he had recognized Stabler's attempt to protect him, and it shook him more than the casual blow had. Stabler took the couch and so did Werner. Perfect. Toby handed both beers to Stabler, kept his eyes down, and said, "Anything else, sir?"

"Sit down. Shut up." Stabler handed the beer to Werner. Toby sat down on the floor by Stabler's leg. It was the proper place, whether Stabler knew it or not.

Werner took a big drink and leered at him. "Nice brand on his ass."

"I like it." Stabler laughed. "You got a bitch?"

Toby wiped the blood from his mouth with his shirt. He had to listen. He couldn't go crazy, not yet. Stabler might need help.

"Three of them. Branded them myself." Werner drank some more beer. "All Jews, like yours."

"Toby ain't Jewish." Stabler shook his head. "I'd never dirty myself on a Jew."

Toby's guts clenched. Stabler was doing fine. He reached down and took a hold of Toby's face. Their eyes met and something sparked between them. Toby went elsewhere. He wasn't sure where, but there was only him and this man there.

"Werner, you touched my property. I ain't happy. You rape him?" Stabler ran his thumb over Toby's lip and pushed him back down. Toby didn't go for the shank that was close, but he would if Werner came at him again. His lips pulsed from the touch.

"Just smacked him around. He was wagging his ass and asking for it." Werner was a good liar.

Stabler sighed. "Toby, I've warned you about acting the slut. Go clean up, and we'll have some fun with your swastika."

Toby fled to the bathroom as fast as his fucked up leg would go. He could still hear laughter and big words, but he was out of the way, and he fumbled down to the floor and waited for the hacks to beat down the door.

********

Stabler drew him out into confessing it all. It was ridiculously easy. Beecher wouldn't be back from the bathroom, and Stabler signaled his team by turning off the television. "Werner, I don't like you. You rape Jews. Get out."

"Hey, how else am I gonna breed the next master race?" Werner smiled so big. "Let me fuck Toby. His ass is sweet."

The cops, bless them, broke down the door, and Werner jumped up to kill them all. Stabler made sure to bloody that Nazi lip before Benson got her hands on him and pushed him away. "It's over!"

Stabler breathed hard and put his hands on his hips. "Not for the guys he raped!"

"There's enough evidence in his van to put him away." Benson looked around. "Where's Toby?"

"In the bathroom. I sent him. He's-"

"Breaking down," Huang said as he came running in the door. "I came as soon as I heard about this incredibly stupid plan."

"It worked." Stabler couldn't take his eyes off the bathroom door.

"At his expense." Huang took a step. "I'll talk to him. Get everyone and all this equipment out."

Stabler nodded. "He did a good job." He heaved out a huge breath that he'd been holding since Beecher limped in the door. "He needs a bus."

Huang's eyes widened. "Get it. Now!"

********

Toby knew the hacks were out there, but in here was much safer. Chris sat on the toilet and nodded. "Yeah. They'll fuck him up. Don't worry none."

"He'll be lucky if Stabler doesn't kill him." Toby put his sore head on his knee and rocked. "You realize that I'll be crazy for a month or so?"

"It was worth it. I like that Stabler guy. I wonder if he puts out."

"Toby? Toby?"

Toby shrank away. He instantly moved to the prone position, ignoring the shooting pain of his leg. "I'm down. I'm down."

"It's okay, Toby. You're safe. He's gone."

Chris was gone, but he was always there. Toby finally looked. It was Huang. His voice was as smooth as good whiskey. Toby shook, but he knew it was over now. "It's safe?"

"Yes. It is." Huang didn't touch him. "They're all leaving. All of them. You're safe."

Toby didn't like being talk to as if he was an idiot, but it was appropriate in this situation. "Safe. Okay. They got him?"

"They put him in a car. He's gone." Huang crouched down. "Tell me if you're hurt."

Toby sat up. He trembled and hated himself for being weak. "My leg hurts. Not too bad. I've had worse. Can you touch me?"

"Do you want me to help you up?"

"Please." Toby reached and leaned. He trusted Huang not to hurt him. Trust was stupid. Chris's third rule of life, but Toby had never been good at that one. He hobbled to the doorway and let go of Huang. "Thanks."

Huang stepped back. "Got it?"

"Yeah." Toby brushed the hair off his face. The TV was gone. Shakedown always took the good stuff. "Where's Stabler?"

"He went back to the station house to process the man they arrested." Huang paused. "I sent for an ambulance."

"For me?" Toby hoped not.

"Yes. You need to be in a hospital tonight." Huang sounded firm. "I insist."

"It's past curfew." Toby shook his head. He wouldn't do that. Huang had no idea what it was to be really fucked up. This was nothing.

"I insist." Huang lowered his head and looked stubborn.

"If a strange man touches me, I'll lose every drop of sanity I have left." Toby moved slowly towards his bedroom. "Get rid of them."

"I touched you."

"I trust you, foolishly perhaps." Toby took two more painful steps. He'd twisted his knee, but it'd heal fast. The leg that Schillinger had shattered so completely had healed weaker, and even after eight years it was there to remind him of things he'd like to forget but never would. "Let me rest."

Huang was right there every step of the way, and Toby finally collapsed on his bed. He caressed his shank, found a spot that didn't make him burn, and shut his eyes. Sleep wouldn't come, but he could rest.

"I'm right here, Toby. You can talk to me." Huang pulled a chair up by the bed.

"I'm okay, Doc. Beat up and demoralized, but fine." Toby felt the shank again. "I didn't kill him. It was a triumph, of sorts."

"You wanted to kill him?"

"I nearly did. I could have. He counted on fear to keep his victims immobile."

"You weren't afraid?"

Toby smiled. "I was afraid I'd go insane before Stabler could smack him around. I wasn't afraid of him."

"You're sure?"

"He was a weakling. Schillinger would have pragged him before breakfast." Toby had to open his eyes so he didn't see it. "Now Stabler would make a good Nazi. He's big, strong, and has that voice. Werner was a pussy bitch, trying to make a name for himself."

"But he hurt you."

"Na. I hurt me. I allowed it. I even encouraged some of it." Toby rubbed his shank. "Have you seen my brand?"

"No." Huang's small gasp was easy to hear. "How did you feel when he saw it?"

"Relieved. I was worried it was too dark." Toby sighed softly. "And at that point, he was all mine."

"You could manipulate him?"

"Right. It was easy." Toby sat up and pulled off his dirty shirt. "Someone's at the door."

Huang stood. "I'll be right back."

Toby shrugged. He couldn't feel his heart beating, but that was okay. It would start again.

Chris turned from staring out the window. "You'll make it fine, and now you know you can trust him."

 "Trust who?" Toby didn't get it. He was too tired to be talking to Chris.

"Stabler, ya dumb fuck."

********

Stabler didn't go back to the house. He waited for the bus on the street. When they pulled up, he told them to skip the gurney, and took them up to Beecher's apartment. He knew Beecher well enough to know that it wasn't going to be needed.

Huang met them at the door. "Stabler, you should go. Toby's right on the verge of a breakdown."

"I know, but he trusts me." Stabler knew it was true. Beecher had sat down and bled next to Stabler's boots earlier. That was trust. "Hang on, guys."

The paramedics looked confused. Huang raised his hands. "He refuses treatment. He's afraid it'll be more than he can handle."

"I agree." Stabler did. "Give me the first aid kit."

"I'm a doctor, Stabler." Huang looked frustrated. "I'll do it."

Stabler knew that, and it made no difference. "I know, but he'll accept it from me, not you."

"I'm not sure of your diagnosis."

"I am." Stabler took the kit from the medic. "Wait out here. Trust me."

Huang shook his head. "He doesn't."

"Okay. I give up. Watch, if you want." Stabler quit trying to reason with the doctor. The trip to the bedroom was long and short, and Beecher's eyes met his immediately. "Hey, Toby."

"Thought you left." Beecher quit rubbing the spot on the bed that hid his shank and tried to sit up.

"I was waiting for the ambulance. Benson can handle that idiot Nazi." Stabler put the kit on the floor and gave him the choice. "It's me, Huang, or the paramedics. Choose."

"You." Beecher hesitated. "Do you have any medical training?"

"I'm a Marine." Stabler opened it up and got out a few things. He pointed at Beecher's filthy sweats. "These need to come off."

"Do it slow. Hurts." Beecher shoved them down a little. Stabler pushed away more emotions than a man should feel and stripped him to his briefs. Beecher bit his already bloody lip. "Damn."

Stabler saw the swelling on the calf and knee and applied ice packs, wrapping them tightly. He ignored the cursing. Probing gently, he made sure nothing was broken, only bruised, and there were plenty of bruises. "This rib might be cracked."

"It is. I've had them before." Beecher groaned softly. "Fucking cunt."

"Me or him?" Stabler looked at him in amusement. "Quit talking. I'm going to deal with your lip now."

"Alcohol will take that tattoo off." Beecher shut his mouth when Stabler took hold of him by the jaw. Stabler did his best to be gentle, and he wiped away all the blood and applied enough pressure to get it stopped. Their faces were close, and he could smell the fear and pain on Beecher.

"You did a great job, but it was very stupid." Stabler shook his head. "Don't talk."

Beecher groped for something on the bed, and Stabler put Beecher's hand on the knife. Stabler made sure there were no head wounds. It could have been worse. The leg was bad, but Beecher was tough. Stabler made him hiss by pressing the coldness tighter.

"Should we transport him?" It was one of the paramedics in the doorway.

"No. He'll limp in tomorrow and see a doctor." Stabler kept all the ice packs and shut the kit. "Thanks."

Beecher said nothing until the paramedic was gone. "Can you get me some water?"

"Sure. Huang wants to talk to you."

"I'm sure he does."

Stabler arranged the blanket so it covered Beecher to the chest and left the room. He raised his eyebrows at Huang, but said nothing. Gloating was a sin.

********

Toby endured the pain. It would fade when it got cold enough.

Huang was back with him. "Toby, are you feeling better?"

"In a painful way, yes." Toby took it easy on his lip. "Don't offer me anything for the pain."

"Why?"

"Because I'll cry and beg for it." Toby took his hand off his shank. Stabler knew it was there and didn't care. Trust. It felt strange. Toby shut his eyes. "You should go home. It's late."

"I can stay." Huang sounded as if he would.

"We can talk more tomorrow. Stabler says I'm going to the hospital to have my leg checked." Toby looked at him again. "I'm coping. Nazis have traumatized me for years. This was actually mild."

"But you were beginning to feel safe again."

Toby shrugged. "No. I wasn't. I push it away and cover it up, but it never goes away."

Huang stood up. "I'll get your cell phone. Call me if you need anything."

"I will." Toby liked Huang, but it was time for him to go home. Stabler came in the room with the phone, water, and two tablets. Toby sat up enough to take a drink. "Tylenol? Stabler, you'll get me busted."

Stabler laughed and sat down. "Benson told me Natalini swiped your Tylenol. That guy's a prick."

"Takes one to know one." Toby took the pills with a care for his mouth. "Thanks for taking off the tattoo."

"It was an ugly thing." Stabler scratched his neck lightly. "The doc went home."

"Good. I like him, but enough is enough." Toby knew Stabler felt the same. "You made a great Nazi."

"Shut up." Stabler glared. "I thought you were going to shank me."

"I almost did." Toby nodded.

"There's one under the couch, isn't there?" Stabler's eyes pierced through him.

Toby wasn't going to incriminate himself. "As if I'd tell you. That guy didn't even carry a knife."

"He picked men he could intimidate." Stabler suddenly smiled. "The fourth one was a mistake."

"He had well-connected friends." Toby laughed softly. Friends. Could it be true? The apartment was quiet, and he knew Stabler had locked the door. This felt right, but strange. "You should go home."

"There's no one there, and you might need a hand." Stabler adjusted the ice packs, and Toby made sure not to bite his lip. Toby wasn't going to yell and scream about it. He thought it all through again and watched Stabler's stoic face - Chris's face, but not his at all.

"What if I touch you inappropriately?" Toby wanted to, over and over again, until the pain drained away.

"I'll deal with it." Stabler shrugged. He didn't look worried. "We're adults."

Toby nodded. It was a good thing he was in too much pain to get a hard on. "But you're aware that if you look at me for one second too long or touch me that I'll do anything to get more."

Stabler looked at the floor. "I know." And he got up and walked out. Not too long after, Toby heard him on the phone, and he swallowed hard. Stabler. God.

********

Stabler wouldn't check on Beecher again until he was completely in control. Emotions had run high, and he had to push everything to a manageable distance. He made a quick call to Benson to make sure things were going smoothly.

"How's Toby?"

"I'll run him to the hospital tomorrow and make sure his leg isn't broken." Stabler didn't think it was, but he wasn't a doctor. "You need me down there?"

"Feeling guilty?"

"Yes." Stabler wasn't going to lie. He wasn't sure why he was still here.

"Well don't. Werner thinks you were arrested too, and it's working for us." Benson sounded amazed. "I guess he missed it when you punched him."

Stabler didn't get it either. "Will he plead insanity?"

"I don't think so. He's pleading that he was doing mankind a favor. This guy is messed up."

Stabler had to agree with that. "Let me check on Beecher again, and I'll come down."

"Okay." Benson wouldn't argue. Stabler snapped it shut and went to the bedroom. "Need anything?"

"To piss." Beecher pushed the covers away. "Don't touch me unless I hit the floor."

"Deal." Stabler stayed close, but didn't touch him, not again. It would be inappropriate, and Beecher was hurt. Beecher got the job done, but his leg collapsed on the way back to the bed. Stabler didn't hesitate; he swept him up and put him gently on the bed. Before Beecher could regain his breath, Stabler popped two new ice packs and arranged them all to do the most good. "Get some sleep. I'm going to go to the house for awhile."

"Hey." Beecher grimaced. "Thanks for watching my back."

"My job, last time I checked." Stabler tossed the covers back over Beecher before he got any ideas. "I'll go clock you out."

"Smartass." Beecher shut his eyes. "Leave the lamp on."

Stabler shut off the overhead light, turned on the lamp, and made sure not to smile from relief. Beecher was alive. He found Beecher's keys and locked the door on his way out.

*********

"You like him."

 "I don't!"

"Admit it. It's okay." Chris laughed. "Even I think he's hot."

 Toby kicked his locker to the other end of the pod and put his hands on his hips. "It'd be wrong, and if I kissed him I'd dream of you."

 "He ain't me, baby. He's taller, and he has morals." Chris leaned against the wall. "Fucking hacks. It's past time to let us out!"

"I've been in lockdown forever with you. It doesn't end." Toby went to the door and pushed hard. It didn't budge. "He's not gay."

"Neither am I." Chris was suddenly behind Toby, caressing and rubbing. "You'll always have me, Toby."

 "I believe that." Toby pushed back into the rough hands. "Help me forget."

 "I can do that."

********

"Go home," Cragen said. "I can't afford any more overtime on this."

Stabler and Benson exchanged a look. She grabbed her coat. "Gone."

"Me too." Stabler was right behind her. "Some sleep would be-"

"Unusual?"

"Yes." Stabler yawned. He looked up at the sky - still dark. "I'll call you today."

She laughed, and she was gone to her car. Stabler got in, turned the ignition, and didn't fight it. He went to sleep on Beecher's couch.

********

Toby limped out slowly, very slowly, to start some coffee. He'd grab a shower while it percolated. Stabler's big body, sound asleep on his couch, registered after about six seconds. He kept thinking it was mirage. Quietly, he started a pot and went to shower. He was filthy, and he let the water stream down his face. His leg throbbed in time with his heart. Stabler was asleep on Toby's couch. A good question was why, but how long it was going to last was another good one.

Getting out of the shower was tricky, and he gasped. Damn. He needed his cane. Memories swamped over him as he toweled dry.

"You okay?"

Toby knew his face blossomed bright red. He wrapped the towel around his hips. Stabler had a glint in his eye, and Toby choked out, "Go check the coffee."

Stabler nodded and shut the door behind his smirking face. Toby brushed his hair and decided to cut it. He was lucky that Nazi hadn't given him pigtails.

"Let me help."

"No. Thanks though." Toby hobbled out the door. He wanted Stabler to grab him and hold him tightly, but that was a bad idea. "You get any sleep?"

"Enough." Stabler yawned at the suggestion. "I'll sleep more later."

"Don't let me keep you up." Toby made sure his towel wouldn't fall, and in the process, he almost did. Stabler wrapped an arm around him, held him up, and helped him back to the bedroom. Toby gritted his teeth and prayed he didn't get an erection.

Chris laughed at him from his perch on the windowsill.

 Toby managed to say, "Throw me on the bed and leave."

"Okay." Stabler put him down and rummaged through the ice packs. "I'll toss these out."

Toby kept his towel on his crotch until Stabler was gone. The pain of his leg was a wonderful distraction, and he wiped some water off his chest. Stabler was much more complicated than Chris. Toby sighed and rubbed his face with the towel. He needed to think rationally, and that was never easy.

"He's in the bedroom." Stabler's voice was easy to hear. "No way you could give him a break today?"

Toby couldn't hear the reply, but he knew who it had to be. Johnson came through the door, and he looked slightly apologetic. "Hi, Beecher. Tough night?"

Toby held out his hand for the piss cup. "Had worse. Has it been a month already?"

"Yes." Johnson looked around. "I'll skip tossing the place. The police did a pretty thorough job here last night."

"Did they put the front door back on?"

"Yeah." Johnson smiled at him. "I'll give you a minute."

Toby rolled his eyes. "Thanks." He glared down at his cock. "I need some piss." Nothing. He was on empty. Shit. He put the cup on the nightstand and managed to get into some clothes. Biting his lip from pain produced blood, but there was nothing that could be done about it. He hurt! Christ.

"You want some coffee?" Stabler had a mug with him.

"Can you get me water also?" Toby pointed at his crotch. "I'm in trouble here."

Stabler's eyes drifted there and then to the piss cup. "Anything to help."

"Right." Toby carefully straightened the sheets. They needed to be changed, but it was going to have to wait. He touched his shank and knew in his gut it was time to move it. Stabler handed him the water and gave him a look that agreed with that. Toby wasn't sure how he and Stabler were always on the same page, but it was par for this course. "I'll take care of it."

"Johnson was a CO." Stabler glanced out the door. "You don't need them."

Toby didn't agree. "What do you suggest?"

"Trust yourself." Stabler looked right through him. "Trust Toby."

Toby felt one or two of his emotions that he didn't like and pushed away on a regular basis. "The guy who got his ass kicked by a Nazi last night?"

"You could have wiped the floor with him. You and I both know it." Stabler took a step closer and pointed at him. "I know you can do it."

"I may have to sleep at your house." Toby grabbed the water. "Go elsewhere."

Stabler left quickly. Toby could hear them talking, and he chugged the water, and then drank the coffee. Since Stabler had Johnson talking, Toby pulled the shank out and stared at it. It was time to give it up, but it hurt.

"Is this a good idea, Chris?"

"They'll give you a cane today." Chris laughed and wiggled to get comfortable against the headboard. "Keep it."

"Good idea." Toby flipped the shank in the air and caught it. "Hey, Johnson!"

Johnson came back in the room quickly, his eyes bulged, and he took the shank. "Nice quality workmanship. This yours?"

Toby met Stabler's blue eyes. Stabler shook his head ever so slightly. Toby lied, "Nazi dropped it last night. I found it on the floor."

Johnson looked at Stabler before nodding. "Thanks. Stabler can take it into evidence."

"Okay, you two go play. I gotta piss." Toby grabbed the cup. Johnson and Stabler beat a retreat, and Toby made his donation to science. Finished, he sealed it and stumbled to his kitchen. "Don't lose it."

"Don't worry." Johnson looked around. "You need a TV."

Toby slid up on his barstool, refilled his coffee cup, and shrugged. Stabler laughed. "Go pester someone else, Johnson."

Johnson pointed at the fridge. "Was the beer part of the operation last night?"

Toby sighed and stared at his coffee. Stabler answered, "Yeah. I'll take it with me when I go."

"Good idea."

"Johnson, do you know how many beers it would take to get me drunk?" Toby didn't look at him, only at his coffee.

"Six?" Johnson guessed.

"Try twenty. I've counted. Now, I guess we could follow the reasoning that if I drink six, I'll have to get more." Toby rolled his eyes. "I keep them here for Stabler when he stops by. I prefer Jack Daniels."

"Dr. Huang thinks Toby uses them as a reminder not to drink." Stabler always had to say something.

Johnson groaned. "It's a direct violation!"

Toby just nodded. "I'm prone to that."

Stabler laughed, and Johnson threw up his hands. "I'm out of here. We'll discuss this at our next meeting. The shank was enough for today!"

Toby drank his coffee, got down the cereal, and dug out the milk. "I'm starved." He concentrated on filling his body with sugar and carbohydrates. Johnson finally left, and Stabler came over to get a bowl of his own.

"Stabler, you need a life." Toby put some more cereal in his bowl.

"You're probably right. I thought the beer was for your brother." Stabler put the shank down on the cabinet. Toby didn't even glance at it.

"He doesn't drink." Toby grinned at him. "I bought that six for you. Ain't that sweet?"

Stabler grabbed the milk and poured. "Shut up."

Toby laughed. "What's your big cop plans for today?"

"My day off. I'm taking you to the hospital." Stabler started shoveling the cereal in his mouth. "I got the one under the couch." He pulled it out of his back pocket and put it with the other one. "Small, but deadly."

"Na. I know lots of guys that didn't die from getting air-holed." Toby hiked up his shirt and pointed. "Like me."

Stabler gave it a look. "Bet that hurt. Look at this one."

Toby looked and made sure not to lick his lips at the sight of taut skin, muscles, oh, and a scar. "Small caliber?"

"Right." Stabler finished his cereal fast. "Let's eat again at the hospital."

Toby groaned. "It'll taste like the shit at Oz."

"Better than Cocoa Puffs!" Stabler suddenly laughed. "I still owe you lunch."

Toby nodded and got off the barstool carefully. "Shit. Fuck. Damn. If Schillinger weren't dead, I'd kill him again."

Stabler got Toby his coat and handed him his keys. "Why?"

"Schillinger pounded my legs into pieces. This one was the worst." Toby didn't know where his cell phone was. He'd find it later. "Get those shanks before I hide them again."

Stabler grabbed them up, and they went towards the car together. Toby leaned against whatever was available, groaned, and a fine sheen of sweat began to form on his forehead. He cursed his own weakness until he ran out of breath. "And now I have to watch you drive!"

"Shut your eyes." Stabler pulled out into traffic. The asshole was laughing.

********

Stabler slumped into a chair and tried to sleep while Beecher was getting checked out. Images flashed over him, and he saw again the shanks, the vulnerability, and the muscled body of Beecher. Stabler had seen it all during his tour on the 'panty police,' and he knew what men did to women, children, and each other. He knew it all too well. Was Beecher gay? Stabler had some serious doubts. He knew he wasn't gay, but there was a level of attraction when he held Beecher that was alarming. Part of him clenched up, part of him relaxed, and part of him wanted to smile and hold him. It made no sense. None. There was a small chance that this wasn't about being gay. It was about two people that found something they wanted to hold onto together.

"Stupid," he muttered. They weren't even friends! He rubbed his face and wished for his old life back. "Really stupid."

"Detective Stabler?"

Stabler sat up. "I'm awake. Hi, Dr. Saunders. What's going on?"

Saunders motioned him closer, and Stabler went. She spoke softly. "Is he number four?"

Stabler had to think. "No. No. Nothing like that. Well. Yes." He rubbed his forehead.

"Which is it? Do I need to do a rape kit?"

"No!" Stabler shook his head violently. "The guy attacked him and beat him, but-"

"That was plenty." Saunders looked over the chart. "You're aware that his brand is years old?"

"Yes." Stabler pointed. "Let's talk in front of him."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive." Stabler found Beecher in bed with a gown on, an IV in his arm, and he looked disgusted. Stabler moved until he stood right at the end of the bed. "Even I can tell you're not in a happy place."

Beecher gave him the finger. "This was a fucking bad idea. I'll be here all day!"

Saunders sighed. "He's not exactly cooperative. The leg's not broken, but the knee is bruised badly and twisted. He'll need a cane. The rest will heal quickly. I put him on a saline drip with morphine."

Stabler thought that was a bad idea. "Beecher, are you supposed to have painkillers?"

"If it makes me feel good, I should skip it." Beecher pointed at the doctor. "She wouldn't listen."

"He's an addict. Take it out." Stabler crossed his arms and put on his most stubborn face.

Saunders looked at each of them. Slowly, she nodded. "Nurse, remove the IV."

"Thank God," Beecher growled. "I was starting to have happy thoughts."

Stabler tried not to laugh. "Get him ready to go and tell me how your other patients are doing."

*********

Toby listened to them talk as they wandered out the door. He did feel good. His body loved it. Loved it. Avoiding that next hit of ecstasy was going to be even harder now. His leg still hurt, but there was no reason now to curse about it. He'd go see Tom and then they'd go eat. At that point, Angus came barreling in the room. He looked one step from true panic.

"Toby!"

Toby let him hug him, even though it hurt. "I'm okay, Angus. I'm okay."

Angus took a deep breath. "Christ. I nearly passed out when I read it in the newspaper!"

"Excuse me? Angus, what the fuck are you talking about?" Toby was the one near fainting now.

"It was all over the front page about how they'd arrested this Nazi who branded his victims. Your name was listed as a consultant that had aided in the arrest." Angus talked fast. "I called your cell. No answer. So I called the precinct, and they said that Stabler had taken you to the hospital."

"Fuck. I'm sorry, Angus. I'm okay. My leg is banged up, but I'm fine." Toby winced as the nurse removed the IV. That'd hurt in the morning. "Breathe, Angus. I'm not anywhere near dead."

Angus didn't smile. "What the hell are you doing mixed up in this shit?"

Toby flinched. Angus had good lungs when he wanted to use them. It was Stabler that answered, "The Beecher boys were raised to curse like sailors, which isn't at all what I expected from two Ivy Leaguers."

Angus spun on his heel. Toby smiled now. Stabler was in trouble. Angus started yelling about Oz, Nazis, brands, danger, police brutality, and a bunch of other shit. Toby leaned back and enjoyed the morphine still flowing through his veins. Stabler could take care of himself, and he did. He had calm answers for everything. He was starting to make Angus look like he was mentally unbalanced, and that was Toby's job in the family.

"Hey guys! Shut the fuck up!" Toby yelled at them and got out of bed. He tore the gown off. "And get the fuck out!"

The room cleared almost instantly. Toby laughed to himself and found his clothes. The nurse brought him a cane, and he twirled it automatically - an old friend. The morphine made him smile again, and after he pissed, he put his cane to use and headed for Tom's room.

"Toby?"

"Oh, Angus. You're still here? I have to go see Tom Morrison, the first victim. He and I are friends." Toby leaned on the cane. "Are you finished ripping Stabler a new one?"

"You work for the police? You didn't tell me!"

"I didn't think they'd ever call me." Toby shrugged. "It happened very quickly. We had one chance to catch the fucker, and we used it."

Angus frowned. "And you're really okay?"

Toby nodded. "He didn't, well, you know. I have to go see Tom. Why don't you take the rest of the day off, go golfing, and we'll have lunch tomorrow?"

"Golf? Lunch?" Angus rubbed his forehead. "I need a drink."

Toby got moving again. "Love ya, bro."

"See ya, dawg." Angus shook his head. "Call me later. This is crazy!"

Toby knew that. He was thinking about having it tattooed on his forehead. Stabler came around a corner. "Is he gone?"

"Did the little lawyer scare you?" Toby smiled. It was definitely the morphine. "Pussy bitch."

"He threatened to sue me personally and make sure I didn't have enough money left to feed my cat, much less my kids." Stabler did look worried.

"You have a cat?"

Stabler's worry turned to a glare. "That's it. You're fired."

"Thank God." Toby stopped at Tom's door. "Come back and get me at eleven for lunch."

Stabler checked his watch. "What? Do I look like your chauffeur?"

Toby had to think about it. "No. You're much cuter. Thanks." He pushed open the door and limped inside.

********

Stabler leaned against the wall and laughed. It was fatigue, not amusement. He checked his watch and saw that he had an hour. He'd make some calls and find some coffee. He did owe Beecher lunch, but afterwards, he was finding some place to nap.

********

Toby limped to the nearest park bench and sat down heavily. No run today or tomorrow and he missed it, but he wouldn't complain. Tom was getting out of the hospital today, and that poor fucker was worse off. They had become cautious friends, bound by events they wanted to forget and lies that could never be spoken. Toby didn't feel guilty about the lies, but he'd never forget Tom's face when he'd seen him after the attack. Tom had cried. Cried for Toby. Toby still felt ashamed.

"I thought I might find you here," Benson said and sat down next to him. "How have you been?"

"Pretty good." Toby hadn't seen her. He'd been too lost in thought. She was close, but he didn't scoot over. He could smell her perfume. It was mild, but nice. "How's the job?"

"Busy." She looked out at the park, not at him. "Your leg?"

"I'm running the marathon tomorrow." Toby smiled. "It'll heal. It just takes time."

"Time's good for that." Benson turned her complete attention to him. "He got life, up for parole in thirty."

Toby looked deep in her eyes. "I feel sorry for the guys in his cellblock."

Benson furrowed her pretty brow. "I hadn't thought of that."

"With any luck, someone will shank him." Toby made a quick decision. It couldn't hurt to try. "Would you like to go to dinner tonight?"

She hesitated and then nodded. "I'd like that. When should I pick you up?"

"Give a man some pride." Toby clutched his heart. "Call me when you're ready to leave work. I'll come get you."

"It won't be late. Captain said we went way over budget on overtime last month." They chuckled softly together. "I better get to work. I'll call."

"I hope so." Toby stood up. "Thanks."

"Later." And she strode away with her confident air. Toby went for a short walk. He was glad she'd said yes, and she didn't have to know that he ached for her partner.

********

Stabler grabbed his coat. "You look nice."

"Careful with that sexual harassment," she teased. "And thank you."

"Got a date?" Stabler wasn't curious, not much.

"Yes. He's waiting in the lobby." She pulled her fingers through her hair. "Don't wait up for me."

Stabler smiled and followed her downstairs. He usually went out the other way, but he could take a look. She was his partner. Benson smiled and accepted flowers. She gave her date a kiss on the cheek, and Stabler tried hard to fade into the floor. He should have gone the other way.

"You look great. Are you ready?" Beecher asked. His hair was cut short now, and he'd exchanged his jeans for a casual suit that was tailored, no doubt. A stylish cane completed the outfit, and he didn't even glance at Stabler.

"More than." Benson laughed, and they went out arm and arm. Stabler hesitated, and then he went to see who was driving.

"Damn! Look at that limo!" Munch exclaimed from behind him. "Benson's moving up in the world."

Stabler shrugged. "Money isn't everything."

"No, but it's a lot of everything," Fin said. "Who's her date?"

Stabler kept his mouth shut. Munch spoke up though. "Some guy with money and a pretty girl."

"Don't you guys have lives?" Stabler started for his car. Munch and Fin didn't seem to hear him, and Stabler made sure his car didn't follow the limo. Benson went on lots of dates, but it didn't mean anything, not to her. The drive home took forever, and he wasn't sure he wanted to go at all. His house was cold and dark, and he didn't bother to turn on the lights. He sat in the shadows with the remnants of his old life around him.

*********

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