by Riley Cannon
Title: Come in from the Rain
Author: Riley Cannon, with much input from Danielle Subject: B/K; canon-based extreme AU (Toby went to Oz, Chris never did); still rated PG-13 here (and for quite a long time to come yet) Feedback: Yes
Archived at Unit B; others welcome, but ask first Disclaimer: Tom Fontana thought it up; I just play in the sandbox. Warnings: None applicable; just the angst that flavors everything they do.
Summary: They're still in the cafe, getting to know each other.
"Holly asked if Toby was coming home tonight," Victoria said as she settled on the sofa and picked up her book.
Over at the fireplace mantel, studying the family photos arrayed there, Harrison nodded. "So did the boys." He shrugged. "I think it's to be expected. They haven't had him back for very long." Just seven days since Toby had finally walked free of that place and come back to all of them.
Victoria nodded and looked over at him, valiantly trying to mask her worry. "It is going to be all right," she said, somewhere between a statement and a question.
"Of course it is," Harrison said, striving just as fervently to believe that and hating himself for the stray doubt that would pass through his mind now and then. It wasn't lack of faith in Toby. He did not doubt for a minute that Toby was doing his damnedest to put his life back together, that all those years in prison had made Toby appreciate that life even more and want to do everything in his power not to repeat the mistakes that had landed him there. Unfortunately he knew all too well this was going to be a difficult transition for his son, that well-meant resolutions might not always be so easy to keep, and that all of them likely were not making it any easier for him to adjust.
Harrison sighed and picked up a photo of Toby and Genevieve from their wedding day, brushing a speck of dust from the silver frame. They looked so young and happy there, no premonition of what the future had in store. He put the photograph back, pensive gaze passing across the others and lingering on the last one they had taken with Toby, a family grouping from Christmas 1996. There were times he thought the camera had a caught a shadow of something in Toby's eyes, just the barest glimmer of a sad and haunted look that heralded things to come. Or maybe it was his imagination working overtime, prompted by seeing that expression in his son's eyes too many times over these last half dozen years.
He sighed again and joined Victoria, picking up his paper and trying to think of ways to make things easier on Toby. There likely wasn't much to be done with the children just yet, the way they kept swinging between clinging to Toby and not wanting him out of their sight, and at other times keeping their distance for fear of growing too attached in case he was taken away again. All of them could offer a thousand reassurances that their father would never leave them again, but time and stability and the security that brought, were the only things that would truly put the children's concerns to rest. He and Victoria could set a better example, though. If the children saw that Grandma and Grandpa weren't fretting right and left that was bound to be help ease some fears.
Harrison suspected a show of confidence and faith like that might do Toby a world of good as well.
"Is that a car?" Victoria said as she turned her head to listen to a sound outside.
"I think so," Harrison said, betting she was having just as difficult a time to stay put, to not hurry out and make sure Toby got safely inside. Thirty seconds later he hoped Victoria did a better job of concealing her disappointment when they saw it was only Angus coming home. And Harrison kicked himself for that, a fresh batch of guiltfueled worry springing up.
"I take it Toby's not home yet," Angus said, too neutral to interpret.
"No," Harrison said, "something ... must have come up."
"Yes, I'm sure it did," Angus said, and there seemed to be just the hint of an edge then. Harrison could hardly blame him if some resentment bubbled away.
"Maybe we should call?" Victoria said, attempting to sound very matter-of-fact about it and not betray any anxiety.
And Harrison had to wonder just what unholy thing might happen if they all stopped doing that, if they stopped hiding what they were feeling. How much was that getting to Toby, that no one said anything about Oswald? That everything to do with the past half dozen years was politely avoided, with Toby expected to play along with the ridiculous charade? Nothing was the same, it never would be; there were times he suspected that might not be an entirely bad thing either.
"No," he said after a moment. "He doesn't need us checking up on him every five minutes," he went on, overriding Victoria's evident concerns and Angus' equally clear skepticism. "We have to believe in him, we have to show him that." Otherwise how was Toby ever going to have any faith in himself?
He sat back and picked up his paper again, striving not to worry, not to doubt. In all likelihood, Toby was simply enjoying his first true night of freedom, away from all their fretful eyes. And Harrison could easily imagine what a relief that might be.
"Maybe," Toby said, surprising him by sounding like he might have some doubts about that. Although Chris could see how that could happen, six years in prison were bound to take a toll, bring up tensions and moments of insecurity. Even so, he wasn't expecting what Toby said next - "I think I was going to ask her for a divorce." - and it looked like the admission took Toby by surprise as well.
Not sure what to say, Chris sat back, fiddling with the silverware and frowning down at the table. It didn't help a lot that the first thing that popped into his head was how this revelation altered the picture just a bit, morphing Toby into something different from a grieving widower. That didn't make him anymore obtainable, however, and Chris fiercely reminded himself of that.
Toby let out one of those huffs again, a note of resigned selfdeprecation coloring it. "Yeah, statements like that tend to make everything grind to a halt, too."
Chris looked up then, seeing the regret in Toby's eyes, body language saying he was pulling back into his shell. Chris couldn't let that happen, he couldn't be the one responsible for that. "Toby, no," he reached across the table and laid his hand over Toby's, squeezing softly. "It's a surprise, that's all."
With a cautious nod, Toby looked at their hands and grasped Chris' as he started to draw it back, returning a firm squeeze that made Chris tingle right down to his toes. "Thank you for that," Toby said, looking at him again with a warm gratitude that made the pleasure curl tight in Chris' belly.
All he wanted to do was lean over and kiss him, and all he could do was tell himself to put the brakes on. "Did she know?" he said, striving to keep this about what Toby needed.
Toby shrugged, back to tracing patterns on the table. "I don't know, but I doubt she would have been surprised." He sighed quietly and sat back, making himself comfortable. "It was easy to keep the charade going before Oz--"
"That's why you drank too much, because it was so easy to play makebelieve ?" Chris interrupted, smiling at the grumpy touch look that got him.
"Okay -- easier, especially if I'd had a snootful." Toby shook his head, glancing out the window and tracking the progress of an older couple out walking their dog. "Everything's different when you have to face it stone cold sober, when you can't dodge reality anymore. You know?" Toby looked back at Chris, searching his eyes.
"Yeah, I do. It can crash down on you pretty hard and sudden." One minute you were a 12-year-old kid without a care in the world, and the next instant your whole world had shattered and nothing was ever the same. "It's good, though...eventually," he added with a rueful smile, knowing how long it had taken him to get to that point. "Makes you figure out what's really important, what you need to keep in your life and what's dragging you down."
"Yep." Toby nodded and leaned forward again, taking another bite of the sandwich. "I figured out one of the things dragging me down was my marriage," he said, and then looked disgusted at himself. "Christ, that makes me sound like a selfish bastard."
"No, just a realistic one."
Toby snorted. "Yeah, and that is waaaay better." He took another bite, chewed and swallowed. "When Gen and I met, the first couple years of our marriage, it was good but," he shrugged and worked it out as he went, "I don't know, once the sparks died we could never seem to strike them again. The kids kept us connected but it wasn't enough. And I knew I couldn't go back to that, not after Oz."
Chris understood that. "It wasn't just your marriage, though, was it?"
Toby shook his head. "No, it was everything." He took off his glasses, contemplating them as he spoke. "I deliberately smashed my last pair after the first few months in prison because I didn't want to see clearly, not with my eyes. That had only gotten me in trouble, taking people at face value and coming to regret it." He laughed softly, anger underneath it. "I jumped from the frying pan smack into the fire right off the bat, believing this guy had my welfare at heart because he looked the part, all kindly and concerned, just as spooked as I was. Next thing I knew..." He hunched over, a fist pressed to his mouth as he swallowed the words, as he trembled with remembered fear and fury.
Chris didn't need the gory details to know what had happened, his own memories supplied them in spades. "Toby, hey," he grasped Toby's arm, feeling the rigid muscle under his hand and anxious to keep him grounded, "you survived it. Toby, you made it out, and that is the only thing that matters."
Toby shot him a disbelieving look, clearly still in need of convincing on that score. "I don't know, Chris, the things I did, what I discovered about myself..." He shook his head and sucked in a deep breath. "How do I just forget that, put it behind me?
"You don't, you let it be one of those strings." Chris watched him, thinking of another way to help him work through it. "Toby, what you went through, that was like soldiers in a combat zone, doing what you have to so you can get out and come home. My dad never talked much about the war but when he did that's how he explained it to me, and that maybe you don't come out the same as before but you can turn it all into something good if you just put your mind to it."
Really listening to him, watching him, Toby said, "What doesn't destroy you makes you stronger?"
Toby let out a deep breath, releasing a lot of tension with it, mouth quirking with another rueful smile. "I should be fucking indestructible then."
"I don't doubt it for a minute," Chris said, seeing the curiosity in those blue eyes, Toby probably wondering where all this confidence in him came from when they had only just met. Chris wished he could enlighten him but he didn't quite understand it all himself.
After a long moment, gaze never leaving Chris' face, Toby nodded like he was at least willing to give this all some thought. "That's part of what I figured out, why I knew things had to change. If it was all going to have any purpose, I couldn't just walk out of Oz and back to my old life. I had to make it all count for ... something." He finished with another of those little huffs. "And then, right when I'd made this life-changing decision, McManus comes and tells me Genevieve's been killed in a car accident."
"And you thought it was God punishing you."
"Crossed my mind."
Chris shook his head, torn between exasperation and sympathy. "You're not Catholic, are you?"
Toby smiled, shook his head. "I don't think they have the market cornered on that."
Toby's smile broadened. "Voice of experience?"
"Oh yeah," Chris said with feeling. "That was one of the buttons I mentioned." He leaned towards Toby, serious and intent. "You know that's bullshit, right? Your wife died because some asshole didn't slow for a red light, that's all. Wasn't her fault, sure as fuck wasn't yours, and it was not any judgment from God." He knew he was speaking pretty fervently again but it would have been difficult not to when this was something else that hit so close to home.
And even if Toby did look damn cute without the glasses, Chris picked them up and settled them back on that snub nose, telling him, "You look the world square in the face from now on, Toby, nothing fuzzy around the edges, and see things for what they are - no more and no less. Okay?"
Toby gave him a look like he couldn't decide whether to be alarmed or amused. "O...kay," he said in another moment, adjusting the glasses more comfortably. "I take it that's another hot button issue for you?"
Chris sat back, took a drink of the coffee, nodded. "Yeah. Spent my share of time beating myself up over things I couldn't have controlled. Saw a few too many people I cared about destroy their lives over it." His gaze shifted past Toby's shoulder, out the window, memories of Jess and Casey bubbling up to take him away for a moment. He didn't think he could go through that again and that was all the more incentive to try and steer Toby clear of sinking into that quagmire. "Guilt's like a cancer, Toby, it can eat away at you until there's nothing left," he went on, pulling himself back to the here and now.
"You don't strike me as someone who would advocate shirking responsibility."
"Big difference." He met Toby's gaze again. "Owning up to what you really have done, that's part of growing up."
Toby nodded, thinking that over. "Is that something you teach your kids?"
"Try to. Think it gets through to them once in a while."
"How long have you been teaching?"
He shook his head, doing the math in his head. "Eighteen years, end of this school year." Which blew him away whenever he pulled up that figure.
"Yeah." He conceded that with a wry smile, eyes narrowed at the coffee cup.
"Not all of that at Willis-Warfield, though."
He shook his head. "Stayed on at my university for a couple years, then put in some time at Hudson High. I was there for twelve years."
Toby gave him an interested look. "You taught high school?"
"Yep, tenth grade English."
"Had its moments." He squinted thoughtfully across at him. "Most of the kids, they just wanted to get it over with; picking up a book, let alone writing something, might as well have been some kinda torture out of the Spanish Inquisition to them. Once in a while, though, something would click and I could them turning on to the power of words, figuring out that power could get them someplace other than McDonald's flipping burgers. I used to have them write something about their lives, what they knew to be true, because that was a good way to see what was going on in their heads - sometimes they'd see it too, all laid out in black and white, and realize there had to be something more." Chris paused, feeling a bit embarrassed at running on like that, but Toby didn't look like he minded; looked like he might understand about passion like that. "Yeah, well," he fiddled with the salt-and-pepper shakers, "moments like that, they could make all the other frustration seem worthwhile."
Toby nodded. "I'll bet. Ever find a budding Fitzgerald or Jane Austen?"
"Yeah, a couple," he said, smiling with the pride of that. "One girl, she..." his smile faded as Casey's face flashed in his mind again, smiling at him for once that last time because she had made her terrible decision and found a twisted peace in her choice. He swallowed, pushed on. "She could've set the world on fire."
"What happened?" Toby's voice was quiet, watching his face with sympathetic intensity.
Even four years later it hurt to say it. "She killed herself," he said and felt that awful burden ease ever so minutely as Toby touched his hand. "It was so fucking senseless, Toby. She had so much going for her, but she just couldn't see it. She was drowning right in front of everyone and no one could do a thing to save her."
"Can't save everyone," Toby said, an echo of Lulu in his words.
Chris nodded, one corner of his mouth quirked upward. "I know. Spent a lot of time going over what more I could have done, but," he shook his head, shrugged, "past a certain point there wasn't anything." He let out a deep breath, brows drawn together as he frowned at the inoffensive salt-and-pepper shakers. "Didn't make it any easier to accept, though."
"You moved on though."
He nodded again as he picked up his coffee and took another sip - and grimaced at finding it had gone cold. "Took a sabbatical to reevaluate some things, and then applied for the job at WillisWarfield. Thought ten-year-olds might take less of a toll."
"It turn out that way?"
Chris caught the waitress's eye and signaled her over for more coffee. "Well, let's say the jury's still out on that one," he said, able to pull up a better smile now. "Being ten was a hell of a lot easier when I was growing up, I know that."
Toby nodded with feeling, stirring his fresh cup of coffee. "For me too. Sometimes I don't even know what the hell my kids are talking about. Holly told me she thought my folks are probably muggles the other day, and I had to get Angus to explain Harry Potter to me."
Chris grinned, dimples popping. "Well, you've got a lot of catching up to do there."
"On all kinds of fronts." Toby picked up the newspaper left on the banquette, leafing through it slowly. "Sometimes it feels like the whole world's changed since I went in - and that was only six years ago."
"It's just the toys that change; the stuff that counts, that's still the same."
Toby gave him a skeptical look at that. "Check back with me in about a year and we'll see if the validity of that holds up."
Chris smiled and sent him a touch look this time.
The music in the background had changed to Billie Holiday singing about her solitude, and while that was a perfect accompaniment to the soft rain spattering against the windows, it was at odds with the vibes in that booth. At least to Chris - and it couldn't do any harm to suppose that feeling, taking pleasure in some good company, might be mutual, right? That might even be enough, he thought as he took another drink of coffee, savoring the rich flavor. Then he looked at Toby, blue eyes sparkling with excitement over something in the paper, and felt a kick in the gut that told him no, he could really find it easy to want a whole lot more from Toby.
He looked away quickly, watched a young couple two tables over gazing into each other's eyes, the girl reaching over across the table to lay slim fingers against her boyfriend's cheek, and Chris felt an even deeper pang deep down inside. God, it was so long since he had even tried to connect with someone and now he was chasing another impossible dream. Shouldn't he have gotten smarter about all that by now?
He looked back at Toby, had to ask, "So what's got you all excited?"
"I can go see a baseball game again," Toby said, smiling like that just about made his day.
"Yeah, guess you can. That something you've missed?" Chris could understand that too; there had been a long ago time when he had lived and died with the Yankees.
"Yep. When I was at Harvard one my favorite things was going to watch the Red Sox play." Expression filled with nostalgia, he added, "I think those were some of the best days of my life."
"Well, see, that's something that hasn't changed: they still haven't won a World Series," Chris said, only meaning to tease him a little but enjoying it more than expected as Toby glared back at him.
"Yeah, you wait and see who's still playing in October," Toby grumped back.
"Beecher, I got two words for you," Chris said, pausing for dramatic effect as Toby looked at him, waiting. "Bill Buckner." He grinned some more, almost seeing the steam coming out of Toby's ears.
~to be continued~
Note: If the name Bill Buckner doesn't ring a bell, check here: http://www/thebaseballpage.com/past/pp/bucknerbill/