Get Him to the Church in Time, chapters 1 - 12

by Riley Cannon

Get Him to the Church in Time
Author: Riley Cannon
Subject: B/K, AU PWP, NC-1
Feedback: If you want.
Disclaimers: Don't own them, Fontana & HBO do; I only borrow them for non-profit sappy AU smut. Warnings: Just more of the usual thing from me. Summary: "If I could turn back time..." It's about 1991, and Tobias Beecher is on a path to destiny. On his way home from the family law firm one evening, however, he turns down an unfamiliar street and smacks into a whole other possibility (so to speak). Oh -- and did you ever watch 'Days of Our Lives' back in the 80s when it was really good? Do you remember how Hope was all set to marry this one guy, but then here comes her true love, Bo, to the rescue? Well then you'll know what I ripped off for this. If, like Toby and I, you have no idea how to play pool, here's a useful web site for you:

OK, two things: this is not officially a WIP, and it's all Cat's fault anyway. <g>

See, a certain muse was apparently peeking over my shoulder the other day when I was mentioning something about a kidnapperChris plotbunny, and he went, "Oh, drop everything else and do that." And I went, "You do realize you wouldn't be in this? That it occurred in a period of his life when he didn't even know you existed?" And he went, "Nuh-uh." And I went, "Oh geez..." And here we are, not a kidnapping story but something kinda sorta along those lines. And definitely a PWP on steroids.

Enjoy. Or not.


Part One

Stuck in an evening traffic jam, Toby loosened his necktie and looked through his tapes for something different. He popped out The Cars tape as Ric Ocasek was singing, 'Let the good times roll,' and put in the Fine Young Cannibals one, trying to relax as the guy sang, 'She drives me crazy/like no one else/she drives me crazy/and I can't help myself.'

About fucking time, he thought as traffic began to sluggishly move once more. He turned off onto a side street, though, suspecting he might actually save some time by taking the long way home. And Christ knew he was anxious to get there, right? Yep, wild horses wouldn't drag him away from tonight's festivities, with Genevieve and his future in-laws coming to dinner. Whee.

He breathed out an exasperated huff at that -- exasperated with himself. It was just pre-wedding jitters, of course he knew that. When the day got here, when Gen walked down the aisle to join him and he looked into her face and said 'I do,' everything would be peachy keen terrific, right? And, well, if she didn't exactly drive him crazy like no one else right now, that would come in time. He could do a lot worse. And how could it be anything but a pointless waste of time to wonder if maybe he could do better? And, fuck, if life were supposed to be easy and perfect, they wouldn't have invented booze.

And speak of the devil... Catching sight of a sign, the blue neon glowing faintly in the summer twilight, he couldn't deny the allure it possessed, calling him to stop in for something to take the edge off and fortify him for the evening ahead. Action suited to thought, he carefully eased his car into a parking space across from the bar and got out, locking the car and waiting for a pick-up truck to go by before crossing the street.

If it was hot and muggy outside, the atmosphere within wasn't much of an improvement. The ceiling fans did a really good job of distributing the cigarette smoke throughout the establishment, though. The place wasn't crowded, but there were enough people scattered around so a guy could lose himself there. He sighed, breathed in the cigarette-scented air, and slipped off his coat as he approached the bar and settled on a stool. Loosening his tie some more, he opened his collar as the bartender came over and asked him what he wanted. Ordering a beer, he nodded as the bottle was set before him, droplets of condensation already soaking into the paper napkin. Fingers curled with comfortable familiarity around the cold, brown glass, Toby tipped it back and took a long drink of the beer, letting it swirl around his mouth a moment to chase away the dryness before he swallowed it on down. He reached for a handful of peanuts, popped them in his mouth and crunched as he swiveled around to have a better look around the place. Not quite his usual kind of place, but there was something to be said for places that had not been yuppified. It was a safe bet, for instance, that he wouldn't be bumping into anyone he knew here and that was definitely a point in its favor.

Toby munched some more peanuts, drank some more beer, and thought about that. No, it wasn't that he gave a particular fuck if someone he knew saw him drinking -- and like that was one of the world's best-kept secrets anyway? -- it was more that he just didn't want to see anyone he knew. Didn't want one more mind-numbingly boring conversation with one more energy-sucking drone. A corner of his mouth quirked up bitterly as he signaled for another beer and he wondered what kind of shit it made him that he kind of put his fiance in that same crowd.

Yep, he raised the frosty bottle in a salute to himself, this had all the makings of a regular storybook marriage.

Damn, sometimes he really hated himself.

He drank some more, looked around some more, searching for some distraction. Jim Morrison was on the jukebox now, his words slicing through the background sounds of glasses and bottles clanking, the blurry murmur of voices chattering away--

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire
Try to set the night on fire, yeah

--as Toby's restless gaze fell on one figure over at the pool table. Tall, with short dark hair and wearing faded jeans and a white t-shirt that clung to every long and leanly muscled line of him. And he felt a funny kind of shiver run through him as the other man looked over at him.

Toby looked away, took another swig of his beer, and then pushed up his glasses as he raised his eyes again, feeling that unmistakable sensation of being under someone's scrutiny. In another moment, the dark head tilted just a bit, chin giving a little jerk of invitation.

Come on baby, light my fire
Come on baby, light my fire...

With no idea of what possessed him to accept, Toby picked up his beer and coat and crossed that short distance, wariness and an inexplicable thrill of excitement thrumming through him all the way. "Hey," he said, making it friendly but a little diffident too.

The "Hey," was returned, in a very similar manner -- cool, but not exactly impersonal. "Wanna play?"

"Ah," for a moment Toby was too caught by those eyes, so much bluer up close, for his brain to properly process that. He had to blink and look away, down at the pool table, the balls all racked up. "Yeah, sure." And never mind all he knew about pool was what he'd seen in movies. How hard could it be? He set his bottle down on a nearby table, laid his coat beside a black leather jacket there, and accepted the stick the other man handed him. "I'm...Toby, by the way," he said, holding out his free hand. And why was he offering the intimacy of his name to this complete stranger when Genevieve was still calling him Tobias?

The dark head nodded and his hand was grasped in a firm grip, pumped once. "Chris. You wanna break?" he said and indicated the racked up balls.

He had no idea. "You go first," Toby said, stepping back to watch as Chris took away the triangle of wood that kept the balls in place. Paying close attention, he watched the shift and flex of lean muscles as Chris lined up the only white ball and knocked it into the others, scattering them in a flood of color across the swath of green fabric.

Chris examined the table and nodded to himself, apparently pleased with this dispersal. Casting Toby a look, he stepped back and rested his stick on the floor, hands cupped over the tip. "You wanna find your balls, Toby?"

Toby shot him a startled look at that, and the suggestive drawl that infused the other man's voice. "Excuse me?"

Well-shaped lips twitched with a hint of a smile. "We gotta figure out who's gonna be solid," Chris pointed at the colored balls strewn across the table, "and who's gonna be stripes. That's how we know who's playin' what."

"Oh." Toby pushed his glasses up and stepped to the table, looking everything over and not seeing any obvious advantage either way. "It doesn't matter to me. Which ones do you want to play?" That earned him a fairly dubious look and he gathered he had just violated some fine point of etiquette here. "What?"

"You ever played before, Toby?"

Ordinarily he hated to admit he didn't have a lot of experience at something, but he couldn't see how there was anything to gain by being pigheaded in this instance. So admitting, "No, I haven't," wasn't much of a hardship.

Nor did Chris look as if he thought any the less of him for that. He just shrugged and scratched his jaw for a moment. "Okay, see, we gotta knock our balls around until one of us sinks one in a pocket there," he pointed at the table. "If you sink one of the solids, then that's what you'll be playing while I play the stripes." He paused to give Toby a serious look, checking to make sure he was keeping up with this.

There was nothing patronizing in his manner, so Toby nodded to show he was with him so far. "Okay, that sounds clear enough."

"You wanna try it?"

Toby nodded and stepped to the table, leaning over just a bit as he sighted his stick on one of the striped balls, number nine -- and felt that thrill again as Chris' hand closed over his right arm, halting him.

"Uh-uh," Chris said with feeling as Toby turned a curious look on him. "You never just go and whack your balls like that." He reached across the table, retrieving the white ball and holding it up. "See this? It's called the cue ball and is the only one your stick ever whacks." He put it back down. "And you never wanna sink it, either, 'cause then you're scratched and have to forfeit your turn. You never sink one of your opponent's balls, either, 'cause then your turn's over and it counts as a point for the other guy. And don't ever sink the eight ball," he pointed it out with a long, slender finger, "ahead of time 'cause if you do you've lost the whole game then and there." He gave Toby that intent look again. "Okay?"

"Yes, that seems pretty straightforward." Point stick, hit ball -- piece of cake.

"So -- give it a try."

Toby stepped up again, looking over the table and nodding to himself. He positioned the cue ball, aiming for that striped nine ball again, knocked the stick into the cue -- and sent it shooting down the table to carom off the side and roll back, coming to a stop without having accomplished anything else. Fixing the table with a look of a miffed dismay, he heard Chris heave a small sigh, confirming the impression that he had not just completed any kind of finesse move there.

"Okay -- watch," Chris told him -- a command that Toby found all too easy to obey. He was positively riveted by the lithe and supple grace of the other man's body as he moved, even just doing something so prosaic as repositioning the cue ball and adjusting his grip on the stick. Every movement was charged with an effortless grace that had Toby wanting to watch him in some kind of extended action. "You payin' attention there, Toby?"

He swallowed, nodded, refocused his gaze so he was watching Chris' hands and not how the soft, faded denim was stretched so tautly over the other man's voluptuous ass. "Yeah, uh-huh."

Crystal blue eyes flicked sideways at him, those lips curving with another faint smile. "'Kay, a lot matters in how you hold your stick. You a righty or a lefty?"

"Uhm, righty."

"Then you wanna grip the butt here with your right hand, then put your left palm down on the rail," Chris went on, demonstrating. "Lift your thumb and lay the shaft right there in the crease," he went on, a warm intimacy in his voice and manner that was holding Toby mesmerized, oblivious to anything else that might be going on in the bar. "Slide it back and forth a few times to get the feel of it. When it feels ready, just line up the tip here," he ran a thumb over it, slowly, "aim and," he leaned forward, "shoot, and -- bam," the cue ball smacked into a solid red one, sending it spinning on down the table, "you're in business. Think you can remember all that, Toby?" he added, a sparkle of amusement in his eyes, but not like he was laughing at Toby's ineptitude. No, it was a lot more like something about Toby was tickling him, in a really good way.

Actually -- Toby paused to unbutton his cuffs and roll his sleeves up -- it sort of felt like flirting.

Somewhere in the depths of the house Victoria's prized cuckoo clocks were heralding the hour, and Harrison checked them against his watch, guessing that was about right then -- eight o'clock and no sign of Toby. He exchanged a long look with his wife, gave a slight shrug and shake of his head.

"I suppose he could be stuck in traffic," Victoria said, casting an anxious look in the direction of the living room where Genevieve patiently waited with her parents for her wayward fianc to show up.

"Then it must be the Guinness Book of traffic jams," Harrison remarked.

"Well where could he be?" Victoria whispered back, cracking the door just a bit to look in on the Vaughns. "What could he be doing all this time?"

Maybe she wanted to make sure George and Doris weren't pocketing the silver? Harrison sighed, shook his head again. "I don't know, dear."

That got him a cross look. "Well, can't you imagine?"

"Victoria," he gave her a fondly stern look back, "how long have we been married?"

Looking suspicious, she said, "Thirty years. What does that have--"

"And in all that time have you ever noticed me being psychic?"

With a soft huff and a look that plainly said she was in no mood for a sense of humor, Victoria returned, "He could have had an accident."

"He could be on a plane to Katmandu." And Harrison was pretty certain they would have heard about an accident by now -- and he just wasn't going to conjure up dire prospects when the likeliest explanation was bound to be far more mundane.

Victoria's huff was quite a bit more exasperated now. "You aren't helping."

"I'm sorry," Harrison said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. It was irresponsible of Toby to do this, no matter his reasons, but there wasn't any sense in working themselves up into a tizzy over it. "Look, let's start dinner, and if Toby shows up--"

"If?" She gave him a sharp look. "Is he deliberately avoiding this?"

Harrison sighed, peeking in on the Vaughns himself -- Genevieve was still sitting demurely, looking through a magazine while her parents were engaged in looking over the living room in a manner that did sort of make him think of someone casing the joint. "I wouldn't put it past him." And catching sight of Victoria's mystified look at that, he knew a more detailed explanation would be required -- but not right now. "Come on," he said, taking her arm, "let's not borrow trouble."

There was never a shortage of that to go around, after all. Whatever Toby was up to, Harrison just hoped his son would make up his mind one way or the other before things got too complicated.

He was not, however, going to hold his breath.

Toby blew out a tiny huff of frustration as he missed the ball he'd been aiming for and instead had to watch the black 8 ball spin along the green covering, tumbling down into a pocket at the far end.

"Well," Chris said, "I've never seen someone do that three times straight in a row anyway." He looked like he was really trying to put some kind of positive spin on this.

"I don't know, Chris," he stepped back from the table, reaching for his beer bottle -- frowning as he found it empty. "Something's telling me pool and I may not be made for each other."

"Nah," Chris dismissed that easily. "Hey, if you can ace Harvard Law, there's no way a fucking pool game's gonna get the best of you."

And not that he didn't appreciate that vote of confidence, but he was kind of glad a game of 8-ball had not been part of the bar exam. He gave Chris a wry look, saying, "So -- any ideas on how to tune me up?" He really liked the way Chris smiled back at him, he liked the way it seemed to brighten up the whole room and make him feel a warm glow in his belly.

He also liked how they had been talking a little bit as they played, finding out a bit about each other. He knew Chris was working as a mechanic in a neighborhood garage, for instance, and that it looked like he'd been stood up tonight by a girl named Angelique. And he'd told Chris quite a bit about himself -- although with a couple of crucial items left out. Like how he was supposed to be getting married in about ten days.

Nor had he mentioned that he thought this Angelique must be out of her mind standing Chris up. Because if Toby mentioned that than he might have to figure out why it made him happy to have Chris' attention all to himself. And that couldn't possibly be a good idea.

"Well," those dark blue eyes ran over him, up and down, taking their time, "I think you just need to adjust a couple things, then you'll be in business."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"Like," Chris caught his hand, tugged him back to the table -- not letting go until Toby had felt that delicious thrill shoot all the way down to his toes, "really get comfortable with how your stick feels in your hand." He closed Toby's hands around the cue stick. "See, just slide your hands up and down the shaft, like that," he guided him through it, words whispered soft and warm against his ear. "It's real smooth, isn't it, weight's just right, fitting into your hand like they were made for each other."

"Uh-huh." Toby nodded, licked his lips, wondering why he was starting to have a little trouble breathing.

"Then you gotta line up your legs just right," Chris was going on, his hands gliding down Toby's sides and settling on his hips. "You wanna keep your feet about as far apart as your shoulders, like this," he pressed Toby's right hip, gently urging him to move. "Yep, just like that," he breathed against the nape of his neck -- Toby thought he could feel the little curls there flutter under Chris' breath. "Now bend this knee just a little bit," a hand grazed his thigh, "but keep the other one straight," the other hand moved to his back, massaging lightly, settling at the small of his back, "and lean forward, with your hand on the table like I showed you."

Toby swallowed, licked his lips again, all the while trying to concentrate on Chris' directions, trying to line up a shot. "Okay."

"Now keep your eye on the ball -- you got one picked out?"

"Yeah." Jesus, he really was having trouble catching his breath.

"'Kay, slide the shaft back and forth, like before, and ... strike."

Toby shot the stick forward at the same instant he felt the hot tip of a tongue flick against his ear. His shot went wild, the colored balls scattering in hectic confusion across the table as Toby let his stick clatter to the floor. "Excuse me," he mumbled, pushing past Chris, all but running towards the sign that pointed to the men's room. It was only when he was in there, with the door closed behind him, that he could draw a breath.

Leaning against the scarred and stained porcelain basin, Toby drew one shuddering breath, then another, holding it longer and deeper each time until he felt something close to settled down. Oh God -- what the fuck was happening? He turned on the cold tap, cupped his hands to catch the icy water and splash it over his face, once, twice. Head bent over the basin, he let droplets of water spatter down for a few moments before ripping a paper towel from the dispenser on the wall. He rubbed the coarse paper over his face, his hands, pressed the cool, damp paper to the back of his neck as he stared at his reflection in the spotted mirror for a long time.

His reflection didn't have any better idea of what was going on, however, and he couldn't stay hidden away in here forever.

All right, he went to the door, rehearsing what he was going to say as he turned the knob. He would just tell Chris it was getting late and he really needed to be getting home and he appreciated him taking the time to show him how to play pool... And all those words died in his throat as he saw Chris leaning against the wall, waiting for him.

"All freshened up?"

"Ah..." He swallowed, looking into that determined, handsome face, blue eyes so hot. "Chris, I--" He'd never know what he meant to say because strong hands were on his shoulders in the next instant, pushing him up against the wall, and a hot mouth was on his -- and he wasn't fighting him off. He wasn't doing anything remotely like fighting him off.

"...Chris..." He moaned the name as his mouth was abandoned, and wound his arms tight around the other man, hauling him back, needing to kiss that tempting mouth. He needed to get closer, too, and he pushed into the strong body, grabbing that amazing ass and bringing him closer as they devoured each other.

Toby groaned in protest as Chris moved away, then sighed with pleasure as those hands cupped around his throat, fingers tangling in his hair. He opened his eyes to find Chris looking back at him with the first flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, like maybe he hadn't quite expected this. Well, that made two of them.

He laid his hand against Chris' cheek, fingers stroking the dark hair at his temple as he leaned in for another kiss. This one was softer, taking a moment to savor the warm lips kissing him back. This time Toby burrowed his way into Chris' arms, holding just as tight.

Chris' voice murmured against his ear, saying, "You wanna go some place?"

He raised his head, looking back at him just as seriously. "Yes, Chris, I want to go some place." And if he'd thought Chris' smile had been brilliant before, this time it was downright luminous.


If y'all think this is long you should have seen what I had to edit it down from. ::sigh:: Still no NC-17 action, but plenty of angsty thoughts and some making out. Oh, and credit to Christy for a certain line.


Part Two

It was dark now, the neon of the signs glowing brightly and lighting up the night as Toby found himself back out on the sidewalk with Chris. Even though the sun had gone down the asphalt and concrete weren't surrendering any of the heat they had soaked up all day. Toby's own mercury was rising for an entirely different reason, however. A reason that was standing there by a motorcycle -- black and chrome, sexy and powerful as the guy who rode it.

Oh boy.

He wanted to ask what happened now, where were they going, but words truly failed him. Your place or mine was no kind of option. Toby didn't even want to try and imagine his parent's reaction if he were to come home with Chris.

As if he sensed Toby's uncertainty about what to do next, Chris touched his arm, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "My place is just a little ways from here -- you want to follow me in your car?"

Toby nodded, welcoming that simplicity of action. "That sounds all right." How could it sound like it made perfect sense, though? He guessed it had something to do with how, despite all the people milling around them, the traffic going by in the street -- horns honking, music spilling out of the bar or a car going by -- it felt as if he and Chris were all alone in the world. It was the most extraordinary thing, and he had the funniest feeling there might be a whole lot to come yet.

He crossed the street to his BMW, looking back as he opened the door to watch Chris climb on the bike, straddle it as he put on his helmet. Chris looked over, raising his hand and starting the machine. Funny, Toby always used to think motorcycles were nothing but a noisy nuisance, but all of a sudden there was something he really liked about that low rumble and how smoothly the bike maneuvered out into the street.

Behind the wheel of his car, Toby rolled down the window to ease the stuffiness inside and pulled up behind the motorcycle as it idled at the light. Chris turned to glance back at him and Toby caught a flash of that bright smile again in the illumination of the streetlights. That smile, the memory of the warm intimacy he had seen in those eyes earlier, notched the temperature up a few more degrees and he was tempted to put on the air-conditioning for a moment.

But try as he might, it was impossible for him not to start thinking about how this didn't make any kind of sense as he drove along, all alone in the car. He'd had three beers and he was going home with some guy he'd met in a bar. He was going home with some guy and they didn't even know each other's last names. Fuck -- he was going home with a guy, that was the crucial part of the whole equation. What the hell was he thinking?

The motorcycle made a left turn on a yellow light and cruised off to the side of the street, near a playground, waiting as Toby stopped for the red light. Waiting for Toby to join him -- and that suddenly loomed as an utter impossibility. How could he do this? He couldn't do this. He'd been caught in some weird moment back there, that was all, and now he needed to be home where everything was familiar and made sense, where Genevieve was waiting for him.

The light turned green and Toby drove on, looking in the rearview mirror to see the headlights of the motorcycle come back to the corner. He could see that helmeted head turn, watching him drive away; then a glimpse of red taillights as the bike turned around once more and disappeared into the night. Toby nodded to himself. Good, that was the right thing. He had to get back to the life he knew, where everything for the next fifty years was laid out in meticulous detail, and forget all about his (almost) close encounter with this tall, dark stranger. There were plans, obligations to meet. Marry Genevieve and buy that house they had looked at and have the requisite number of children, become a successful litigator and parlay that into some kind of political career. And if none of that ever felt like quite enough, hey, he could always count on his friends Messrs. Smirnoff, Dewar, and Daniels to make him feel better. There was no place in all those plans and expectations for anything so absurd as tall, dark strangers with crystal blue eyes and a soft, sexy growl in his voice that promised it could make your wildest dreams come true.

Catching another fucking red light, he took off his glasses to rub his eyelids, pinch the bridge of his nose. With his eyes closed, though, it was treacherously easy to remember the feel of Chris' hands touching him and how good it had felt to enfold that hard body in his arms. His hands gripped the steering wheel, arms flexing as he relived the nerve-sizzling sensation of Chris' lips brushing his skin, touching his mouth; for a moment all he could do was remember Chris' tongue filling his mouth and how no kiss had ever been so hot and seductive, setting him aflame. Just the memory was enough to make him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, longing for a cooling breeze to come along. Longing for so much more than that.

Fuck! He hit the steering wheel, hard, feeling so goddamn frustrated by -- everything. Everything. There was no way out, it was all set up to start falling into place just like one of those domino contraptions. He couldn't stop it, not without making everyone mad. It was selfish to even want to stop it, ruin things for everyone, but... But maybe if he could satisfy this unexpected craving this one time, everything would still turn out the way it was supposed to.

Knowing that for the lame justification it was, and ignoring the blare of honking horns, he made a U-turn as the light turned green, driving back the way he'd come and only hoping he hadn't already blown it. He turned down that street, not seeing any beckoning glow of taillights. Damn. Now what? he thought, slowly cruising along past the playground, further, two blocks, three. Hopeless, it was hopeless, Chris could be anywhere by now. He'd fucked it up.

He was ready to give it up, telling himself it was probably for the best anyway, when he saw him coming around the side of a four-storey, brick garden apartment, helmet in hand. The tall figure paused, looking towards him before slowly coming on down to the sidewalk -- and even across that distance Toby could feel the intensity of Chris' gaze, those blue eyes lasering him.

He took a deep breath, gripping the steering wheel again, knuckles showing white. This was nuts, he shouldn't be here; he didn't even really know what the hell he was getting into. He knew all that just as surely as he also knew not one bit of it mattered.

Another car came up behind him, went around him, and as if that was the jolt he needed, Toby slipped his car into a parking space behind a red Volkswagen Beetle that looked left over from the 'Sixties. He took another moment to try and catch his breath, rolled up his window and got out. He didn't slam the door shut, but it still sounded loud in the quiet night.

Coming up to Chris, he looked into those eyes, catching a flash of wariness there. Toby guessed no one could blame him for that. All he could think of to assure him that he wasn't going to scamper off again was to touch his face, brush a thumb along his cheek. He felt Chris give a start at that caress, the dark head jerking back just a fraction as the blue eyes narrowed with something like suspicion. After another moment, when Toby didn't stop touching him but instead cupped his palm along Chris' cheek, the strong body visibly relaxed and the dark head nodded slightly. Toby nodded back, letting his hand drop then as he followed Chris into the apartment building.

It wasn't too often he found himself going home alone, not when he didn't want to. That's what Chris had been thinking just a couple of minutes ago. Now...? He shot a look at the guy climbing up three flights of stairs beside him, shook his head and figured maybe everybody'd be happier if he didn't even try and figure out what might be bouncing around that blond head.

Now Angie, he understood why she'd stood him up: she was still getting over being freaked out about him being an ex-con and how she was going to break that to her folks. It was bad enough he was white, she'd told him, now she had to explain to them how he'd done time in prison? Far as Chris could tell it didn't make a whole lot of difference that it was a long old time ago, either, and that he was walking the straight and narrow these days. Okay, sure, he'd only made up his mind to do that after one close call too many, when it looked like he might really nailed for a Ponzi or two. No matter what might have prompted his turnaround, though, it still counted. It also ought to count that he'd never done anything really bad, nothing violent, just parted a few people from their money. Angie wasn't sure her folks were going to appreciate that fine distinction, however.

Of course they wouldn't be the only ones who took that kind of narrow view of things. FBI Special Agent Taylor'd had a real bug up his ass about it all, too, doing his damnedest to make a case against him stick. Maybe he should send Special Agent Taylor a card, thanking him for providing the best incentive he'd had in years to go straight? Because if he was making up a top ten list of things he never wanted to do again as long as he lived, doing more prison time would occupy spots one through five, easy. Chris sort of had his doubts Agent Taylor would really appreciate the sentiment, though.

And he couldn't help wondering how Toby here would react if he knew Chris had done some hard time, that Chris had been around a bunch of blocks a nice yuppie boy like him didn't even know existed. Sometimes the most unlikely people got kind of turned on by that little newsflash and it wouldn't surprise him if Toby was one of them. There was a lot more going on behind that buttoned-down exterior, all tidy and proper, than immediately met the eye - Chris knew that much. It was sort of startling, too, just how easy it was to remember the way the guy's come to life in his arms, like it had been way too long since anyone had unbuttoned him and mussed him up. If Toby was that much of a firecracker when they actually got to bed, this had the makings of being one of the more memorable nights of Chris' life.

Chris shot him a careful look as they took a step together, shoulders brushing, Toby needing to get his balance after putting his foot wrong and grabbing hold of Chris, an arm slung over his shoulder and holding on tight for an instant. Meeting that sky blue gaze, not buying that innocent little ol' me look for a minute, a corner of Chris' mouth quirked knowingly and hereally had to fight down the urge to shove Toby up against the wall for a repeat performance here and now. If he could count on them not getting disturbed at just the wrong moment, he wasn't sure he'd be trying to resist that impulse at all.

After another moment, when Toby'd looked at his mouth long enough, pursed his own lips and really tested Chris' sense of discretion, the blond stepped back, nodded, and pushed those dorky glasses up and took the next couple of steps without any trouble. Oh yeah, Chris would bet everything Toby was making up some kind of story about him, this stranger he'd picked up in a bar. If Chris could trust his instinct, it was telling him this wasn't something the other guy did every day of the week, so maybe he needed to create a storyline in order to be comfortable with it.

Come to that, it was a while now since Chris'd done this kind of thing every day of the week, too. He liked sex, who didn't, but that was something else he'd been getting a lot more particular about lately. Now, he knew way better than to expect any of that love and romance stuff, that was just make believe storybook shit. Keep your expectations real -- find somebody who was both good between the sheets and good company outside the bedroom, and forget about all that together forever bull -- and you were set. And sure, if she had some real class, like Kitty and Bonnie, and now Angelique, you'd court her and put a ring on her finger first, but it was just dumb to think those wedding vows were really some kind of permanent deal. Two marriages and divorces in under ten years had taught him that one. He knew how things worked now: he'd put that ring on Angie's finger and they'd have a good time for a couple of years, then go their separate ways with no hard feelings and no regrets.

That's what felt kind of fucked up right now, and Chris cast another look at Toby beside him. He noted how the guy was breathing easy and only working up a little sweat, even in his expensive suit, as they climbed the last flight of stairs. No surprise there -- the body he'd embraced back in the bar had felt hard, in good shape, nothing soft and flabby. The surprises were coming from a whole other quarter, like how he'd felt something like disappointment when he'd sat there on his bike watching Toby drive on by. His usual motto, philosophy, whatever was that there was no sense mooning over the ones that got away when there were plenty more to go around. Nine times in ten he got exactly who he wanted, and that tenth time hardly counted since it was one of the surest bets around that he'd find someone else pretty quick. Sure, Toby had seemed like a better prospect than any other guy who'd cruised him lately, but even so it was no reason to have been feeling let down because it looked like Toby'd had a change of heart.

There was also no reason to have felt that jolt of pleasure when he'd looked around to see Toby had come back. It was just plain screwy, like the way Toby'd touched him down there on the sidewalk. Chris had it all laid straight in his head how these things worked, and with guys it was just about sex. Good sex, fun sex sure, and sometimes even with a guy you didn't mind spending a little time with afterwards, but that was all. Anything like tenderness and caring -- Chris only expected to find that with the women in his life. But now here was this Toby throwing him a curveball that way, looking at him, touching him in that sort of soft and sweet way, and he wasn't quite sure what to make of that, how to take it.

It felt ... nice, sure, but... Fuck, he sighed, taking out his key as they reached his apartment door, he'd figure it out later.

"Come on in," he invited, swinging the door open and hitting the lights, standing back to let Toby by. Belatedly he was glad he'd tidied things up this morning. Maybe that wouldn't matter; they weren't exactly here to discuss decor, after all, not unless his instincts were really fucked up, and Toby hadn't been making any big deal about them being from different sides of the tracks. That made a change, too. Usually Chris had found Toby's type, gals or guys, wanted it clearly understood they were slumming it with him and he'd better not forget that. Maybe it made a difference when the party in question wasn't paying for your services? He'd have to think about that later, too.

"Nice place," Toby said, looking around the main room as Chris closed and locked the door.

"Yeah," he shrugged, not seeing anything too remarkable in the run-of-the-mill furnishings the place had come with. Just a couch, couple of chairs, tables, that big oval rag-rug Mrs. DeLucca down in 3B had insisted he take, some kind ferny plants Mrs. Zeilinski in 2A had given him, and not too much that was really personal beyond the books, CDs, and pictures. Well, Mr. Moriarty down the hall in 1D had offered to let him have a real nice desk, a secretary he'd called it, for next to nothing, but Chris'd kind of got the impression Mr. Moriarty might want a real special thank you and had said no thanks to that one. "It's okay." Served its purpose anyway without him having to dip too much into the money he'd put by from all his scams. That always struck him as kind of screwy, him saving up for a rainy day. Of course it was true his good looks wouldn't last forever -- and his smile took a bitter turn at that -- but the future was some far off, fuzzy thing he didn't like to dwell on too much. For one thing, any time he did to get thinking about that, all those stupid things would sneak up on him and make him kind of depressed, things like how maybe it would be good to have someone around long-term, somebody who wasn't just looking for kicks and a good fuck. It got to be way too apparent, the more he'd think about it, that those things weren't in the cards for him, if they existed at all, and he was better off living in the here and now. If he was lucky, maybe he'd die long before he had to worry about getting old and winding up all alone.

Aware Toby was looking at him and feeling kind of self-conscious under that close scrutiny and the concerned look in those light blue eyes, like Toby was picking up on stuff he didn't mean him to, Chris pulled up a better smile, tossing his jacket and helmet on a chair. He wasn't anything old and alone now, and that should be all that mattered.

"You want something to drink, eat?" he offered, crossing to the tiny kitchenette and opening the ice box and abruptly remembering something else he'd meant to do today: pick up some groceries as the pickings were getting kind of slim. To his relief, as he frowned dubiously at a fuzzy tomato, two slices of pizza that looked like they were approaching petrified, and an open can of Dr. Pepper that'd lost all its fizz about two days ago, Toby said, "No thanks, I'm fine."

Well, no arguments there, Chris thought, closing the fridge door and walking slowly over to where Toby was standing, looking at a cherry wood shelf that held his books, CDs, and some other little odds-'n'-ends. He slipped his arms around his chest, feeling him start just a bit and keeping the embrace light accordingly, noticing Toby was looking at the row of framed snapshots up there.

"Are those your sisters?" Toby asked after a moment, not making any effort to get free but leaning back into him after another couple seconds.

"Nope." Chris nuzzled the nape of his neck, liking those stray little golden curls clustered there. "They're my ex-wives. That one's Kitty," he raised a hand to point it out, him and Kitty out at Golden State Park in San Francisco, lots of pretty flowers blooming and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. They'd gone there on their honeymoon. "And that's Bonnie," he pointed at the other one, him and Bonnie out on the Vegas Strip, just a couple days before he'd got his tat.

Toby angled his head around to give him a skeptical look. "You've got two ex-wives?"

"Yep." Chris resumed his light hold, blowing a waft of warm breath against those curls to watch them flutter around -- and feel Toby shiver in his arms.

"So girls?" To go by his tone of voice, that was sort of a new concept for the guy.

"Uh-huh. Why -- you just like guys?" Not that it mattered, it was just Chris could never see the sense in limiting his prospects like that.

Toby's, "No," was fairly definite, like he wanted it clear that he liked girls, too, which was also fine by Chris. He sure didn't see why it needed to be any kind of big deal.

"So ... " Chris flicked his tongue against the rim of Toby's ear, feeling that sweet quiver run through him again. "...what else do you like, Toby?"

"Ah," he swallowed, twice, "what do you mean?"

"You know," Chris let suggestion creep on into his voice, soft and low, as he held Toby, sliding one hand inside his coat to rub over his left pec, "in bed, do you like to be on the top or bottom?"

"Uhm," the pink tip of his tongue darted out to wet his lips, "both."

Chris smiled against the side of his throat. "Okay. If there's anything you don't like, you just say so anytime. It'll be fine," he murmured, catching the lobe of that ear and nibbling, loving the way Toby squirmed into him, moaning softly now. He licked that spot right underneath, feeling a stronger shudder course through the slim body -- and the next thing he knew Toby was turning around, one hand reaching around the back of his head, gripping his hair kind of hard as Toby tugged him closer and kissed his mouth. The kiss was hot and sweet and hungry, like before, pressing his head close with the one hand while the other crept down to the small of his back, rubbing and kneading.

Jesus... Chris wrapped his own arms around the wiry blond, one hand rubbing up and down his back, the other buried in that golden hair, kissing back just as hungry. was fucked how much kissing Toby was turning him on. He couldn't think of many girls he'd liked kissing this much, let alone any guys. That wasn't him, was it, the one sort of whimpering? Maybe it was, maybe he didn't care because it felt so fucking good, the way Toby's soft warm tongue was darting along his lips, wanting inside. Since they both wanted the same thing, it was no kind of hardship to let Toby part his lips and slip his tongue inside, flicking against the roof of his mouth before gliding along his own tongue.

Almost resenting the need to draw some air into his lungs, Chris managed to disengage their mouths what felt like an eternity later, setting Toby back just a bit and looking into that adorable face -- flushed with more color, eyes glowing hot and bright, mouth a little swollen and pouting. Obviously thinking breathing was entirely beside the point, Toby tried to drag him back immediately, sending him a look of profound grievance as Chris held him off, though, telling him, "Easy there, tiger, we don't gotta do everything here and now." He'd like to at least be a whole lot more naked before they really got down to brass tacks.

Something else was creeping into those blue eyes now, something that Chris didn't like because it looked a lot like second thoughts and fear.

"Toby, hey," he rubbed his shoulder, "it's okay, everything's fine."

"Is it?" Toby didn't look like he thought so.

"Yeah," Chris said, hearing a faint note of uncertainty in his own voice. "Isn't it?"

Eyes fixed on the rag-rug now, Toby shrugged. "Yeah."

Chris would have liked it better if he'd sounded a little surer of that. "Listen," he smiled, "if you want to freshen up again, the bathroom's through there," he pointed at the bedroom. "There's a fire escape outside the window, too," he added, smiling some more, "in case you want to make a quick getaway." He would have liked it more if Toby didn't shoot him a look like he might really take under consideration. "Go on," Chris gave him a gentle shove, "go make yourself comfortable."

And that was almost beyond screwy, he was thinking as Toby went over to the bedroom and closed the door behind him, how this was proving to be a whole lot more work than ought to be necessary. It was never like this with a guy. That was sort of the point of going with a guy in fact: you both knew what you wanted and could skip all those wooing and winning stages and just get laid. Hell, the only guy he'd ever known who had acted skittish like this was himself, back in Lardner, when that neo-nazi bastard came after him -- and that had been a whole different sort of situation.

Chris shoved that memory way back down, cast a worried look at that closed bedroom door and tried to get his mind on something else for a couple of minutes. Maybe he should put some music on? Maybe he should order out for some food in case they worked up an appetite? Maybe he should see what the hell Toby was doing in there?

Going with that one, he cracked open the bedroom door, seeing the warm glow of the bedside lamp spilling across the bed -- and the window open wide, white curtains fluttering in the tiny breeze. Fuck.

There was no denying the disappointment he felt this time, or that it felt like something more than just being left in the lurch with his hormones racing away. He couldn't explain it, he only knew it felt like he'd been kicked a good one in the gut.

With a sigh, he crossed over to the window, reaching to shut it -- and stopping as he caught sight of that golden head. He blinked, looked again and saw him just sitting out there on the top step, kind of hunched over. Well ... what the fuck was going on? Chris wasn't even sure if this was a good development or not. He'd never been less sure of anything or anyone in a long time, much less gotten all tied up in knots over someone like this.

Half tempted to just let him sit out there, after a moment Chris climbed out onto the fire escape and went over to him, sitting beside him. Toby glanced at him once, then away again, like there was nothing more fascinating in the world than the small patch of green grass, a hedge, and a couple of trees that made up the garden part of the apartment building.

They sat there for a long time, not saying anything, just listening to the sounds of the city -- the heavy traffic going by a few streets over, an ambulance siren cutting through the night. Two dogs were barking at each other closer by, and a cat was yowling its head off down along the fence. Minutes ticked on by and music started drifting out from Mrs. DeLucca's apartment, one of those old records she liked to play, Dean Martin this time, singing that dumb song about the moon hitting the sky like a big pizza pie.

More minutes ticked by, Dean singing something in Italian now, and Toby's soft voice startling Chris after the long silence. "I've never done this before."

Chris' first reflex was to reply, 'Yeah, sure you haven't,' because he knew Toby'd been making goo-goo eyes at him, coming onto him all night, and no way did you kiss the hell out of another guy the way Toby'd done him if you'd never done it before. Some other instinct kicked in before he'd opened his mouth, though, telling him to hold his horses because maybe that was true. "You don't gotta do it now," was what he finally said, even though he did not want to see Toby walk away now.

Toby turned to look at him then, real close, reaching to touch his face again. "I want to."

And that made something sort of flip over funny in his stomach, looking into that serious face, feeling those gentle fingers caressing his cheek. "You sure?"

Very solemn, Toby nodded, "Yes," and leaned in close, their mouths meeting in a soft, slow kiss that might have been the best kiss Chris had ever known.

Jesus... What the fuck was going on?


OK, some more of this. Not much going on yet, but I promise they will get to the good part in the next chapter.


Part Three

"So," Chris looked at Toby sitting there so seriously on the edge of the bed now, "when you say you've never done this, you don't mean you're like...a virgin virgin?" Because that would be way more responsibility than he was ready to take on.

Toby shot him an indignant look, though, and said, "I've had sex," declaring it in a really definite way, rounded chin raised up and daring anyone to dispute that.

Since it was too much fun teasing him, however, Chris said, "And -- there was someone with you in the room at the time?"

Exhaling one of those huffy breaths, Toby informed him, "Yes, there was someone else in the room."

Chris tried not to smile as he finally crossed over from when he'd been leaning against the dresser and sat down beside Toby, the mattress dipping just a bit. "Anyone ever tell you you're real cute when you do that?"

"When I do what?" Toby said, suspicious.

"Get all snippy," Chris said and watched him turn that over in his head to see how he liked it.

After another moment Toby sniffed and said, "I am not snippy."

Chris gave him a fondly amused look. "You're kind of snippy." He reached to fiddle with Toby's necktie, running his fingers over the blue silk before starting to tug it loose. He watched Toby's face all the while, trying to gauge how this was going over. All the signs were promising, no doubt about that -- even if Toby wasn't sure how he felt about getting teased. He wasn't looking snippy anyhow, not a bit. Lips slightly parted, breath coming kind of rapid, eyes bright behind their lenses, Toby looked ready to pounce just about any time. That was good, except Chris didn't want pouncing, not tonight, not right now. Which was maybe something else he'd need to think about later.

He pulled the blue silk free and tossed the tie over on a straight-back chair by the dresser, still watching Toby for any sign of how he was feeling about this, if he wanted it to stop. So far, so good, and he ran his index finger lightly over that little hollow at the base of Toby's throat, feeling him shiver and tremble just from that. Okay, maybe Toby'd had sex all right, but Chris was getting the impression the guy hadn't been laid lately.

Watching Toby's eyes drift shut for a moment, he frowned and then slipped off those dorky glasses, setting them over on the nightstand. "That's better." Glasses could be kind of sexy, actually -- but not that pair; they looked too much like something a mom'd pick out for you.

"I need those for...driving and...stuff," Toby murmured, eyelids fluttering as Chris' thumbs stroked his cheeks, as Chris kissed the corner of his mouth.

"Not for the kinda driving you're gonna be doing tonight," Chris murmured back, nuzzling his jaw and smiling as he felt another shudder run through the wiry blond. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been with someone this responsive to even the slightest touch, and he had to admit it was kind of a major turn on. He sat back, cupping that stubborn little chin, his thumb brushing across Toby's lips. "How old are you?"

Sky blue eyes blinked and focused, looking kind of puzzled. "Why?"

"Just curious." He knew he wasn't robbing the cradle or anything, but the vibes he kept getting here felt awfully innocent and he wasn't exactly sure how he felt about that.

"Twenty-six. How old are you?"

"Almost thirty."

"Wow," Toby had that snarky air back, "you're about ready to sign up for AARP, huh?"

Chris narrowed his eyes back at him. "Smart ass." He shrugged then. "I don't know -- we might be about the same age, Toby, but..." But there wasn't a whole lot else they had in common.

"But what?" Toby was touching him again, stroking the hair at his temple.

Gaze dropping to the blue-and-white bedspread, tracing one of the geometrical patterns, Chris thought about how to tell him without quite telling him. "You ever see Raiders of the Lost Ark?"

"Ah, yeah. What--"

"It's sorta like what Indiana Jones says in there, about how it ain't the years it's the mileage that takes its toll."

Toby nodded, looking into his face really intently like this was actually important to him. He reached to clasp Chris' hands, just holding them lightly. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Chris gave him a startled look, Toby's voice and manner a lot more unexpected than the question. He'd run across a lot of people who'd kind of gotten off on the more ugly details of his life, all the stuff Chris didn't like remembering. There had even been this one girl, Sharon, who he'd made the big mistake of trusting way too much and confiding a whole lot in her, even about Schillinger back at Lardner, only to have her tell him it really made her hot to think about him getting overpowered by another guy like that. That was the only time Chris could remember ever wanting to haul off and sock a girl. Toby, though - he didn't get the feeling Toby was looking for some kind of vicarious kick by asking. Chris could almost believe Toby might really care. All the same, past experience made him wary of revealing too much right off the bat.

And that was fucked because that was like pretending there was something starting here and they were going to have plenty of time to get to know each other. Common sense ought to tell him it was nothing like that. They'd never see each other again after tonight, so what did it matter what he told Toby?

"Nah," he finally said, pulling up a lop-sided smile, knowing it was stupid to feel kind of sad that this was the one and only time he'd see this guy. Maybe he hadn't learned that lesson, the pointlessness of wanting something like that, well enough after all? "There's nothing to tell." Toby was just looking for a good time; that was all anybody ever wanted with him. A couple hours ago Chris had been pretty sure that's all he ever wanted, too, and he couldn't exactly put his finger on how that had changed all of a sudden. Except that Toby'd been treating him kind of nice and he'd always been a little prone to making way too much out of gestures like that, finding out way too late they hadn't really meant it the way he thought.

Toby was still watching him, chewing his lip and not looking like he bought that one hundred percent, like he wanted to talk about it some more. Chris couldn't deny that held some appeal; he could think of worse things than sitting here all night and just talking to Toby and find out all about him. He was getting a good a really feeling from being around him and didn't want it to end. It was just the sort of situation where he could wind up doing something foolish.

Well, one way to keep from saying anything dumb was to get his mouth busy with something else. Chris slipped his hand around the back of Toby's neck and brought him close for another kiss. "So," his lips caught on Toby's bottom one, tugging for a second and then letting go, "what do you want to do?"

"I'm..." Toby had to catch his breath. "I'm not sure."

Chris rubbed his cheek against Toby's, working a hand inside his shirt to caress his chest. "You are sure you wanna do something, though?" He had to check again and make sure. The idea of looking into Toby's eyes and seeing accusation there, hurt and anger over being pushed into something was unbearable.

Toby's, "Yes," sounded certain enough, though. He drew back a bit, giving Chris a worried look. "Don't you want to?"

Chris tugged him back, kissing his mouth and grazing his lips along a smooth cheek to his ear, growling, "Oh, fuck yeah."

"How come?" Toby sounded like he really was mystified about that.

"'Cause..." Chris sat back and looked at him, not sure how to put it all into words, even the stuff that was really obvious. "I don't know - 'cause you're the hottest guy I've seen in a long time." Like - ever. But maybe that had something to do with those other things swirling around his head, how Toby was good company, real easy to like. About the only thing he knew for certain at this point was this was getting awfully complicated for simple fuck.

Toby was giving him a really skeptical look now. "I'm hot?" He said it like that was harder to believe in than the Tooth Fairy.

"Yep." Chris smiled, running a finger along that cute little nose.

Toby's face scrunched up with even more disbelief. "I think you might be the one who needs corrective lenses."

"And you need your head examined. Baby," Chris snatched another kiss, "you're a knock out."

"Maybe in your eyes."

"They're the only ones that count," Chris murmured, nuzzling his jaw. "Uhm..." He moved back, feeling kind of embarrassed and looking at the bedspread, wanting to call those words back. They were getting him way too close to being an idiot over what was happening here. "I mean..." He didn't know what the fuck he meant. He just had a feeling picking up Toby had been a huge mistake. What else could it be when he was already wishing they'd never have to say goodbye?

Whatever he meant, Toby liked it -- a lot. He wasn't sure he believed it, but he was feeling kind of inclined to hear it a few more times and see if the idea wanted to settle in and make itself at home. It was fairly revolutionary idea for him, after all. Gen seemed to like him well enough, and not just because of his family's wealth and social position, but all the same he'd never gotten the impression she was hot to jump his bones even the few times they had gone to bed together. And he knew what guys always said, how there was no such thing as bad sex, but having a partner who didn't just lie there and act like she'd rather be doing needlepoint had to make some kind of difference.

He looked at Chris, struck by how intently the other man was watching him, reminding him of one of those Border Collies, waiting on some signal from him to go ahead and pounce. It was sort of startling having someone that focused on him, but he thought that was something else he could really get used to. Except -- and he bit his lip, not liking the reality that wanted to intrude -- getting used to this wasn't a real option. Was it? Did it make him nuts that he wished the answer could be yes?

Also, not that he had a lot of experience with this sort of thing, but shouldn't a one-night stand feel a lot more casual and impersonal? This felt very personal, and like there was a whole lot going on here. More of a sizzle than he'd ever felt with Genevieve, or anyone else, that was for sure. More of a desire to get inside this man's head and learn all his thoughts and secrets than he'd had with Genevieve. And a fuck of a stronger desire to get naked and sweaty with this man.

And he flashed on a memory of a club he'd wound up in with some friends on spring break a while back, looking around and noticing there was nothing but guys in the place -- guys who were in various stages of undress out on the dance floor and not appearing to mind the absence of any girls to dance with. His friends had behaved like macho morons, eventually getting their asses booted outside, but Toby had lingered, intrigued, and felt more than a fleeting twinge or two in the groinal area as he'd watched one couple in particular out there on the dance floor, totally wrapped up in each other -- figuratively and literally -- exchanging long, slow kisses like the taste of each other's mouths was the most intoxicating flavor in the world...

Oh boy.

He swallowed, looked into those deep blue eyes, looked at Chris' mouth -- and knew exactly how those two guys had felt.

Toby tugged Chris' head close, seeking his lips, and feeling a deep satisfaction as they opened to him, Chris' tongue sliding against his. They sank back on the mattress, hands roaming as they kissed, hungry, but savoring each touch and wanting to make it last.

Except -- there was something wrong.

"Wait, wait," he scooted away just a bit, sitting up and giving his companion a serious look -- not missing the perplexed wariness in Chris' eyes. "I'm Tobias Beecher," he said, holding out his hand.

Amused disbelief flashed in those blue eyes for a moment as Chris sat up. "Pleased to meet you," he said, clearly trying not to laugh. "I'm Christopher Keller," he added, clasping Toby's outstretched hand and giving it a firm shake.

Satisfied, Toby nodded; this definitely couldn't be anything anonymous now. And with that taken care of... He reached over, running his right hand running up Chris' arm, fingers stopping as they reached the bottom half of that tattoo. Wanting to see the rest of it, he pushed the t-shirt sleeve up and revealed the entire figure, Christ crucified not on a wooden cross but on this living flesh. He wondered if that meant something -- figured it had to, actually -- but decided to be content with only admiring its clean, sharp lines standing out so starkly on Chris' tanned skin for now. He'd ask about it another time, he thought as his fingers delicately traced those lines. "It's beautiful."

Looking pleased, Chris said, "Yeah?"

"Yeah." To prove it, he leaned it to sweep his lips over it, feeling the strong body shudder and hearing him catch his breath in a little gasp.

"Ah," Chris swallowed, "I got another one."

"Yeah?" Toby held his arm, kissed the inside of his elbow, smiling as he felt another tremor. "What is it? Where is it?"

"Uhm... oh geez, you'll probably find out ... soon enough," Chris breathed the words out on soft, small moans as Toby kissed and licked a trail down to his wrist, passing his tongue over that delta of veins and feeling the pulse of his blood, of his heart. "...fuck..."

Getting the impression he just might be doing something right, Toby finished by pressing a kiss right to the center of Chris' palm. Then he sat back on his heels, looking at him and very much liking what he saw. He reached out again, hand curving over a swell of pectoral muscle, playing with the nipple outlined by the taut, thin cloth. He watched Chris' eyes flutter shut for a moment, thick, dark lashes lifting an instant later to reveal a look of smoldering desire. Desire for him, his touch was so clear in those blue eyes -- oh yeah, he was doing something right here. Smiling at that, almost wanting to do something like whoop for joy, Toby contented himself with swooping down to kiss Chris' throat, and run his tongue over the Adam's apple before nuzzling his way into the crook of Chris' neck. Head resting there, listening to Chris' breathing, feeling the broad chest rise and fall, Toby trailed his hand along Chris' back, tugging the t-shirt out of his jeans and slipping a hand under the thin white cloth to touch warm, bare skin. He ran his tongue over the pulse in Chris' neck while his fingers walked up the ridge of spine until he could cup the nape of his companion's neck, feel the silky dark hairs brush his fingers as their mouths met once more with perfect precision.

"You sure," Chris had to pause and do a better job of catching his breath as their mouths separated, "you sure you never done this before?"

"Uhm," Toby cupped his face, thumb brushing along kiss-swollen lips, "yeah, pretty sure. But I've thought about it a lot." And he wasn't kidding. Maybe he was a sex maniac or something, but he felt like he'd been hungry for this, aching to touch someone like this forever.

"I'm gonna like the way you think, baby," Chris said, following up the declaration by pulling him close again, both hands running up into his hair as Chris kissed him.

Toby opened his mouth, eager to accommodate his lover's questing tongue, wanting Chris to crawl right inside him. Panting for air, he tugged at the t-shirt, wanting it out of the way. "Take this off," he said. "Take it all off."

"That an order?" Chris drawled back, sitting back on his heels and not looking very inclined to put up a fight about this.

"You bet your ass it is," Toby said, nipping at his lips and running a hand up the hard, flat stomach.

Chris slipped off the bed and just stood there for a few moments, giving him a long and searching look. Toby had no idea what he might be looking for but it seemed he'd found it, because after another moment Chris tugged the t-shirt all the way out of his waistband and -- gripping the hem with both hands -- slowly peeled it off. Toby knelt there on the bed, rubbing his hands up and down his own thighs as he greedily watched this striptease. White cotton rose up to expose a taut abdomen, belly button; higher, over ribs and pecs and hard nipples, finally whipped off over his head and tossed away as Chris stood there, shoulders thrown back and clearly not minding that he was being visually devoured. Just the opposite, if that smug little upward quirk of his lips was anything to go by.

"More?" he said, hands going to the buckle of his belt.

Toby licked his lips and nodded. "Uh-huh." Waiting impatiently as Chris took a few seconds to get rid of his boots and socks first, he was rewarded very soon thereafter as he watched Chris unfasten the belt buckle, letting the ends hang free and reaching for the snap of his jeans. And could it really be necessary to tug the zipper down that slowly? He thought about that, watching, listening, and practically tingling with the anticipation.

Finally the jeans were open and Chris was pushing them down his narrow hips, bending over just a bit with a cute little wiggle to get them down further, then kicking them away. Toby had no idea where the denim might have landed. He was far too busy thinking -- gaze fixed on Chris' groin --how he'd never known anyone that didn't wear underwear. Damn.

Not nearly as embarrassed as he would have expected, but sort of thinking he ought to be, Toby tried to stop staring at Chris' cock, his gaze darting away, spotting a mark high up on his left thigh, flicking back for another longer look and realizing he'd found the other tattoo. Kind of amazed he still possessed the ability to speak, he said, "Why'd you get it there?" as he admired the blue butterfly with it's fluttery wings and curling antenna.

"Why'd ya think?" Chris returned, like that was the rhetorical question of all rhetorical questions. And maybe it was, given exactly where the butterfly was situated.

"Can I touch it?"

The dark head nodded, once, and Toby reached out, fingertips caressing along its wings, tracing the antenna. "It's cute."

Chris just shrugged, giving the impression 'cute' might not have been exactly the impression he'd had in mind, but apparently not inclined to fight about that either. Instead he gave Toby a long, hungry look, and said, "So -- you gonna get naked?" in a way that made Toby shiver, the hair on his arms standing up.

That wasn't the only thing standing up as he slid off the bed and took some deep breaths, thinking about that word -- naked -- as he toed off his loafers. It was the right word, the perfect word. Not nude, with its cool and clinical connotations. No -- Toby let his jacket fall to the pale blue carpet and began unfastening his shirt, well aware of Chris' intense gaze following every move -- naked was the only word for this. Something primal, something wild... And a little bit dangerous? He thought about that, too, letting his dress shirt fall and unfastening his belt, feeling a decided thrill run through him as Chris' gaze swept over him.

No one would believe it, that quiet, polite little Toby was about to get fucked through the mattress by the hottest, sexiest guy he had ever laid eyes on. And he had the funniest feeling he just might love every fucking minute.

He let his pants fall, kicked them away, wished he could be courageous enough to ever go without underwear as he pulled his boxers down, and then stood there, waiting. His stripping hadn't possessed any of the finesse Chris had, but he kind of got the idea he wasn't being graded on technique. Even more astonishing -- given his thinner, pale body didn't strike him as anything to get exited about -- was that Chris' appetite for him hadn't diminished in the least.

If there had been even a flicker of doubt that way, it would have been extinguished in the next instant as Chris took two steps towards him, closing the distance between them, and wrapped him up in those strong arms. Shuddering with the pleasure of their naked bodies meeting, at Chris' cock pressing against his, Toby looped his arms around Chris' neck, holding on tight and angling in for another kiss.

Oh boy.


OK, some more of this. The HML starts now -- well, after the stuff with Gen.

Hope you enjoy.


Part Four

Genevieve looked at the telephone as it rang for the second time, really debating whether or not to answer -- especially if it was Toby on the other end. No matter how sweet and charming he was, what on earth could he say to explain away the awful embarrassment this time? Besides, it probably wasn't him; he was probably still in a bar somewhere, wrapped up in ... well, whatever it was that had him so preoccupied. Maybe he had a favorite sympathetic bartender he shared it all with, preferring that anonymity to having to confide anything in her?

She let it ring one more time before giving into the inevitable and reaching for the receiver. Resigned to its likely being her mother still not done dissecting the evening, she was only slightly relieved to hear her roommate's voice.

"So -- is it safe to come home or should I plan on staying out a little longer?" Janine Dorsey said, not shy about getting right to the point. Genevieve often thought it must be really nice to be Janine.

"No, you don't have to inconvenience yourself," she told her best friend and bride's maid, hearing an exasperated sigh at the other end of the line and easily imagining the eye roll that went with it.

"It's not a matter of me being inconvenienced, Gen, it's a matter of you getting time alone with Toby."

And was that just funny, or kind of pathetic that Janine could call him Toby without even having to think about it? That earned an eye roll, too, every time Janine heard her call him Tobias. She wasn't even sure she could explain her hesitation about that. He'd told her to call him Toby often enough, but it was the way he told her, like he didn't really mean it and just didn't want people thinking there was anything odd going on between them. If she ever mentioned it to him he'd only say that wasn't how he meant it at all.

He was always saying things she took the wrong way, saying something just to be funny and then getting irritated when she didn't get the joke. She still didn't see how it was witty to make fun of her father's accomplishments, for instance, how he'd built up the Speedy-Mart franchise with no degrees from Harvard, just long, hard work. Apparently it was fodder for humor, though, because all Toby's friends had laughed at him describing Speedy-Mart as, 'Like 7/11 -- but without the class.' He had apologized when he realized she'd overheard and explained he hadn't really meant anything by it. Every once in a while Genevieve thought she ought to be a little tougher about letting him off the hook so easily. She bet Janine wouldn't let him charm his way out of everything so easily.

She bet Janine wouldn't have thought twice before asking about the engagement ring, either. That still mortified her, and was jostling with this evening for most embarrassing moment of her life. Toby's grandmother -- up from Palm Beach for the wedding -- had come over to her last night at the wedding rehearsal, wanting to see the ring, only to act very puzzled and disappointed as Genevieve held out her hand. Genevieve knew she'd still be in the dark about that if she hadn't overheard the old woman and Victoria Beecher talking about it, 'Victoria, why didn't Toby give the girl my engagement ring? I told him specifically that was for when he met the girl he wanted to marry.' Victoria had replied that she didn't really know, Toby had just said something about how he thought Genevieve would prefer something more modern.

Or was it more that he was holding out hope for someone more suitable coming along and wanted to make sure the family heirlooms were safe and sound?

"Gen? You still there?"

She blinked, pulling herself back to the present. "Yes, Janine, I'm here. You can come back anytime."

"Toby's gone already?"

"He," she hesitated a moment, "he didn't come in."

A long pause on Janine's end, then, "Gen, did he show up at all?"

And Genevieve knew she was thinking of last night, when Toby had been technically present, even going through all the procedures flawlessly. He'd made it clear he was bored and impatient to get it over with, though, and had made excuses to get out of there -- by himself -- as quickly as possible.

"He was...detained at work," Genevieve said.

Janine wasn't buying, though. "Yeah -- detained by some guy named Jack Daniels?"

"He's working on an important case."

That provoked a very unladylike snort from Janine, followed by, "I'll just bet he is."

And since this was a conversation Genevieve did not want to have she simply chose to ignore that and silently wait out her friend.

A long sigh on the other end of the line, then, "Yeah, I guess you're old enough to fuck up your life if you want to."

Genevieve replied with more silence to that, hanging up as soon as Janine said she'd probably be back in about another hour or so. She was not ... fucking ... up her life. She was going to marry the man of her dreams, the one she was perfect with. And Janine was a fine one to get after her now when she had encouraged her to go out with the boss's son in the first place. Janine had even said that was quite a coup when Genevieve told her about the engagement, although... Gen paused, clutching a cotton ball smeared with eye shadow, recalling how she'd always thought Janine had sounded just a bit sarcastic.

Well -- she just wasn't going to dwell on that. It was only natural that everyone was feeling edgy and jittery with so many things to get done. Once all the fuss was over and they were married, once everything was all squared away, everything would be all right. It had to be. Everyone was expecting it.

She tidied up her dressing table, finished brushing out her hair and tried not to stare too long at the ring on her finger. It was pretty, a simple platinum band with one emerald cut diamond in the center, very modern-looking. And Grandmother Beecher's ring might very well be some hideously ugly monstrosity; something Toby knew she'd hate but would feel compelled to wear no matter what. Was it so wrong to give him that benefit of the doubt?

She got up from the dressing table, pausing to consider her reflection in the mirror, wondering if she would ever get up the courage to wear a nightgown that didn't match her sheets -- white, sprigged with pink roses -- or that didn't have ruffles. Janine and the other girls had given her some sexy lingerie for the honeymoon, but Genevieve couldn't imagine ever actually putting it on. She still remembered her mother, after doing a load of her sister-in-law's laundry, looking at Brenda's lingerie and saying only a prostitute would wear things like that.

And she wondered if that had anything to do with why Brenda and Don had written to say they were just too swamped with things out in L.A. and couldn't make it back for the wedding.

With a sigh, she got into bed and reached for the paperback on her nightstand, thinking at least she had it better than Victoria Holt's heroines. She didn't have to worry that her fiance might have murdered a former wife, or that she might get strangled herself at any moment, that was something.

Although, she settled back against the pillow, turning to her place, as positive spins went Genevieve supposed that did kind of leave a lot to be desired.

Toby rolled his head on the pillow, looking at their hands clasped tightly together against the white cotton. He shuddered as Chris moved against him, just that languorous and rhythmic glide of skin against skin, and looked up into the handsome face focused on him with so much concentration. A drop of sweat was slipping down the tanned skin, clinging to his chin for a moment -- until Toby flicked his tongue out to catch it, tasting the salt.

He ran his tongue over that spot again, feeling the other man tremble under the gentle assault, and working his other hand free so he could cup the back of Chris' neck and keep him in place so Toby could kiss his mouth. He tried to take his time over that, kissing just the corner of his mouth, then fleeting, teasing darts of his tongue over tender lips. But those lips opened to him so readily, the tip of Chris' tongue gliding out to caress his own, that Toby just pulled the dark head closer and greedily claimed his share of kisses. He only let up when Chris dragged his mouth away, panting and burying his face against Toby's neck, shuddering against him.

After another few seconds, Chris raised his head to look at him, bewildered amazement in his eyes. "I guess you're all over being shy?"

It did kind of look that way, yes. "I am sort of feeling inspired."

"Inspired, huh?" Chris said, dragging his lips along Toby's collarbone. "How about hot and horny?" he added, licking the tiny hollow there. "You feelin' that, too?"

"Christ, yes," he practically groaned the words out as the dark head scooted just a shade further, lips catching a nipple and sucking. Any hotter and hornier and he might explode. He needed to do more, though. It didn't feel right that he was splayed out there letting Chris do all the work.

With that thought in mind, he squirmed around, trying to get a better grip on sweat-slicked skin and wrestle Chris over onto his back. He waited a moment, hovering over him and watching to see if this was all right or not. When Chris only hooked a leg around his hips and tugged him down for more lazy, hot kisses, Toby was inclined to interpret that as a very positive sign.

Pulling back after a few more lush kisses, Toby sat back on his heels and just soaked up the sight of Chris stretched out against the pale blue sheets. He reached out to touch, fingertips grazing from broad shoulder to narrow hip, smiling just a bit smugly as Chris arched into that touch, practically rumbling with pleasure. He couldn't get over that, how eagerly Chris responded to him, like he was just as starved for this. It was the most addictive rush he'd ever felt.

And... He just wasn't going to think about having to give this up. He was going to let tomorrow take care of itself and just enjoy what was laid out before him. And there was -- he ran a leisurely hand along Chris' thigh -- so very much to enjoy. His fingers slipped inward, caressing the more tender flesh he found there, all the while eating up his lover's response. The hard, taut belly fluttered to every stroke and the broad chest rose and fell with breathy sighs as Toby's fingers played over his skin -- he wasn't even touching any of the really interesting bits yet. Smiling at that, absorbing the feel of soft hairs tickling his fingers as his hand ran up and down Chris' thigh, Toby bit his lip and let his fingers creep higher, reaching between those thighs to cup Chris' balls, gently rolling and squeezing them as Chris pressed his head back into the pillow and exposed the strong column of his throat. Presented with that temptation, it didn't even cross Toby's mind to resist as he leaned in to run his tongue along it, tenderly biting and sucking along to his lover's jaw and then willingly surrendering as Chris worked a hand into his hair and pulled him to his mouth, their tongues lashing in a frenzy of kisses.

"I guess..." Chris began, faltering and waiting until he'd dragged more air into his lungs. "I guess you're...oh geez," he shivered again as Toby's mouth latched onto a nipple, "you're figuring out like..." The broad chest heaved again, a heartfelt groan welling up as Toby moved his head and lapped the other nipple.

Smiling, Toby rested his head on Chris' chest, fingers resuming where his lips and tongue had left off. "Looks that way, yes. Is there anything you're especially fond of?" he asked, lightly tickling his fingers along his lover's ribcage now.

Sapphire eyes just a bit glazed, Chris swallowed, said, "Anything... Whatever you wanna do." He put some effort into pulling himself together then, giving Toby a serious look. "You don't have to worry about anything, either," he said, his tone implying he was imparting vital information.

Golden brows drawing together, Toby shook his head. "I'm not sure...?"

Chris reached to pull him up, taking a moment to kiss the tiny furrows between his eyebrows. "You know -- AIDS, and stuff."

Oh. He hadn't even thought of that. "Ah, you've been tested?"

"Yeah. I'm always real careful, but, you know, just to be on the safe side." Chris shrugged.

"Yeah. I...was, too," he said, more reluctant to have to admit it had sort of been a moot point anyway given his lack of wild oat-sowing, but it had put Genevieve's mind at ease. "I'm...okay, too." And since he didn't want to dwell on his fiance under the circumstances, he stretched out beside Chris again, clasping his hand. "Since we're both okay then..." he said, giving Chris a suggestive look.

"I guess there's nothing stopping us."

"You catch on quick, Keller."

Chris flashed a bright smile at him, the kind that could light up a whole room. "You're not too backwards yourself, Beech," he said, fusing their mouths together again.

And he was definitely getting his fuse lit here. Toby smiled at that, his arms around Chris' naked back, holding him tight. He let his hands glide along smooth, tanned skin, feeling the heat, feeling the bunch and flex of muscles under his palms -- loving that strength, incredibly turned on by it. More exhilaration came as Chris shifted on top of him and he spread his legs to let the other man settle then, closing his eyes as Chris nuzzled along his throat, wanting to commit every moment, every sensation, to memory. The feather soft sensation as Chris' eyelashes brushed his skin, and the soft tip of a tongue tracing the line of his jaw ... opening his eyes to see his lover's face so close, shivering in the heat as Chris' tongue flicked out again to taste the sweat trickling down from his temple. His hands kneaded Chris' slim waist for a moment, then slipped down, curving over the flesh of that incredible ass and squeezing, both of them moaning simultaneous -- Chris at Toby's questing, curious hands; Toby at his lover's talented mouth nibbling along his lips.

He sighed and groaned as Chris began to move against him, thrashing his head on the pillow, muscles tensed with the effort to hold still as Chris rubbed and pressed against him. He felt as much as heard Chris' voice, whispering against his ear, telling him, "Easy, shh... take it easy..." Soothing him, trying to calm him. "Just breathe,'s it... " He opened his eyes, expecting to feel embarrassed but not able to at the fond look of understanding in those deep blue eyes.

Even so, he thought he ought to apologize. "Sorry, I--"

Chris stopped him with a kiss. "Wanna try again?"


Chris gave him that smile again, shifting on top of him with languid grace. They might had all the time in the world -- that's what he implied with each slow and easy movement, and Toby found it very easy to take that cue and settle back as Chris kissed and caressed him, gentling him into it. He laughed, complaining that it tickled, as Chris nuzzled into am armpit, then caught his breath and moaned as his lover's mouth made a lazy journey along his arm, licking the inside of an elbow, then the inside of a wrist, before kissing each fingertip and stretching both arms above their heads as Chris nuzzled his way back to Toby's hungry mouth.

Toby raised one knee as Chris began to move against him once more. Shifting against him, he hooked the leg around his lover's hips and pressed up into him, meeting every thrust. Tangled together, the small room filled with their cries and gasps as their bodies pushed and rubbed, mouths stealing kisses and snatching desperate breaths, hands clutching, pulling; making air-starved, greedy demands for, "More," and, "Harder," and, "Faster...faster..." Anything to hasten them to that moment of completion, muscles clenched with the pleasure pouring through their hopelessly entwined bodies. Pleasure that burst in wordless cries of release, wetness spilling between their quivering bellies, the passion slow to ebb and subside as they collapsed against each other, the night breeze from the open window cool on their hot, wet skin as they dredged up just enough strength to look at each other with matching sweet and dopey smiles.


Part Five

Toby squirmed pleasurably against the pale blue sheets as Chris slowly drew a damp cloth over his skin, cleaning him. That feeling spiked considerably as Chris leaned down and licked his belly -- just one, quick swipe. Oh man... Mission apparently accomplished, Chris sat back up, one corner of his mouth lifting with a pleased smile as he finished washing Toby.

"Bastard," Toby huffed at him.

Chris chuckled and stretched out beside him. "You want payback?" he said, handing him the washcloth.

Accepting it, Toby sat up, contemplating the man sprawled out before him. He looked smug and sleek and content, and tastier than anything Toby had ever seen in his life. He was like a banquet, laid out there, whetting his appetite; making him think of things like drizzling the other man with sweet butter or chocolate just so he could lick and suck it all off.

There were, he supposed as his eyes roamed over the gorgeously delectable body on display, a lot worse things to be thinking of, however. And with that in mind... Toby got off the bed and returned what he hoped was a cool and enigmatic look as Chris eyed him curiously. It was just a bit tougher to maintain any sense of lan as he walked, naked, over to the bathroom well aware that relentless gaze was on him -- and his bare ass in particular -- all the way.

All the same it was kind of a relief to escape into the bathroom, if just for the few moments it took to rinse the washcloth and make some attempt to compose himself. It wasn't much of an attempt. One part of his mind was, for instance, able to catalog the features of the small and tidy bathroom -- cool blue walls, white tile floor, combination tub and shower, nothing more exotic than mint-flavored dental floss in the medicine cabinet. But mostly he was occupied with savoring the memory of that warm and sexy gaze that made no bones about really appreciating the view.

He looked at himself in the mirror, not exactly able to see himself as Chris did, except in the after effects. He could see those in the way he was standing taller, shoulders thrown back like he wanted to show himself. It was there in the goofy smile he couldn't quite get off his face, and the sparkle of mischief in his eyes because of what he was planning to do when he got back to the bedroom.

His eyes clouded with a hint of concern, the corners of his mouth turning slightly downwards, as reality bumped up against his thoughts for a moment, wanting to come in and spoil everything. Somewhat to his surprise, it didn't take all that much to chase the unwelcome intruder away and concentrate on what was, what he could have now -- no doubt waiting just a bit impatiently back in the bedroom.

Toby finished rinsing out the washcloth, wringing out the excess water, and then retraced his path back to the bed. Chris hadn't moved much: his hands were hooked behind his head, one knee slightly raised as he reclined there like some wanton work of classic sculpture. The beautiful head turned towards him, though, and Toby faltered for a moment as Chris raked him with that same bold gaze -- up, down, then back... slowly, lingering. What really floored Toby was that he didn't feel himself blushing under that erotic appraisal. Quite the contrary, in fact. He felt sort of... cocky and smug as he looked right back, crossing the short distance with an unfamiliar confidence. He wasn't sure but thought he might have even swaggered for a moment.

Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Toby reached out to the raised leg and caressed the top of the long, narrow foot placed flat against the mattress -- and feeling a bit too tempted to find out if this human aphrodisiac had ticklish toes -- before lightly gripping his ankle. "Do you do this for everyone?" he said, now gliding his hand up and down Chris' shin, the tanned skin feeling a little sticky from sweat, the hairs soft under his palm.

His question had seemed harmless enough to him, but Chris was giving him a wary, guarded look. "What do you mean?"

Toby shrugged, fingers caressing along the well-muscled calf now, tickling the back of his knee. "Just wondering about this magic you weave, if you make everyone feel this good about themselves. And I don't just mean the sex," he added, bending to kiss his knee.

Chris smiled, just that little upward lift of one corner of his mouth. "No magic."

Toby wasn't so sure. He was sure he wanted a lot more of this enchantment, though -- and not just the sex, although that was a crucial element of the spell. He smiled at that as his fingers wandered on up along Chris' thigh and he bent his head again to kiss the inside of Chris' knee, licking a deliberate path ever so slowly higher, tasting salt and Chris. Raising his head, Toby watched his lover -- watched him lick his lips and catch his breath, a breath that shuddered out of him on a quiet moan as Toby scooted closer and lowered his head once more, this time lapping up the still-damp evidence of their release on Chris' stomach. It was tart and kind of sweet, and he could feel the taut belly quiver against his tongue. Sitting up, he daubed his fingers in what was left, his eyes locked with Chris' -- eating up the simmering desire he saw there -- as he meticulously licked each pad clean.

"Oh Christ... Toby," Chris groaned the words out, hips pumping and clearly wanting to drag him down into his arms but controlling that, waiting to see where Toby wanted to go. "Jesus... You're the one workin' magic, Tobe."

"Well," Toby knew he was smiling with glee now, "it does look like both our wands have a lot of life in them yet," he said, sort of surprising himself by the comment.

Chris, too, judging by the look of tickled surprise he shot him. "Yeah, looks that way," he said, then sighed and shifted against the cool sheets as Toby washed him with the cloth.

Done, Toby set the washcloth over on the nightstand then settled down beside him. This was nice too, just being together, lying there in Chris' comfortable bed and listening to all the night sounds drifting through the open window as they watched each other. The faint, scratchy sounds of an old record wafted in, a woman -- Billie Holiday, maybe? -- singing about, "Them there eyes..." Down in the street a car pulled up, the engine shut off and two doors opened and closed; voices, a man and woman speaking Spanish, carried on the night air for a few moments before moving out of range. There was a rumble of traffic further away, all the sounds of the city. Closer by, something thumped out on the fire escape and a moment later a furry, orange face appeared at the window, one ear looking like it had been recently gnawed on. For a second it looked like the cat was going to climb on through the window. It caught sight of Toby, though, puts its ears back and hissed, and slunk away from the window.

"Is he always that friendly?"

Chris looked over at the window. "Pretty much. He doesn't belong to anywhere, just comes around mooching once in a while."

"Does he have a name?"

Chris shrugged. "Hey You?"

Toby laughed, laying his along Chris' waist. "Where do you belong?"

That got another shrug, something shadowing those blue eyes for an instant. "Nowhere in particular." The words were spoken lightly enough, not obviously imbued with any extra meaning, but something about the simple statement made Toby sad all the same.

"Well... where's your family?" Probably that was none of his business and all, but he could no more deny the curiosity he felt about this man than he could claim to be unaffected by lying next to him, naked like this. It was all a piece of the same puzzle.

Chris flicked his eyes away, looking over at the window again, the curtains fluttering in a breeze. "Here and there."

Toby waited, watching him think it over and wondering if he'd say anything more.

"I don't know where my folks are," Chris finally said, as if he was confessing secrets. "They left me with my grandma and an aunt when I was about four, then took off." He shot a glance at Toby, then away again. "Got a postcard from them about..." his brows drew together as he worked it out, "ten, eleven years ago, I guess. They were in Hawaii then, doing all right." His shoulders lifted in another shrug, to show it didn't much matter to him, but Toby wasn't quite convinced.

"That has to be rough," he said, venturing that much.

"Nah, it was okay. Grandma and Aunt Julie were nice. Tried to keep me on the straight and narrow anyway," Chris added, looking at him with a wry smile.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. Just..." He shook his head, clearly nudging against a topic he would prefer to leave alone. "Nothing," he repeated, giving Toby a look that asked him to let it alone.

Toby nodded. "Okay. Anytime you want to tell me, though, I'm all ears."

That got him a funny look, and he guessed that was understandable given they weren't supposed to ever see each other again after tonight. It looked like Chris wanted to stay with him in this tiny pocket of make believe, however, because he nodded and said, "Yeah, maybe. There ain't really any story to tell, though."

"Oh, I doubt that," Toby said, looking at him thoughtfully, ridiculously pleased to have him playing along. "I think you might be the most interesting person I've ever met, Chris."

And if Chris looked like he didn't entirely believe that, he also looked like it made him happy to hear it. "Feeling's mutual, Toby."

Toby snorted, shifting closer, reaching for one of his hands and twining their fingers together. "Wait'll you see me plastered. I'm told that's when I really get interesting." Interesting and obnoxious, and all the things he kept all buttoned up and hidden away when he was facing the world stone cold sober.

"Whatcha mean?" Chris said, looking at him seriously.

He shrugged. "I...kind of have a drinking problem."


"Yeah." He shrugged again. "It makes life easier to get through, sometimes."

Chris nodded like he understood that. "Yeah, it does. 'Course when it wears off the world's still lookin' the way it did before you got loaded."

Toby gave him an interested look. "You've been there?"

"Tobe -- I've been all sorts of places," Chris said, sounding kind of weary with it, but also like he might have made some peace with it. "You wanna stop drinking?"

"Don't know. Sometimes."

The thoughtful look deepened, Chris reaching out with his free hand to caress his cheek, rub a thumb along his lower lip. "You really think you need to be drinking to have a good time?"

"To... I don't know. To allow myself to have a good time," Toby said, frowning over that and not sure it made a lot of sense.

Chris looked like it did, though. "You drunk now?"

No, no he'd never felt more clear-headed. "No."

"You letting yourself have a good time?"

Oh, yes, he would say so. "Uh-huh." He gave him a searching look. "Would it bother you?"

"If you were drinking to hurt yourself -- yeah, it'd bother me a lot. If you were doing it to feel better," a warm and seductive smile curved his lips, "I'd probably suggest some kinda better alternative," he finished, swiping hip thumb along Toby's lip again.

"I'll bet you would," Toby said, returning that smile and leaning in for a kiss, sinking into it and him as strong arms wound around his naked back and held him close as his mouth was nibbled and licked and kissed. Oh yeah, this beat the fuck out of booze.

He let himself be wrestled over onto his back, fairly confident of being able to turn the tables if he took a notion that way, and could feel himself getting hard just from the way Chris looked at him, gently holding him down with their arms stretched out on either side of the bed. Maybe it wasn't magic but Toby was sure it had to be something really close because it was very, very easy to believe he was that sexy and desirable and all the things he saw in Chris' eyes.

Christ knew he wanted to be.

He dragged Chris back down, against him, reversing their position just as easily as anticipated, planting a trail of warm kisses that started at that broad forehead and brushed that bird of prey profile when their noses bumped, and grew warmer and wetter as he paused and took his time over his mouth. "God," he sighed against the lips he was coming to adore, "I could kiss your mouth forever," he confessed, slipping his tongue inside to flick against the roof of Chris' mouth, tasting him, meaning every word and only dragging his own mouth away when he had to draw desperate gasps of air into his lungs.

Resuming his journey, Toby pressed a fleeting kiss to the corner of Chris' mouth, giving those temptingly parted lips one quick lap before ghosting his own along Chris' cheek and jaw. That was different, feeling scratchy beard stubble against his lips. It didn't register as turn off, though, only a reminder of just who he was kissing, who he was so fucking turned on by. Nuzzling along Chris' jaw, he licked an earlobe, blew against it and felt Chris shiver against him -- once, then again as Toby licked behind his ear. Something a whole lot like a whimper welled up from the broad chest, too, making Toby even happier. He was verging on downright giddy as his path carried him on along Chris' throat, teasing his tongue along the ridge of collarbone before dipping lower to tease one hard little nipple, then its twin, groaning himself as Chris wound a hand into his hair and kept him there, open mouth pressed to tender flesh, shuddering as Toby's tongue lashed it again and again.

Pleasure surged through his own body as Chris surged up into him and he could feel his lover's hard cock poking his belly. "Shh, shh," Toby soothed him now, petting him with long strokes along his flanks, dropping soft kisses down his center. His nose brushed a thatch of dark hair and set off another tremor. Darting his tongue around Chris' belly button didn't seem to help a lot with that, either, but somehow Toby didn't feel like apologize. Undoubtedly his technique could use some refinement... but he was definitely getting results.

He sat back on his heels then, hands kneading Chris' shoulders before curving over the swell of pectoral muscle, fingers splayed against his nipples, seeing the craving, the longing for more in eyes gone almost black. Toby slid his hands lower, over the flat stomach, fingers curling around the base of Chris' cock and gliding up the hard, pulsing shaft, swirling his thumb over the head, the slit, then back again. This, at least, was something he knew how to do.

Shifting over on his side as Chris reached for him turn, he found it did take just a tad more concentration like this, however. It was awfully tempting, for instance, to just sprawl back and absorb the feel of Chris' fingers working at him, making him feel so fucking good as they stroked and pulled and pumped him. He watched Chris' hand move, watched the head of his cock appear and disappear in that wonderful fist -- and pretty much lost all ability at coherent thought, much less coordination, as he saw Chris lower his head and take him in his mouth. "Ohh... sweet fucking jesus..." he gasped out, falling back against the pillows, ready to come right then, not even trying to hold back because it just felt soooooo fucking good. One hand clenched in the sheets, he pressed the other to the back of Chris' head, fingers digging into the short, dark hair as that mouth he adored worked at him, worked him up until he didn't have any kind of fucking choice and could only lay there, gasping and panting as his climax hit and spilled in his lover's mouth. He whimpered some more as he watched Chris swallow it, watched him let it spurt against his lips and lick it up like it was ice cream.

"...oh god... oh my god... you're... fuck, you're better than porn..." he managed to pant out and would have felt immediately appalled if Chris hadn't laughed, settling back against the pillow.

"Yeah?" He ran a hand over Toby's still quivering belly. "You're not exactly a Disney flick yourself, Beech."

"No? So," Toby reached for him again, "I should do something this, then?" he said, grasping the hard shaft again, running his thumb back and forth over the wet slit.

"You want?" Chris said, looking like he was trying to be cool about it, but with something awfully needy in his eyes too.

"Yeah, I want." More than he could have ever imagined. Even so, he paused, lips drawn into a thin line as he looked at Chris' cock.

"You don't got-- oh jesus, Toby..."

Toby lapped again, pressing his tongue flat against the slit, growing bolder by the moment and taking the tip in his mouth. Liking the feel of it there, totally turned on by it in fact, he found it very easy to find a comfortable rhythm of sucking and licking that very quickly got results. Resisting as Chris tried to push him back, he stubbornly stayed right where he was, startled as the sperm shot into his mouth but swallowing it, licking it off his lips as Chris watched, wide-eyed.

"That okay?" he asked, when he could talk again.

"Fuck -- baby," Chris gathered him close, kissing his mouth, pushing his tongue inside as if to taste himself, "if it was anymore okay I think you'd give me a stroke."

With his face scrunched up, Toby tried to figure out if that was a compliment or not. He sort of got the feeling it was from the way Chris was looking at him with such adoration. It was almost embarrassing. Funny, though, he had a feeling he could get used to being embarrassed like that.

"We're all hot and sticky again," he said, not seeing why that should provoke another fondly indulgent smile.

"Yeah, we are. Wanna go get cleaned up?" Chris said, sliding off the bed.

"Uhm," he licked his lips, "like... together, in the shower?"

Chris tugged him off the bed. "Yep, exactly like together, in the shower."

Yes, he might like that just a little bit. "Okay."

The water was cool, sluicing over them as they soaped each other, hands skimming over slick flesh. Toby tilted his head back, letting Chris wash his hair, the intimacy of that hitting him somewhere in his stomach. He turned, working shampoo into Chris' dark hair, watching his face to see if there was any evidence of a similar effect taking place, and feeling his heart sort of clench for an instant when he found it in the anxious, longing look Chris gave him.

Rinsing the shampoo away, Toby pulled Chris in for another kiss, water streaming over them, wishing it could wash away everything -- all the responsibilities and obligations were going to take him away. Breaking the kiss, he just wound himself into Chris' arms, his own tight around the other man, wanting to never have to let go.

This was it then. Chris finished drying Toby off, trying to drag it out as long as possible, not wanting to lose this perfect moment.

"There ya go," he said, stepping back, letting the towel drop to the floor with the others. "All ready to go." Huh, he ever said that convincingly, like it wasn't going to break something in him when Toby got dressed and walked out the door, out of his life forever.

Nodding seriously, Toby looked at the pile of wet towels, frowning. "You're just going to leave them there?"

"Yeah, till morning." He shrugged, not seeing a problem there. "Why?" He scratched his chest, willing to stand here and discuss household habits all night if it would keep Toby there.

"Well," Toby toed them dubiously, "I guess they're not hurting anything."

"No." That agreed to, Chris supposed there wasn't much else in the way of delaying him a little bit longer, unless he wanted a tour of the laundry room in the basement to make sure there was a place for the towels to get washed and dried. It was almost tempting to suggest that as Toby walked back out to the bedroom. It was more tempting to follow along behind so he could get one last long look at that cute little ass.

"Do you have clean sheets?"

Chris sighed, just a bit impatiently. "Yeah, I got clean sheets. What is it with you and linen and shit?"

With one of those cute little huffs Toby informed him, "I'm just saying the sheets need to be changed. They're kind of, you know, damp in spots."

Chris shrugged. "It'll dry."

"Not soon enough, and I'm not sleeping on damp spots. So -- where's the clean sheets?"

Well aware he was staring stupidly at the blond, trying to process that statement, Chris pointed at the wicker basket on the floor at the foot of the bed. "In there." He didn't want to sleep on damp spots? Did that mean he was...? Fuck. "You're... gonna sleep over?" And he was kind of proud of himself for being able to get that out, smooth as could be, like butterflies the size of city buses weren't romping around his belly right now.

Looking up from rummaging in the basket, Toby said, "If that's okay."

Striving for a cool he didn't remotely feel, Chris lazily scratched his chest again and nodded. "Yeah. That'd be fine."

"So -- help me change the sheets," Toby said, coming up with a set of plain white ones and tossing him the top sheet.

He helped him change the sheets, not quite believing it was all true until they were snug in bed together, between the crisp clean sheets, and Toby had turned out the lights and cuddled up against him. Only then, with that golden head nestled on his shoulder, the slim body warm and relaxed in his arms, was Chris able to take a deep breath and let it go, and believe -- for just a little while at least -- that long forgotten dreams could come true.

And... he just wasn't going to worry about tomorrow. Not now. Not when Toby was so comfortable and sleepy in his arms.

as recorded by Billie Holiday-
Maceo Pinkard / William Tracey / Doris Tauber

I fell in love with you first time I looked into Them there eyes
You've got a certain lil' cute way of flirtin' with Them there eyes
They make me feel happy
They make me feel blue
No stallin'
I'm fallin'
Going in a big way for sweet little you My heart is jumpin'
Sure started somethin with
Them there eyes
You'de better watch them if you're wise They sparkle
They bubble
They're gonna get you in a whole lot of trouble You're overworkin' them
There's danger lurkin' in
Them there eyes
Maybe you think I'm just flirtin'
Maybe you think I'm all lies
Just because I get romantic when I gaze in Them there eyes


Part Six

Drifting awake, Toby knew he was warm and very comfortable and that he wanted to linger in that place for a long time. The novelty of enjoying an actual good night's sleep was only part of it. The reason he felt so well rested loomed just a little larger, stretched out in bed beside him. He smiled and scooted closer to fit himself along Chris' back, wanting to bask there as the memories of last night came flooding back.

He lightly ran his hand up and down Chris' arm, over that remarkable tattoo, his sense of contentment increasing as Chris pressed back into him with a tiny, unintelligible murmur, like he was feeling awfully comfy too. God -- Toby thought he could stay like this forever. It was extremely easy, for instance, to indulge in a small fantasy as he lay there, imagining how they would get up in a while and fix breakfast together and maybe bring it back to bed. Or if there wasn't anything in the icebox they could go out to a diner, and both of them could call in sick to work and spend the whole day together -- and the night -- and get to know each other better. Toby really liked that picture. He thought Chris might, too.

Except -- he sighed quietly and rolled over on his back -- it couldn't happen. Last night was over and he had to return to the real world. There were no options. Or ... maybe there were, but he would have to be so much braver than he'd ever been, than he believed he could be. Could he do that, sit everyone down and say, 'Mom, Dad, Genevieve -- it looks like I might be gayer than a flying monkey,' and face the consequences? And there would be consequences. Maybe nowhere near as dire as he imagined, but there was no way something like that was going to end with everyone sitting down to tea and cookies.

Toby looked at Chris still sleeping beside him, wondering if he was making a whole lot of unwarranted assumptions here. Maybe Chris wouldn't give him the time of day for any kind of romantic fantasy. Maybe his attitude when he woke up would be all 'Here's your hat, what's your hurry.' Gut instinct told him otherwise, for whatever that might be worth.

With another soft sight Toby sat up, looking at the cat that had returned and taken up its post, curled up at the foot of the bed. One yellow eye was cracked open, watching him, the striped tip of the tail slowly switching back and forth. Both eyes opened as Toby moved, the cat sitting up and regarding him with the kind of dubious disdain only a cat -- or maybe Toby's mother -- could summon so effortlessly.

Voice pitched low, Toby called, "Hey You -- come here," and extended his hand, palm up.

The cat gave him a skeptical look, raising its paw -- claws sheathed -- to bat at him. When that failed to sufficiently intimidate Toby, the cat simply moved on to a nice long stretch meant to convey Toby was getting off easy because the cat just couldn't be bothered to go into attack mode this early in the morning. Opting to live dangerously, Toby rubbed the cat's flat head and scratched behind its ear, the friendly overture taking it by surprise. Eyeing him warily for a moment, the cat unbent so far as to rub its furry face against his hand which Toby gathered meant his presence wasn't entirely disagreeable to the scruffy furball. Circling a couple of times, the cat curled back up in its spot, nose tucked under the fluffy tail as those yellow eyes continued to keep watch.

Toby smiled; the corners of his mouth turning down just as quickly as he looked at Chris once more. He'd give a lot to settle back down, spooned against Chris' naked back, and forget about everything else. A lot -- but not quite enough. He couldn't let everyone down that badly. One corner of his mouth quirked up sadly as he considered maybe that proved he wasn't an entirely selfish prick after all. That, or he just didn't have the balls to face everyone's disappointment and anger.

He'd put his money on that one.

Carefully easing out of bed, he quietly located his scattered clothes and dressed, hoping he wasn't letting Chris down. Any disappointment here had to be short-lived, right? It had just been a no-strings tryst, after all, not the start of some big love affair. Yep, that's why walking away felt like the hardest thing he'd ever done -- because it was just sex and hadn't really meant anything?

Stopped in the doorway, he watched Chris sleeping, the early morning sunlight streaming in and gilding his bare skin. And all he wanted to do in the world was crawl back in beside him.

Shaking his head, Toby walked out into the main room and stood there for a moment, looking around the cozy and comfortable room and wondering if he should leave a note. What the hell would he say if he did? No, he should just go, let it be. It would be better that way.

Better for whom, though, he couldn't have said as he let himself out of the apartment and headed downstairs.

Chris sat up, hearing the front door close. Should he have said something? Would Toby have stayed if he had?

Yeah, fucking fat chance of that. He'd got it wrong again, like always.

He lay back down on his side, running his hand over the spot where Toby had been. The sheets were cool now, nothing to show anyone had ever been there. He wished his body would do a quicker job of forgetting. He could still feel Toby's touch branding his skin. He could still taste him, smell him, like the fuck'd gotten right inside him somehow.

Sighing, Chris settled back against his pillow, feeling like he'd just lost something incredibly precious. Even knowing that was beyond fucked up -- yeah, like some kind of stupid romance had really been kindling there, between him and Toby -- didn't help him chase the feeling away. He felt... He didn't know. Lost, and empty, and like he was starving for something that didn't even have a name.

The cat came over, sitting down to stare at him. When he told it, "Fuck off," it just curled up there, where Toby'd been.

"Least I got the brains to know when I ain't wanted," Chris grumbled, reaching over to idly ruffle the cat's fur.

He sighed again, remembering the golden silk of Toby's hair sliding between his fingers, the sparkle in those sky blue eyes; how good it had felt just to hold him, feel him close there in the night. Yeah, so much for dreams coming true. Not for him, not in this fucking life.

Chris grabbed a rag and cleaned his hands as he watched Angelique approach, her high heels grinding the grit on the concrete floor. He'd never understand how women maneuvered in those things but he appreciated the effect. He also scored high points for the tight, black tank top she was wearing and short denim skirt. When they had first met down at the library, Angie'd been decked out kind of drab and dowdy, complaining that her folks wanted to her to dress like a nun. He didn't know if her folks'd just backed off, realizing she was old enough to do what she wanted, or what, but she sure didn't make him think of nuns now. Even before she'd done her makeover, though, he'd seen a lot of potential in her, reminding him a lot of Kitty -- fun and sparkly, not all needy and suspicious like Bonnie.

But hell, that wasn't fair to Bonnie. Not when he'd given her plenty of cause of to be suspicious and insecure. No, the problems there had run a lot deeper, tied up with him seeing too much of himself in her -- wanting so goddamn much and never able to believe it could really be there, standing right in front of you. Him and Bonnie, they'd gotten locked into one of those vicious circles almost right off the bat. Her parading him around with that, 'Look what the big girl got,' attitude, and yet never really believing she did have him, not deep down. And him pushing and prodding to get her to prove she really loved him. He always thought they could have made it work, though, provided at least one of them wasn't quite so fucked up.

So, yeah, it was better this way, with someone like Angie who wasn't asking for so much. Chris had pegged her easy enough: smart, a whole lot of potential ahead of her, but wanting to blow off some steam with the kind of guy her folks'd always told her to keep away from. He'd even kind of liked the idea of her looking back on him someday as both the biggest mistake of her life and the best sex she'd ever had.

Funny, though, how that wasn't appealing to him now as it had been twenty-four hours ago, before his one-night stand with Mr. Ivy League.

No sense dwelling on that, he knew, pulling up a smile for Angie. "Hey, how's it goin'?" he said, trying to keep back so he wouldn't get her dirty as she looped her arms around his neck.

"Not so bad," she said, acting like she didn't care if he got some grease on her as she pulled herself up far enough to kiss him.

"Yeah, there's people lookin', Ange," he said, curving his hands around her upper arms and setting her back a pace, aiming a glower over at that idiot Ronnie Barlog who was grinning at the show. "Don't you got a carburetor to work on, Ronnie?"

"Got it done," Ronnie said, sauntering on over, wiping his hands on his coverall. "Hey, Angie."

"Ronnie," she returned, cool and not interested.

"Chris and me were gonna knock off for lunch -- you want to join us?"

"I got a better plan, Ronnie," Chris told him. "How 'bout you fuck off and feed your face? Angelique and I have things to talk about."

Unoffended, Ronnie said, "Sure, I can take a hint," which would make this about the first time ever, if true. "Want me to bring you back something?"

"No, thanks. Just beat it."

"'Kay. See ya, Angie."

"I'll be counting the minutes," she said as he walked away, getting a friendly smile back just like Ronnie didn't know sarcasm when he heard it.

"Tell me he's not as dumb as he acts," Angelique said, tagging along as Chris headed for the washroom.

He shrugged. "You know what they say about still waters running deep," he said, checking himself in the spotted mirror and scrubbing at a smear of grease on his cheek.

"His must run deeper than the Grand Canyon."

Chris grinned, turning to face her. "There a reason we're standing here talking about Ronnie?"

"Umm -- something about you going all shy and demure about him watching us," she said, walking beside him through the garage as he headed for the office. "Since when don't you like an audience?" she added as they passed a dark blue BMW up on a hydraulic lift.

He shot her a puzzled look at that. "What's that mean? You think I'm some kinda exhibitionist?"

She raised her perfectly plucked eyebrows at him, dark eyes amused. "Bashful's not the first word that comes to mind when I think of you, Chris, let's put it that way."

"Yeah, well." He shrugged, knowing he couldn't really dispute that and also knowing he couldn't explain why he'd minded her kissing him. "I just don't like him gawkin' at us, that's all," he finally said, pushing a pile of magazines out of the way on the desk -- car mags mixed in with a couple Peoples and National Geographics, and a Penthouse that he shoved to the bottom before Angie saw it -- and parked himself there. "You want to sit?" he indicated the chair.

Giving him a curious look, she sat and crossed her long legs. "Is this about me not making our last night? Because--"

"Nah," he waved that away. "I figured you mighta had your hands full with your folks." He gave her a thoughtful look. "So -- you tell 'em about my colorful past?"

Her sigh and eye roll was a good answer. "I told them."


"And...nobody had a stroke." Her slim shoulders lifted. "Gabe," that was her older brother, "pointed out how much a good mechanic can make and that helped a little."

He smiled, and then grew serious again just as quickly, doubting that had really taken a lot of the sting out of finding out he'd done time in prison. Even with those ten years in the past a lot of people had a tough time getting past it. As Chris had found out whenever he'd gone looking for legitimate work. Which is why no matter where he'd been and what he'd been doing he always came back here to The Pit Stop. The Zoeleks'd had a soft spot for him ever since he'd made friends with their son, Aaron, at Lardner, and any time he'd shown up down on his luck and needing work Warren and Loretta -- just Loretta now -- had always extended a warm welcome. That was definitely the exception, though, and a family like Angelique's who'd probably never gotten so much as a parking ticket or jaywalked had to have had someone besides an ex-con in mind as a potential son-in-law.

Ordinarily he'd say fuck that and encourage Angie to do whatever she wanted -- whatever he wanted? -- but all of a sudden he wasn't feeling that keen to stir things up. "Listen," he said as he stood up and moved in on him, sidling between his legs as Chris circled her waist with his hands, "I've been thinking that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea if we slowed things down."

That got him a cranky look, like slowing things down wasn't anywhere close to what she had in mind. Reaching for the zipper of his coveralls and tugging it down further, Angelique slipped her hands inside, lightly massaging his chest. "What I was thinking is we could elope to Las Vegas," she said, moving in for a steamy kiss.

At least ... it should been steamy, heating him right up. She was as sexy and hot as she had been yesterday, fitting in his arms all soft and nice and smelling real good -- and he wasn't feeling anything. All he could do was remember how good Toby had felt in his arms, hard and wiry, smelling like aftershave and cigarette smoke from the bar. What kind of whammy had that Ivy League fuck put on him?

Angie was kissing along his throat now, her hands still busy inside his coveralls, trying to work him up like she really thought he'd do it here, at the garage. Except -- if it were Toby working him up Chris had a funny suspicion he wouldn't have any trouble finding the surroundings erotic as hell, right down to the scent of grease and solvent in the air. He sighed, frustrated and not sure what to do about this, and sort of glad when providence stepped in to help out as Angelique found a mark on his neck that she hadn't put there.

"What the hell's this?" she said, pulling back with a suspicious look.

And he could have sweet-talked her easy into buying some plausible bill of goods, it's what he did just like anyone else put on their shoes, but all of a sudden it didn't seem worth the effort. Instead he gave her an insolent look that matched his tone of voice as he said, "Whatcha think it is?"

With a sound like one of those Toby huffs, only not striking him as near as cute, Angelique said, "What -- I stand you up one time and you pick up the first slut that comes along?"

Not liking her tone, hearing an echo of Bonnie's mantra, 'Where were you, who were you with, what were you doing, I know you're lying,' Chris set her back so he could stand up as he said, "I wasn't with any slut." She didn't have any business calling Toby that, not when she tried to get in his pants every time they got together.

Eyes narrowed with suspicion, Angie returned, "Maybe your definition's different from mine. It's that redhead, isn't it, the one with the silicon boobs and face-lift, and who's got the Jaguar that always needs something fixed."

Scowling right back, Chris said, "And how the fuck long've you been fixating on Mimi? I told you she was joking around."

"Yeah? A rich bitch divorcee tells you that Indecent Proposal movie gave her some interesting ideas and you think she's not coming onto you? Come off it, Chris, you're not that stupid."

"Yeah? Just how stupid am I?" Christ, they both knew she was slumming it with him but it still stung to hear her say it outright like that.

"That isn't what I meant." She was sounding and looking frustrated now. "Don't change the subject."

"There ain't no subject," he declared, standing back with his arms folded across his chest, daring her to say otherwise and feeling bizarrely pleased when she took up the challenge.

"The subject is who the hell you fucked last night," she informed her, voice coming harder and louder now. "I want to know her name."

"Yeah," Chris came back, matching her for volume, "first off there wasn't any her, okay?"

Fine brows drawing together as she tried to puzzle that out, Angie said, "So what does that mean?"

"I gotta spell it out for you? I wasn't with a woman last night," he said, just like that, taking even himself by surprise.

"So -- what, you were with a guy?" she returned, not believing it, not right then. He could see it sinking in as he stood there, not rushing to deny anything. "Oh my God," she covered her mouth, just gaping at him for a long moment. "And just when the hell were you going to spring that one on me?"

"Look," he didn't want to take it back or anything, but he also didn't feel good about just dropping it on her with no kind of warning, "it just happened--"

"Oh, I see. You're sitting down at Dawson's Bar and just all of a sudden go gay? God, I can't believe this." She was looking at him like she'd never seen him before, shaking her head. "God," she repeated, hand over her mouth again. "And I thought you being in prison was the worst part."

"Angie," he reached out to touch her, hating to see her get so upset no matter what.

She slapped his hand away, though, telling him, "Don't. Just -- don't." Tears brimming in her eyes, she backed away. She swiped at her eyes, saying, "I can't deal with this, you can't expect me to deal with this."

He shrugged, not having any kind of answer for her, not knowing how not to hurt her. "I don't expect anything."

"I have to go."

He nodded and didn't try to stop her. What would be the point?

Chris was back working on the BMW, focusing all his attention on checking the spark plugs, when Ronnie ambled back in, telling him, "Hey, I just saw Angie tear outta here like a bat outta hell. You guys have a fight?"

"Yeah, something like that."

"Fuck. Man." Ronnie scratched the back of his neck and finished his milkshake with a slurp. "Thought you had that one just about signed, sealed, and delivered, Chris."

Chris just shrugged, really preferring not to discuss it now -- or ever.

"Hey, you'll never guess who else I saw down at Cooper's." That was the diner, two blocks over, that they frequented for lunch.

Oh joy -- twenty questions with Ronnie. "Who?"

"That FBI guy, the one you call Spanky?" Ronnie tossed his cup in the trash. "Yeah," he went on as Chris turned an alert look on him, "he was nosing around, asking questions about you."

Shit. "What kind of questions?"

Ronnie shrugged. "Who you've been hanging with, if you've been livin' kinda large -- that kind of thing."

Fuck. This day just kept getting better and better.

Bouquet of wildflowers in hand, Toby rang the doorbell, hoping this went better than all the worst-case scenarios he had imagined on the drive over. His optimism did not soar especially high when Janine answered the door.

"Ooh, look -- it's Toby," Janine Dorsey cooed as snarkily as humanly possible. "So what happened? You get kidnapped by aliens by this time?"

Christ, this was going to be a long afternoon.


Part Seven

Toby watched Gen carefully arrange the wildflowers in what looked like an old-fashioned milk bottle. She had accepted them pleasantly enough, well into her no fuss zone, but he still got the distinct impression he should have sprung for the roses. He'd thought these were prettier, but what the hell did he know? Probably even his mother wouldn't be tickled anymore if bought her bouquets of dandelions, the way he used to when he was little. He sighed, sitting on the chintz-covered sofa, thinking life had been a whole lot simpler when he was six. Small wonder his favorite story growing up had always been Peter Pan.

Finished, Gen set the vase on the counter that divided the kitchen and dining room, and then came over to join him on the sofa. Well -- almost: she perched on the opposite arm with an air of being ready to bolt for it any moment. Yep, this was off to a great start.

And now here came the awkward silence as they both sat there, not looking at each other. Well, not entirely true since Toby did shoot a couple of careful looks her way, wanting to say she looked really pretty today but not sure just how to phrase it so it came out right. Telling her that he really liked her hair that way, just brushed back from her face and tied in a ponytail, would carry an implication that her more usual big, Mary Tyler Moore flip left something to be desired, for instance. Mentioning he was really glad she didn't go in for her mother's Tammy Faye Baker approach to applying make-up would likely come across as a very backhanded compliment as well. Maybe he could safely compliment her on the faded blue jeans and tie-dye t-shirt she was wearing?

Deciding to go with that, he said, "Nice shirt."

"It's Janine's."

"Oh." Yes, it would be Janine's. Gen would never choose something bright and colorful for herself. You only had to look around the apartment to figure that out: clean and neutral Swedish, with the occasional funkier flea market find -- like the sofa -- courtesy of Janine. You couldn't miss the cans of paint and rolls of wallpaper over in a corner, either, just waiting for Gen to be all moved out so Janine could redecorate the place.

Toby knew all about Genevieve's views on dcor since looking at houses with her and suspected that said quite a lot about her. Everything Gen liked, for example, was the exact opposite of anything that would appeal to her mother. Mrs. Vaughn had decked out the family home in a profusion of loud and gaudy colors and patterns, with no square inch left to stand all by itself, resulting in something Mrs. Vaughn thought was cheerful and cozy but anyone who'd been raised a Beecher thought was tacky and claustrophobic -- not that anyone who had been raised a Beecher would ever say so. Toby had been relieved at first to discover Gen's tastes had nothing in common with her mom's. Then he'd discovered this form of rebellion had a neurotically radical skew to it, that her terror of emulating Mommie Dearest was so profound it made her shy away from anything with color and life, and that had put a less comfortable spin on things.

It was a start, though; he liked to look at it that way. Maybe in ten, twenty years she'd shake off everything her mother had told her -- but he didn't think he'd hold his breath waiting for that. Worse, he wasn't so sure he wanted to wait around for that to happen, for Gen to really blossom into the woman he had been attracted to, but who peeked out less and less as time went by. He'd been dragging his feet for quite a while now as all these doubts accumulated; last night with Chris had just been his point of epiphany, he guessed.

And now what?

"Ah, I'm sorry abou--" he started to say, because somebody had to say something and get this ball rolling.

She interrupted, though, asking, "Why didn't you give me your grandmother's ring?"

Uh-oh. Should he play dumb and pretend he didn't know what she was talking about? Except she wouldn't be asking about it if she didn't already know something. If he lied to her, would that provoke her to call the whole thing off? Oh, yeah, good one, Tobias, he chided himself. Make Genevieve be the one who grows a backbone and lets you off this hook. "I...didn't think you'd like it, is all."

"Why not?" she said, staring hard at the books arranged on the coffee table -- a collection of Andrew Wyeth landscapes, another of Ansel Adams photographs, and a couple of Martha Stewart books; Toby wasn't sure which ones he found scarier -- as if they were putting her out of sorts.

"It's...not your style," he said, not even sure what he meant by that.

She leaned forward and adjusted the books a minute fraction, correcting whatever imperfection in their placement had irked her. "Is it ugly?"

"No. It's...old, though, Victorian. It has, uhm, this ruby in the middle, surrounded by diamonds. It's just...more ornate than you like," he finished awkwardly, and she shot him a quick, thin-lipped look like she was thinking over how to take that and not arriving at a really good conclusion. "Yours cost more," he added, wincing even as the words left his mouth.

"Oh, well, as long as it cost more," she said, looking at her ring, and with brittleness in her voice that Toby actually welcomed. It was a sign there was something bubbling away underneath that poised faade at least. Apparently she wasn't quite done worrying this to death, however. "It's a family heirloom, though?"

He shrugged, fidgeting against the flower-covered fabric. "Sort of, I guess. My grandpa got it for her in Europe, just before the war." He smiled as he remembered the story, always a particular favorite of his. How his grandpa had fallen for this Broadway chorus girl and gotten the family all in an uproar, threatening to disinherit him and everything if he didn't give her up and marry someone more supposedly suitable. But Grandpa had stood his ground and married her anyway, after finding her this ring that he always claimed he bought off a Gypsy fortune-teller who'd told him she saw a long and happy life for him and his girl. Toby didn't know how much truth there was in that part, but the long and happy life bit had been borne out, with Grandma making her place in the family and even winning over Great-Grandma Beecher in the end. Was that the real reason he hadn't given Genevieve the ring? Because he'd have to give her the story, too, and what if she didn't think it was romantic but sort of silly and preposterous?

God, this was doomed.

Well -- Lillian Beecher breathed out a small huff of frustration as her T-Bird sputtered and stalled again -- drat. Fuck even.

On the other hand, if her baby had to be break down it had picked a good spot for it, practically right outside an auto repair shop. Carefully guiding the car as it coasted along, Lillian managed to get it right up to the driveway of the garage before it conked out completely. She took off her sunglasses and reached for her purse, getting out of the car and walking into the garage, spotting two good looking young men over by a soft drinks machine.

"Excuse me," she called over to them, "but I could use a hand here."

"What can we do for you, ma'am?" the taller one said, walking over.

Lillian had been on a photo safari to Africa one and had never forgotten this one lion she had seen there. Big and powerful, stalking through the pride of lionesses just like he knew he was the handsomest beast they had ever seen. This young man had that same air about him as he approached. His friend barely pinged on the radar in comparison.

"Well you would make my day if you can get my car going," she said, returning his easy smile but upping the ante with an arched eyebrow as she caught him adding her up. She could almost hear the cha-chings as he took note of her designer suit, shoes, and handbag; Lillian had a feeling he could even tell her bracelet was fake but the diamonds at her ears were the real McCoy. As he caught her watching him, he flashed a charming, little boy smile that was meant to imply, 'Aww, shucks, ma'am, I didn't mean anything by it.' That did probably work for him nine times in ten. After all, even knowing it was a lot of BS, she still found him charming.

His demeanor changed considerably as soon as he got a look at her car. Letting out the kind of low wolf whistle he might ordinarily reserve for spotting a supermodel walking down the street, he approached the peacock blue, white hardtop Thunderbird with covetous admiration shining in his eyes, circling the automobile reverentially and not missing a single detail. "Wow. Ronnie," he called to his friend, "you know what we got here?"

Ronnie's ice blue eyes clinically scanned the car, obviously far less impressed. With a shrug, he said, "A real old T-Bird?"

He shook his head with the kind of tolerant dismay and pity reserved for poor souls with no appreciation of life's finer things. Looking at Lillian, running a hand over the hood, he said, "'Fifty-five?"

"'Fifty-six. My husband gave it to me for my fortieth birthday."

He looked impressed. "Generous man."

Lillian smiled and winked. "I deserved it."

"I'll bet you did, ma'am," he said, returning the smile. "She's in beautiful condition," he added, admiring the car again. And Lillian might not have minded if he'd said her owner wasn't in bad shape, either, but she also appreciated that he was behaving himself now.

"Yeah, Chris likes these old clunkers," Ronnie was saying. "Long as I've known him he's been restoring this 'Vette that's nearly as old as he is."

Chris and Lillian looked at each other across the roof of the car, sharing their amused despair of Ronnie, Chris remarking, "Yeah, guess we can't all've been born yesterday like you, hey Ronnie?"

"You got that right," his friend said, blissfully ignorant.

Lillian looked away from Chris' laughing eyes, knowing she'd lose it in another moment otherwise.

"Come on, Ronnie -- lets move her inside," Chris said at the driver's side door, and Lillian watched as the two young men put their muscle behind pushing the big car on into the garage.

Breath coming a little hard, Chris said, "Any idea on the problem, ma'am?"

"I think it might be a clogged fuel line, that's been a problem before," she said. "And it's Lillian Beecher," she said, holding out her hand.

He shook it, fixing her with a really interested look now. "Chris Keller. Pleased to meet you, Miz Beecher."

And Lillian had the funniest feeling he wasn't just making small talk.

Chris -- grow up. It was sheer fucking coincidence that some classy-looking gal named Beecher had turned up this afternoon. That's all it could be, he knew that, and yet -- Chris kept watching her as they stood in the office and talked about cars, thinking he could see something of Toby in her eyes, some of her mannerisms. Which only went to prove Bonnie'd been right, telling him he needed to get his head examined, because only a loon would let some fuck-in-the-night get to him like this.

"So do you specialize in high-end cars?" Lillian was asking, taking a sip of the water Chris had gotten for her.

"Nah, we'll tackle anything. We've sort of been getting a rep for the high-end models, though. Miz Zoelek --she's the actual owner -- has been playing that up in the advertising," he said.

"Sounds like a wise move."

"Turning out that way, yeah." He looked out the window into the garage where Ronnie was hard at work on the T-Bird, thinking it was a whole smarter to keep his attention there instead of playing around with lunatic ideas. "You ever thought of selling?"

"No," Lillian came back right away, sounding definite about it. "I know it's not very practical, but no, I'm far too attached. I'll probably leave it to one of my grandsons."

"Yeah?" He looked back at her, doing his damnedest not to act too interested in her grandsons. "Bet they're in for a long wait."

"Well," she smiled in that saucy way she had that made it easy to believe she'd been a hot number back in the day, "I have always planned to die at hundred, shot in bed by my nineteen-year-old cabana boy's girlfriend."

Chris was glad he hadn't been drinking anything right then and gave her an appreciative look, thinking her sense of humor was kind of like Toby's too. Fuck. He knew he was being an idiot, but... "How many grandkids you got?"

"Just the two," Lillian said, opening her purse and rummaging around inside. Taking out a photograph, she added, "And if you want to see two of the handsomest boys in the world -- here they are," real pride in her voice as she turned the photograph for him to look. "I took that last summer, that's right after they finished water-skiing -- this is Gussie," she pointed out the younger of the two laughing, blond young men, "and this one's--"

"Toby," Chris said, taking the picture from and devouring the image of Toby glistening with water, golden in the sun.

"Do you know my grandson?" Lillian asked, looking at him with increased interest.

"Ah," it took a hell of an effort to take his eyes off the photo and look at her, "yeah, we ... uhm ... we play pool together," he managed to say, wondering if that sounded as lame to her ears. "Small world, huh?" he added with a dumb laugh, just to accentuate the lameness.

"Yes," she said, giving him a long and thoughtful look, "it is. I didn't know Toby played pool."

He bet she didn't know a lot of things about her grandson. It wasn't his place to enlightenment her, however, so he just gave a small shrug and reluctantly handed the photo back to her. "It's something he's taken up kinda recently."

Still thoughtful, she nodded, putting the picture away in her purse. "Is he any good?"

He blinked, thrown for a moment. "At...?"

"Playing pool," she said, a glint of humor in her blue eyes. "What did you think I meant?"

"Ah..." He shook his head; he had no idea. "Yeah, he's pretty good, lots of potential."

"Yes, he catches on very quickly as a rule."

Chris could vouch for that, all right. "Do you see him a lot?" he asked quickly, before an awkward moment could move in and settle down.

"Not for the past few months, I'm afraid. I let some friends persuade me to come stay with them in Palm Beach -- they thought it would help me move on with things," she said, giving him another considering look. "I suppose Toby's told you his grandfather passed away last year?"

"No, I'm sorry, he hasn't mentioned that."

If she thought that was in any way peculiar, there was no sign. She only nodded, saying, "Well, Sterling and I had been married fifty years, and ... well, it was a difficult adjustment for me."

Chris nodded, thinking he could understand that. "That's a long time together."

"Yes." She looked at him, a sad smile on her face now. "Not enough, though." She pulled up a brighter smile, then, like she was trying to shake herself out of this mood. "My friends meant well, of course, but," she gave a soft sigh, a faraway look in her eyes for an instant, "I want to be with my family, and my memories."

He nodded, understanding that even if he couldn't quite relate to it. He could see how it would be good, though, to have a real family and good memories to treasure.

They fell silent now, standing at the window and watching Ronnie. It didn't feel like one of those awkward silences, though, at least not to Chris. He thought it was kind of cool actually, hanging out with Toby's grandma. The only tough part was not hitting her with a barrage of questions about him, like where would be a good place to run into Toby. There was no way she wouldn't think that was kind of peculiar, though, him not knowing how to get in touch with his supposed good friend Toby.

Thinking of something else, and also thinking it might be a roundabout way of obtaining that crucial information, Chris said, "Did you say your husband's name was Sterling?"


He gave her a dubious look. "Sterling Beecher?"

"Yes," she repeated, sitting down behind the desk and crossing her legs, thinning her lips out like she was trying not to smile.

"Wow." Chris perched on the edge of the desk, contemplating that maybe getting stuck with names like Sterling and Tobias was the downside of getting born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

"It did suit him," Lillian informed him with a prim air that would have been more effective without the laughter in her eyes, reminding him of Toby's eyes again. Now he knew the resemblance wasn't just in his loopy imagination Chris wondered what it must be like to see yourself in someone else's face like that. He had a few old, faded photographs of his folks and would look at them every once in awhile, trying to spot something of himself in those frozen images, wanting to feel a connection to someone. The experiment was usually unsuccessful.

"How'd you meet him?" he asked because he would always rather dwell on someone else's life story.

"I was dancing in a show on Broadway," she told him, looking like she got a kick out of surprising him with that. "The show was George White's Scandals -- it was like a variety show today. No one ever wanted to make me a star," she went on, smiling, "but I must have made quite an impression on Sterling because he met me at the stage door with a dozen red roses opening night."

That wasn't really hard to believe, Chris thought as he studied her. "So it was love at first sight?" he said, trying to picture her fifty years ago, remembering what he'd seen in old black and white movies on the TV from way back then.

"Something like," Lillian said. "We couldn't live without each other at first sight, anyway," she added with a wry lift of her lips. "Love, the kind that lasts through fifty years," she continued thoughtfully, "that comes just a bit more slowly. If you can survive that first Romeo and Juliet phase, though, I think you've got a good chance."

Chris considered that, guessing she might be onto something there. Far as he knew, he'd never even made it to a Romeo and Juliet phase with anyone, not unless you could count this thing with Toby. "This was back in the 'Forties?"

"Umm hmm," she nodded. "Just before the war. That was an exciting and terrifying time," she said, remembering. "I had our son, Harrison, just six weeks before Pearl Harbor. Sterling could have gotten a deferment but he wanted to do his duty and enlisted in the Navy. After that," she got a rueful look on her face, "things got hectic." She gave him a glance that let him know that was quite an understatement. "Sterling was in the Pacific Theater, so if we were going to see each other when he made port stateside I had to go out to San Francisco or San Diego to meet his ship. That was quite a trip in those days, especially with a baby. " She shook her head as if she could barely believe she'd done all that. "In between there were censored letters, and doing our part on the home front, and dreading every time the doorbell rang. It was quite a time to be alive," she finished, giving him a bemused look. "How on earth did you get me chatting like that?" She didn't act like she minded talking to him, though.

"It's interesting," he said, not lying. It made him sort of envious, though. His grandma had never had a lot to say about his grandpa, or much of anything, always telling him it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. He might never have known his grandpa died in prison, for instance, if Aunt Julie hadn't let it slip one time she was feeling really bitchy, mad because taking care of him was fucking up her life.

He sighed, staring at the swimsuit calendar on the wall but not really seeing the blonde model almost bursting out of her top. He was thinking about how it was around twelve years since he'd seen Aunt Julie, that one time she'd come to Lardner with a mission, telling him she was moving away with her boyfriend and didn't want him trying to find her when he got out. Adding how, if he had a heart he'd let his grandma alone, too, because she was an old lady and deserved some peace in her life; she'd never get that with him around on account he was just no good, just like his grandpa. Chris had given his word he wouldn't look up her or Grandma and she'd gone away happy. He'd kept that promise at least.

"You look like you might have a few interesting stories of your own, Chris," Lillian said, startling him, and he shot her a quick look, wondering if he'd accidentally given anything away. Usually he was pretty good at keeping everything to himself but every now and then he'd slip up.

"Nah," he was quick to wave that away, knowing if she'd picked up on something that didn't mean she wanted to hear the sorry story of his life. Funny, though, how for just a second last night he'd believed her grandson had really wanted to know. "Nothing like yours, Miz Beecher."

"Oh," she was still giving him a thoughtful look, like she wasn't entirely buying his dismissal, "I don't know, I think everyone has an interesting story to tell, even if it takes them a while to figure it out." She smiled then, finishing her water. "But I'm surprised you haven't heard all of this from Toby. He's always adored the story of how Sterling and I met. I think," she paused, a sad look coming into her eyes then, "I think it's the kind of thing he always hoped would happen to him."

Chris could understand that, too. It wasn't ever happening for him, he knew that, but it looked to him like Toby still had a chance for that kind of happiness. "Maybe he just hasn't met the right girl yet."

Lillian gave him a funny look, like she was checking something and then acknowledging whatever it was with a resigned grimace. "No argument there," she said, puzzling him because it sounded like she was agreeing with him only he had no idea what. "Lightning better strike quick," she added just as mysteriously, like he knew what she was talking about.

Since he had no idea how to reply to that, and still didn't quite see the opening he needed to ask her where he could find Toby, Chris replied with a noncommittal shrug. "You wouldn't mind if he came home with a chorus girl, long as it was true love?" he said after another moment, smiling.

"I wouldn't mind if he came home with a lap dancer named Lucretia L'Amour if she made him happy," she said, returning his smile. "Well," she spotted Ronnie coming over, wiping his hands on a rag, and got to her feet and reached for her purse again, "I'll look forward to seeing you tonight, Chris," she said as she took out her wallet.

Puzzled, Chris said, "Tonight?"

"At the party. Oh dear," she got an exasperated look on her face, "don't tell me Toby forgot to invite you as well?" She shook her head at her grandson's evident dottiness. "Here," she took out a business card and pen, scribbling on the back of the card and handing it to him, "it's not the kind of formal invitation Emily Post would have approved of, but..." She sighed and shook her head again. "I just hope Victoria and I have tracked down everyone now."

Chris examined the card, getting a funny little thrill just from seeing Tobias Beecher, Esq. on the front. He wanted to run his fingers over those raised letters but restrained himself and turned it over, seeing an address in Bryant Park, and the time -- 8 p.m. tonight. A party for Toby -- and his grandma'd just invited him? Okay, Chris, he told himself, play it cool, play it cool. "Ah," he had to clear his throat, "is it real formal?"

"No, not at all," Lillian said, smiling with understanding. "You can leave your white tie-and-tails in the closet, at least. A jacket and tie will be enough."

"Yeah?" He flashed a grin at her. "Just that, no pants?" he said, glad he could make her laugh.

"Well, that might be worth it just to see the look on Victoria's face."

Yep, Chris had a real good idea who Toby took after, all right.

And all the while he was making out the bill and accepting her credit card, he was telling himself he didn't actually intend to show up at the party, he was just kind of tickled she'd invited him. Even so, as he watched her get back in the T-Bird and drive off, he could feel the idea itching at the back of his brain, his imagination all too willing to supply a bunch of scenarios about what might happen. Most of them weren't what you'd call real pretty pictures, though.

With a sigh, he went back to the office and tucked the business card away in his wallet, hoping to Christ he wouldn't get an impulse to go and do something stupid. But he wasn't willing to give odds either way.

It wasn't until he found himself slowing as he passed Dawson's Bar that Toby really registered where the hell he was -- and then he felt himself flush with embarrassment, glad of the cold blast of air-conditioning on his face. Even so, he couldn't seem to help scanning the street for any sign of a certain Harley. Not spotting it, he drove on, taking the same route as last night and cruising past Chris' apartment building. Idling at the stop sign on the corner, he looked in his rear view mirror, spotting the motorcycle parked in the driveway.

His breath caught then, as he saw Chris walking out to that red VW with an older woman, helping her take in her groceries apparently. He held that breath a few seconds longer, afraid Chris would look this way and spot him -- just as afraid that wouldn't happen, too -- and only relaxing, barely relaxing, as Chris and the woman went back into the apartment house.

Christ -- what the fuck was he doing?

And even though everything in him screamed for him to turn the car around, Toby drove on, not seeing any way out of the hole he was digging.

If you want to check out the cars mentioned here:


Part Eight

"So," Janine said, coming into Gen's bedroom and setting the basket of laundry, fresh from the dryer, on the bed, "what did he have to say for himself?"

Genevieve shot her a sharp look, not really seeing how any of this was her business -- but she took it out on sorting her clothes and refolding them, making a more meticulous job of it than Janine's haphazard approach. "He ran into a friend and they stopped for a drink."

"And there wasn't a phone anywhere nearby?" Janine's tone of voice made it clear she didn't buy that anymore than Gen did. It wasn't up to Janine to like it or not, though.

"He got involved," Gen said, fiercely folding a slip and putting it away in a dresser drawer.

"Gen," Janine picked up the laundry basket again, resting it against her hip, "if he's doing this before you're even married--"

Finding a push-up bra of Janine's mixed in with her things, Gen wadded it up and threw it at her in frustration, taking an instant's flash of satisfaction in the startled look on her friend's face. "I seem to recall you doing your best to nail him once upon a time," she cracked out, hearing the frost in her voice and thinking maybe for once she wouldn't apologize.

"Yeah, I would have stopped at fucking him, though," Janine shot back.

Gen made a derisive sound at that. "Oh, I just bet you would. Rich, handsome oldest son of the head of the law firm proposes and you'd tell him to fuck off. I'd pay money to see that." She felt about as surprised as Janine looked, standing there and gawping.

Instead of getting mad, though, Janine only looked concerned -- and sort of like she had been expecting something like this all along. "Gen," she put the laundry basket down on the floor and came over to her as Gen sat down, cross-legged on the bed, visibly deflating, "what did he do to you?" Janine sat on the edge of the mattress, looking at her really seriously.

"Nothing," Gen said. "It's just..." God, she didn't even know how to put it into words. All she knew was that it kept making her want to cry and she didn't think it was just pre-wedding nerves and jitters. It was even more than not being able to trust her fianc. She used to dream about her wedding day, how wonderful it would be and the life she would have afterwards, her Prince Charming awakening her with a kiss. Well -- that hadn't happened, and she didn't know how to fix it. None of this was the way she had imagined it. "He wants so much," she finally said, "and I don't think I can give him any of it."

Janine shook her head, looking puzzled. "What does he want?"

"Too much -- everything." For her to be someone else, someone who hadn't had it drummed into her head that only sluts liked sex, for instance, and how nice men didn't marry girls like that. Marital bliss, according to her mother, started with knowing all this phony baloney trash about sex was just something to sell books and magazines. Men wanted a homemaker, a mother for their children; there were plenty of whores around to take care of a man's other needs. Gen even knew her mom was nuts, knew that's why her parents marriage was strictly for appearance sake, but it didn't make it any easier to get all that crap out of her own head. And sometimes she worried she was as nuts as her mother

Janine sighed, no more enlightened. "Gen, do you really want to go through with this?"

Gen looked back at her, shaking her head. "Yes. I like him a lot, but..."

"Gen," Janine's sigh was exasperated now, "you have to do more than like him if you're going to marry him."

"I know that," she snapped back. "I know that," she repeated, something more desperate in her voice then. It should have been perfect; it had started so well with them having so much in common and seeming really well suited to each other. All those points where they connected, though, if you added them up they were just superficial things like enjoying some of the same movies and books, vacationing in some of the same places. That was great for striking up a conversation -- but then what?

"Gen, come on," Janine ventured a little further out, "yes, maybe I'd marry Richie Rich for the money and all but you're not in that boat. If you don't want to go through with it, no one can make you."

She shook her head. "Things will get better." She had to believe that, it was the only lifeline out there for her cling to.

"Well I hope you've got a good pre-nup."

"You're not helping."

"I'm not handing you the rope to hang yourself with, if that's what you mean," Janine said, picking up the laundry basket and leaving.

That didn't sound like such a bad option, actually, Genevieve thought.

Setting the bags of groceries on his kitchen counter, Chris watched with some bemusement as the cat came ambling along to jump up there, proceeding to check out each sack. The psycho furball had some idea everything that came into the apartment was its business, and accordingly had to be inspected and approved - people included. The one time he'd had Angelique over for dinner, the cat had hopped up on the desk over there and stared at Angie all evening, just like it was thinking, 'Bitch.' When she'd tried to pet the cute kitty, said cute kitty had tried to bite her. He didn't know what the hell its problem was. He'd tried chasing it off; it always came back. He'd tried out staring it once, thinking to intimidate it; the cat won. He'd tried not feeding it; it just went out and whacked something and brought it back to eat out on the fire escape. And maybe that was kind of educational and all - he wouldn't have thought the best way to eat a chipmunk, for instance, was head first - but on the whole it was something Chris could do without.

Weird how it had warmed up to Toby pretty quick, even answering to that dumb name. Curious, Chris stowed away six-packs of beer and soda, glancing back at the cat that was now sticking its face in the new potted plant Mrs. Delucca had given him. "Hey You." Ears swiveling, the cat looked over at him with expectation. Great, now it thought it had a name. Chris wasn't sure he liked that; it implied attachment and permanence, things that weren't too familiar to him.

He took out a can of Coke, still cold, and popped the top, opening the bag of Cheetos as well and grabbing a handful, washing them down with the cola. Hey You watched him, head cocked, waiting for Chris to cave. Which he did in another couple of seconds, putting a few of the cheesy puffs on the counter. Of course the cat had to sniff them and bat them around the Formica before getting down to snarfing them; at least it didn't think it had to kill them first, like the cat did with French fries.

"Nope," Chris told it when the cat looked at him for more, "you gotta pace yourself with Cheetos," stashing the bag away in a cupboard. Christ, he was talking to a cat. He sighed and shook his head as he finished putting things away.

Groceries put away and sacks folded and stored under the sink -- why, he didn't know, his grandma had always done that, though -- Chris pried the lids off the Tupperware Mrs. Delucca had also sent along. Lasagna, breadsticks, a salad, and three hunks of chocolate cake, everything homemade. He didn't know why, but women Mrs. Delucca's age always wanted to feed him. Time was he hadn't thought twice about exploiting that for all it was worth, either. Hell, time was Mrs. Delucca would have looked like the perfect mark to him: a widow with some money put away, no family close by, and willing to fall for a well-rehearsed hard luck story.

Chris thought about that as he loaded up a plate and carried it and his soda over to the living room, setting everything down on the coffee table. He liked to think maybe that scored him a point or two, that scamming her hadn't even crossed his mind. He hadn't even felt right about her doing his grocery shopping, especially when she always gave him back a big chunk of change. Once he'd seen for himself that it wasn't any kind of imposition on her, and that the left over money was the result of her working that coupon deal, he'd felt better about it.

Spanky probably wouldn't be impressed, though.

Turning on the television, Chris considered Special Agent Pierce Taylor as he zapped through the channels. Far as Chris knew, he was not on the FBI's Most Wanted list, and all a person had to do was watch the news to see there was plenty of crime going on that was a fuck of a lot more recent than any of his cons. He paused on a local news channel for a couple of minutes, crumbling up a breadstick and setting it on a paper napkin for the cat as they both watched a report about some warehouse fire where arson was suspected, followed by a story about a serial rapist stalking women near the mall, and two murders -- a woman shot her abusive boyfriend, and some homeless guy'd been found under a bridge minus his head. Somebody'd knocked over a bank last week, too, and he knew the FBI was always all over those cases. So it looked to him like there was more than enough for Agt. Taylor to be doing instead of harassing him for years old stuff. Maybe that wasn't right, maybe that wasn't what you'd call justice, but life wasn't fucking fair and he was turning things around. Even if Spanky did toss his ass in jail for a few years, how was that going to square anything with the people he'd rooked? Did he feel bad about what he'd done, parting people from their money? Yeah, kinda, sometimes. He'd be lying big time if he claimed to lose a whole lot of sleep over that. He'd done what he had to in order to survive. He wasn't what you'd call proud of it, and he wasn't planning to take it up again, but what was done was done and Spanky trying to make a federal case out of it was getting to be a pain. He was getting to remind Chris of that Inspector Javert guy in that musical Bonnie'd insisted on going to a couple years back.

Chris changed the channel to a ball game -- Mets were five runs behind the Braves in the top of the third -- and he left it there, giving into Hey You's demands for more breadstick and some lasagna. He wasn't going to waste any more time than he had to wondering what was up with Agt. Taylor. If he was reading him right, he was trying to spook Chris into doing something stupid, and that just was not going to happen. Sooner or later the guy would have to give it a rest because even the FBI had to have better things to do than harass him.

Trouble was, without Agt. Taylor to focus on his thoughts rolled right back around to Toby, and he reached to tug out his wallet and flip it open on the table, looking at the business card stuck in one of the plastic photo holders. He chewed a breadstick thoughtfully, staring at that white rectangle, Toby's name printed across it, wishing he knew what the fuck was the matter with him.

He should be thinking about how he was going to win Angelique back. It would take some extra work to coax her back around but he was fairly confident he could bring her back around. Somehow that just wasn't looking worth the effort, though. She'd be better off without him -- Kitty and Bonnie sure as fuck were. Kitty had her restaurant going really good out in L.A. and was marrying a guy that sounded like he was really good to her, and Bonnie had turned things around big time, learning to feel good about herself and knowing she didn't need a dick like him on her arm to pull that off. Although he did like to think he might have provided some of the inspiration for her romance novels coming out so hot.

So why not let Angie skip that whole getting her life fucked up by him phase, and go straight to the good stuff? Leaving him to -- what? Sit around here, talking to a beat up old cat and pining over Tobias Beecher, Esquire?

Man. Chris let out a deep breath and took a drink of his soda, thinking if he could just figure this out he could make it all go away and get back to normal.

So... He sat back with his plate on his lap and feet up on the table, trying to work it out. He wasn't in love with this fuck, right? You didn't just, bam, look at someone and fall in love. It was like Lillian had said, maybe you got real interested in someone at first sight but the rest of it took a lot longer to develop. So... Was he infatuated with Toby? Like some kind of goddamn crush? It was something in that neighborhood, he figured, the way he couldn't stop thinking about Toby, remembering everything he'd said, how he'd looked, the way it had felt to touch him and kiss him and hold him. And yeah, it had felt great -- really, really great, Chris admitted, eyes closing as if he could feel Toby's lips hot against his skin even now, Toby touching his body and looking at him like he was experiencing some kind of revelation -- but why did it leave him hungry for the other guy? Like he needed Toby the way he needed air or something. That's the part that him stumped. No one had ever gotten to him like this, and he wasn't sure he entirely liked it. He had a funny feeling it was the kind of thing that could prompt him to do something really stupid, for one thing.

The most fucked up thing was how it wasn't just about sex, about wanting to fuck Toby. He wanted that, sure, but he also wanted Toby here to look at, to talk to; to sit beside Toby like this and watch the game. What the hell was that about?

He put the plate down, not batting the cat away when it came over to polish off the lasagna, staring at that business card. What if...what if he did go and crash this party? What if he could see Toby one more time, see that there wasn't really anything all that special about the guy, and get this out of his system?

And if that didn't work? If seeing Toby again only made everything spike that much higher?

Chris shook his head, not having any kind of answer for that.

Toby looked over as Gussie knocked on the door and came over to the bed to give him a disapproving look.

"People are starting to arrive."

"I know." He'd seen the cars pulling up from his bedroom window, seen the lights coming on in the garden and heard the band tuning up.

"Are you going to come down?"

He shrugged, not making any moves to get up.

Gussie huffed out an exasperated breath of air. "Are you going to be a pain in the ass?"

Toby glared at his teenage brother, saying, "Yeah, that's my life's ambition in a nutshell." And to make things even better his father loomed up behind Angus then, a look of fretful concern on his face.

"Toby? You're not dressed."

"Who's not dressed?" That was his mother's voice from the hall; he watched her peek over her husband's shoulder, a matching look of worry settling over her features. "Aren't you feeling well, dear?"

And the hell of it was he could get away with that. They would let him plead a headache or something and go make excuses, never chewing him out for putting them in an uncomfortable position like that. So maybe it was time he started acting like a grown up and facing his responsibilities? Sounded good in theory, Toby thought as he sat up, but he didn't have a lot of confidence in pulling it off convincingly.

"I'm fine, Mother. I' right down."

His parents gave him another worried look before turning to go. Angus lingered a moment longer, looking like he was going to say something, but then shook his head and went out.

Toby sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed for another few minutes before finally getting himself in gear. He could go through the motions at least, that wouldn't kill him.

In the bathroom, he gazed into the mirror, at the bruise marking his collarbone, remembering how he'd gotten it -- Chris branding him with hot, passionate kisses. Toby wished he had never walked into that bar, never met Christopher Keller, never had this craving stirred to life by the other man. He was never going to taste it again, never feel desire like that washing through him and pouring back into him from his lover. Maybe it was even a punishment, like Tantalus having the food and drink he so richly desired forever just out of reach?

Great -- Toby splashed cold water in his face -- now he was casting himself as the lead in a Greek tragedy. Yeah, because he couldn't just be a dumbfuck who didn't know what he wanted -- or hadn't, not until he looked into a pair of dazzling blue eyes and went up in flame.

"Yeah? What're you lookin' at?" Chris said, glowering at the cat as it appeared in the bathroom door, tail folded neatly around itself while it watched him fussing with his tie.

The cat's only reply was an enigmatic stare.

Chris used to have a look like that, an air like that, projecting exactly what he wanted someone to believe and never missing a beat. Maybe that was the problem? He'd gotten so good at faking sincerity that he didn't even know how to be authentic, didn't know how to recognize it when it came along?

That, or he was just a dickhead.

Figuring his tie was as fixed as it was ever going to be, Chris slipped on the navy blazer and stood back to check himself out. Okay, he looked the part -- pleated khaki chinos, a dress shirt that the sales girl had said went great with eyes, a darker blue silk tie, oxfords all shined up nice. He'd blended in with the society crowd a lot of times before, he ever knew that neighborhood pretty well on account of Mimi always wanting him to deliver her car personally. Trouble was, all those other times all he'd had on the line was a con coming out the way he wanted. The stakes this time -- they were a fuck of a lot higher.

And he could barely believe he was really going to do this.

Okay, no more thinking like that. He'd talk himself out of it if he kept this up. Maybe that would be for the best, except he'd always be left wondering and playing what if, and things didn't come more fucked up than that.

Downstairs, Chris went around back to the garage the landlord let him use for free car repairs and took the tarp off his '62 Corvette -- cherry red, black ragtop; scammed off its previous owner for a thousand bucks and painstakingly restored to mint condition over the years. He didn't drive it often, his bike was more practical, and he just sat there in the driveway for a while, needing to work up his courage.

This was the stupidest thing he had ever done. No question in his mind about that.

There was also no question wild horses weren't keep him away from Toby tonight, no matter what, and he put the 'Vette in gear, backed her out and headed for Bryant Park.

Btw, Chris' choice of a car in here was sort of inspired by me listening to this song -- -- probably a few too many times. :)


Part Nine

"Christopher!" Mimi Vandemeer, cocktail in hand and a carnivorous glint in her eye, sailed towards him. "Don't you look spiffy," she said, running her free hand along the lapel of his navy blazer.

"Spiffy's what I was aimin' for," Chris said, smiling warmly enough. He wasn't that naive: Mimi was probably after him -- that kind of thing had been known to happen. And he couldn't honestly say the idea of going to bed with her was exactly distasteful. Since she was sizing him up pretty blatantly, Chris returned the compliment and had no problem with the way her short, black cocktail dress showed off her bare back. Nor did he mind if some of the curves it clung to might have been surgically enhanced; she'd definitely gotten her money's worth. Besides, only a kid like Angie would think Mimi was an old bag at forty. In fact, if there hadn't been a very different kind of blond on his mind Chris thought he could be easily persuaded to spend the night with Mimi. At least he would know exactly where he stood with her.

She didn't seem to think it was strange to see him here, either. The guy checking names at the gate had only hesitated a moment, too, locating Keller, Christopher as a last minute addition to the guest list. He'd have to thank Lillian for that since he wasn't sure he could have focused his thoughts enough to bluff his way inside.

"Here," Mimi snagged a glass from a passing waiter and put it in his hand, "you'll need this."

"Yeah?" She might have a point, depending on how this went. For the time being, however, Chris wanted to stay clear-headed so he confined himself to one small sip of the champagne. "Looks like a good shindig," he said, looking around at the huge garden all lit up, people parading by in their designer duds -- it looked like a few of them were on their way to getting lit, too.

"When you care enough to spend the very most," Mimi said, sounding too cheerful for it to come out bitchy.

It didn't look like any expense had been spared, true enough. There was a big tent at the far end, past the swimming pool, that looked like something straight out of the Arabian Nights. Jazzy, live music drifted from there and a few people were dancing -- like the very tall, middle-aged guy giving Lillian a spin over on the patio. He couldn't see anything that told him what the occasion might be, though. Toby's birthday, maybe? Whatever it was, it made him glad to see Toby's folks evidently thought a lot of him to go all out like this.

"So did you come on your big, bad motorcycle?" Mimi was asking him, touching his arm.

"Nope, left it at home."

"Too bad -- I'd really love you to give me a ride sometime," she said, never batting an eye.

He smiled, scanning the crush of people for Toby. "I'd be happy to help you pick one out to ride on your own."

"Hmm," she pursed her painted lips, thinking about it, "riding solo's never as much fun, though."

Chris couldn't really dispute that since he really liked the picture that had just popped into his head, of Toby holding on tight behind him as they tore down the highway. Right this minute he'd like to give Tobias Beecher, Esquire all sorts of rides, in fact. So -- where the hell was the lawyer? He walked on with Mimi hooking her arm through his, barely registering her gossip about some of the other guests as he kept a sharp lookout for Toby and wondered what kind of guy turned up late for his own party.

Toby looked around and smiled as Genevieve came over to sit beside him on a garden bench tucked away from all the hustle and bustle. "Hi," he said, pleased at the way she slipped her arm through his, like she was really comfortable doing that. "You look pretty tonight," he added, really meaning it. Her hair was pulled back and fastened with some kind of clip, not much make-up, and her dress definitely gave him hope -- some swirly black-and-white pattern that discreetly showed some skin. He thought it fit her too well to be something borrowed from Janine, too.

She shrugged the compliment off, of course, but he thought she might be pleased. "Now we just have the wedding and reception to get through and we're home free," she said, with a trace of the wry humor she had exhibited before he proposed to her.

Funny how things really had been going well up to that point. No fireworks or anything, no, but he hadn't asked her to marry him just because he didn't have anything else to do that evening. As soon as she had broken the news to her folks, though -- her mother, specifically -- it had been downhill all the way. They had wanted a fairly quiet and intimate wedding, for instance, and his mother had been giving Gen a lot of good advice on that. All of that got derailed when Hurricane Doris swept down on them, insisting her daughter had to have an extravaganza to rival one of the British royal weddings. About the only thing he and Gen had been able to get their way on had been no bachelor or bachelorette parties. Tonight's relatively small gala was a compromise on that, suggested by his folks when Mrs. Vaughn had started planning another spectacle. Toby had never really understood all those mother-in-law jokes before but had been gaining a new appreciation for them of late.

"I am sorry I skipped out on you last night," he said, turning to look at Gen. That was true. He hadn't meant to embarrass her like that. He'd just gotten a bit...distracted. Shaking his head to drive off that flash memory of Chris, he took her hand and smiled at her. "It's just all getting to be too much, you know?"

She nodded. "It's not what I had in mind, either."

"I know that." He brushed his hand along her smooth cheek and leaned in to kiss her, insistently banishing the remembered sensation of Chris' stubbled cheek, his mouth devouring him. "It'll be over soon," he said, drawing back from the soft and almost cautious brush of her lips and trying not to regret that her kiss didn't set his blood on fire.

She nodded quietly again, surprising him by moving closer to rest her head on his shoulder. "We could always fly to Las Vegas tonight and get married by Elvis."

He smiled at that, tilting his head to give her a thoughtful look. "You serious?"


God, that was tempting. And it really might do the trick. If they could get away from all this hectic fuss, away from her mother, maybe this all could be salvaged. He suspected his folks might even support that -- he knew his grandma would. He'd seen them all rolling their eyes at one more suggestion from Doris on how to liven things up. At this point about the only thing missing from the wedding and reception program was an outright circus act. And he did like the idea of leaving Doris with egg all over her face, no doubt about that. Hell, even Gen's dad might not get too pissed off -- and he could always pay George back all the money that had been shelled out to date.

"We could, couldn't we?" he said, musing out loud and really starting to warm to the idea.

"You could do what, dear?" Doris Vaughn's voice intruded, and just as quickly as Toby's spirits had started to rise they plummeted at warp speed. "What on earth are you two doing out here by yourselves?" She came over to them, her face pulled tight and make-up applied with a trowel -- throw in green hair and she could pass for The Joker -- carrying a fuzzy pink sweater that she insisted Gen put on so as not to get a chill.

Toby thought the temperature had just dropped by thirty or forty degrees, all right. He looked at Gen, silently imploring her to tell her mother to go take a long walk off a short pier - it would do wonders for everyone. He wasn't really surprised, though, when all Gen said was, "I was just telling Tobi -- Toby about the new music you've selected for the reception."

Oh Christ. Pretty sure he didn't want to know, Toby got up, excusing himself and managing to get away just as Doris was declaring she couldn't wait to see them dancing to 'You Light Up My Life.' One more day, a handful of hours really, and this would be over with and he and Genevieve could start their life together. Everything would be fine then. But, oh man, he would give just about anything to run far, far away right now.

He paused on a walkway still on the outskirts of the party, wrapping his hand around one of the Victorian-style lamps as he watched everyone milling around out there and having a wonderful time. Why couldn't he? Hell, maybe if he had a really good time Gen and her scary mom would be so mortified they would call the wedding off on the spot.

Seriously giving that some thought, he approached the tent and went up to the bar that had been set up just a little ways from where the jazz quintet was currently playing 'Take Five.' Getting well and truly plastered wouldn't actually be his preferred choice, funnily enough. Nope, if he could have just one wish come true right this very moment -- he closed his eyes and made the wish -- when he looked again he would be in Chris' apartment, in Chris' arms. He counted to ten and opened his eyes to find nothing whatever had changed. Well, except that his dad's golfing buddy, Mr. Jansen, was giving him a funny look. You ain't seen nothin' yet, Toby thought as he studied the array of bottles with scientific concentration, trying to calculate just how much he would need to consume to make a fucking good spectacle of himself.

Of course even doing the cha-cha naked in the fountain likely would not bring the most deeply desired results. Scary Doris wasn't letting him out of her clutches no matter what. So, he took a deep breath as he surveyed all the lovely bottles, this was probably a good a time as any to get started on the rest of his life. Like that wise philosopher, Mick Jagger, said, 'You can't always get what you want.' Snagging a bottle of Bushmill's and a glass -- he wouldn't want to be uncivilized by swilling it straight from the bottle, after all --Toby headed back outside thinking that Jagger guy was really onto something there.

Skirting the edges of the party, Toby paused to watch Angus and some friends over by the pool. Either they were having a mass spastic attack or that was supposed to be dancing. Their movements did not remotely match the rhythm of the music, but it looked like they were really into their groove over there so what the fuck business was it of his? Besides, it wasn't like his own turns around the dance floor had ever been likened to, say, Fred Astaire.

Toby went on his way, climbing up a short flight of stone steps and heading for a particular favorite spot away from the cheerful lights and genial chatter. Reaching his destination, a big old oak set back in this more remote corner of the garden, he sat down gingerly on one of the two swings hanging from the tree. They weren't anything fancy, just worn wooden slats and rope - and a slight creak was heard as he settled down. Everything held up, though, and Toby relaxed there, swaying gently back and forth as he tipped his head back to regard the evocative remains of his tree house. That was one of his best memories from what felt like a thousand summers ago: his father and Grandpa Sterling building the tree house and swings while his mother hovered and fretted, worried that it was too high up. He swayed some more and smiled, remembering his dad saying with infinite patience, 'Victoria, there is a reason these are called tree houses and not shrub houses.' To his mother's immense relief he had somehow managed to never fall out and kill himself.

Renovations had taken place about ten years ago so Angus could play there, but of late it had fallen into a state of disrepair as they had both outgrown the need for tree houses. That suddenly struck Toby as sad. No one should ever have to grow up that much. Still -- he unscrewed the bottle and took a swig from it, letting the glass sit forlornly by itself, after all, on a cracked piece of flagstone -- it was quiet and secluded and a good place to be alone to think.

He took another drink of the whiskey and looked up at the sky, watching a shooting star as it streamed across the sky. For old time's sake he made another wish, softly whispering to himself, "When you wish upon a star..." and ending in a melancholy little sigh. Where the fuck was Jiminy Cricket when a guy really needed him?

This was nuts. Two really good-looking gals were vying for his attention and all Chris wanted was to extricate himself as gracefully as possible so he could go find Toby. Nuts because what the hell made him think Toby wanted to be found, especially by him?

Tuning into the conversation, he struggled not to roll his eyes as the claws came out a little further. Mimi was being real sweet - sort of like an arsenic-flavored candy apple -- telling the younger brunette, "That's such a sweet dress, dear. Did you make it yourself?" The other one - Janie, Joanie, whatever - didn't have quite the same style as she replied, "Thank you, ma'am. Yours is nice, too; my mother has one just like it." Chris scored her points for effort, though. Neither of them was taking home the prize tonight, however.

Jumping in at the first opportunity, Chris said, "Excuse me, there's someone I need to go say hello to. I'll be right back." He slipped away, leaving them in mid-meowr, and ducked around some big ass fountain to get out of their line of sight.

He slowed his pace as he got close to a footbridge that arched over a small pond, attracted by the sound of the frogs carrying on. Watching one frog plop into the water while another stayed on a rock, croaking away, Chris smiled and bet Toby'd had a great time growing up here. No question that it beat the hell out of a stoop and a crummy old rooftop. He'd bet Toby had always had lots of other kids to play with, too.

He firmly pushed those memories back out of the way, turning off the echo of a woman's voice from long ago, telling her little boy, 'Donnie, what did I tell you about having that white trash Keller boy at your party?' Just like that Keller boy hadn't been standing right there, hearing every word, not even sure what he'd done wrong since he'd only walked up and rung the bell. Weird how a memory could be so clear and vivid after more than twenty years.

That was all over and done with now, and if Bonnie had it right with her amateur shrinking he'd got all the payback he could have wanted long ago. The sweetest cons had always been the ones where he'd parted some well-heeled snob from a wad of cash, he couldn't deny that. Bonnie'd smacked that nail right on the head, no question, and maybe it did have something to do with those formative years. Chris shrugged that off as he started across the bridge, guessing he must have gotten it well and truly out of his system because all he wanted to part Toby from was his hesitation or whatever had spooked him off this morning.

And he'd bet one game Toby had been really good at was hide-and-seek. Tempted to go ahead and call out, "Come out, come out, wherever you are," Chris shook his head as he scanned the area once more, wondering if Toby was part Cheshire Cat or something.

And wishing he knew how to go invisible as he saw Mimi and that other gal coming down the path, Chris scrambled up some steps, ducking out of sight just in time. He heard them go on by, still ripping each other, but figured he'd wait a while until he was sure the coast was clear. It was nice here, all secluded and away from all of the racket, just the music carrying sweet and clear on the night air. Chris leaned against a weathered old brick wall, listening as some lady vocalist started up, something smooth and sultry in her voice as she sang:

"Never know how I love you
Never know how much I care
When you put your arms around me
I get a fever that's so hard to bear

"You give me fever
When you kiss me
Fever when you hold me tight
Fever, in the morning
Fever all through the night..."

He sighed, wondering if that's what had happened: Toby'd given him a fever and he'd have been better off taking a couple of aspirin - or a cold shower - than in putting himself on the line like this.

After a moment he cocked his head, listening to something else, a slow and steady creaking sound, and turned to give, or whatever, a better once over. Something was moving a ways off back there, swaying back and forth, and Chris ventured further along a flagstone path to check it out - pretty sure he'd just felt his heart skip a beat as he saw Toby at last, sitting on some dilapidated old swing over by a tree.

It took him a couple of tries to get his voice to work and then all he could think to do was call out, soft, "Hey."

Toby blinked, looking around at him, golden head tilting to the side as a real skeptical look settled over his face. He shook his head then, like it needed clearing or something, and looked some more, a smile lifting one corner of his mouth - turning to a full-blown grin and a laugh as a cricket started chirping out of the blue. "Hey."

"Whatcha doing out here?" Chris said, coming closer and spotting the glass and bottle of whiskey centered on a flagstone by the swing. The bottle was open and he remembered Toby talking about having a drinking problem, surprised by how much it bothered him to think of Toby all alone out here and drinking.

Toby shrugged. "Not much." He was still giving Chris a funny look, like he wasn't sure Chris was real.

Encouraged to chase away any doubts, Chris walked on over and sat down in the other swing. "That your tree house?" he said, tipping his head back to look at the ramshackle structure.


Chris kept looking at the tree house, feeling Toby's intense gaze on him all the while. "I never had one of those," he went on, feeling a bit unnerved by the other man's near-silence. "What did you do you do up there?"


He turned to look at Toby, bathed in the moonlight. "What?"

Toby leaned in, reaching for him, a hand curving around the back of his neck and fingers pulling at his hair as Toby whispered, "I don't want to talk about the goddamn tree house," and kissed him.

No, that topic suddenly lost all of its appeal for Chris as well, and he threaded his hands through Toby's hair, parting his lips to that oh so persistent tongue.


Part Ten

Toby took another swig from the whiskey bottle and tipped his head back, watching a star as it streaked across the sky. And for old time's sake he made another wish, softly singing to himself, "When you wish upon a star...," trailing off on a melancholy little sigh. Where the fuck was Jiminy Cricket when a guy really needed him?

He sighed again, swaying back and forth on the old swing, betting even Jiminy'd have a tough time getting a guy out of this mess. Why couldn't he just walk back out there and say, 'Hey, everybody, the funniest thing's happened. I know a lot of you have your hearts set on this wedding taking place, but the thing is all I can think of is this gorgeous, sexy guy I picked up in a bar last night and had the best sex of my life with. So, you know, the wedding's off.' Yep, that would just win him all sorts of popularity contests.

What if he told them it wasn't even about the sex, it was just Chris. It was meeting someone who made you believe all that stuff about soul mates and fate might not be such a load of crap after all. It was aching inside not because he might never taste passion like that again, but because he might never see Chris' face again or hear his voice, or finish unraveling the mystery of him.

And if he could figure out how to go about it, he would really like to file a suit against Fate for being such a fickle bitch and bringing him Chris when it was too goddamn late in the game.


Head cocked, Toby blinked and looked around, certain his imagination was working overtime because there was no way Chris was really there, stepping out of the shadows as if truly summoned up by magic. He looked real enough, breathtakingly real, and Toby felt a smile starting as Chris came closer. As a cricket started chirping away, Toby couldn't help laughing with sheer delight. Thank you, Jiminy. "Hey."

"Whatcha doing out here?" Chris said, close enough for Toby to see the mix of surprised pleasure and uncertainty warring in his eyes.

"Not much," Toby said with a slight shrug, never taking his eyes off Chris. What if he blinked for just a split second, and when he looked again Chris had vanished? So he sat there, soaking up every graceful motion as Chris approached him and sat down on the other swing. His movements were cautious and gingerly, as he also needed time to let this all soak in. That, or he was afraid of the decrepit old swing collapsing.

Grasping the rope handles, Chris gave the swing a tentative push back and forth, sending Toby quizzical little looks every couple of seconds. After another moment he glanced up, taking in the ramshackle tree house. "That your tree house?"

"Uh-huh." And for a wild moment Toby considered offering to give him a very personal tour. It would be just a little embarrassing if the thing gave way during some particularly rambunctious moment between them, however, so he tucked that idea away and just kept watching Chris.

"I never had one of those," Chris was going on, as if the spell that had brought him here also required him to be a chatterbox. "What did you do up there?"

"Chris?" Toby could think of a banquet of possible things they could be doing that would be far more appealing than discussing his old tree house. "Yeah?" Chris looked back at him, the moonlight giving him an unearthly aura that contributed to Toby's sense of this not being quite real. There was, he knew, only one possible means of dispelling this impression.

Toby leaned in close, reaching for him, one hand curving around the back of his neck, his fingers tugging at the short, dark hairs there. "I don't want to talk about the goddamn tree house," he whispered against Chris' lips right before he kissed him.

Oh, yes, this was real enough - Chris' mouth yielding to him and Chris' tongue sliding against his, Chris reaching for him and pulling him even closer as they deepened the kiss. It wasn't quite as awkward as Toby would have thought, kissing on the swings, and if they did happen to take a tumble to the grass...well, he didn't have any problems with wrinkles and a few grass stains. Sprawled out in the grass, Chris in his arms, sounded like a pretty good deal in fact.

Pulling back from the kiss for a moment because he needed to look into Chris' eyes, Toby framed the handsome face and met that intent gaze, matching it. "You're really here," he said, laughing quietly at the fondly skeptical look that provoked.

"Yeah." Chris laid a hand over Toby's and turned his head, making Toby shudder with a jolt of pleasure at the soft, warm touch of Chris' lips against the inside of his wrist. "Your grandma invited me."

"My grandmother?" He shook his head, wondering if he had a fairy godmother out there working with Jiminy. "How do you know my grandmother?" he said, clasping Chris' hand.

"She brought her car into the garage for some work." Chris wove their fingers together, his free hand reaching to brush a stray lock of hair off Toby's forehead.

"Yeah? Which one?" Toby risked closing his eyes for an instant, the better to enjoy the feel of Chris' fingers tracing the contours of his face.

"The 'Fifty-six T-bird."

"Wow." He gave Chris a look of appreciative surprise. "That's her baby, she won't even let me drive it unsupervised. I'm impressed," he added with a smile, laying his hands on Chris' shoulders. "And," he slid his hands along to curve around Chris' strong neck, running his thumbs back and forth over Chris' jaw, "what's the rest of the story?"

Smiling, tilting his head into the caress, Chris shrugged. "We just got to talking and your name came up." He paused, giving Toby a shy look tinged with a dab of embarrassment. "I sorta let her think we were long-standing friends."

And Toby wished to Christ they were. Everything would be so much simpler then. "That's okay, I'm glad she was so taken with you," he said, unable to resist teasing him just a bit.

Taking no umbrage, Chris leaned in closer, nuzzling his temple a moment before kissing the corner of his mouth. "She didn't seem to think there was anything strange about me not already being on the guest list."

Toby moved his head a fraction so Chris was kissing his lips. "No, she wouldn't be. I...was a bit careless about sending out invitations." Deliberately forgetful, actually, and all too willing to let Genevieve take the blame by saying he thought she'd taken care of all that. Oh, yes, that was setting a wonderful pattern for a life together, all right.

Chris drew back, giving him an anxious look. "You're okay with me being here?"

Toby tugged him close. "I'm great with you being here," he said and kissed him again, lingering a long time over it.

When he could draw enough air, Chris gave him a teasing look, saying, "So I guess you were lying last night, huh?

Brows drawn together in a frown, Toby shook his head. "What do you mean?" He was fairly sure most of last night had been devoted to discovering many never-suspected truths.

"'Bout being twenty-six," Chris said, running a playful finger along Toby's nose. Head cocked, Chris gave him another quizzical look. "I mean, this is a birthday party or something, right?"

"Or...something," Toby said, wanting to smack reality right over the head as it tried to rear its unwelcome head. Caressing the nape of Chris' neck, scratching his fingers through the short, dark hair, he pulled Chris near enough for kissing once more, knowing the mind-blowing sensation of Chris' mouth on his was the only thing that could truly keep the rest of the world locked out.

"Aren't they gonna miss you?" Chris said, raising no objections as Toby tugged his tie loose and unbuttoned his shirt collar. Far from minding, in fact, he voiced a soft little moan as Toby bent his head and kissed his throat.

"Nope." Toby flicked his tongue against the warm flesh once more before coming back up to kiss his mouth again. "We're fine," he murmured, darting his tongue along the seam of Chris' lips and slipping between them.

"It's...oh man...kinda public, is all. What if your folks...oh geez...came along?" Chris whispered as Toby slipped a hand under his navy blazer and rubbed a nipple pressing against the fabric of his shirt. "Or were you thinkin' of takin' this up to your tree house?"

"Did you know you drop your g's a lot more when you're getting turned on?" Toby said, smiling as memories of leaving this man virtually speechless last night crept back. And he wasn't so sure his folks stumbling upon would be such a bad thing; that would certainly drive the point home. Still, that wouldn't be his preferred way of them finding out. As for the tree house... He looked up at it again, considering, and finally shaking his head with regret. "I think we might wind up needing to call 911 if we went up there."

"Yeah? Getting' kinda rickety?"

"Kinda, yeah." Toby smiled, not grabbing when Chris slipped off the swing and stood up, giving the tree house a long and thoughtful look. "What's so fascinating about it, anyway?" he said, coming up behind him and winding his arms around him.

"Dunno. Never had one, is all."

"No? How come?"

"No trees where I grew up, for one thing."

Yes, Toby guessed that would present a minor problem. "Well," he nuzzled the nape of Chris' neck, "I wish I'd known you then. You could have come over here to play."

Chris angled his head around at that, giving him a startled look. "You'd have asked me over?"

"Sure," Toby said, not a doubt in his mind. "We could have played cops-and-robbers, or pirates - there used to be a flag post up there where I could hang a jolly roger."

"How 'bout sleepovers?"

"Oh, yeah, those, too." Toby stroked his hip. "Although I'm pretty sure that would have meant something different back then."

Chris laughed. "Yeah, I expect so." He sighed, looking at the tree house again. "That the kind of thing you did up there, play games and stuff?"

"Yeah. Sometimes I'd just sneak up there to read my comic books and Mad magazines, too."

Turning in his arms, Chris said, "What comics did you like? Archie and Veronica, stuff like that?"

If not for the teasing laughter in those eyes, Toby would have popped him one for that. "No," he said with a tiny huff. "I'll have you know I was into all the cool books."

"Marvel or DC?" Chris said very seriously, hooking his arms around Toby's back.

"Mostly Marvel. Some DC books were good, though."

"Yeah?" Chris ran a hand down to squeeze his ass. "Like...Aquaman?" he said, smiling.

"Hmph. No," Toby slipped his hand down to the other man's most impressive feature and returned tit-for-tat, "strictly Batman."

Chris grinned. "Yeah, Batman was cool, least long as the Boy Wonder wasn't around."

"No, no Boy Wonders." Toby pressed him back against the tree, kissing his chin, the tip of his nose, the corner of his mouth. "Sometimes I'd look at Wonder Woman, too," he confessed, "but only because she started looking hot to me at a certain point."

Chris nodded. "Yeah, I'd've fucked Wonder Woman."

"Would you have fucked Batman?"

"Sure, I always figured he musta had some interesting gadgets in that utility belt," Chris drawled back.

Toby laughed again, just holding him close for a long moment, falling a little more in love with him. "Let's get out of here," he whispered against his ear.

"You wanna sneak out of your own party?"

"It'll be okay," he insisted, desperate to believe that. More desperate to simply run away with Chris. "Come on," he took his hand, tugging him along. Tomorrow... Hell, he didn't know what would happen tomorrow. He only knew what he wanted to happen tonight and every night to come. "Let's go this way," he said when they had reached the pathway, looking around and checking the coast was clear. "The garage is back here - no one will see us." He pulled Chris along, not wanting to give either of them a chance to think, afraid of their luck running out any minute.

Like right now, for instance, as Genevieve and her mom loomed up in front of them, Doris saying, "Tobias, where on earth have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you."

Oh hell. "I've...been right here," he said, running a dozen scenarios through his head that could get them out of this, no harm done. Chris had just stopped in for a minute to see him and had to go catch a flight, for instance, and he was going to give him a lift to the airport. That would work, right? Or...Chris' grandmother had just been rushed to the hospital and he was going to run Chris over there. Or-

"Aren't you going to introduce us, Tobias?" Doris was saying, running her eye over Chris as if she was checking the lines of a racehorse.

"Ah," rattled by juggling possibilities of extricating them from Genevieve and her mom, Toby stumbled through the introductions, skipping over all minor details - like, 'And Genevieve and I are getting married in the morning.'

"Listen," he said, deciding to go with the simplest excuse, "Chris is just passing through town, actually, and has to get to the airport to catch his flight. I'm going drive him out there, all right?" he went on, all too aware Chris was giving him a 'What the fuck's up with you?' look. Genevieve was looking more than a tad perplexed as well.

"And why can't Mr. Keller simply call a cab?" Doris said, looking at the two of them with a trace of exasperation. "It's a pity you can't stay for the wedding, Mr. Keller," she went on, "it's going to be quite the event."

"What wedding?" Chris said, looking from her to Toby, a bewildered expression creeping into his eyes as Doris drew Toby and Genevieve together, linking their hands.

"What wedding?" She laughed, giving Toby a doubtful look, as if thinking he might be a bit simple-minded. "Tobias and Genevieve, of course. Won't they make a stunning couple?"

Chris just stared at him, hurt and anger mingling with disbelief in those deep blue eyes. "Yeah, stunning," he said after a moment, backing up a step, still searching Toby's face as if hoping for some denial, some declaration this was just some crazy woman spouting nonsense. "Oh Christ," he murmured under his breath as Toby could only stare helplessly back at him. "Excuse me," he said, turning away, "I...gotta get outta here."

"Chris--" Toby reached for him, not knowing what to say, how to fix this. "Just let me--"

"Just let you what?" Chris growled back at him, trying to shake off his head. "Move your fucking hand."

"Chris, please," Toby whispered, anxious to make him understand, "you have to let me explain."

"No," Chris got free of him, "I don't. Leave me alone."

"Chris," Toby reached for him again, but Chris dodged him this time, striding off as if he couldn't get away fast enough. "Chris!"

"Tobias," Doris Vaughn's voice was sharp in his ear, "what in the world are you carrying on about? Let your friend be. It's time you started attending to your responsibilities, young man," she went on, her voice blurring into a maddening blare that only added to all the frustration boiling away inside him.

"Will you just shut the fuck up and leave me alone, you stupid cunt!" Not staying to discover how that went over, not giving a particular damn, Toby started off after Chris, pushing through the crush of people, oblivious to anyone that wasn't Chris, and feeling a flicker of hope as he got out to the curb just in time to see him climbing into a red Corvette. "Chris! Chris!"

The other man threw one hard, cold look at him before peeling out, leaving Toby to stand there, watching the taillights disappear into the darkness.

Jesus fucking Christ... Now what?


Part Eleven

Idling in traffic, Chris rolled down the window and rested his arm on the door, waiting for the police cars and ambulance to finish up with whatever they were doing up ahead. That some other poor sonofabitch might be having an even lousier night didn't do a lot to cheer him up. And sure, someday he'd look back and appreciate the irony of him being on the wrong end of a con job, but that day was looking a long ways off right now.

Christ, couldn't they hurry it up already? He craned his neck out the window to see what the hold up, not able to make out anything among the ocean of headlights, the red-and-blue flashes of the emergency vehicles. With a sigh, he settled back in his seat, hands flexing on the steering wheel, longing for a long and empty stretch of highway so he could just rev this baby up and race off into the night, long enough and far enough that Tobias Beecher, Esq. was nothing but a dim and blurry memory.

And he'd bet that girl - Jennifer, Genevieve? - would be sharing that sentiment soon enough, hitched to a fucked up nutbar like Tobias.

He sighed again, sitting up straighter as traffic began moving, and turned the 'Vette off the freeway, heading back home. The familiar city blocks, grittier and gaudier than Bryant Park's genteel faades, offered some small comfort as he cruised along. At least a guy knew what to expect here, knew reality came with a bite and a kick to the teeth. There was a certain honesty in that. Maybe he could be grateful for that much, that his brief fling with Tobias had reminded him of who he was and where he belonged. Just lately he'd been on the verge of forgetting that every now and then.

His brief fling, their torrid affair... A corner of Chris' mouth twisted upwards as he slid into a parking space, wondering how Tobias would look back on their acquaintance. Wondering what the hell Tobias had been looking for - one last riot of sowing wild oats before settling down with the little woman?

Most of all he wondered how the fuck he'd been so suckered by nothing more than a nice smile, a hot body, and a few sweet nothings whispered in his ear. Jesus Christ, wasn't he smarter than that?

He shook his head and rolled up the window, getting out and locking the door before running across the street to Dawson's Bar, not quite ready to face going home. There were too many memories of Toby hanging around there and he needed to brace himself just a bit before facing up to them.

And like Toby wasn't haunting this place? he thought as he walked up to the bar and sat down. Resting his arms on the dark, polished wood, his gaze was irresistibly drawn over to the pool table - and it took him way too long to register that the blond guy leaning over the table wasn't Toby.

The bartender came along to take his order, setting a bottle of beer in front him and moving on as a long, hard stare conveyed Chris was in no mood to share his troubles. The very last thing he wanted to do, in fact, was let go of his anger. He didn't want to let it slip away and leave him exposed to all the hurt and disappointment boiling up inside. If he stayed angry long enough maybe it would incinerate every other feeling.

Hand curved around the neck of the bottle, the glass cold against his skin, Chris watched his thumb brush along the lip of the bottle. Why was it the more he tried not to think of touching Toby's lips the same way, of how good it had been to kiss those lips, the more sharp and vivid the memory became? He took a drink of the beer, holding the icy liquid in his mouth a long moment before swallowing it down, hoping it would wash away the taste of Toby. No such luck, of course. A case of the stuff wouldn't be enough for that. Chris could see that knowledge clear as anything in the eyes of the pole-axed idiot looking back at him from the mirror behind the bar.

"All dressed up and nowhere to go, Keller?" He blinked, still watching the mirror as Special Agent Pierce Taylor settled down on the stool beside him. Okay, that officially made this the worst night of his life in recent memory.

"Agt. Taylor," he pulled up a smile, pushing his feelings down deep and easing into the smooth operator the FBI man expected, "what brings you here? We keep meeting like this, Spanky, people are gonna talk," he added with a wink.

"You think you're real cute, don't you, Keller?" Agt. Taylor said, reaching for some peanuts.

Chris took another drink, shrugged. "It has been bandied about."

Taylor smiled back, looking pleased with himself. "Yeah, you'll make your next cell mate real happy to see you."

Keeping his easy smile in place even as a memory of Vernon Schillinger flashed through his mind - 'Hey, kid, anybody ever tell you what quid pro quo means?' - Chris said, "This where I break down and confess to my evil ways?" He turned on the stool so he was facing Agt. Taylor, catching the other man's gaze and holding it. "You got evidence linking me to anything, Agent Taylor?" he went on, dropping his voice to its most seductive register, deliberately invading the FBI man's space. "Or maybe you're doggin' me 'cause thinking about slapping a pair of cuffs on me and interrogating me," he drawled that out soft and slow, loading it with innuendo, "gives you a hard-on? Huh?" He leaned in closer. "That the way it is, Spanky?"

To his credit, Special Agent Taylor did a good job of keeping his cool, only moving slightly out of the way and never breaking eye contact. "You go ahead and have your fun, Keller," he said, amiable confidence in his tone. "Your ass'll be mine soon enough."

"Aww," Chris smiled, easing back out of Taylor's personal space, "listen to you sweet-talkin' me." Rapidly losing interest in this particular game, he faced around to the bar again and chanced a quick look in the mirror. The face he showed the world was firmly in place, not a single trace of anything Agt. Taylor didn't expect. Maybe that's all there was to see anyway, maybe he was just conning himself when he imagined there must be more to him. No one else had ever seen it, only Toby had ever acted like he wanted to - and that hadn't even been real, just a load of wishful thinking.

God, he was so fucking tired of all this. No matter how hard he tried, it was never going to change, never get any better. He couldn't outrun his destiny. So why keep fighting it, why not just give into the inevitable and get it all over with? Hell, all he'd have to do was walk down to the corner and knock over the liquor store there, make Agt. Taylor's job easy. Hadn't he been told a thousand times he was just no good, he'd come to a bad end, he'd end up rotting in prison just like his grandpa? What was there to stand in protest against that? Not a damn thing. Nothing but the lies he had so desperately wanted to believe in a pair of blue eyes.

Chris could see his expression wavering a bit then, just a flicker, but he didn't want to risk slipping up in front of Agt. Taylor. Maybe he would go out and do something stupid tomorrow - but not tonight. Tonight he only wanted to be alone.

He stood up, taking some bills from his wallet and dropping them on the bar. It would have been good to take his leave with some particularly sharp remark, but all he could think of was, "Guess you know where to find me, Agt. Taylor."

"Oh, yeah, you'll see me around, Keller - count on it."

Yeah, that sounded like a sure thing all right. A hell of a lot more than him ever getting to live happily ever after.

Where would Chris go? That was all Toby could think of as she drove along, frustrated by the limited options on hand. Tapping impatient fingers against the steering wheel, he waited for the light to change, turning down that same randomly selected street that had brought him to Chris last night.

Finding a parking space down the block from the bar, Toby stayed put in the BMW for a couple of minutes, trying to figure out what to do next. Assume he actually found Chris tonight - then what? How did he get Chris to listen to him, and what the hell did he say to make it right? He refused to believe it couldn't be made right, that there was no way to take away the mortified pain he had glimpsed in Chris' eyes. Bad enough him being a blockhead had hurt Chris, but Toby thought making the other man feel stupid, and like he'd been had, might actually be worse.

With a sigh, Toby got out of the car, feeling the heat even more tonight as he locked up and hurried up the street to the beckoning blue neon. Everything looked the same as he pushed through the door, casting an automatic look over at the pool table, checking. There were two guys over there, but neither of them were Chris, and he made his way on up to the bar, scanning the room all the while.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asked.

"Actually I'm looking for someone," Toby said, leaning in confidentially. "I think he might be a regular - Chris Keller?" He saw recognition register in the man's eyes; the guy on the next stool seemed to take quite a lot of interest, too. Toby shot him a look - serious business suit, serious chiseled features. No one Toby knew, and note remotely who he was looking for. "So?" he said, looking back at the bartender. "Has he been in tonight?"

"Can't say." The guy cut a look at Mr. Serious Chiseled Guy, giving Toby the idea he was being deliberately circumspect for some reason.

Intrigued, but not really in the mood for distractions, Toby said, "Well can you tell me where he might have gone? It's really important."

"Look, just 'cause I sell a guy a beer don't mean I keep track of his appointments."

"Yeah," Toby huffed, "thanks for your help." He pushed off from the bar and looked around once more, frustration bubbling away. He headed for the door, pausing out on the sidewalk and looking up and down the street. No sign of a red 'Vette anywhere, for whatever that was worth. Chris could be anywhere by now. He might already be finding consolation in the arms of someone who wasn't a total bonehead. And thinking like that was not going to help. Funny, though, as much as he did not like the idea of Chris with anyone else, what bothered him more was thinking of Chris alone somewhere right now, hurting and feeling like an idiot.

Back at the car, he shed his coat and tossed it on the back seat, loosening his tie and collar as well and rolling up his sleeves before climbing back behind the wheel. Maybe the sight of his dorky red suspenders would be enough to defuse all of Chris' anger on the spot? Toby's mouth twisted with a sardonic smile and he pulled out of the parking space, driving past the bar. Mr. Serious Chiseled Guy was standing out on the sidewalk, watching him, and Toby angled the mirror, frowning as he watched the guy jot something down in a notebook. Fuck if he could figure out what that was about, though, and he put it out of his mind as he drove along slowly, following last night's route.

Pulling into another parking space outside Chris' apartment building, Toby sat again, thinking some more as he looked up at the fourth floor windows. He zeroed in on Chris' living room, relieved to see the warm glow of a lamp, the flickering light of a television set. Unless that scruff ball of a cat knew how to use the remote that had to mean Chris was home, right? So - all Toby had to do was walk up there, ring the bell, and.... Yes, well, that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it?

There were a couple of things he hadn't said, a couple of things that could make all the difference. If nothing else, he considered as he got out of the car and started up the sidewalk, it would be a real novelty to have a shot at telling the truth.

"Oh, hello, Chris," Mrs. Delucca called as he started up the stairs to his apartment. "You're home early." She idled in the hall, mail and newspaper in one hand and her feet in fuzzy pink slippers that made a striking contrast to her sensible business suit, golden oldie music spilling out of her apartment as usual.

Not really wanting to stop and chat, Chris shrugged, one hand resting on the banister. "Just felt like making an early night of it."

She gave him a worried look, like his welfare actually mattered. "Are you feeling well, dear? You look a bit peaked."

He managed a smile at that, shaking his head. "I'm fine, thanks. It's...just been a long day."

"Well," she gave him a long, searching look, not seeming convinced, "if you're sure. Have you eaten?"

He smiled again, wishing it really could be as simple as that. "I'm not hungry, ma'am. Really, everything's okay." It wasn't like he was going to pine away or anything. He'd had a one-night stand that didn't turn out to be the romance of the century. Big fucking whoop, right?

Getting away from Mrs. Delucca after another couple of minutes, and only after accepting a plate of cinnamon rolls still warm from the oven to keep up his strength, Chris hurried up to his apartment, letting himself in and turning on some lights. He let out a deep breath as he looked around, suddenly registering all the familiar items as if seeing them for the first time. Everything that had felt comfortable, felt like home just a little while ago suddenly stood out for what it really was: a hodgepodge assortment of cheap and impersonal articles, everything temporary, just him pretending to be someone else again.

He let out a deep breath, setting the plate of rolls on the kitchen counter and snagging a beer from the 'fridge. Taking that with him into the living room, he picked up the TV remote, surfing through the channels until he found a ballgame and leaving it there. And even though he would have sworn he'd put the scruffy furball out before leaving, the cat appeared out of nowhere, stalking up to the counter and sitting down with its head back, breathing in the aroma of the rolls.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure cats don't eat cinnamon rolls," Chris told it, taking a drink of his beer before setting the bottle on the coffee table.

The cat gave him a look that seemed to say that was news to it, and wrapped its tail around its paws, prepared to wait him out.

Chris sighed again, shaking his head and tugging his tie loose. Draping that and his blazer over a straight-back chair, he sat down on the couch, propping his feet on the table and resting the beer bottle on a knee as he looked at the television screen. Yankees were down four runs to the A's in the bottom of the seventh inning. Good to know he wasn't the only one striking out tonight.

He took another drink, fingers curling around the neck of the bottle as he tilted his head back against the cushions. That anger was already slipping away from him, there wasn't enough to sustain it. Toby hadn't made any promises, for Christ's sake. He had spun a sappy little fantasy out of thin air all on his own. Just like he'd done with Kitty and Bonnie, and always getting caught by surprise when everything fell apart on him. Yeah, well, there was one bright spot: he hadn't whisked Toby off to Vegas and married him.

A corner of his mouth quirked up at that, fading quickly enough as he thought of tomorrow and how Toby would be at the altar, waiting for that girl. His fingers tightened on the bottle as he tried to will away the sudden ache in his chest. He didn't understand why that should be so difficult, why everything felt different this time. None of it made any sense. Not Toby pulling that wide-eyed innocent act last night and him falling for it, and not Toby acting he'd been happy to see him tonight. What the fuck was that about, Toby carrying on like that Genevieve wasn't even in the picture, ready to sneak off with him like there wasn't any wedding in the morning? Chris sighed and shook his head, suspecting there wasn't a lot of sense to be found anywhere in the mess.

Hearing a thump, he looked over at the counter. The cat was up there, trying to get the foil off the cinnamon rolls. With some exasperation, Chris got up and put the rolls away in the 'fridge, ready to boot the cat's ass outside. Relenting after another moment as it sat there watching him, he took the lasagna out and put a forkful of the stuff on a saucer. "Hey, you," he set it on the floor, "knock yourself out."

If the cat was disgruntled at the substitution, it gave no sign of it, jumping down and stuffing its face in the pasta. Evidently it had no problem rolling with the punches life threw.

Heading back to the couch, Chris rolled up his sleeves and pulled his shirttails out, unbuttoning the shirt most of the way before stretching out on the sofa. He toed off his shoes, letting them hit the floor one by one, and tried to scootch around more comfortably. Something was sticking out from between the cushions and pulled it free, frowning at the length of blue silk, decorated with thin silver stripes.

Toby's - it was Toby's from last night, and Chris wound it around his hand, pressing it to his lips. It felt warm, as if Toby had just taken it off, and he could have sworn Toby's scent clung to it. Balling it up in his fist, he flung it across the room, startling the cat.

What the hell was the matter with him? He settled back, trying to follow the game, his thoughts drifting a million miles away - or at least across town.

The cat stalked over, leaping up on the back of the couch and sprawling out there, all four legs dangling over the sides. Not seeing how it could be comfortable like that, Chris reached up, meaning to push it off but idly stroking its fur instead. Toby's hair had been like golden silk slipping between his fingers as they kissed. Toby had done everything but purr as he touched him.

Oh Christ... He didn't want to remember any of that, give into all the feelings knocking around inside. Wanting most of all not to give into the tears he could feel prickling his eyes. He was not going to fucking cry. Not about something this fucked up. He was not going to sit around feeling sorry for himself like some kind of loser. And his mouth quirked with another bitter smile at that, hand tightening on the cat's fur as he wondered just who he was trying to fool. A loser was exactly what he was. He'd always known that. The only thing he didn't know was what kept him fighting that, denying it, when it would be so goddamned easier to just give in, give up. And how fucked up was that, imagining he could ever escape any of that in the arms of someone like Tobias Beecher, Esq.?

All he wanted was a break. One fucking break, a chance to be something more than a good for nothing scam artist. A chance to matter to someone for more than five minutes. For someone to want him for more than a night in the sack. He might as well go wishing for the moon, though. None of that was ever going to happen. There was nothing for him but more of the same until he fucked it all big time and got that one-way ticket to prison. That was his destiny and nothing was going to save him from it - not God, and for certain not Toby.

But... He would have sworn, just for a few seconds, that what he'd seen in Toby's eyes was real. He knew he'd give anything for it to have been true, just this once. It didn't even have to be forever.

He sat up, leaning forward with his face in his hands, desperately trying to shove all this deep down inside. Wishing he could rip it out and throw it away. And he really did not appreciate someone picking right now to come around, knocking on his door.

"Yeah - what?" he barked out.

"Chris? Will you open the door?"

He sat up straighter, looking over there, wondering if he'd moved on to hallucinations now.

"Chris - please," it still sounded like Toby, "I need to talk to you."

He shook his head, thinking the guy was fucking unbelievable. "Yeah, and I need you to fuck off!"

"Chris, open the goddamn door!" Toby called back, pounding away.

Stalking over there, Chris wrenched it open, glaring at him standing there. "What the fuck do you want?"

Looking flustered, Toby said, "I... I'm sorry."

Chris stood there, knowing he was waiting in vain for more. "You're sorry? Wow, I'm touched. Fuck off." He made to close the door but Toby got a foot, then an arm and a shoulder in the door, stopping him. "Get out've the way."

"No," Toby shot right back. "You're gonna listen to me."

"Yeah? You think so?"

"Please, just...just give me five minutes. If you still want to knock my block off then, I won't stop you."

Staring at him, not even able to imagine where the hell he got off demanding anything, Chris planted himself in the doorway, arms folded over his chest. "Oh, I wanna do a fuck more than knock your block off, Tobias." It didn't even matter if that wasn't true, as long as Toby believed it and left him alone.

"I know you do, I don't blame you." Toby stood there, looking so goddamn good, making Chris angrier because of that. "I...I know sorry's not enough, but..." He swallowed, shook his tousled head, giving Chris a hopeless look. "I didn't mean for you to find out like that."

"Yeah? When do you think you woulda mentioned it - your twenty-fifth anniversary?"

"Chris," Toby reached out to touch him, but Chris drew back from that and tried not to respond to the way Toby's face crumpled, blue eyes going bright, "Chris, I know I was an asshole." His wide mouth skewed with a bitter smile. "You know I've been trying to juggle everything so no one got hurt, so no one wound up hating me, and now..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

"Why are you here?" Chris growled, wanting this over with.

Toby looked back at him, that same open expression he'd fallen for last night. "Because I can't stay away." He touched him then, resting a hand against Chris' throat. "Because I don't want to marry Genevieve tomorrow." His hand moved slowly, caressing. "Because I love you," he whispered, leaning in as if to kiss him.

Chris held him off, glaring at him. "You got four minutes left, Beecher - say your piece and fuck off."


Part Twelve

All right, he hadn't expected this to be easy. Or, only for a few half-witted seconds, maybe. Standing in the hallway, hot and flushed from running up the stairs - from being so near to Chris - Toby was getting an idea of exactly how difficult it was going to be. Not insurmountably so, he wouldn't accept that.

But then it really wasn't up to him, was it?

"What can I do?" he said, searching Chris' eyes, anxious to find a clue.

He could have predicted the hard, terse reply - "Nothing," Chris looking at him with so much pain and resentment in those beautiful eyes. Toby hated that he was responsible for putting it there, but it had to mean there was something here to salvage. That gave him a lot of hope to keep going.

Toby reached out cautiously again, drawing more encouragement that Chris allowed the touch now. "You have no idea what you've done to me, Chris," he said, rubbing his hand along the hard bicep, the same arm that bore that amazing tattoo. Not half as extraordinary as the man it adorned, though, and Toby smiled sadly at that, wondering if Chris even knew that. The smile taking a self-deprecating turn, he went on, "But that's my fault because I'm only just figuring it out." Couldn't he be cut a little slack for that? He searched those deep blue eyes again, so wary and wounded, and guessed not.

Chris turned his head a bit, breaking eye contact. "Your time's runnin' out, Beecher."

Toby took a big chance, saying, "If you really wanted me gone, Keller, my ass'd be out on the street." As Chris shot a peeved look at him, Toby risked some more and curved his hand along the side of Chris' face. "And you can slam the door in my face but I'll only camp out here in the hall, so you may as well just let me in," he said, fingers lightly stroking the handsome features, trembling a bit as they moved over his face, their eyes locked.

Once again Chris was the one to look away, lowering his head with an air of defeat that rammed a pang of guilt right through Toby's gut. Chris' words - imploring and utterly baffled - gave it a sharp twist, "Why are you doing this?"

The corners of his mouth turning down, Toby said, "Because I have to. Because I so desperately did not want to hurt you. Because you are the most astonishing thing that has ever happened to me and I can't give you up."

Chris' head came up, lancing him with an angry look. "I ain't gonna be your whore."

"I don't want you to be."

"Yeah? And what about that girl you're marrying tomorrow?"

"I'm not marrying anyone tomorrow," Toby said, more relieved than he could have imagined to say it outright like that. He wasn't marrying Genevieve in the morning, and he didn't give a goddamn what kind of hullabaloo it stirred up.

"You're not?" Chris said, looking at him with cautious consideration now.

"How could I?" Toby stroked his hair again, his cheek, leaning in closer to press a soft kiss against the corner of his mouth and feeling Chris trembling. "She's not the one I'm in love with."

Turning his head away, as if wanting to avoid looking at him, Chris trembled again as Toby's lips brushed his cheek, as Toby's hands stroked his back and throat. "Why should I believe you?" he whispered, something in his voice telling Toby that he fervently wanted to believe.

"I don't know," Toby answered simply, kissing the edge of his lips. "No reason, maybe - nothing but this," he finished on a whisper as he pressed a tender kiss to Chris' mouth, the fingers of one hand digging into his hair.

He didn't try to force anything, he just grazed his lips along Chris', once, twice, the tip of his tongue dancing along them as he held Chris close. And he wanted to whoop for joy as Chris finally touched him, threading a hand through his hair and deepening the kiss, pushing his tongue into Toby's mouth. It was easy, so incredibly easy to meet Chris' hunger, and Toby pressed into him, every nerve ignited.

After another moment Chris drew back, giving him a long and still skeptical look that turned into a wry grimace as he looked past Toby, down the hall. Glancing around, Toby felt a wash of embarrassment putting out his fire just a bit at discovering some of Chris' neighbors were standing in their doorways, watching them.

"Christ," Chris muttered under his breath, dragging Toby inside and closing the door after them.

Toby watched him leaning back against the door, shirt half unbuttoned, looking just a shade rumpled - and altogether desirable. "Think we could sell tickets?" he said, needing to say something. He didn't want to lose this moment, he wanted to pounce, and it took every ounce of self-control he possessed to wait and see what Chris wanted.

Chris' mouth twitched, like he was fighting a smile. His eyes raked Toby up and down as if finding his disheveled state fairly intriguing as well. "Yeah? That turn you on, Tobias?"

"Not as much as you do." Toby watched his face at the admission, not sure how to interpret Chris' reaction except that he got the feeling the other man was trying not to like that idea. It didn't matter. Toby was on the right side of the door and he meant to stay there. The excitement of sexual attraction wasn't the only thing going on here, no, but it was an undeniably powerful force between them and Toby knew he was not the only one feeling it.

Bracing his hands against the door on either side of Chris, Toby came in close enough to feel the warmth of Chris' breath against his cheek. Gaze drifting from those extraordinary eyes down to the lips he was aching to kiss some more, Toby said, "I want you. I want you every which way from Sunday, Christopher Keller." He breathed the words against his skin, caressing him with them. "You got a problem with that?"

Breath coming harder, voice gone sultry, Chris said, "You got a real set of brass balls there, Tobias." He was watching Toby's eyes and mouth just as intently, craving him just as much.

"Well," Toby drawled, smiling, "you'd know, wouldn't you?"

The words were barely out of his mouth when powerful hands seized him and reversed their position. Pushed up against the door, his throat and mouth devoured as fingers gripped his hair, Toby groaned and wound his arms around Chris, giving himself over to this ride. If there were any wisps of doubt lingering, they were effectively zapped out of existence by this one consuming kiss. This was where he needed to be, this was where he wanted to be, and nothing was prying him loose.

Easing back from the kiss, trailing fingertips along Toby's face in a barely there caress, Chris tried to swallow back a tiny moan as Toby cradled the back of his head and pressed their foreheads together. Being so close to Toby again, touching him felt so good it fucking hurt. It was scaring him, too. Could he trust this, could he believe Toby's words? That's what terrified him, how very badly he wanted to believe.

"You got a lot of nerve showing up here, Tobias," Chris said, thinking about that and what it meant for Toby to come after him like this. If Toby had shown up to do damage control, wanting to pay him to keep quiet or something, Chris would have understood that. This - this didn't fit any kind of pattern he knew.

"Well, they say there's a first time for everything," Toby said, stroking the nape of his neck.

Was there? Chris looked into that earnest and determined face, dying to make that leap of faith. He put his hands at Toby's waist, squeezing, rubbing up along his ribs, wanting him like crazy. "Yeah? You gonna tell me this is the first time you've been this ballsy?"

"Astonishing as that may be," Toby's hands skimmed along Chris' back, "yes, it is."

"Uh-huh," temptation was impossible to resist and Chris leaned in to nuzzle his temple, murmuring, "tell me another one."

Pressing into him, those square, capable hands at the small of his back, Toby purred back, "I wish. Christ, that's how this whole mess happened."

Not sure how to take that, Chris drew back to look at him. "The," he paused a moment, making a real effort to say it outright, "the you and me mess, or...?"

Toby's smile was just a quick twitch of his lips, too much sadness still lingering in his eyes. "The supposed to be getting married in the morning mess."

And maybe that should have made him feel better, but - it didn't, quite. "What're you doing about that?" He didn't want to ask, he wanted that all to simply go away. It would be there between them no matter what, though, so maybe it was better to get it right out there. Sounded good in theory anyway.

Toby gave him a hapless look, shaking his head. "I don't know. Chris," his hands pressed against Chris' chest, "do we have to talk about this now?"

With an exasperated sigh, Chris put his hands on Toby's shoulders and pushed him back against the door once more. "Yeah, Toby, we do. You can't fucking have your cake and eat it, too. Not this time."

Starting to look put out, Toby said, "That isn't what I want, Chris."

"Yeah? Fucking prove it," Chris challenged him. He didn't want it that way and knew it would be frighteningly easy to give in and play along with Toby's brand of make believe. There was too much on the line, though, and he wasn't going to be the only one here risking it all.

"I want to be here with you."

"And you're ready to break that girl's heart to get what you want?"

Sad resignation in his face, Toby said, "It won't be broken that badly."

Chris gave him a hard look, hearing the conviction in his voice but not understanding it. "And what the hell's that mean?"

"Chris..." Toby stopped, looking frustrated for words and making one of those huffy sounds. "You're not breaking up the romance of the century, Chris. Trust me on that."

Trust - yes, that was the bottom line to this whole thing, wasn't it? Chris considered that as he tried to make sense of what Toby was telling him. "You were ready to marry some gal you weren't crazy in love with? Somebody who wasn't nuts about you?" No, saying it out loud didn't help a bit.

Toby shrugged. "That's about it, yeah." He curved his hands along Chris' throat again, face scrunched up a bit like he was trying to work it out for himself. "Everybody kept saying it was time I thought about finding a nice girl and settling down. Genevieve..." Another huff and more scrunching. "She seemed as good a choice as any." He gave his head another shake. "It made sense at the time."

Not to Chris. "And you were gonna settle for that?" Just thinking about Toby doing that, burying all that passion deep inside and pretending he didn't even miss it - it made Chris want to smack someone. "Why would you do that to yourself?" he demanded, searching his beautiful eyes for answers.

But Toby could only shake his head, saying, "I didn't know you were out there." He pulled up another sad little smile, shrugging. "You can't miss what you never knew you wanted, right?"

Torn between wanting to whap him one or holding him tight in his arms and making that hurt go away, Chris opted for the latter, snagging Toby close to his heart, one hand buried in the soft waves of his hair. "That's why you drink too much, why you stopped in at the bar last night, 'cause you didn't know you were missing something?" Hell, maybe they had something in common after all. Although Chris wasn't sure being mutually fucked up was much to build a relationship on.

"Something like that," Toby whispered again his neck. "It's just... It's just all gotten out of hand, like an avalanche crashing down on me."

And now he was running away from it all? That's what it sounded like to Chris. Although that didn't bother him half as much as his own willingness to play along. Maybe that could be all right, though. So long as he kept that in mind and didn't get too carried away, so long as he remembered it was just for the moment and he couldn't have Toby for long. He could do that, right? Piece of cake.

A corner of his mouth turned up with a bittersweet smile as he combed his fingers through Toby's hair, telling him, "It'll be fine, Toby, it'll be okay. Come here." He cupped his hands around Toby's face and went in for a soft kiss, still tasting a trace of breath mint in his mouth.

"So I'm forgiven?" Toby had that serious look again, like this was really important to him.

"Yeah, everything's good, Toby." Chris kissed him again to keep them both quiet.

Toby's mouth opened to his tongue, those square hands coming up to cradle the back of his head again, fingers digging into his scalp as they deepened the kiss. As hot as it was tonight, that paled to the heat they were generating between them and that's all Chris wanted to focus on. Right here, right now - that was plenty. Drawing back from the kiss just long enough to suck in some air and look into Toby's face, those blue eyes bright with excitement, Chris counted himself fortunate to have this at all. And he dove in for another kiss, far more starved for Toby's mouth than he ever could be for oxygen.

He pushed Toby against the door again, clasping his hands and stretching their arms out as his tongue flicked into Toby's mouth, tasting him, tasting the last hint of the breath mint. Nibbling Toby's lips, tongue running along the blond's jaw, Chris licked at a spot right under Toby's ear, tasting salt and feeling a shudder jolt through the other man, Toby's gasping moan so sweet to hear. There couldn't be a better sound, any better feeling than giving pleasure to this incredible creature pinned against his door. Smiling, Chris nuzzled the hair at Toby's temple, inhaling the warm and musky scent of it. Damp with sweat, it was so soft against his lips and cheek. Continuing, moving on with deceptive laziness, Chris kissed along his throat, tonguing the hollow at the base and feeling him shiver again. Moving back just a bit and releasing Toby's hands, Chris looked at him standing there - flushed, completely turned on, breathing hard, and knew he could eat him up on the spot.

Although...he frowned, shook his head...those suspenders had to go.

He smiled, reaching out to push one red strap off a broad shoulder - slowly, gaze riveted to Toby's mouth, to that astonishing tongue as it darted out, wetting his lips. "Christ, Toby," he rumbled, slipping the other strap off and undoing buttons. Wanting that tongue in his mouth, Chris pulled Toby's face to him, groaning with deep satisfaction as it filled his mouth. Arms wrapped tight around each other, bodies pressed closed, everything in the world narrowed down to those long, deep, hot and wet kisses. Chris trembled with need, with excitement as Toby's hands came up to frame his face, the passionate kisses gentling into something softer, a tender caress that warmed him even more. When Toby touched him like that, kissed him like that, he could almost believe it was all true and that Toby loved him and wanted to stay with him.

Slipping free of that hungry embrace, he looked into his Toby's eyes again and could practically feel himself falling, adoring him past reason. He touched his face, fingers trembling as they grazed along his cheek, an eyebrow. He murmured, "I love you, Toby," going in for another kiss. It was stupid, he was only going to wind up hurt, but - he drew back, pressed a kiss to the corner of Toby's mouth - but there wasn't any helping it. Especially when Toby's whole face lit up, his smile brighter than the noonday sun.

Toby reached for him, tugging him back so their foreheads pressed together once more, before nuzzling at Chris' temple. "Make love with me," he whispered against Chris' ear, flicking his tongue along the rim.

Chris shuddered, pretty sure that's what they were already doing. "Yes," he whispered back, finding Toby's lips again and kissing them, pressing him against the door as they touched and kissed some more. Cheek rubbing along Toby's, he slipped a hand inside Toby's shirt, stroking his chest and playing with a nipple. "Anything you want, baby, anything," he murmured, lowering his head to lick and suck that nipple. Going to his knees, tongue trailing a warm, wet path along Toby's flat belly, Chris buried his face in Toby's crotch, feeling that big, hard cock eager for his touch through layers of cloth.

"Anything?" Toby said, stroking his hair, pulling at it as Chris nuzzled his groin.

Chris looked up at him, nodding, knowing he'd walk over broken glass if that's what Toby wanted.

"Fuck me?"

"Oh, yeah," Chris came to his feet, taking him in his arms, tight, "we can do that," he growled against Toby's ear.

"Not against the door," Toby purred back.

"No, not against the door." Chris kissed his throat, pushing the shirt out of the way so he could skim his fingertips along Toby's collarbones, one hand slipping around to grasp the nape of his neck as they kissed again.

"Another time..." Toby had to pull in some air, "another time we'll do it against the door," he finished, voice gone softer, rougher.

"...yes," Chris ran his tongue along Toby's ear, "yes." God, why couldn't he ever get his fill of touching Toby, of kissing him? It was like some fucking addiction, every touch notching up the craving, the need for more.

"Bed?" Toby finally moved away from the door, taking his hand and tugging him along, remembering the way.

And Chris loved that he remembered the way, that he seemed so comfortable and familiar here. Like it was home.

Naked, hot and sweaty and tumbled across Chris' bed, his knees raised and clamped around Chris as the other man moved inside him, home wasn't exactly the way Toby would have described it. Paradise, nirvana, fucking over the rainbow - that was a lot closer to how it felt. Bliss, it was sheer fucking bliss to lay there as Chris pounded into him, moving with every thrust, his hands moving over hot skin, slick with sweat, feeling strong muscles bunching and flexing beneath his palms. It wasn't quenching his aching desire, though, Chris filling him up like this. Toby still wanted more. More and harder, and he urged his lover on with words, with touches. He slid his hands up Chris' broad back, cupping the back of his neck and pulling his mouth down. He lashed Chris' lips with his tongue and pushed it into his mouth, kissing the breath out of him, out of both of them. Chris' whimper of pleasure, every nerve stimulated almost past endurance, sang through him and made his belly contract as he pushed up into him again.

"Make me come, baby," he murmured, desperate for it, licking up a drop of sweat sliding along Chris' throat. "Make me fucking, come." And he cried out as Chris reached between their bellies, wrapping a hand around his cock and stroking him. "...ohgodohgod..." He could feel it building, blazing through his body, and he thrashed his head on the pillow, groaning again as Chris kissed his throat and pushed into him, as Chris kissed his open, panting mouth and stroked him. "Chris, Chris...oh god, Chris..." He gripped those broad shoulders, fingers digging in, shuddering as his orgasm ripped through him and burst between their bodies, over Chris' fingers. "...ohmyfuckinggod..." he moaned, still coming, moaning as Chris buried his face against his neck, beautiful body going rigid as he came inside Toby.

Toby pulled Chris' face to him, kissing his mouth, devouring his mouth as Chris came, as Chris shuddered with it and cried out and sank against him, wet and exhausted and sated. Good, that was good; Toby wanted that, too, to hold Chris in his arms and feel the weight of him sprawled out there.

Touching, hands gliding over trembling muscles and sweat-silked skin, limbs tangling even as they shifted and moved and lay there side by side, watching each other with soft and tender eyes, filled with more too much emotion, things that couldn't be said in any way but for a brush of lips, a feather light caress. Twining together, needing to stay close as a sultry breeze blew through the window and cooled them, Toby searched his frazzled brain for words, all the while knowing there were none. This - he stroked his fingers through Chris' short, dark hair, gasping quietly as Chris gently licked his throat and nuzzled there - this was beyond words.

And he cupped his hand around the dark head, holding Chris close, loving him like crazy. be continued in chapter thirteen...

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