by Riley Cannon
Title: Been There, Done That
Author: Riley Cannon
Rating: PG-13 to eventual NC-17
Disclaimers: I don't own any of the
characters or concepts from Oz or Dead Again; Tom Fontana, HBO, Kenneth Branagh, and Paramount do. I am only borrowing everything for my own special, non-profit purposes of suspense, angst, and romance. Some dialogue is taken straight from the movie, although given some tweaking to come closer to the Ozzie's speech patterns. And the usual warnings: UST, sap/romance, angst, m/m situations.
Summary: This is my response to Dargie's challenge on the TS list to rewrite a movie with the folk from OZ. My pick is the 1991 thriller, "Dead Again." Expect a lot of divergences from the original plot, although I will do my darnedest to keep all the good parts. <g>
Chris Keller, private investigator, is called to St. Audrey's School for Boys by Sister Peter Marie Reimondo and Father Ray Mukada, to help them out with a dilemma they have on their hands. The dilemma is a man -- mid-30s, blondish-red hair, blue eyes, snub nose -- who climbed over their fence the other night and has taken up residence. He can't speak, or won't, he's suffering from amnesia, and when he falls asleep at night he has horrific nightmares that end with another man, in another time, apparently murdering him. The place is Los Angeles; the time is 1998 -- and 1948. Many liberties are taken with the movie's plot in order to get more out of it all, but the gist of everything is there.
Note on the casting: Some roles were obvious, some less so, and I let myself have a bit of fun with that. In a couple of instances I don't stick as closely to the canon characterizations as I normally try to in even the wackiest AU, but hopefully allowances will be kindly made <g>.
Song lyrics from "Lush Life" by Billy Strayhorn; Nat "King" Cole had a really lovely version of it.
The scene was drained of color, only shadowed black and white. Newsprint was plastered everywhere, headlines shouting of murder, of arrest and trial -- and execution. A famous composer, Nicholas Asher, had murdered his lover, a man named Jordan Reid. He had offered no defense and had been duly condemned by a jury of his peers. All of the articles were written by a man named Miguel Alvarez.
There was sound now, a man's voice was singing something soft and melancholy:
"I'll forget you, I will
And yet you are still
Burning inside my brain
Romance is mush
And it stifles those who strive
Well I'll live a lush life in some small dive And I, I'll be alright with the rest
All those whose lives are lonely too..."
The only accompaniment to his voice is the snip-snip-snip of a pair of scissors. A man, a prison guard, holds them and he's trimming the man's dark hair. The door of the prison cell opens and another man enters. He's dark, clad in a white suit, black tie.
The prisoner, Nicholas Asher, looks at him and speaks, "Come on in, Mr. Alvarez," as if inviting him to some minor social gathering. "As you can see," he indicates the newsprint that papers the walls of his cell, "I've become quite a fan of yours." His hawk-like features are watchful, but there is an air to him -- an animation to him -- that seems out of place in a man about to die.
"I'm flattered," Alvarez says, taking off his hat and sitting down, putting a cigarette to his lips. "Is that why you asked me to come to death row, Mr. Asher? To tell me you're a fan of mine?"
"I'd like you to print something. I mean, after all, you're so good at that." There's a mocking note in his voice as he leans toward Alvarez -- who looks a little uncertain of what all is going on. "I'd like you to print that I said, 'I loved Jordan Reid.'"
Alvarez looks skeptical, a little cynical as he puffs on his cigarette. "You loved Jordan Reid," he repeats, obviously doubting that.
"And that I'll love him forever."
"Of course, forever." Alvarez believes this, but finds it...odd. "All right."
"Thank you, Mr. Alvarez." Asher sits back, seeming satisfied.
Alvarez leans forward now. "Aren't you afraid to die?"
It would seem not, for Asher says, "To die is different from what anyone supposes. And luckier."
Alvarez sits back, shakes his head, and smirks a little. "That a line from your opera?"
But Asher laughs, quietly. "It's Walt Whitman," he says. "I can't take credit for everything, Mr. Alvarez."
And Alvarez takes a long draw on his cigarette and thinks Nicholas Asher means something more than what he's said. "You really believe that you're lucky to die?" Maybe that makes sense, though, Alvarez thinks, when you've killed someone you loved.
"What I believe, Mr. Alvarez," Asher sounds and looks very certain now, "is that all this is far from over."
"But you still killed him, didn't you, Mr. Asher?" Alvarez prefers to stick to what he knows, facts.
Asher rises from his chair and leans close to Alvarez, as if whispering something in his ear as the guard looks on. Alvarez pulls back, a look of surprise on his features now.
"Okay, Asher," the guard says, "time to go."
He doesn't protest as guards lead him from this cell and down the long prison corridor lined with other cells, men jeering at him. Alavarez stands and watches him go, then looks around the again, brushes aside the dark locks of hair that cover the latest edition of his newspaper where Asher's execution today is heralded in bold and strident print. He frowns, noticing something -- the scissors, where are the scissors? He runs out, after Asher and the guards, shouting as Asher nears a group of people waiting, one of them a slim, blond man.
Asher looks at the blond man and raises the scissors, declaring, "These are for you!" -----
No? Then why is he gripped by such terror?
Father Ray Mukada stood at the big window of his office here in St. Audrey's Home For Boys, looking out at the man sitting by himself in the shade of a tree while Sister Alice supervised the boys playing soccer on the lawn. The man seemed oblivious to his surroundings, drawn into himself. Ray was not unsympathetic to his situation and could well imagine how hellish it must feel, not even knowing who you were, but all the same St. Audrey's simply could not take in every stray that came along.
He turned to look at Sister Peter Marie who was saying, "We found him two nights ago, trying to get inside by climbing over the fence. Since then he hasn't spoken a word. He won't eat. And when he does sleep he has violent nightmares."
"Call the police," Ray said, his sympathies for this lost soul warring with the practicalities of his responsibility in running this place.
"They've already been here, Father," Sister Pete told him. "They want to take him down to County Hospital."
Ray nodded, sighing. That was the practical thing, wasn't it, lock this poor man away in some psych ward. He sat down behind his desk as Sister Pete, also taking a seat, continued:
"Last night I heard the man call this word out in his sleep," she took a piece of paper from her pocket and unfolded it, showing it to him.
Ray leaned over, reading the word, "Dysher?"
He shook his head. "Sounds like nothing to me."
Ray stubbornly shook his head. "The man belongs downtown." If that was not an ideal solution, well, how was that different from anything else in life? This man had to have a family, friends somewhere who were looking for him; the authorities were the ones who knew how to handle that, how to bring about the desired reunion.
"Father," Sister Pete wasn't about to let it go, of course, "every night before he goes to bed he blocks his door with a chair. And if you had only heard this man scream--"
"Sister, I don't have to hear him scream." Oh, no? Ray chided himself.
"I will not abandon this man, Father," Sister Pete declared, her tone and manner implacable.
"He's not spending another night here -- and that's final," Ray returned, striving for that same implacability; somehow nuns always carried it off better, though. And with that thought he knew he had reached the point of concession. "But I see no reason why we can't have someone look for his family in the meantime." He reached for the phone book, turning to the Yellow Pages, knowing just the person for the job.
Practicalities dawning on her at last, Sister Pete said, "But, Father, we don't have the money to hire anybody."
Ray smiled, finding the page he'd been looking for. "The man I'm thinking of will do it for nothing," he told her and saw enlightenment dawn on her face.
"I hope he can help," Sister Pete said, getting up and going back to the window.
Ray joined her, watching the man sitting out there. "So do I."
He longed for someone to enfold him in his or her arms, to take away this feeling of bewildered loss. To soothe away these fears and worries that plagued him.
He closed his eyes, turning his face up to the sun, aching to go home. Aching to know where home was.
"Shouldn't you have a secretary to answer your phone?" Fr. Ray Mukada's voice came over the line, a smile in it. "Some bleached blonde, chewing gum and wearing her sweaters too tight?"
"Yeah, and just what would you know about bleached blondes in tight sweaters? You been watching too many old movies." Chris settled a hip on his desk. "Hiya, Padre. What's up?"
"Hi, Chris. Listen, we've got a little situation out here at St. Audrey's. This man turned up a couple days ago -- no ID, can't remember who he is or where he comes from, can't speak, or won't. The police have been out but their solution is to take him to the psych ward and Sister Pete won't stand for that. I was wondering if you could help us out."
Chris smiled at the mention of Sister Pete and could well imagine the chewing out she must have given Ray if this was something she felt passionate about. "Yeah, sure, I can come check him out. You think he's faking?"
"I don't honestly know, Chris. Sister Pete thinks not."
"OK, I'll see what I can do. This a rush job?" he asked, checking his watch again.
"Well, if possible I'd like to have him out of here by tonight. I know that sounds callous, but you know the rules."
Yep, he did. "OK. I'll swing by this afternoon. I have a couple other jobs to take of first."
"All right, that sounds fine. See you then."
"Yeah." Chris hung up and went out again, putting the top down on his red sports car before he got in, heading over to the Morales bodega, where he hoped to find one Ryan O'Reily -- defrocked psychiatrist. Or whatever you called a shrink who'd lost his license because he'd been boinking his clients.
Dedicated to Portia, for digging through the backlog of fanfic and bringing this one back to mind. It hadn't drifted too far away, but her appreciative nudges were a great incentive to get cracking on it once more.
Parked across the street from the Morales bodega, Chris took off his sunglasses as he punched up the newspaper's number. "Hey, that ad I wanted you to run on Ryan O'Reily?" he started before Sean Murphy even got a chance to say hello. "You can drop it."
"Yeah? You found the guy?" Sean said, the sound of rustling paper in the background.
"Got a lead on him," Chris confirmed, squinting over at the market as people went in and out.
"Okay." The sound of a piece of paper being crumpled up carried over the line then. "One missing person ad canceled. Hey," Sean switched gears in the next breath, "how'd it go with Gloria? Genevieve's been asking."
He'd been afraid of that. Popping a stick of gum in his mouth, Chris said, "Has she called?"
"Listen, whatever she says, don't take it too seriously," Chris said, feeling a bit defensive. Blind dates were always a mistake, at least in his experience. "We went out," he added, chewing, the spearmint flooding his mouth, "had some lunch--"
"Went back to her place," Sean finished, like he was pretty familiar with the routine. "You seeing her again?"
"No." Chris surprised himself with how definite he sounded about that. "Listen, tell Genevieve there's nothing the matter with her cousin, Gloria's great. There just weren't any, you know ... sparks." He made a face as he said that, knowing it had to sound pretty lame.
"Sparks -- he wants sparks." Murphy's voice was rich with dubious amusement. "Maybe you'd like 'em to go ding-ding-ding I'm Miss Right, too?"
"Yeah, I'm not looking for Miss Right, I'm looking for Miss Right Now," Chris said, wanting to wrap up this conversation. "Listen, I gotta go talk to O'Reily. Catch ya later, Sean." He slipped the phone in his pocket and put his shades back on as he crossed the street to the bodega, where a clerk directed him back to the cooler to find O'Reily.
"Ryan O'Reily?" he said, pushing through a door and regarding the figure seated over on a crate. "Chris Keller."
"Fuck you -- I'm on a break." O'Reily was swaddled in a sweater and coat, with a knit cap pulled down over his ears. He was wearing gloves with the fingers cut out, and those fingers were holding a cigarette. Chris chewed his gum just a bit faster as he tried to ignore how O'Reily looked like he was really enjoying that cigarette. He also tried not to look at the pack of Marlboro's just sitting there, so close he could reach out and touch them.
Not that he wanted to. Uh-uh, no way. Three weeks, two days ... seventeen hours of being nicotine free; he was in the homestretch now. He was only taking a few steps closer to O'Reily to better conduct their business, not to partake of any second-hand smoke.
"O'Reily," he took off his sunglasses again and tucked them away, taking out a notebook and pen now, "I've been retained by the law firm of Giles and Van Dyke to tell you Vernon T. Schillinger died last month.
Sharp, intelligent hazel eyes full of attitude looked back at him. "Who the fuck's--"
"He was a patient of yours."
"I've had lots of patients. Beat it." Chris watched as O'Reily put out one cigarette and lit another, biting his lip and chewing his gum with more vigor as just the teeny, tiniest twinge of a craving gnawed at him. O'Reily squinted over at him with a blend of suspicion and interest that made Chris feel uncomfortably like a bug under inspection, as if that shrewd gaze had the power to discover all his secrets.
Which was totally nuts, and Chris hastily refocused his attention on the business at hand. "Yeah, well, this one left you eleven thousand dollars," Chris said, watching comprehension dawn in those eyes.
"Oh, hey, yeah -- Vern!"
"Yeah," Chris said, not smiling.
"Vernon T. Schillinger."
"Uh-huh. Plumber's contractor, lived in San Merino with his wife," he held his pen in his mouth for a second as he checked his notes, "Arlene or Charlene."
"Arlene. Yeah. She must be very lonely right now," O'Reily said, the mercenary gleam in his eye taking on a more thoughtful aspect now. "Geez, eleven thousand, that's a lot of grateful. That's--" He paused, those sharp eyes focused right on him now. "You want a cigarette?" he said, indicating the pack of Marlboro's.
"No. No, I don't smoke," Chris said, chewing even more briskly.
"Yeah? Huh, by my count you've looked at this pack three times in the last minute."
Edgy resentment coloring his voice, Chris said, "What is this?" Geez, track a guy down to perform a good deed and all you got was hassled. And over something that wasn't even an issue anymore.
"Yeah, and you're fiddling with the pen like it's a cigarette," O'Reily pointed out.
Chris quit tapping it against his lips and put it and his notebook away. "You help Vernon Schillinger quit smoking?" he said, wanting to get back on topic and skip the psychoanalyzing. If he wanted that he'd go stretch out on someone's couch and pay them a hundred bucks an hour.
"No. Vern was impotent," O'Reily said, settling back on his crate. "Imagine that, huh? Guy lays pipe for a living and can't get it up at home."
"Yeah, well, Vern must've had a hell of a hard-on when he made out his will."
"Hey, thumbdick," O'Reily popped back, pissed, "I was a damn good shrink. Eight and a half years -- I worked with a lot of people through a lot of shit. Okay, I slept with a patient or two," a defensive note in his voice now, "it's not like I didn't care about them."
"Okay," Chris said mildly, wanting to get the job over and get out of there. Removing himself from the too-tempting allure of a cigarette, or from O'Reily's too on-target observations? Yes, well, he would think about that later.
O'Reily wasn't quite done, however. "I loved being a shrink. I used to not charge half my patients. Then the fuckin' state comes along, they send some bitch undercover -- and I'm fucked. Ain't fair, is it?"
"What the fuck is? Listen," Chris took a card out of his shirt pocket and handed it over, "why don't you call Giles and Van Dyke, okay? Set up an appointment, go in and sign the paperwork -- they'll cut you a check for the eight thousand right there."
"Excuse me -- what happened to the eleven thousand?"
"Well," Chris smiled, turning to leave, "eleven minus my commission. Unless you got a problem with that, Sigmund." His hand was on the door, pulling it open, when O'Reily called after him:
"Yeah?" He turned back, waiting as O'Reily studied him again.
"Someone's either a smoker or a non-smoker," O'Reily said, a friendlier tone in his voice and manner now, giving a real hint of what had made him successful, "there's no in-between. The trick is to find which one you are and be that."
Oh, yeah, some New Age-type crap was really helpful. Still, he supposed O'Reily meant well. "I'm trying to quit," Chris said, ready to be out of here.
"Don't tell me you're trying to quit. People who say they're trying to quit are just pussies who can't commit. Find out which one you are and be that. That's it. If you're a non-smoker, you'll know."
"Yeah, thanks. Send me a bill," Chris said, getting away at last, adding under his breath, "Fucking fruitcake."
That was something to cross off his to-do list anyway, and he might as well go out to St. Audrey's and see what Sister Pete and Ray had for him. With any luck it would be a no-brainer he could wrap up in no time.
He paused on the landing, looking out the window and watching as a red, convertible sports car drove up to the front and parked. A tall, dark man wearing sunglasses got out and ran briskly up the steps, confidence in every movement. It must be good to feel that, to know who you were and what you should be doing.
Sighing, he turned and continued along the hallway, his sense of comfort and ease beginning to diminish the closer he got to one room, down at the end of the hall, seemingly indistinguishable from all the others. A real sense of anxiety settled over him as he stood there in the doorway, looking in at the converted bedroom. The room was crowded with bunk beds, a couple of small desks, school books, a baseball glove sitting on a dresser, sneakers tossed in a corner -- all the paraphernalia of a typical 12-year-old boy. For a moment, though, as he stood there and looked in, he saw something very different. A memory of this room flashed through his mind. He could see the elegant and luxurious furnishings from another time -- all of it spattered with blood.
Jesus. He blinked, shook his head, and backed away, going back to the head of the stairs and sitting down there, arms wrapped around his knees as that forlorn sense of loss swept over him again.
That fucker O'Reily would no doubt brilliantly deduce his liking his privacy and being kind of particular about anyone messing with his things stemmed from all those years here at St. Audrey's. He thought about that as he pulled up in front of the house and got out. Well, he couldn't deny there might be something to that argument. It had certainly contributed to his choice of career, specializing in finding missing persons. What would O'Reily make of the rest of it, though, the way it felt like he was coming home every time he visited St. Audrey's?
He ran up the steps and let himself in, smiling as he saw Sister Pete walking towards him. "Hey, Sister."
"Hello, Chris." Her smile was warm as ever, her hand gentle but firm as she patted his arm. That was what he always remembered about her, how she'd never let him get away with any nonsense but had never resorted to fear or intimidation to bring him around. Christ knew he had to have tried her patience, too, especially those last years of angst-ridden adolescence. She was one of his constants, a touchstone he could rely on, unchanging through the years even if her hair was more gray than black now and some lines scored her face.
"So, whatcha got, Sister?" he said as a trio of 10-year-olds tore past with a soccer ball, a frazzled Sister Alice in hot pursuit.
Pete watched the quartet vanish out the front door, giving her head a rueful shake. "That brings back memories," she said, leading him back to the staff bedrooms. "I wish I knew, Chris," she went on after a moment. "I've never seen anyone so lost, so troubled."
"Could he have spent some time here? Maybe that's what drew him back?"
She gave her head a definite shake. "No. He's about the same age as you and Ray and would have been here at the same time. I never forget any of my boys."
He could believe that. "Are these his things?" he said as Pete let him into a small, tidy room - the only things out of place were the pile of freshly laundered clothes folded on a chair, and a brown leather jacket slung over the back.
"Yes. Those were the things he was wearing when he showed up. There's no wallet, though, nothing in the pockets." She shook her head again and sighed, patting his arm once more. "Have you handled many amnesia cases?"
"Not lately. Had a couple when I was working missing persons. One kid," he frowned, picking up the jacket to examine it. Instead of the brown leather, though, he was seeing Louise Walker, twelve-years-old and rail thin, staring at him and his partner with those huge, lost eyes. "She might have been better off never remembering." He shook the memory off. No sense dwelling on little Louise now.
Giving him one of those looks, like she sensed something was troubling him, Pete patted his arm again and said, "Well, I'll go find him."
"Okay." She went out and Chris brought his mind back to the few articles of clothing, maybe his only tangible clues in the case. The jacket was comfortably broken in but in good shape, and was the only item that really stood out. Everything else - khaki pants, a white oxford with narrow blue pinstripes - was generic, straight from The Gap. He picked up a glove, left hand only, and looked it over. It was a lot like the ones he wore when he rode his bike. That might be a clue. This guy hadn't been beamed down here from a spaceship, after all. Wherever he came from, he arrived by some conventional means and that gave Chris at least one place to start looking. Just find out what abandoned cars or motorcycles around here had been impounded in the past couple of days and match vehicle to owner. Hey, this was L.A. - there couldn't be, like, more than five, ten thousand of those, right?
He shook his head and turned at a sound in the doorway, seeing Sister Pete back with their John Doe - and for a second there Chris thought he could feel his heart skipping a beat. Jesus, the guy was a knock out. That was all Chris could think for those few moments, standing there and staring at him. Almost as tall as him, John Doe was lean and, Chris guessed, built better than you could really tell in the borrowed, baggy sweater and jeans he had on. His hair was blond, or maybe kind of red, it was hard to tell in this light, and combed back from his forehead, curling on the nape of his neck. And his eyes - watchful, cautious and intelligent - were the color of the sky.
Pete discretely cleared her throat, bringing John Doe into the room and trying to introduce them. "This is Chris Keller. He's a private detective who specializes in finding missing persons and is going to help you."
Those blue eyes looked from Sister Pete to Chris, understanding showing clearly in them - along with a good dose of skepticism. Still, he nodded his head, like he was willing to give this a shot.
In his shoes, Chris guessed his optimism wouldn't exactly be soaring, either.
He watched Chris Keller as they drove along, glad to have something new to focus on. And it was very, very easy to zero in on Mr. Keller.
When that nun, Sister Peter Marie, had found him and told him a private detective was here to see him, an image had flashed through his head of ... he didn't know what, exactly, some scruffy-looking guy wearing a wrinkled raincoat and smoking a cigar. Had he ever known someone like that, or was it just something he'd seen on television once? Christ knew. Whatever the case, that image couldn't have been more different from Chris Keller.
About his age, but an inch or so taller, Keller's snug, faded blue jeans and white shirt hinted at a pretty impressive body. Keller had taken off his sports coat as they had left the house, and rolled up his sleeves just before getting behind the wheel of the car. That had proven to be a pleasant diversion, studying those forearms, the hands that gripped the wheel -- not as broad as his, the fingers longer, more tapered. It was easy to drink in the striking profile, too. Chiseled, aquiline -- he thought those were the words he wanted. Handsome would do, though. Did that mean something? he wondered. Or was he only objectively admiring the other man the way you might do a work of art?
And why did he know how someone might look at art but didn't know his own name?
He sighed, glancing out at the traffic around them, but soon turned his attention back to Keller, wishing he'd take off his sunglasses so he could see those extraordinary blue eyes again.
The handsome head gave him a sideways look, white teeth flashing in a quick smile that made deep-set dimples appear. "Anything ringing a bell?"
He looked around again, at the traffic and the people, the buildings, and shook his head. Nothing.
"We'll figure it out," Keller said, sounding sure of himself. "Sister Pete'll have my hide otherwise."
The words were spoken with affection, and he had already observed there was a closeness between Keller and Sister Peter Marie. As they had sat over coffee while Keller and Sister Peter Marie talked about him and what do to do with him, he had gathered Keller was one of her boys. That he'd grown up here with that priest, Father Mukada. Apparently much mischief had ensued, but Sister Peter Marie remained very fond of Keller and the priest.
He'd bet that was good, too, to have someone who remembered you fondly. Thinking about that, he sighed again, feeling a new surge of frustration at this whole goddamn situation.
He looked over as Keller gave him another look, reaching over to pat his shoulder. He was glad the other man didn't feel compelled to say anything, especially something as feeble as, 'It'll be all right.'
They pulled up and parked outside a building -- L.A. Gazette, it said -- and Keller got out, rolling his sleeves back down and putting his coat on again, while he explained how there was a guy here at the paper who might be able to help them out. Was that who Keller had stepped out to call, back at the house? Well, whatever the case, he was glad one of them saw a few flickers of light at the end of the tunnel, and followed along to an office with the name Sean Murphy on the door.
Keller went right on in without knocking and the man sitting behind the cluttered desk didn't seem to mind that. The man - Murphy, he supposed -- greeted Keller like they were old friends, saying, "So this the John Doe you called about?" Murphy said, turning curious but sympathetic dark eyes his way now.
"Yeah," Keller said, pushing some of the clutter out of the way and perching there on the edge of the desk as he popped another stick of gum in his mouth. Keller ran down the gist of the story -- there really wasn't much more than a gist, of course -- and said he'd appreciate it if Murphy would take some photos, the usual drill. Apparently this was a long-standing arrangement between the men.
He wondered how Keller and Murphy knew each other, how long they had been friends. Murphy was a little older, a little bigger, good looking in his own way, but somehow not holding the same level of fascination for him as Keller did. So maybe it was just some kind of artistic appreciation.
He posed for the pictures, mostly enjoying the easy conversation between the two friends. It did, however, emphasize how much of an outsider he was, even more than in the usual way, and that kept troubling thoughts hovering in the vicinity.
As they were finishing up, Murphy unexpectedly said, "You know, I had amnesia once," and Keller rolled his eyes. "It's true. You remember that case a few years back, guy had chopped up his whole family one fine day? I was the shooter, snapping away as the crime scene boys did their work, then Detective Yood opens up the freezer, calls me over for a look -- the guy'd put the heads in there," Murphy said, shaking his own head. "Next thing I know, I'm down at the hospital, don't know who I am or what the fuck's happened, and some shrink's there saying I'm suffering from traumatic amnesia."
"Murph," Keller was giving him an exasperated look, "yeah, I remember the case, but I don't think that's exactly what you'd call appropriate in the circumstances."
"Hey, I'm just illustrating for our friend here that you do get over it. What happened was," Murphy went on, looking at him again, "I was sent home on paid leave, and I'm hanging around my house, not even recognizing my wife and kids," he gestured at a framed photo on the desk of a pretty brunette and two kids, a boy and girl. "Not until this one morning when I wake up and there's my little girl, Katie, looking at me and saying, 'I love you, Daddy.' Just like that -- swoosh -- it all came back."
Not entirely sure how to digest this story, he looked over at Keller, appreciating the look of rueful commiseration in those blue eyes. Murphy meant well, of course, but taken all in all, if the reason he couldn't remember anything was connected to something like decapitated and frozen heads, he might like to stay in the dark about that.
"Yeah, well," Keller was saying, "in order for anything like that to happen with our friend here, first we have to hook him up with someone who knows him. So - how soon can you run the ad?"
Murphy checked his watch. "Ah, yeah, I can get it in the late edition. It'll hit the streets first thing in the morning."
"Okay, that sounds good. I owe you, Sean."
"Ahhh," Murphy waved it off. "Offer me dibs on exclusive photos of the heartfelt reunion, maybe we'll talk about it." It was hard to tell if he was being serious about that or not. "What's next on the agenda?"
With a troubled look in his eyes - a guilty one, too, as he glanced over at him - Keller said, "I find our friend a place to stay tonight then hit the internet and see if anyone's looking for him. You know," Keller shrugged, "the usual."
"Yeah," Murphy said, like he understood completely. Those dark eyes held a trace of concern, glancing over at him. "You got no other option? That's a hell of a place to put someone."
"What's the alternative?" Keller said, like he didn't believe there was one.
He really wished he knew what they were talking about because he had the funniest feeling he wouldn't like it.
Even so, as he turned in at the hospital, feeling those sky blue eyes drilling him, he felt like a guy who'd just kicked a lost puppy.
Damn it, this was just a job. It never paid to get personally involved, he'd learned that the hard way. John would be fine here; he'd get checked out by the docs, and his wife or folks or someone would see his picture in the paper tomorrow and everything would be wrapped up neat and tidy. Chris was being practical, not fucking heartless.
So - why did he feel guilt gnawing away in his belly, trying not to meet those blue eyes as they made their way through the hospital? Why did it kick him right in the gut to see the guy silently imploring him not to do this as they rode up in an elevator to the psych ward?
Chris looked away, around the elevator car, nodding at a uniformed police officer who was escorting a guy in cuffs. The guy looked back, looked past him to John and caught his eye, raising his manacled hands and - geez, what the fuck? Was he biting his arm? Oh Christ... The guy lowered his arms, the flesh of his inner forearm torn and bleeding, blood smearing his mouth as he grinned at them and winked at John.
"Robson," the uniform said as the elevator stopped, "knock it the fuck off." He sounded more tired than pissed off, though, as he shared a look with Chris that said, `What can you expect with psychos?'
It wasn't any better outside the elevator car - patients carried on while harried staff and security tried to maintain some kind of control, all of it like something straight out of your worst nightmares. Chris could feel John pressed close to him. And there was no way to avoid those beseeching eyes now, pleading with Chris not to go off and leave him here.
Fucking Christ. He sighed, watching some crazy woman go charging by with a pair of scissors, a nurse and two orderlies after her - and felt John tense up, gripping his arm, hard.
"Okay, we're out of here," he told John, giving him a reassuring smile and taking his arm as he guided him back to the elevator.
Damn, he knew he shouldn't have answered the phone this morning.
John looked like he was thinking that over, then gave his blond head a nod.
"You mind if we stop somewhere and get something, `cause my cupboards are kinda bare?" Doing some shopping had been on his to-do list, but there just hadn't been time earlier and he wasn't in the mood to fuss with that this evening.
John shrugged, indicating eating out was fine by him.
Chris considered stopping in at Eugenia's. Curiosity would likely be aroused, though, and he had a feeling John might prefer to skip playing twenty questions with Eugenia and Augustus just at the moment. God knew he wasn't in the mood. So... Stopped at a light, Chris looked across the street, saying, "Micky D's okay with you?"
John looked over at the golden arches, too, and shrugged again.
"I'll take that as a yes," Chris said, pulling over there. "You wanna go inside?"
He looked at the restaurant, all brightly lit, crowded with kids and adults, probably noisy, and gave his blond head a negative shake this time.
Chris grinned. "Okay, we'll use the drive-through."
When they had their burgers, fries and Cokes, Chris headed on for home, watching John check everything, curiosity eating him up as Chris led him inside and then out on the deck. Chris set the food out on the table there, light from the living room spilling out. "You can snoop to your heart's content later," Chris told him, "get some food in you."
John cast him a snippy sort of look, like it would never cross his mind to snoop, and sat down at the table, reaching for one of the burgers.
"You want some music on?" Chris said, munching a fry.
One headshake: no.
Chris nodded to himself, not sure why the silence was bugging him. He was used to not having any company while he chowed down here. Well, that was it, he guessed. It was unusual to have someone around but keeping so quiet. It wasn't bad, though, just sitting out there, watching the sunset over the Pacific as they ate, with only some crickets providing a soundtrack. Even better was not feeling pressure to keep up a stream of meaningless small talk.
He felt John tugging at his sleeve and gave him a curious look. "What?" he said, watching as the blond went Marcel Marceau on him. "Ah," John was holding his left hand flat, making writing motions with the right, "you want something to write with?"
One headshake: yes.
"Okay." He pulled his coat around and rummaged through the pockets, coming up with his notebook and pen and handing them over. Huh. He had all kinds of things in pockets, but John's had been empty. And, all right, a woman might lose her purse easily enough, but how did a guy lose his wallet unless he'd been mugged or something? And that one, left-handed glove - Chris thought about that as he watched John scribbling something. That could mean something. John was a right-hander. So he'd taken the right-hand glove off to do something, something that required more dexterity. Like...? Yeah, well, he'd keep giving it some thought. "Whatcha got there?" he said as the blond handed him the notebook, reading: Why are you doing this?
He shrugged. "It's my job." That didn't look like enough of an answer for John, though, and Chris went on, "I guess you could say I have a natural inclination to matching missing persons up with their loved ones again, on account of my own background."
John took the notebook back, scribbled again, showed it to him: And what is that?
"Well, I never knew my biological parents, and the couple who adopted me died pretty soon after, all I ever had was Sister Pete and St. Audrey's." He took a bite of his burger, washed it down with some Coke and shrugged, adding, "I went through a phase where I was tryin' to find my birth mother, wanting to know who she was and why she'd just gone off and left me. Never did, but it pushed me to join the LAPD and do what I could to help other folks out there."
John gave him a surprised look and scribbled again: You were a cop?
"Yep. That's how I met Murphy - he was a crime scenes photographer back then."
More scribbles: Why did you leave the force?
Chris shrugged, looking out towards the ocean which was gleaming black under the dark sky now. "There was this kid, Louise." A corner of his mouth quirked up with a bitter, ironic smile. "She had amnesia, too. It was my job to figure out who she was and put her back with her family. Trouble is," he sighed, "what'd brought on the amnesia was her dad's special surprise on her birthday... Look, we gotta talk about this?"
John shrugged, giving him a sympathetic look.
After a moment, Chris sighed, scrunching down in his chair a bit. "He'd raped her. Only we couldn't get the fucking grand jury to indict the sonofabitch, and social services was overworked, and we had to send her back there, to him. Next time I saw Louise was two years later. She and her dad were in the morgue. She'd shot him, then used the gun on herself. Working in the criminal justice system seemed what you'd call redundant after that." He shrugged again, finished his fries. "I handed in my detective's shield and went private."
Looking like he could understand that, John reached over and patted his arm.
Wanting to change the subject, Chris said, "So, you ready to get working on figuring out who you are?"
That got an enthusiastic nod, and John helped gather up the trash and dump it in the trashcan in the kitchen, trailing along as Chris went over to his desk and turned on the computer. "What I'm going to start with," Chris told him, "is checking some missing persons web sites - starting local, L.A., San Diego, on up north - and see if anyone's looking for you. Tomorrow, if there's no immediate response to that ad Sean's running, I'll call someone I know down at the DMV and see if any vehicles have been found abandoned in the general vicinity of St. Audrey's. Unless you live right there somewhere, I don't think you got there on foot."
John nodded, like that made sense to him, and stood at his shoulder, watching as the computer did it's stuff - or as it started to. A site was just starting to load when a warning popped up that an illegal procedure had been performed and the system would be shut down, with the monitor promptly going to a blank, blue screen.
"Fuck." Chris thumped the monitor as if that might help, then gave John a curious look as the blond leaned over his shoulder and then pushed at him, like he wanted him to get out of the way for a minute. Having some doubts, but figuring what the hell, Chris got up and relinquished his seat, watching as John rebooted and then methodically checked things out, getting everything running tip-top in a few minutes.
"Okay," Chris said as he sat down there again, "I guess we can put `has computer experience' under known facts. Thanks."
John shrugged like it was no big deal and went over to start exploring the shelves, taking out CDs and books and videos, looking them over, examining other assorted doodads as Chris went down the list, checking the LAPD website's list of missing persons and then moving on when none of the photos were of anyone looking remotely like John. That probably would have been way too easy, all right.
By the time he'd checked the NYPD web site and one based in the U.K., Chris was about ready to call it a night. He shut down the computer and went over to join John who had settled on the sofa by now, surfing through the TV channels. It looked like he'd gotten engrossed in that old Hitchcock movie, Dial M for Murder, and he gave Chris a curious, hopeful look at he sat down beside him.
Chris shook his head. "Sorry, I couldn't find anything. I'll keep trying."
The resigned look in those blue eyes was accompanied by a wistful little sigh, but he didn't seem too disappointed.
Making himself comfortable beside him, Chris was pretty sure he shouldn't be enjoying the way their shoulders were pressed together as they watched the movie. No personal involvement, he reminded himself. That never turned out well, especially in a situation like this. Geez, for all they knew the guy had a wife and six kids missing him somewhere.
And what kind of sense did it make for him to feel some pangs of resentment toward that imagined wife?
He shook that off, giving John an interested look. "You think you've seen this movie before?"
John glanced at him, shrugged again.
He shook his head no.
"It's a good one," Chris said, watching as Grace Kelly stood at the desk, all unsuspecting, then fighting for her life as her would-be murderer came up behind her and tried to strangle her. The next instant John was sitting up straight, eyes wide, face draining of color as Grace Kelly found the scissors and plunged them into her attacker. "What's wrong, what is it?" he said, turning to face him, laying a hand on his shoulder, feeling how rigid the muscles were.
The wide blues eyes just stared back at him, filled with apprehension.
Feeling helpless and hating the feeling, Chris grabbed up the remote and changed the channel, settling on a late Dodgers-Braves game, Atlanta already way out ahead in the bottom of the third inning. "Why don't we watch this, huh? I'll be the only getting nightmares, then," he added with a quick smile.
John D. nodded, trying to settle back down, but Chris had the feeling it was going to be one of those really long nights.
And dedicated to Teresa S.; hope you enjoy it and sorry for the long delay in getting it out.
"Got something!" one of the crime scenes guys down the hillside called out and Detective Pierce Taylor, Robbery-Homicide Division, went over to take a look. He didn't exactly have one of those moments of perfect clarity, however, the kind where one glance at an object made all the facts fall into place and the answer light up in flashing neon. Going seventy-two hours with no sleep, fueled on bad coffee and junk food might have something to do with that.
"That it?" he said, looking at the objects laid out on the ground, a flashlight beam playing over them. A man's wallet, empty, a wristwatch - plain old Timex with a leather strap showing some wear, still ticking away as advertised, and a single brown leather glove. Taylor let out a snort, hoping to Christ the LAPD wasn't going to have another case hinge on a single glove. And wouldn't you know it - there were some drops of blood on it. But was it the perp's or the victim's? If there had been a perp or a victim and they weren't just chasing their tails.
Taylor pushed his hands deep in his overcoat pockets, looking out at the city from Mulholland Drive and experiencing a moment of clarity right then. The kind where he wished he'd stayed in Missing Persons. The end hadn't always been pretty there, either, but at least he and Keller'd always started off with a few facts, an idea of who they were looking for. This - he looked at the car parked there, abandoned, CSU already finding some bloodstains on the upholstery - it was that needle in a haystack thing.
And first you needed to know if there really had been a needle.
He sank back on the couch with a quiet huff, looking across the board to meet Chris' watchful and curious eyes. There were, he suspected, a great many worse things than to be a subject of interest to this man. Even better would be for that steady gaze to be far more intimate, for those deep blue eyes to examine him so thoroughly because he was more than just a puzzle to be solved.
His own gaze followed Chris as the other man stood up and walked to the kitchen, dwelling on broad shoulders and a strong back and lingering on that amazing ass, displayed to advantage in tight, faded denim. The very pleasant nature of this occupation gave him a feeling there might be one more item to scribble down in the known facts column.
It sure felt like more than artistic admiration of a particularly fine form, anyway. More than just the good vibes Keller gave off, how the other man made him want to relax and let down his guard. Of course... He would be likely to form an attachment, wouldn't he, to anyone holding out their hand in kindness right now. He might be reading more into things than was really there.
Still, did a straight guy check out another guy's ass like that? Hell if he knew. If that was only tangled up with the amnesia, though, it was a real doozy of a side effect.
He got up, returning to his earlier examination of this main room and his attempt to decipher something about Chris Keller from the display of the things he loved, the things that had captured his interest at some point. He was already curious about the range of music. The hard rock was expected. All the opera and classical took him by surprise. There were other themes that intrigued him and raised more questions about Keller - the artwork, for instance, it was all dramatic and powerful, nothing to provoke warm and fuzzy feelings. Although that Caravaggio print, The Cardsharps, brought a smile to his face as he took it in ... and drew up short. How the fuck did he know that, know that ... Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio had been one of the revolutionary figures in art, imbuing his work with a harsh naturalism that had not been widely embraced by his peers?
Christ, he knew the bio of some 17th-century painter and couldn't tell anyone his own birthday. How fucked up was that?
"John? You okay there?"
He turned to see Chris watching him, blue eyes shaded with concern. He answered with a shrug, shook his head with a wry twist of his mouth.
Chris sighed and sat back down, stretching out on the couch with an enviable sense of ease and comfort. "It'll come back to you, John," he said, head tilting a bit as if he'd spotted something. "You don't like that, do you, that name?"
Was it that obvious? He shrugged, mouth turned down to convey that no, he didn't, but what could he do about it.
"Come here," Chris patted the couch beside him.
After giving the detective a curious and thoughtful look, he settled back down beside him, watching his face.
"Names are important," Chris went on, looking very serious, "there's a lot of evidence that they can define your whole life in some pretty profound ways. Hell, who knows where I'd be today if I'd been named, say," he paused, thinking, "Clarence Zumwinkle?"
He smiled, unable to resist the sparkle in the other man's eyes.
"Could have been a whole other fate for me, just because of the name," Chris went on, scooting around on the couch to face him. "So, let's see... You could be a Bob?"
He shook his head.
"Tom, Dick, Harry?"
He shook his head more firmly.
"Hmm, how about ... Mortimer? No? Hezekiah? Orlando? Bubba?"
He gave Chris a hard and serious look, shaking his head very definitely no.
Chris laughed, slumping back against the armrest, gaze wandering around the room and stopping on the television, on the videotape sitting there, City of Angels. "Nicholas?"
He started to shake his head again but paused ... something clicking over in his head. Nicholas - flashes of a shadowy figure, a man, elegant hands, long fingers spread and waving in the air as if commanding something... a flash of a smile, a dark head tilted close to someone as if whispering in their ear... He shook his head again, leaning forward to rest his head in his hands as the whisper of a memory fled back into the darkness.
A hand, strong and gentle, rested against his back, rubbing as Chris whispered, "It's okay, it's okay,"
He wished he could feel as sure of that.
After a moment he sat back, slumping down on the cushions and giving Chris a look richly eloquent of his bewilderment.
"That name, it means something to you?"
He sighed, shrugged. Something, yes, but - he couldn't take it further than that.
"Could it be your name?"
Face scrunched up, he shook his head again, stretching over to retrieve the pad of paper and a pen and rapidly scribbling out: No, not mine. Someone I know?
Chris read it, gave him back a baffled look. "Guess we'll find out."
God, he hoped so. He took the pad back, wrote again: This is driving me nuts.
"I'll bet," Chris said with a sympathetic smile as he read. He sighed, fixing him with a thoughtful look. "Well, the only other name I can think of is Toby."
He looked back at him, head cocked dubiously. Toby who? he scribbled out.
Chris shrugged. "He was this scruffy mutt we took in at St. Audrey's. Wouldn't have won any prizes at a dog show but he was the best friend I had for a lot of years."
His first response was a huff. But, it was funny, something about the name appealed to him, it felt right no matter its origins. After another moment he replied with a grudging huff and wrote: That could be all right.
"Yeah? You could live with that?" Chris said, giving him an anxious look that was belied by the twinkle in his eye.
He wrote: As long as you don't expect me to fetch your slippers.
"Nah, no problem. You probably don't even need a flea bath."
Chris chuckled, covering his mouth as it turned into a yawn. "Maybe we should turn in, huh?" he said, the serious look on his face a genuine one now.
He looked at the clock, another of the antiques in here. Half past midnight - yes, it probably was time to sleep. Assuming he could. Assuming he didn't wake up screaming again. He nodded after a moment, knowing this was a bridge he had to get across sometime. Until he did he would never know what was on the other side.
Actually now he thought of it... "We should probably put fresh sheets on there," he nodded at the single bed before stepping back into the hall to open the linen closet.
Toby looked like he wanted to make some choice comment about his housekeeping, and Chris wished he could hear it, no matter how snarky. What did his voice sound like? What would come rushing out when that dam burst and the memories flooded back? Christ only knew, but he wanted to be there when it happened.
In the meantime, however, stripping the bed and remaking it was the task at hand and they carried it off with a quick efficiency that tickled Chris. Nuts, no doubt, as if that could be any true gauge of them making a good team. And so what if they did? This didn't last any longer than it took to figure out who Toby was and reunite him with his family. Apparently he needed to work harder at keeping that idea front and center.
He got a pair of gray sweats and a light blue t-shirt for Toby to wear, and headed back to the main room as Toby got settled in for the night. He heard the shower start up and smiled; he bet it felt good to wash away all the stresses of this day. He hoped it worked.
With everything all tidied up once more, Chris picked up the writing pad, resting his hip against the desk as he read back through Toby's last few scribbles. That had to mean something, that Toby thought he might possess some knowledge of art. Could Toby be an artist, a student? Maybe he ran a gallery? Yeah - Chris heaved a frustrated sigh, feeling the need to sourly interpose another possibility - and maybe the guy had just read a book about art and some part of his mixed up brain had retained that information. Still, it was something to check out.
Chris scratched a hand back through his hair and sighed again, more than ready to turn in and give it all a fresh shot tomorrow. He tossed the pad on the desk, turned off the lights and headed back upstairs, his step slowing as he passed the bathroom. The door was open now, light spilling into the hall, and Chris thought he might be forgiven if he stopped a moment to admire the view. Toby was standing in front of the mirror, the gray sweats riding low on slim hips and he hadn't put the t-shirt on yet, leaving a great deal of skin on display. Chris lingered on Toby's back, admiring its lines, the flex of muscle as he moved, the breadth of strong shoulders - and then frowned, feeling troubled as he made out some bruising along Toby's ribs and upper arm.
He felt a guilty jolt to his stomach as he raised his eyes and saw the way Toby was looking into the mirror. The glass had steamed over and Toby rubbed a patch clear and leaned in closer, arms braced against the counter as he stared at his reflection. It was as if he was willing that image in the mirror to give up all its secrets, and the defeat was palpable when nothing was divulged and he could only slump with the defeat of it all, fear and frustration showing so clearly in his expression.
Not knowing where you came from, who your parents were - Chris had thought that was rough, but this... Sure, he still had some question marks in his bio but he could fill in most of the blanks by now, and he had a lifetime's worth of memories to call on. He could sympathize with how Toby felt, but he was getting an idea he couldn't really know just how lousy it felt. Chris wondered if he could even bear up under it as gracefully as Toby was doing.
He cleared his throat after another moment, guilty for startling him. "Sorry. Ah - you...need anything else?"
Toby took a second to think about that before giving his head another shake and picking up the t-shirt. Chris watched with only a minor pang of regret as Toby pulled it on.
He stepped closer, though, reaching out as if to graze his fingers along the bruise that stained that pale flesh. "Did you have that, the ones on your ribs, when you showed up at St. Audrey's?"
A worried look in his light blue eyes, Toby nodded.
"No idea how got you them?"
He shrugged back, no.
Chris sighed, betting there had to be a connection, all he had to do was find a few more pieces to pop into place. Yep, piece of cake. "There anything else?" he asked, wondering if they should have stuck to at least part of the original plan and had Toby checked out by the docs.
Looking a bit embarrassed, Toby pushed the sweats down, just enough for Chris to catch a glimpse of a smooth hip and another deep bruise.
Going by his expression, Toby concurred in full.
Were the bruises evidence of an accident, or had something nastier taken place? No way to know, not yet, and no reason to kick up more worries on such slim evidence. "Well, maybe you took a tumble, whacked your head - it could be like that."
If Toby wasn't buying that he looked as if he might like to, and nodded.
"Well..." Chris shrugged as Toby went to the guest room. "Goodnight. See you in the morning." He found a smile and gave it to Toby. "Maybe it will have all come back to you by then."
Toby didn't look terribly optimistic about that, but he answered with a slight nod and a shrug and let himself into the room, closing the door after him.
Start again tomorrow. There had to be answers out there. Someone was missing this man and had to want him back. After all, Chris had only known him a few hours and already wished he could stay.
He lingered in the doorway, looking at Chris standing there, the faint light not quite disguising the weariness or the troubled look in his eyes. That only made him all the more appealing, though, that and the slightly rumpled look, with his shirttails hanging out and the white shirt mostly unbuttoned now. He didn't think he would have minded at all, either, if Chris had touched him, run those long fingers along his bruised flesh.
Trouble was, he couldn't tackle the intriguing enigma of his attraction to Mr. Keller until solving the riddle of himself. And if finding those answers meant this never could be pursued? Yes, well, worry about one thing at a time.
He nodded good night and shut the door, shooting a baleful look at the bed turned down and waiting for him. He couldn't remember when he had seen anything less inviting than that bed with its promise of nightmares. Mouth quirking with a rueful smile at that, he sighed and took another look around the room. It wasn't a surprise this was mostly used for storage. The room at St. Audrey's had been cozier and more personal; there wasn't a hint of the dynamic personality that filled the room downstairs. This was bland and generic, far more likely to discourage company than invite it.
Maybe that was the point? He thought about that as he snooped in drawers and in the closet, unable to discover any clues there. The closet held some hangers, empty, some more boxes taped shut, and that was it. The drawers were equally barren, although he did find an old Chinese take out menu in the nightstand. Could anyone blame him for thinking Keller had a few mysteries swirling around himself? A lot of conclusions to draw from a few empty drawers, true, but gut instinct was telling him there were some hidden depths to the detective.
Assuming, of course, that he could trust any kind of instinct when he knew nothing about himself. Maybe he was a notoriously lousy judge of character?
He let out a deep sigh, drawn to those boxes in the corner and unable to contain his sudden need to have a look inside. He cast a look over at the closed door, suspecting he didn't feel half as guilty as he should, and lifted a lid of the box on top to for a look. It was not what one might call a treasure trove of goodies. A few books, some office items - an old stapler, a box with two paperclips left, things you might toss in a box if you were cleaning out your desk. Digging deeper he came up with a couple of photographs, one of a much younger Chris Keller decked out in a police officer's uniform. The other was an even younger Keller, on the lawn at St. Audrey's, arms clasped around a scruffy looking dog that looked like it might have some Golden Retriever in its pedigree.
So that was Toby. He studied his four-footed namesake and had a feeling he might have a tough act to follow there.
And this dawdling was getting him nowhere.
He looked at the uninviting bed over there, hating the feeling of dread that he couldn't even pin down, and hating that he could only locate the tiniest spark of hope in the mix. Yes, of course, even if the nightmares came they had no true power to harm him; he understood that, in his head. That didn't mean it helped a lot.
But he was safe here, he felt that in the mix just as strongly. So why did it make him feel some miniscule fraction better to drag the desk chair over and wedge it against the door? No answer for that one, not yet. Once he knew who he was this would all make sense, he had to hang onto that. And maybe he could trust Chris to pick up the slack whenever his confidence faltered?
Drawing comfort from that at least, he got into bed and tried to find a comfortable spot. It would probably help if he turned out the light, huh? He could do that. There was nothing hiding in the dark that wasn't there in broad daylight, no monsters lurking under the bed to gobble him up in the night. Nope, those were waiting to spring out and grab him somewhere deep in his own mind. Which, however, did not make it any easier to reach over and click off the lamp.
Moonlight filtered through the window then, throwing mysterious shadows across the walls, but he rolled on his side and closed his eyes against them, listening to the steady rhythms of the ocean. That was good, so constant and reliable, lulling him on down into sleep. He did long for that, to rest and awaken refreshed from this nightmare.
"Toby." He reached for him, struggling to hold him still as the other man tried to fight him off. Desperate to get through to him, Chris wrapped both arms around him, holding tight, whispering over and over, "Toby, I'm here, it's okay, it's okay, you're safe, Toby, you're safe." Chris stroked his hair and held him like that, feeling the tension knotting every muscle of the man's lean body, and so slowly feeling it ease. He didn't know how long they stayed like that, that didn't matter either. What did was that the violent trembling finally eased and Toby could draw some deep, deep breaths that shuddered through him at first.
"Better?" Chris said, still stroking his hair, watching Toby turn to look at him, that blank stare of panic fading, a look of sharper awareness coming back.
Another moment, another deep and calmer breath, and Toby nodded without a lot of conviction.
Another weary nod.
"Wow," Chris murmured in sympathy, hurting for him, afraid for him. "Do you want me to leave?"
Frightened eyes gazed back at him, the blond head shaking, one of those square hands gripping his arm.
"Okay, I'll stay right here," Chris whispered. And if the answer had been no he would have parked himself in the hall outside anyway.
Toby gave a tiny nod okay and let Chris settle him back against the pillows, straighten up the covers and get him tucked snugly back inside.
Chris sat beside him, chilly in only his boxers, but not about to leave him for something warmer. He reached over to pull Toby against him, hesitating for a moment, but Toby didn't resist. In fact he breathed a small, tired sigh as he rested there, head dropped against Chris' shoulder.
Hand cupped around the back of Toby's head, fingers threading the silky hair, Chris listened to his breathing grow softer and slower, and hoped the rest of the night would bring some sweeter dreams.
~to be continued~