Hi, Society: Chapter Two

by Riley Cannon

Author's Note, 2-24-04: Again, as originally posted, no revisions.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, Thursday; 1/?

Lathering his face, Toby glanced over at the three little faces watching him so intently from the doorway. He could remember doing this same thing at their age, although for the life of him he couldn't recall exactly what had been so fascinating about watching his father shave. He tried not to smile as three pairs of wide blue eyes followed his movements as he ran the straight razor over his throat. Were they worried daddy might have an accident? God knew there had been mornings when that would have been a distinct possibility. Toby had to admit he could get used to not waking up with a hangover. Not having to worry about what he might have done the night before was good, too.

No, this morning he could remember and regret the night before in vivid detail. Except that he didn't, regret it, that was. And that fairly astounded him. He was standing here, apparently in full possession of his faculties, seriously wanting to pursue a relationship with another man. How could that seem so perfectly reasonable? He didn't even have the option of claiming he only wanted to be friends with Chris, not when he had awakened with fuzzy memories of having dreamed about the other man -- and some pretty incontrovertible evidence as to the erotic nature of those dreams.

These feelings scared him, Toby couldn't deny that, but not enough to run away from them, to chase Chris off. In fact he was sort of hoping he'd be able to find some excuse to see Chris today, especially since Saturday seemed very far away right now. Not to mention that with Angus, the kids, Dad, and Mary Pete around they weren't exactly going to have a lot of time to themselves.

Dad. He rinsed off his razor and put it away then reached for a towel to wipe off the bits of lather he'd missed. What was he going to tell his father? As much as Harrison might not want him to be alone, somehow Toby didn't think Chris Keller was exactly what his father had in mind when he hoped Toby would meet someone.

"Can't you come play in the park, Daddy?" Holly asked as Toby put on his shirt.

He scooped her up in his arms and carried her back into the bedroom with the boys trailing along. Gary and Harry promptly climbed up on the bed and began bouncing on the mattress. "Hey, you two, be careful," Toby told them, setting Holly down on the bench at the foot of the bed. "You know I have to go to work, sweetheart," he told her, picking up three ties laid out on the bed and trying to decide which one to wear.

"To the courthouse?" Holly knelt up on the bench, hanging onto a bedpost while she turned to give her brothers a disapproving look.

"Umm hmm." Toby held the ties out to her. "Pick one."

She scrunched up her little face, considering the choices, then pointed at the blue one with gray stripes. "What about later?"

Toby went to the dresser, fastening the tie -- and keeping an eye on the kids in the mirror. "I don't know how long I'll be, baby," he said, feeling miserable at her look of disappointment. "Hey, tell you what," he said, going back to her and sitting beside her. "How about if you ask Patricia to take you to the park about four o'clock and I'll meet you there then?" Everything in court ought to be wrapped up by then, except for getting the verdict.

Holly's face lit up even as the boys wrapped their arms around Toby from behind. "Can we fly kites? Can we go to the zoo? I want to ride the carousel!" they all spoke at once, clambering over him.

Laughing, Toby hushed them. "Whoa, whoa, whoa -- we can't do everything at once. And you went to the zoo yesterday."

"Then can we try my new kite?" Gary asked.

"I thought we'd do that out at the house -- we'll get better breezes out there."

Holly clapped her hands, concluding that left one possibility. "The carousel!"

"That's for girls," Gary proclaimed.

"For girls," Harry concurred -- sticking his tongue out at Holly for emphasis.

Holly returned the gesture, upping it by crossing her eyes.

"Hey," Toby spoke firmly, "keep it up and none of you will be going anywhere."

They shared conferring looks at this warning, then Gary said, "Carousel's are okay, Harry," and Toby smiled at his proudly. "When are we going out to the house, Daddy?"

"Still Sunday," Toby said, trying to disengage Harry's grip on his hair.

"And Mommy will be there?" Gary pressed for confirmation yet again.

"Yes, she will." Toby thought the divorce had probably been hardest on Gary, he'd had the most time with Genevieve.

"Will that man be there?" Holly asked, meaning Schillinger.

"He will." Toby had noticed the kids giving Schillinger a wide berth the few times they had been around him, and he was pretty well inclined to trust their instincts on this. "You know Mommy's going to marry him."

"Why?" Harry asked, fiddling with Toby's wristwatch now.

"Because she loves him." At least Toby hoped that was the case, even if the attraction utterly escaped him.

"Doesn't Mommy love you anymore?" Holly asked.

"Mommy will always love you and Gary and Harry with all her heart," he told her, hoping she wouldn't notice he hadn't actually answered her question.

"Will that man take us away from you?" Gary asked, a worried look in his eyes.

"Not in a million years," Toby promised, managing to draw them all close for a moment and drop a kiss on each blond head. "No one's ever taking you away from me." He would never understand why Genevieve had given them up to him without any kind of fight. There was no doubt in his mind she loved them, that motherhood had been the one thing she'd found agreeable in their marriage. He had his suspicions about that, of course -- and they all led back to his mother.

"Hey, is someone having a party in here?" Harrison demanded from the doorway, his stern voice completely at odds with the smile on as he face as his grandchildren scrambled down from the bed and raced over to him at the magical word 'party' -- wanting to know when they could have another birthday party.

"Everybody's had their birthday," Toby reminded them, getting up to finish with his tie -- and run a brush through his hair again.

"Uncle Angus hasn't," Gary said.

"What does Uncle Angus want for his birthday?" Holly asked.

"A whole lot less commotion this early in the morning," Angus said, smothering a bleary-eyed yawn as he put in an appearance, still in his robe and pajamas. "Hey, come on, let's go see what Lena's fixing for breakfast," he said, collecting his niece and nephews, then glancing over at his big brother. "Good luck today."

"Thanks." Toby watched them go off then looked at his father, sighing. "I still think I'm going to need a lot of that."

"Well, then maybe these will help," Harrison said, holding out a pair of gold cuff links.

"What -- are they magic cuff links?" Toby said, accepting them.

"Don't mock," Harrison said, looking very serious. "I've never lost a case when I was wearing them."

Toby tried to look properly solemn as he undid the ones he'd already put on and replaced them with his father's. And what the hell -- he could use all the help he could get. "Thanks, Dad." Finished with the cuff links, he looked at his father, expression a little worried as he asked, "Do you think the kids are going to be all right with all this wedding stuff?"

"Well, I think it might be more confusing and upsetting for them to be kept away from it all. Making secrets out of things is what creates so many problems in families, I think," Harrison said, looking at him very seriously.

"Mother wouldn't have agreed."

"Yes, well, your mother and I didn't see eye to eye on quite a number of things, I'm afraid." Harrison looked even more serious now, and a little contrite, as if something was preying on his mind. "We need to talk about something, Toby, about your mother and...some other things. I think it's time we got all the secrets out in the open."

That sounded good but Toby wasn't sure he was ready to lay on his secrets on the table just yet, and if his father's secret was what he thought it was, well, Harrison didn't exactly need to come clean about that. Not to mention the secret that wasn't Toby's to share at all and would only cause needless upset if it did come out. And he might have known that would be his mother's ultimate legacy to him.

For now he just nodded, saying, "You're probably right, about that and the kids. I think Schillinger kinds of scares them, though."

"Well, he kind of scares me, too, if that's any consolation to them."

Toby laughed. "I know the feeling. He must have hidden depths only Gen can see."

"Yes, they must be extremely well hidden," Harrison said, reaching over to adjust Toby's tie a little. "Well," he stood back, looking proudly at his son, "I think you're as presentable as you're ever going to be."

Toby grinned, a little wryly. "Thanks -- I think. I wish that was all it took."

"Yes," Harrison said as they headed downstairs, "well, you really would have an unfair advantage over your opponents then. And stop worrying: you'll have Robson outwitted before he even opens his mouth."

Toby appreciated his father's confidence in him; he hoped it would not be unwarranted in this instance.

Mary Pete shook her head over the contents of her closet, thinking she was going to have to go do some shopping and spiff up her wardrobe a little if she was going to carry off this nonsense about being Aunt Marie from Argentina. Knowing just how much Chris didn't like wearing a tuxedo cheered her up a little, however, as many of the events were bound to require formal wear for the gentlemen. If her luck was really good some occasion might even demand he don white tie and tails.

She set her cup and saucer down as the phone rang and reached for the receiver. "Hello."

"Mary Pete? Didn't get you out of bed, did I?" It was Chris.

"No. What do you want?"

"You're not still mad at me, are you?" he asked. "I was going to tell you about the dinner Saturday night."

"That's not the point, Christopher. You shouldn't assume I didn't have other plans."

"Well, you didn't, did you?"

Mary Pete sighed and counted to ten. "No, but that's not the point, either."

"Well, what is the point?" he asked, sounding genuinely puzzled.

"The point is -- Oh, never mind. I suppose I can't expect you to see the forest for the tree right now."


She smiled at the confusion in his voice, imagining the expression that went with it. "I know you didn't phone just to hear the sound of my voice. What's up?"

"Umm," Mary Pete could practically see him scuffing the floor with his toe, "I was wondering if you'd cover for me with Devlin today. Tell him I'm working on something and can't make it into the office."

Oh, she bet he was working on something, all right. "And if he wants details?"

"Tell him it's to do with Gloria Nathan."

"And is it?"

"Sort of."

Mary Pete sighed. "All right, I'll tell him if he asks. Anything else?"

"Umm, no, think that's it."

"All right."

"Okay. See ya later," Chris said, hanging up.

Mary Pete replaced the receiver, picking up the paper and looking at the front page story again, the headline screaming SINGER'S HUSBAND VICIOUSLY ATTACKED, accompanied by a grainy photograph of Gloria and her husband, Preston. Beyond detailing Preston's attack, the article wasn't shy about speculating about the probable causes behind it, insinuating mob activity, suggesting Gloria was the crux of it all, and linking her to Ryan O'Reily. There probably was a real story in there somewhere, although she had a feeling Gloria's misfortunes were not exactly uppermost in Chris' mind at the moment.

After another moment she drew the telephone to her again and dialed a number. "Hello? Gloria? It's Marie. I'm fine, thanks. How's Preston doing? Good, that's good. Listen, Gloria, my day's freed up a little and I was thinking we could get together for lunch today, if you want to talk. All right? Okay, I'll see you then." She hung up again, checking the time, and deciding if Chris was going to play hooky today she might as well indulge herself a little, too -- and start thinking about who Aunt Marie from Argentina was going to be.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 2/?

Chris frowned at the telephone, wondering what it was with women. First they get mad at a guy for no preceptible reason, then when the guy tries to find out what he did wrong they won't tell him and act like he should just magically divine it from reading tea leaves. And what was up with that crack about not seeing the forest for the tree? He wasn't used to that from Mary Pete. One of the things he liked best about her was how she always spoke her mind straight out.

He sighed, scratched his head, and figured he'd just get a headache thinking about it anymore. At least he knew he could count on her to keep Devlin off his back. As much as he might like to tell Devlin to go fuck himself he knew that likely would not be the smartest thing he'd ever done. He just had to look through his bills again to figure that one out.

Which got him thinking about what he would actually do with whatever Ryan O'Reily had on Devlin -- if it was as good as O'Reily made out. And it probably was, knowing O'Reily. That Irishman had his fingers in more pies than Little Jack Horner. Chris was a little surprised to realize he actually had some scruples about using the information to blackmail Devlin into something, certainly nothing as mundane as a raise. If, on the other hand, it was juicy enough to give Toby leverage to turn the tables on Devlin and get out of whatever agreement he'd been forced into -- in that instance Chris suspected he would have no qualms whatever in handing the material over to Toby.

Fuck. And he'd been doing a really good job of not thinking about Tobias Beecher for -- he looked at his watch -- all of forty-five minutes now.

Tobias. Toby. Oh Christ. He'd be doodling little hearts in his notebook next, with their initials inside. Love at first sight -- that was just storybook stuff, right? Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet, Popeye and Olive Oyl. That didn't happen in real life. You didn't just look in a guy's eyes, this guy you hadn't even known lived and breathed on this planet until right that moment, and -- boom, fall in love. Did you?

He was nuts, getting his signals all fucked up. That had to be it. What kind of sense did it make that someone like Toby would be interested in a guy like him? The man was doing business with Devlin to keep some scandal all hushed up, for Christ's sake. And if it really was something as innocuous as him just getting drunk and making an ass of himself in public, how likely was it that he'd want to dabble with something as potentially explosive as an affair with another man? And sure, Toby was defending William Giles' right to publish a novel about a homosexual love affair, but that might only mean he took the First Ammendment real serious, not that he had any kind of personal stake in anything like that.

Chris knew he really was going to give himself a headache if he went on like this. No one had ever gotten to him like this, though, had him so tied up in knots -- and they hadn't even done anything. That's what got him. All they'd done was lock eyes a couple times, talk, and yeah, okay, there'd been those few little touches, nothing special. Well, nothing special beyond the fact that each one had sizzled right through him, making him tingle right down to his toes. And, Christ, he had stop this. If he started thinking what it would be like if they really did do something, wondering what Toby's skin would like against his -- silky, he bet, and hot; he'd been close enough, too, to tell it wasn't any soft, doughy body under that tailored suit. And, geez, he could just imagine what it would be like to hold Toby, to have that slim, wiry body in his arms, to kiss his mouth, discover all the spots that made his toes curls when Chris kissed him right there--


What?! Chris blinked, focusing his eyes and looking out the kitchen screen door to see Claire Howell bearing down on him, some dish in her hand, the sunlight glaring off the tin foil covering. Fuck. That did effectively lower his temperature, though, and drive any visions of Toby from his mind, and he sprang up from the straight back chair, meeting her at the door before she'd got it open and finally made it inside.

"Morning, Miz Howell," he said, striving for neutrality as he took up all the space in the door. "You're up early." She was wearing some pink polka dot dress that wasn't really very flattering, with more make-up on than Kitty went through in a month, and reeking of Eau de Dead Skunk to complete the ensemble. Sometimes Chris almost felt sorry for her; she evidently tried real hard -- he just wished she'd go try it somewhere else.

"It's never too early to be neighborly," she said, smiling brightly. She was sizing him up as she spoke, trying to figure out a way to get past him. "I was in my kitchen and just got to thinking how a busy, single man like yourself probably never gets to eat right. And you need to keep your strength up, a big," her eyes slid over him again, decidedly covetous now, practically licking her chops, "strong, good looking man like you."

Oh geez... "That's real thoughtful of you, ma'am," he said, noticing the way she winced as he called her that, "but I'm just fine."

"Oh I'm sure you are -- Christopher."

Chris wasn't sure if she was winking at him or just had a tic.

"Here," she held out the dish. "It's a meat loaf, my special recipe."

"Thank you," he said, taking the still-warm dish from her. "I'm sure it's...delicious." And did her special recipe include something to knock him unconscious so she could come over and have her way with him? He wanted to smile at the thought but knew he didn't dare.

And never had he been happier to hear the telephone ringing. "Oh! I'd better get that. See ya," he said, stepping back inside and latching the screen door after him.

She gave it a couple of tugs, aimed a dirty look at him, and stomped back across the yard to the gate in the fence.

Chris heaved a genuine sigh of relief and picked up the receiver. "Yeah?"

"Keller?" It was O'Reily. "I just wanted to remind you about our deal."

"I haven't forgotten." Chris peeled back the foil, wrinkled his nose at the meat loaf, and dumped it out in the garbage can. "You gonna be down at Leo's tonight?"

"Yeah. You think you'll have something for me then?"

"Could be. I can tell you this, O'Reily: if what I've heard about Preston Nathan holds up, you might be getting your chance with Gloria a whole lot sooner than you've been planning."

"Yeah?" O'Reily didn't sound displeased with that possibility. "Preston's been a bad boy?"

"Gloria ain't gonna be saying thank you to him anytime soon, I can tell you that."

"You better not be bullshitting me, Keller."

"I swear on my mother's grave," Chris solemnly promised.

"Yeah?" O'Reily made a skeptical noise. "You got proof she'd dead?"

Chris grinned. "It ain't bullshit, O'Reily. Go ahead and start counting your chickens. Listen, I gotta go -- see ya later."

"You in a hurry to be somewhere?"

"Gotta get to the courthouse."

"Why? What'd you do?"

"Strictly observing."

"Yeah, I'll bet. Okay, see ya tonight."

With that agreed to, Chris hung up, checked the time, and thought he should make it to court with a little time to spare. He tried not to think about what would happen then, if Toby would even acknowledge him.

He tried to ignore the butterflies rampaging in his belly, too, at how it would be if Toby did.

Here's another little bit of this, getting up to the court proceedings. Oh -- credit to Renee for plot bunnies re: the Preston stuff. Enjoy.


HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 3/?

"Mr. Nathan, I'm Det. Sean Murphy," he showed Preston his badge, then glanced at his partner, saying, "and this is Det.Tim Bayliss. If you're feeling up to it, Mr. Nathan, we'd like to ask you a few questions about your attack."

"I don't know what I can tell you, Detective," Preston said, his bruised and swollen face making it hard to get a good read on him.

"Can you describe who attacked you?" Bayliss asked, moving to stand at the foot of the bed.

"No, it was dark, I couldn't see."

"I'm not sure I understand, Mr. Nathan," Bayliss said. "You were assaulted at around four o'clock in the afternoon."

Good catch, Sean thought, pleased that he could see Preston was backing up and reworking his answer.

"It was dark in the alley, I mean," Preston said.

"I see. It was dark in the alley," Bayliss repeated, and Sean scored him points for that, too, that little inflection that suggested to Preston that there was something fishy with that answer as well. "And you didn't see anyone."

"No, no one," Preston confirmed.

Sean flipped through his notebook, saying, "You know, that's funny, though, because the cop who found you, Officer Kirk, says you kept saying -- yeah, here it is, 'It was that black bastard, that black son of a bitch.' Officer Kirk says you repeated this to him several times while waiting for the ambulance." Sean looked at him, curious. "No idea who you might have meant?"

"I... No. I must have meant something else."

"You told Officer Kirk about a black bastard son of a bitch who wasn't responsible for beating the crap out of you?" Sean said, just to get it clear.

Preston looked at him, at Bayliss, upper lip beading with sweat. "Yes."

Bayliss just nodded and said, "Oh," but it was an 'oh' weighted with meaning -- for Preston at least.

"I don't really remember anything, Detectives. One minute I was walking out of the..."

Oops, almost remembered what you're just about to claim you've got amnesia about, Sean thought. "Walking out of the what, Mr. Nathan?"

"I...I don't know. I don't remember," Preston said, getting the hang of it now -- but about a split second too late.

"Well," Bayliss said, "can you think of anyone who might have a grievance against you, strong enough to result in violence?"

"No, no, I can't."

"You don't have any enemies?" Sean pressed.

"No, none. It was...a random attack, a robbery."

"Except nothing was taken," Bayliss said. "And you had an expensive watch on, two rings, a hundred dollars cash in your wallet."

"I can't explain that."Sean smiled.

"Well, don't you worry about it, Mr. Nathan, I'm sure we'll figure it all out." Somehow he didn't think Preston looked real appreciative of that.

"Amnesia -- that's a pretty convenient condition," Bayliss said outside, as he and Sean walked to their car.

"Sure is, especially that way it just comes and goes."

Bayliss smiled, opened the passenger door. "So what black bastard son of a bitch are we looking for?"

Sean got behind the wheel. "The name Simon Adebisi ring a bell?"

"No.""How about his boss, Antonio Napa?"

Bayliss whistled. "The mob boss? There a connection?"

"I'm thinking yes," Sean said, easing the car out of the parking space. "And we're going to go talk to someone whose memory should be working a little better than Mr. Nathan's."

Genevieve sighed and closed the photo album, putting it away as her maid informed her Mr. Schillinger was here. It was too late now to be having regrets. And it wasn't as if Vern didn't have...qualities. He wasn't unattractive, he just, well, wasn't Toby.

She put on her prettiest smile as Vern walked into the living room, as always looking just a little uncomfortable in his expensive suit. He always seemed out of place in the city, period, and one of her greatest concerns was that he really would take her away from all this, off to -- oh, which one was it, Texas or Oklahoma, where he'd struck oil and made his fortune? Just miles and miles of open space, he'd told her, nothing but cows and oil wells. It was paradise for him, she'd gathered; it sounded like hell on earth to her.

No, not quite, she amended, accepting his embrace and kiss on the cheek. She'd been to hell already -- twice. First with her family looking around one day and realizing they were down to their last asset, namely her, and then when they'd successfully sold her to the highest bidder, Victoria Beecher, so frantically searching for a wife for Tobias. Who knew, Genevieve considered as she accepted the latest present from Vern, trying to coo convincingly over a pair of sparkling earrings, life with Vern in Texas -- or Oklahoma -- might be a cake walk compared.

"You look happy today," she said as he sat down, as always looking he was half afraid he'd break the chair.

"I'm always happy to see you, darlin'," he said, smiling brightly, and Genevieve felt a pang of guilt that she trusted didn't show on her face. There were times she thought he might actually care about her, that she wasn't just a trophy for him, and that sort of troubled her conscience. Not enough to call it off, though. He accepted the cup and saucer she handed him, awkward with the fine china, too. "That court case is wrapping up today, too," he told her, taking a sip of the coffee.

"You must be awfully confident of Mr. Robson winning." Frankly, the only way Genevieve could see James Robson beating Toby in court was if Toby showed up plastered -- and even then she'd be inclined to put her money on her ex-husband.

"Can't lose, darlin," Vern assured her, oozing confidence. "People know trash when they see it, no matter how fancy it's dressed up."

Genevieve bit her tongue and held back the first words that sprang to her lips. She was in this boat, too, after all, and was in no postion to rock it.

*"No matter how this turns out, Tobias," Williams Giles was saying as he and Toby filed into the courtroom, taking their places, "I want to tell you how much I appreciate that you took this case on at all."

"Wait until you get my bill -- you might feel differently then," Toby said, smiling. "Really, though, it's been a pleasure." And that was true. It had been a challenging case, but he'd enjoyed the work, enjoyed the fight so far, and could at least know it had been something worthwhile. Of course actually winning would be pretty good, and as he looked across at Robson he did feel a little surge of confidence. They had a chance, it was up to him to make the most of it.

He looked around the court room, once again feeling a little surprised at how many interested onlookers there were. There was no way of telling where their support lay but he liked to think some of them were on his and Giles' side, that this mattered to more people than some trashy newspaper like The Sentinel would have anyone thinking.

His gaze slid past one face in the gallery and quickly came back, lingering on the distinctive features, praying not to blush as those dark blue eyes looked back at him. Oh God. Toby looked away again, looked back again, found he couldn't help smiling back -- and knew he'd lost the battle not to blush as Chris winked at him.

"Who is that?" Giles asked.

"Ah, um," Toby glanced at him, back at Chris, back at Giles, "a friend."

"Well, we can never have too many of those."

"No. Actually," Toby sat down, trying to concentrate on the papers before him, "he's a great supporter of yours. He's mentioned he'd like to interview you."

"Oh -- he's a reporter?"

"Yes. Not a muckraker, though," Toby assured him. "He'd like to present your side of all this, fairly."

"Well, I'll think about it. Let's see how this goes."

Toby nodded, knowing he had to put Chris Keller out of his thoughts for the moment, too. Although he had to admit knowing Chris was there, watching, gave him an extra surge of inspiration to do his very best.

As the clerk announced the judge and he stood with everyone else, Toby hoped his best was going to be good enough.

OK, some more of this. Special Disclaimer: Any resemblance between the following and actual court proceeding is purely miraculous. Thanks to Carin, and Erin, for the help, though; dramatic licence may require much mangling of it, but that doesn't mean it isn't appreciated. If anyone spots a really major legal procedure faux pas, feel free to let me know, especially if it's something that can be corrected without a horrendous amount of plot revision.

I'm not sure this is going to live up to expectations of HotLawyerToby, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.


HI, SOCIETY - Chapter Two, 4/?

Chris made himself sit back in his seat and settle down. The last thing Toby needed right now was any kind of distraction. He probably shouldn't have winked at him but hadn't been able to restrain the impulse; he seemed to be having a lot of problems that way where the other man was concerned all of a sudden. He'd just been tickled that Toby hadn't shied away from him, hadn't tried to pretend they didn't know each other. That had to be good, right?

What was also good was watching Toby in action. There was no trace now of any uncertainty or shyness, and it beat Chris why Toby was in any doubt as to his ability to present a winning case. He appeared confident without being arrogant, relaxed but not complacent, in full command of the subject in a way that wasn't condescending, and with a sense of humor that included the jury and onlookers in on the joke. Robson, on the other hand, glowered and snapped, and in general came across as possessing all the charm of a rabid Rottweiler. None of which ought to matter, of course, and in an ideal world the merits of the case would be indisputable, simply a matter of affirming the First Amendment right to free speech. Given the subject matter of "All's Fair" was controversial, though, Chris knew the jury needed to be made comfortable with it, and Toby's appearance and demeanor were an important element to that.

From what Chris had been able to overhear, mixing and mingling with the crowd, majority opinion was definitely leaning Toby's way. People might not like the idea of the book, and everyone thought Mr. Truman just hadn't shown much common sense in bringing the book to school and never thinking there might be repercussions. But if that nice-looking Mr. Beecher said it was nobody's business what adults wanted to read in their homes, then that sounded about right to them. A nice boy like that wouldn't be supporting something harmful for their children.

Chris had shared a knowing look with fellow reporter, Jefferson Keane, at that. He suspected Keane took a far more cynical view of public opinion, however, and how easily it could be swayed in this instance -- the kind Chris ordinarily shared. Since Keane wasn't the one going all goofy over Tobias Beecher, though, Chris supposed that was understandable. Which probably made it a good thing that he wasn't here to cover the trial as his objectivity appeared to have vanished like Amelia Earhart.

So his pen and notebook were staying in his pocket because he didn't trust himself not to write down something sappy -- and that possibility of filling the pages with those little hearts kind of worried him, too. Even so, Chris leaned forward again, avidly watching Toby's movements: tidying up the papers on the table, turning to give Giles a reassuring smile, then taking off his reading glasses and setting them down as Goodson Truman took the stand and was administered the oath. As they got to the 'whole truth and nothing but the truth,' part Chris smiled, and felt that funny little warm glow in his belly again as Toby looked over at him with a smile that said he remembered that, too.

Chris looked away quickly, feeling his equilibrium going all haywire. Geez... If Toby could do that to him with just a look, a smile, what was it going to be like when -- if? -- they did anything else? Searching for something to anchor his attention to, something that wasn't Toby, Chris focused on the plaintiff, Col. Edward Galson sitting at the table with Robson and looking every inch the unimaginative Marine he had shown himself to be in his own testimony early on in the case. That was the part of this had really piqued Chris' curiosity, his instinct telling him that there was something more behind all this. He didn't doubt Galson would not be amused at discovering All's Fair had been put on his daughter's recommended reading list, but he just didn't strike Chris as the kind of the man who would go on to make this big a fuss about it. The Colonel came across as the type who might look Truman up and try to deck him. This case, though, it struck Chris as originating with someone with either an axe to grind or an agenda to pursue -- maybe both.

Had that occurred to Toby? Might that be one of the cards he had up his sleeve?

Looking back at Toby and seeing him stand up, approaching the witness stand, Chris guessed everyone was about to find out.

Toby couldn't help smiling as the clerk administered the oath to Truman, glancing around the courtroom and catching Chris' eye, knowing the harmless words had sparked the same memory in the other man. Funny how they already had memories to share. He kind of liked that.

He also liked that he could look at Chris with some little bit of control and decorum. This was not the time and place to be getting all a-flutter -- although he couldn't say it displeased him that Chris had to quickly glance away. It was good to know they were in the same boat here. Although Toby wouldn't have minded seeing at leasta little tinge of pink coloring Chris' features, too.

All right, enough of that, he told himself, looking back at Truman and approaching the stand. Now, if Goodson would only play this as Toby had advised: keep it simple, just answer yes and no as much as possible. He knew Goodson wanted to justify his actions and was already chafing at being restricted to simply explaining them. Reality was reality, though, and like it or not there were people in this court room -- and probably on the jury -- who weren't comfortable with a black man teaching their white children anything, and doubly so if it crossed into some controversial area like sexuality. They could both wish it were otherwise, but wishes didn't win cases.

"Mr. Truman, how long have you been a teacher?" Toby asked.

"Fifteen years," Goodson replied.

"And how long had you been teaching at Gulch High School?"

"Seven years."

"Previous to this matter," Toby turned to look at the jurors, getting them involved, "had there been any complaints about your teaching methods or curriculum? Oh -- and what subject do you teach?"

"I teach English, Mr. Beecher, and no, there had not been any previous complaints."

"That you know of," Robson felt compelled to interject.

Toby looked at him, at the judge. "Relevancy, Your Honor?"

Judge Metzger looked at Robson over the rims of his glasses. "Mr. Robson?"

Besides aiming a scowl at Toby, however, Robson appeared equally clueless as to his intent, and after another moment Judge Metzger told the jury, "Disregard. Continue, Mr. Beecher."

"So," Toby walked over to the jury box, "Mr. Truman, in your fifteen years of teaching this is the first time anyone has raised any questions as to the suitability of your subject matter in class?"


"What is it you teach in your class?" Toby asked, smiling at the foreman of the jury before returning to face Goodson.

"My primary objective is to show my students how to develop their writing skills, and an appreciation of literature."

"And does this involve assigning them specific reading material during the year?"


"Are you restricted in the books, plays, and so on that you can assign them?"

"Not restricted, no. There are specified works for the class, but I have always augmented that with other works of literature."

Okay, now they were getting to the tricky part. "And why is that?" Please, please, please don't use this for a platform, Toby silently pleaded, looking at Goodson and trying to convey that as best he could. This was going to give Robson an opening to pursue no matter what, but if they could make a good score first it might not matter; if they were really lucky, Robson might even end up shooting himself in the foot by trying to make a mountain of a molehill.

He could see Goodson wavering for an instant, and felt a relief that he didn't let show when Goodson answered, "Most of the specified material consists of long-established classic works of literature and I feel these can be enhanced with the addition of some more modern works."

Thank you God. "This practice of yours in no way implies any criticism of these classic works?"

"None at all."

Out of the corner of his eye Toby could see Robson shuffling through his papers, looking for something. Better beat him to the punch then. "These modern works -- those would include respected authors of our time, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and so on?"


Hands in his trouser pockets, Toby asked, "And do you ever include the works of black authors in your recommendations -- W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes?"

Goodson cracked something suspiciously like a smile. "I have been known to mention them."

Toby shot a quick look over at Robson, cracking his own miniscule smile as his opponent scowled and shoved a piece of paper back in his briefcase. "And, Mr. Truman, why do you think your students should read these more modern works?"

"Because they need to become familiar with the current forms of the language. The language of Shakespeare may be admired today but it is hardly a practical form of communication."

All right, that was a good -- the jury liked that, too, Toby thought, watching heads nods, expressions saying that made a whole lot of sense to them. "When you make these recommendations, Mr. Truman, is that all they are -- simply suggestions your students might pursue, if they so choose?"


Toby wanted this point to be absolutely clear. "You never insist any student read something that is not an official part of the curriculum?"

"I do not."

"Does your curriculum include discussing the material your students are reading?"


"Do you extend these discussions to include your suggested reading material?"


"Do you insist these discussions take place?"


"Do you suggest they should take place?"

"I do not."

Toby looked around the courtroom again. "Who does?"

"The students do."Toby nodded, went back to Goodson. "Why did you bring All's Fair to your class, Mr. Truman?"

"I thought it might could be used to illustrate some writing techniques I was teaching them."

"You were aware of the novel's content? That it deals with the intimate relationship between two men?"

"I was."

"And you thought that would be suitable reading material for high school kids?" This was one of the points Goodson had wanted to pontificate upon and Toby was braced for at least a little of that.

"I believed that those few students who might be motivated to read the book were mature enough to handle the material."

Expecting more, Toby waited a moment, giving Goodson an impressed look after another moment. "Isn't it a fact," he said, going over and looking through his papers, "that in this instance you never suggested this was a book the whole class should read? I believe... Yes," he found the page he was looking for and read from it, "Miss Caroline Galson testified to that, 'Mr. Truman only said it was an interesting book and wanted to read us a couple of passages.'" That had actually been a pretty good moment, he recalled, planting the idea in the jury's mind that this was the proverbial tempest in a teapot; the Colonel's uninspired testimony had been a nice touch, as well. He looked at Robson, expecting him to object; Robson's only response was a contemptuous sneer. "Is that correct, Mr. Truman?"

"It is."

Hands clasped behind his back, Toby gave Goodson a sympathetic look. "Do you approve of the content of All's Fair?"

Goodson looked back a bit uncertainly. "Do I approve of it?"

"Yes. Did you select the novel because the idea of a homosexual love affair met with your approval?"

"No, Mr. Beecher, I selected the novel despite that aspect of the story."


"Because, despite that aspect, Mr. Giles' use of language was something I thought some of my students could benefit from."

Toby nodded, showing that he was getting this clear for himself. "Mr. Giles has written other novels, without any controversial content. Why didn't you use one of those?"

"I wanted to contrast it with A Farewell To Arms--"

"Another novel about a love affair set during the last war."


"Couldn't you have found some other work of literature to achieve this contrast?"

"Possibly. It didn't occur to me to do so when All's Fair was so readily available."

"In fact," Toby made a show of searching through his papers again, even putting his reading glasses back on for a moment, "Miss Galson and other students have said they had already heard of the novel before you introduced them to it." He took the glasses off, tapping them against his chin for a moment. "Miss Galson and others have also said they had mentioned the book to you, soliciting your opinion of it. Is that correct?"

"It is."

"And that was another factor in your bringing it to school, that there was already some interest?"

"Yes, it was."

Toby tapped his chin with his glasses again. "And what were the passages your read to your students? Did they concern the relationship between Captain Martin and Billy Taylor?"

"No. They were passages dealing with the description of a battlefield."

"Why did you select those?"

"Because I thought Mr. Giles had captured the horrific panorama of the scene in a particularly evocative way, a way that some of my students might wish to attempt to draw inspiration from in their own writing."

"Did you ever refer to the relationship between Captain Martin and Billy Taylor?"

"Only to tell them that it occurred."

"Did you actively encourage any of them to read the novel?"

"I did not."

"Did you actively discourage any of them from reading it?"

"I did not."

Toby set his glasses on the table, put his hands in his pockets. "Why not?"

"Because I don't feel it is my place to establish parameters as to what is and is not suitable for anyone to read."

Head cocked curiously, Toby asked, "And why is that, Mr. Truman?"

Goodson looked a bit surprised by this question, but said, "Because, Mr. Beecher, it isn't so long ago that a man or woman of my race was forbidden to learn to read or write at all."

Toby nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Truman." He went back to his seat, looking at Robson. "Your witness."

He thought Goodson had done a good job. Robson wasn't going to be able to dispute facts corroborated by his own witnesses. That only left him a couple of angles to pursue and the racial one might backfire rather badly.

Even so Toby couldn't help feeling that Robson was handing him the case on a silver platter with the first words out of his mouth:

"Mr. Truman," Robson said, his tone making it clear the 'mister' was grudgingly granted, "you're a black man--"

A ripple of shocked laughter traveled through the courtroom as Judge Metzger called for order, and Goodson, smiling and holding his hand out to look it over with an expression of mock surprise, said, "Why, I believe I am."

It wasn't going to be this easy, was it? Toby thought as he sat back, beginning to feel a lot more confident of the outcome all of a sudden.

And a teensy bit more of this as well. Not as much as I was planning to post, but since I'm starting to get emails wanting to know where the next batch is, I guess I'd better put something out there. Sheesh... <g>

We'll come in right in the middle of Robson's cross-examination of Goodson. Oh, and credit to Renee for another plot bunny she tossed my way, re: a couple of characters who turn up during recess.

Hope this holds you all for awhile...


HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 5/a?

Aware that Robson was keeping an eye on him, trying to figure out what he was up to, Toby kept scribbling away on his notepad or looking through his papers, occassionally glancing at Robson with a look that blended a little twinge of sympathy with a, 'Don't you just hate that?' sort of sentiment when some line of Robson's questioning just petered out.

Robson really had one card left to play and Toby had to admit to some concerns about that, especially since he couldn't be sure how much Judge Metzger would allow. Metzger was notoriously conservative in his views and while that was balanced out with a reputation for being scrupulously fair, Toby couldn't help a twinge or two of uncertainty as he watched Robson wind himself up to pursue this last line. Goodson's demeanor was encouraging at least; that first flash of humor had gone over well, Toby thought, and -- so far -- he hadn't responded to Robson's attempts to provoke him. Toby wasn't quite ready to uncross his fingers, though.

"Mr. Truman," Robson managed to make it sound more cordial this time, even managing a smile that didn't look entirely false; he had to spoil it a little by glaring at the jury box as he went on, "a man of color," daring anyone to even think about tittering this time, "you must be aware that equal time isn't always given to matters dealing with your people."

Damn. Don't bite, Toby silently willed to Goodson, pleased when his friend only nodded slightly and said, "Yes."

"Does this ever strike you as unjust?"

"Objection," Toby said. "Relevance?"

"Mr. Robson?" Metzger said, looking like there better be something behind Robson's words this time.

"I'm trying to establish Mr. Truman's motives in bringing this work of...literature...into his classroom."

"That's been established, Your Honor," Toby said.

Metzger nodded. "Sustained. Find something else, Mr. Robson."

Robson shot a glare at Toby, the gears practically visible as he searched for some other way to get at this. "Mr. Truman -- is it true you're engaged to marry a--"

"Objection!" Toby was on his feet. "Who Mr. Truman may be engaged to marry has no bearing whatever on this case."

Metzger nodded. "I don't think so, either. Sustained. Mr. Robson?" he prodded, sounding a little impatient.

"Well, goddamn it, how am I supposed to--" Robson stopped, a comical expression flashing over his face as he realized what he's said and how it would it would likely strike the jurors he was attempting to reach.

Metzger's exasperation had clearly peaked. "Mr. Robson, do you have any relevant questions for Mr. Truman?"

All Robson could do, though, was give the judge a mulish, pissed off look.

Metzger turned to Goodson, saying, "Thank you, Mr. Truman, you're dismissed." Then he brought down his gavel, saying, "We'll have a recess for lunch. Mr. Robson," he gave him a hard look over his glasses, "I trust you will be better prepared."

Toby knew it was much too soon to start celebrating, but it would be a lie if he said he wasn't feeling just a little more optimistic now. As he stood up, gathering his things, he glanced over to where Chris was sitting, smiling at the thumb's up sign the other man sent him -- along with a smile that made him feel even better. And he couldn't help thinking that, if he did win the case, he would become as superstitious about having Chris in the court room as his father was about wearing these cuff links.

Spotting Toby in the hallway, Chris excused himself to Jefferson Keane and made his way over to him, managing to slip his arm around his shoulders for a moment -- just to get him out of the way as Robson went stomping past, of course. Toby shot him a warm smile, like he suspected Chris might have had some other motivation for the physical contact, and Chris felt that funny little jolt in his belly again.

He was so caught in Toby's smile that he almost didn't notice William Giles had joined them, that he was saying something to him. "I'm sorry," Chris said, trying to gather his wits, "what was that?"

Giles gave him an odd look, including Toby in it, smiling a little indulgently as he said, "I said that Tobias mentioned you had requested an interview with me. I wondered what publication you worked for."

Fuck. With reluctance, Chris had his mouth open to say, "The Tattler," but Toby beat him to the punch, saying, "Actually I think Chris was planning to do the interview in a freelance capacity and offer it to something like The New Yorker."

"Oh, I see." Giles nodded as Chris gave Toby a surprised, pleased look. "I can't give you a definite answer at the moment, of course, but I would certainly consider it. How can I contact you?"

Chris produced a card from his pocket, one that only gave his answering service, and handed it to Giles. "You can reach me at this number."

Giles took it, looked it over and put it in his own pocket. "All right. I'll think about it."

"You didn't have to do that -- but thanks," Chris said to Toby as they watched Giles get whisked off by a couple of gentlemen in expensive suits. "Who are they?"

"His editor and publisher. And you're welcome." As they walked along he asked, "So, are you here officially, or...?"

"No, I just..." Oh geez, he was going to sound like a lovestruck idiot, wasn't he? He shrugged. "I wanted to see you in action," he said, barely above a murmur, his eyes absorbed in watching his feet take one step after another.

"Oh," was all Toby said, but it sounded like a pretty knowing kind of 'oh' to Chris and he shot him a quick look, catching the little smile playing around his eyes, his mouth. "So what's the verdict?" Toby asked after another moment.

"You won me over," Chris admitted -- and wanted to kick himself at how that sounded. It made him almost -- almost -- welcome the sight of Jack Eldridge and Lisa Logan bearing down on them, that, 'We're great old chums,' smile pasted on Jack's face. "Oh shit."

Toby cast him a curious look, then glanced at Jack and Lisa. "You know them?"

"They work for The Sentinel."


Chris felt exactly the same.

OK, here's the rest of this segment. Only a little bit of the boys at the end, but a little of them is better than nothing, right? Let's see, credit (or blame <g> ) goes to Renee for the name of the cafe. No warnings; some plot points will start coming a little bit clear, I think, re: the Preston stuff anyway. And a couple other familiar faces turn up. Hope you like it.


HI, SOCIETY - Chapter Two, 5b/?

"So, what's going on?" Mary Pete said as she and Gloria slid into a window booth at the cafe. "How's Preston?" She couldn't miss the sour twist to the younger woman's mouth at mention of her husband.

"They say he'll be fine," Gloria replied, a bitter note in her voice that didn't exactly fit the role of concerned spouse.

"And that's not good news?"

"Right now? I could beat the crap out of him myself." Gloria's voice was at whisper level but the flash of anger in her eyes left Mary Pete in no doubt as to her sincerity.

Before Mary Pete could pursue this, however, Miguel Alvarez was at their table, offering them menus and respectfully averting his eyes as Gloria rummaged for a handkerchief in her purse and dabbed at her eyes. "How are you today, Miguel?" Mary Pete said, giving Gloria a moment to collect herself.

"Can't complain," he said, looking crisp and natty in his waiter's uniform, although he tugged at his thin black tie as though he wasn't quite used to it yet. "I really appreciate Uncle Enrique giving me this second chance, I don't want to let him down."

"Don't let yourself down, either, Miguel, that's just as important," Mary Pete told him, knowing Miguel had been in and out of trouble with the law over the years, petty stuff mostly, but he had been making a real effort to turn his life around lately.

"I think I'm figuring that out, Mrs. Reimondo." Miguel glanced at Gloria, and seeing that she'd stopped crying he said, "I was real sorry to hear about your husband, Mrs. Nathan, we all were."

Gloria nodded, her smile a little tight as she said, "Thank you. How is your uncle?"

"He's--" Miguel looked around, and then smiled at them. "I guess you can ask him yourself."

Mary Pete looked up to see a beaming Enrique Morales approaching them, cutting a dashing figure himself in a cool, white linen suit. "Ladies," he grasped a hand of each woman, gallantly raising them to his lips for a kiss, "my humble establishment is graced by your presence." Mary Pete shared an amused look with Gloria, glad to see a more lively sparkle in her friends' eyes as Enrique went on with his extravagant flattery. To her eye there was very little that was humble about Enrique or his establishment, The Flying Monkey Caf; the tropical ambience wasn't quite overwhelming, although Mary Pete wouldn't have been at all surprised if an airborne monkey did go zipping by one day. Fortunately the food was good.

As usual Enrique took it upon himself to make their selections, relieving them of their menus as he tempted them with promises of a garden salad, followed my beef empanadas that he promised would melt in their mouths, and just a little bit of a tropical fruit salad for dessert -- yes? Ordinarily Mary Pete would have shooed him off, far preferring to make her own selections, but she decided to let him get away with it today; Gloria was of far greater concern to her.

Gloria tried to avoid getting back to the subject, though, saying, "I think somebody likes you."

"I think somebody likes himself a whole lot," Mary Pete said, dismissing that. "What else has happened?"

Setting her water glass down, looking at the smear of lipstick she'd left on it, Gloria said, "We're broke -- I'm broke; Preston's gone through every penny. All my jewelry, that diamond bracelet he gave me on our anniversary? It's all gone. He's got us in debt up to our eyeballs." The anger was back in her dark eyes as she looked across the table at Mary Pete. "You tell me how I'm supposed to play the supportive wife now. I'd like to find out who beat him up just so I could shake their hand and ask them to do it over again."

Mary Pete would have liked to say that came as a tremendous surprise to her, but Gloria's marriage to Preston had always looked like a disaster in the making to her; it was one of the few times she had been truly questioned her husband's good sense in insisting it was just the thing for Gloria, it would change her life. Well, it had done that all right. Preston had made a star out of the little girl Leonard had discovered in his music class, but Mary Pete wondered if Gloria was beginning to wonder if the roses were worth all the thorns.

"You're sure there can't be some mistake?" she asked.

But Gloria shook her head. "I'm not stupid -- although Preston probably thought I was." She pulled out her handkerchief, dabbing at angry tears again. "The only thing I don't know is where it's all gone." Digging through her purse for her compact, she opened it, wiping at the smears of mascara around her eyes. "Those detectives - - Murphy and Bayliss? -- I didn't understand what they were asking me yesterday, about Preston maybe owing some outstanding debts, but I'm beginning to now."

Mary Pete couldn't help wondering if that was one of the angles Chris was exploring on this story. She couldn't see him being interested in the tawdry show biz scandal part of it except so far as it took him into other areas. And he had about as many connections that way as Ryan O'Reily.

Thinking of Ryan... Mary Pete looked at Gloria, considering how best to bring that up and concluding there was no sense beating around the bush. "You think there's any connection to Ryan?"

To her credit Gloria didn't try to avoid the subject. Pushing her compact and handkerchief back in her purse and clicking it shut, she met Mary Pete's serious gaze, saying, "I don't know. Ryan insists he's innocent, but... I don't know who to trust anymore."

Mary Pete reached across the table, patting her hand. "Do you want to trust, Ryan?"

Gloria looked away then, a flash of guilty shame in her eyes. "I know when I married Preston I promised... " She bit her lip, fighting down tears again. "I was barely nineteen, how could I know what I was promising?"

More like how could she know there a young man named Ryan O'Reily would be waiting around the next corner, Mary Pete thought. "Gloria, are you in love with Ryan?"

The younger woman looked back at her then, still a little guilty, but defiant, too. "I don't know. He's..."

"Young, handsome, charming -- and a little bit dangerous?"

Gloria cast her eyes down at the gleaming dark wood. "Yes," she said quietly, then looked up at Mary Pete again. "You think I'm an idiot, don't you? Wanting to go from the frying pan into the fire?"

Mary Pete shook her head. "I don't think that at all. I think marrying Preston would have been a mistake no matter how old you were. Ryan may not be the kind of young man I'd want a daughter of mine to come home with -- but I think I'd understand it if she did." She patted Gloria's hand again then sat back, asking, "What are you going to do?"

Gloria sighed, shook her head. "I don't know. I know I want a divorce."

"Just like that?"

"Preston's lied to me, cheated on me -- now he's stolen from me. Why do I have to put up with that?"

Mary Pete couldn't think of one damn reason, actually. "If you need me to help in any way, you know you only have to ask."

Gloria smiled a little now, nodding. "Thanks. All this shopping, though -- aren't you getting to go somewhere or something?"

"Oh, that," Mary Pete gave a little shrug, not minding the change in topic now, "that's for this next week. Chris and I are covering the Beecher-Schillinger, and I have to get gussied up for it."

Gloria's eyes widened a little. "I heard they weren't allowing any press coverage of that -- Ketchum was a little put out about it, in fact."

"Devlin pulled some strings. And why would Ketchum's nose be out of joint? What's it to him?"

"We're playing at some big party they're throwing for the happy couple, next Friday. Ryan set it up, and Ketchum was looking forward to all the publicity."

"Well maybe Chris will mention him in the article."

Gloria leaned forward a little, curious. "There's more to the story, though. There has to be for you to be getting a whole new wardrobe."

"Oh," Mary rolled her eyes, "Devlin had the brilliant idea that Chris and I should crash the party as long lost friends of the Beechers. Chris is supposed to be Tobias's old friend from Harvard, and I'm Chris' wealthy socialite aunt."

Smiling, Gloria said, "I can't believe Chris is going along with that. It doesn't sound like him."

"That one -- you never know what's going to strike his fancy." Mary Pete sure wouldn't have pegged him for taking such a shine to someone like Tobias, but going by the sparks that had been flying last night at the movies something was stirring there. She hoped he knew what he was doing, that he wasn't making mountains out of molehills.

Seeing Miguel coming back with their order, Mary Pete thought she had one more reason to count her blessings: she might still have fleshly urges and like the thought of some companionship, but nothing in the world would induce her to be young and in love again. It was far too nerve-wracking.

Worth it, though, she had to admit, recalling her early days with Leonard. If her young friends found anything like the happiness she had found with him they would be well blessed indeed.

"Yes, sir, I understand that," Ryan was telling his boss, Henry Callahan, shifting the receiver to his left hand and reaching for a pen, "it's just that I can't guarantee Gloria will be available. Her manager's been making noises about her leaving. Well, yes, sir, I've talked to him, offered him a pretty sweet deal," Ryan went on, writing the name Preston Nathan and a question mark on a scratch pad, "but he says we better triple it before he'll even think about it. Yes, sir, I sure do think he's being unreasonable, but he's her husband and all and just looking out for her interests." Ryan added Gloria's name to the pad, circled it, and added Does the right hand know what the left's up to? with an arrow leading to Preston's name. "I'll do my best, Mr. Callahan, you know you can always count on me. You, too, and give my best to all your family." He hung up and leaned back in his chair, sighing, tapping his pen against the desk.

"Callahan wants you to bring Gloria out to California?" Bob Rebadow asked from the doorway, and Ryan started, swiveling around to look at him.

"You gotta be spooky, Bob?" he said, pulling up a slow smile that was supposed to convey it didn't really give him the willies the way Bob would just show up and know things.

Bob shrugged like it was of no particular consequence to him one way or the other. "God gives you intuition, you don't argue. So?"

"So -- yeah, they want her to come open up a new club in L.A., end of the month."

"It would be a good move for her, get her a lot of exposure."

"Yeah, and you'd think Preston would be all for that."

"You would, wouldn't you?"

Ryan cocked an interested look at Bob. "Your intuition telling you anything about that?"

"Just that all things come to those who wait," Bob said, with one of those funny little smiles that sometimes made Ryan wonder if the old coot was playing with a full deck. Mission apparently accomplished he left the office, passing Cyril on the way.

"Why's Mr. Rebadow smiling, Ryan?" Cyril said, coming in and closing the door after him.

"God must've told him a good one. Hey, you remember what I told you to say if those detectives come around again?"

Cyril nodded, sitting down on the couch over against one wall. "That I was at the hospital visiting Mama."

"That's right."

Cyril's face crumpled up a little. "Mama's not going to get any better, is she, Ryan?"

"I don't know, Cyril," Ryan lied, getting up to go over to his brother and slip an arm around his shoulder, not about to mention his own mixed feelings about the woman he'd grown up thinking was his mother, too. Funny, the little surprises life held in store for a person. Some, like Gloria, were pretty good, but he was taking his time deciding how he felt about Suzanne Fitzgerald.

Wait and see, he guessed -- on both counts.

Robson winced at Vern's voice blaring in his ear and tried to get another word in, "I don't know what the deal is -- I'm doing my best, but Beecher's just all fired up today." That got him another earful and he held the phone out a little ways from his head, wondering just how the fuck he was supposed to go about bursting Beecher's balloon. It wasn't that goddamn easy and if Vern thought it was Vern should come down here and see for himself.

Hearing a click on the other end of the line, Robson hung up, too, and looked around in time to see Beecher walk by with some other guy -- tall, dark, some kind of dago or something he'd bet; nobody Robson had ever seen, and nothing to do with the case.

No, far as Robson could see, all he had left was making the most of it when Beecher put that fag writer on the stand to defend himself. If he couldn't make something of that, well -- he didn't like to admit it, and he hoped Vern had some back up plan already, but he did kind of think they were going to be fucked this time.

It wasn't fair, either, just because that little pansy Beecher'd got his old man to send him to Harvard. If James Robson had had a chance to go to Harvard he bet everybody would be whistling a different tune today.

And he just wasn't going to remember that Harvard had pretty much told him to go fuck himself when he'd applied there. Just not exactly in those words.

"So I take it you're not a great fan of Jack Eldridge?" Toby said as he and Chris shed The Sentinel reporters and left the courthouse. He'd gotten the distinct impression Chris didn't share Eldridge's belief that they were colleagues with a long-standing admiration of each other's work.

"Oh, I have to admire anyone who can bullshit his way to success the way he has," Chris said, falling into step beside him. "And he had some potential at the start, going by some early pieces of his I've read -- did a hell of a job covering the Scopes trial back in 'Twenty-five. But he forgot he wasn't supposed to be the star of the story somewhere along the way."

"Money counts more than integrity for some people."

"Yeah -- 'specially if they didn't have much of it to begin with."

"How about you? I guess you're just loaded with integrity," Toby said, not really meaning anything by it and wondering if he'd misspoken by the look Chris shot him, something shadowing his eyes.

"Guess I can't have much and work for The Tattler," Chris said after another moment, looking away, trying to make it sound unimportant.

"Yeah, you can," Toby told him, wishing Chris could have the luxury of leaving this job he clearly loathed. "I think your integrity's fine."

Chris shot him a surprised look at that. "And you'd know how, exactly?"

"Because you don't like what you're doing, you know it's beneath you, whereas the Jack Eldridge's of the world wallow in swill and think it's caviar."

Chris stopped to consider that a moment. "I guess there's a compliment in there somewhere."

Toby smiled, reaching to grasp him by the elbow and turn him up the street, feeling that sweet little tingle again. "There is. This place all right with you?" he said as they arrived at The Flying Monkey Caf.

"Sure," Chris said, then tilted his head and smiled, waving at someone inside.

Toby moved to see who it was, smiling himself when he spotted Mary Pete. "Small world."

"Looks that way," Chris said, pulling the door open and holding it for Toby.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 6a/?

"Having a busy day?" Mary Pete asked after Gloria and Tobias had been introduced and Miguel had gone off with two more orders for empanadas.

Chris managed to take his eyes off the man beside him long to shoot a suspicious look over at her. "Busy enough," he said with a little shrug.

He fiddled with his water glass for a few moments, putting a great deal of concentration into getting it situated just so. Tobias was engaged in a similar operation with the salt and pepper shakers, and a person might have gotten the notion they were coordinating their movements precisely so their hands could brush against each other every so often and they could shoot goofy little grins at one another. Mary Pete hid her smile behind her napkin and kept her eyes on her plate, kicking Gloria under the table as the younger woman sat there gawping at the men's antics. Gloria jumped a little and gave Mary Pete a cross look that didn't quite disguise the, 'Am I seeing what I think I'm seeing?' one. Mary Pete gave her head an expressive little tilt, raising her eyes, and Gloria had to smile into her napkin as well.

Chris looked over at Mary Pete again, clearly sensing something was up with the women. "What's so funny?"

"Not a thing, Chris," she assured him, lips thinning out as she tried to get herself under control. "Tobias," she said after another moment, trusting herself to sound composed, "is your case going well?"

"Hmm? I'm sorry," he said, looking like it took quite a lot of effort for him to drag his attention away from Chris, "what did you say, Mrs. Reimondo?" Mary Pete found that unexpectedly reassuring. This might be a highly unlikely pairing, but he certainly had all the signs of being just as smitten as Chris.

"Your court case," she said. "I wondered how it was going. And call me Mary Pete, everyone else does." Or at least they did nowadays, thanks to Chris.

"I'm not sure," he said, sounding modest. "Better today, I think."

"You kidding?" Chris said to him. "It's going great; you've got everybody eating out of your hand."

Tobias colored a little at that, eyes cast down. "I don't know about that."

"I do," Chris told him, warmth and something like wonder in his eyes as he looked at the other man.

Mary Pete and Gloria looked at each other again, shaking their heads with a kind of a wonder as well. Miguel coming over with a cart was a welcome relief as it was difficult not to feel like she and Gloria were intruding on something very private. As Miguel tended to the mundane matters of giving her and Gloria their furit salad, and the men their main course of empanadas, it was an opportunity to settle into less personal conversation ranging from the World's Fair to the mystery illness that had been keeping Lou Gehrig out of the Yankee line up to the troubles in Europe -- with Chris sounding all too certain that it was poised to get a lot worse before much longer -- and then back around to Gloria and her troubles with Preston, when Chris asked her if the name Simon Adebisi meant anything to her.

"Adebisi?" Gloria repeated, shaking her head. "No. Should it?"

Chris' smile was a little mysterious as he said, "No. I didn't think it would."

So why had he asked her? Mary Pete wondered, feeling her colleague was up to something.

Tobias promptly asked the question she wanted to, however. "So who's Simon Adebisi?"

Chris' nonchalant shrug didn't fool anyone. "Just a name that pops up every now and then, usually when someone's gotten a little behind on their debts."

Gloria's eyes widened a little and she cast a thoughtful look at Chris. "What kind of debts?"

"Gambling, that kind of thing."

Gloria bit her lip, considering. "Chris, do you know something about Preston's situation?"

He tapped his fork against his plate just enough for it to be irritating, obviously weighing the pros and cons of whether or not to answer her, and just how much information to let slip. "I don't, no, but I might know some people who do."

"And is this a story you're pursuing for your magazine?" Gloria looked as if she didn't like having to ask that, but it was a fair question.

Chris flashed her a warm smile. "No. It's a favor for a friend."

A friend named Ryan O'Reily? Mary Pete thought, noticing the curiosity in Tobias's eyes. "What people -- or isn't anyone allowed to know that?"

"People...I'll be seeing later tonight," was Chris' predictably evasive answer.

Mary Pete narrowed her eyes, mentally checking his schedule -- inasmuch as he went by a schedule. "When you go to Leo and Floria's, you mean?"

"Umm hmm."

"Leo -- your prize-fighter friend?" Tobias asked.

"Yep. He and his wife have a little restaurant in Harlem. Some of us get together down there every week for poker and...conversation." Attention fully engaged by Tobias once more, Chris gave him a funny little look, almost shy, saying, "I, umm, don't suppose you'd be interested in anything like that?" He frowned, brows drawing towards each other, hesitation creeping into his voice and expression. "Floria sets a pretty good table but I guess it wouldn't exactly be what you're used to."

"Maybe not," Tobias said, "but that doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy it."

Chris' expression brightened immediately. "Yeah? You're welcome to come along, if you'd like."

Tobias nodded. "I think I would. What time?"

"Ah... About seven?"

"Okay. Shall I meet you there, or...?"

"Uh, I...could pick you up, I guess," Chris said, frowning again, looking like it was dawning on him what this sounded like.

It probably didn't help that Enrique had cued the juke box right then to play one of Gloria's recordings, as Tobias smiled and said, "That sounds fine."

And Gloria's sultry voice could be heard singing:

I've got a crush on you, sweetie pie
All the day and night time hear me sigh I never had the least notion
That I would fall with so much emotion

Could you coo, could you care
For a cunning cottage we could share
The world will pardon my mush
'Cause I have got a crush on you...

"Oh," Mary Pete knew she and Gloria were in perilous danger now at the perplexed and uncertain expression on Chris' face, "will you excuse us?" she said, getting up and tugging the younger woman with her, almost pushing her towards the lady's room.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 6b/10

Relieved when that stupid song finished playing -- not that some guy crooning 'Night and day, you are the one, only you beneath the moon and under the sun... ' was any great improvement -- Chris frowned in the direction of the ladies room, wondering what had got into Mary Pete and Gloria. Although he should probably be a lot more concerned with what had gotten into him, practically asking Toby out on a date. He cast another surreptious look at the other man, wondering if he'd heard 'Would you come out to dinner with me?' or 'You want to go hang out at Leo's and play some poker?' And if it was the former and that's what Toby had said yes to -- what did that mean? Did it mean what he thought it meant, or...?

Chris sighed and slouched down on the seat, drumming his fingers on the table. Sensing Toby's eyes on him, he looked around to see concern and a question in their sky blue depths. "What?"

"Just wondering if you're all right."

"Sure." Just losing my mind or something, that's all. "Listen, about Leo's -- I didn't mean to push you into anything. I mean, if you've got other plans or something, or--"

"Chris," Toby touched Chris' hand, ending the babbling and sending a sweet little thrill racing through him, "I want to go with you."

"Oh." Chris looked at Toby's hand covering his own, wishing he could ask why Toby wanted to come to Leo's with him. What if the answer wasn't what he wanted to hear, though? What if... Chris bit his lip, taking some calming breaths, half-wishing Toby would move his hand because any close proximity to the other man was throwing him all out of kilter.

This just was not like him. If he saw someone he wanted, he just went ahead and reeled them in, no fuss and bother. Kitty hadn't tied him up in knots like this and he'd married her, for Christ's sake. Part of Chris wanted to get as far away as possible from Tobias Beecher and this...this whammy Toby was putting on him, and the other part wanted to pull him close and kiss him crazy.

Pulling his hand free Chris leaned his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. He'd never felt so awful in his life. And the screwiest thing was he didn't really want it to stop. How fucked up was that?

He groaned inwardly as he felt Toby shift around on the seat beside him, ending up a hell of a lot closer in the process, their knees bumping together under the table; he knew Toby had stretched his arm out along the seat back because of the feather light brush of fingers he felt slide across the nape of his neck and shoulders. Toby couldn't be doing it deliberately, right, not like him last night at the movie's? Chris sat back, maddeningly aware of the arm right behind of him, of the hand just a hairsbreadth from his shoulder, and cast a considering look at the other man, finding only an ingenuous openness in Toby's face, eyes lit with shining innocence -- and a funny little, smug smile tugging at the corners of his mouth before he looked away and studiously gazed out the window at the pedestrians walking by.

Chris had never been happier to see someone as Mary Pete and Gloria came back -- although he began to get some idea of what they were finding so goddamn funny when, getting one look at him and Toby, a glance passed between the women and they both appeared to be struggling not to grin like Cheshire Cats. Well, he supposed it was nice someone was enjoying this, and he prayed to God the look he aimed at Mary Pete wasn't anywhere near as petulant as it felt. Fat chance of that, though, to judge by the way she suddenly had to search through her purse and avoid looking at him.

Coming to her friend's rescue, Gloria said, "I guess we'll be leaving you gentlemen for now."

"It was a pleasure meeting you, Mrs. Nathan," Toby said. "I was sorry to read about your husband's misfortune in the paper."

"Thank you," she said, sounding and looking very neutral all of a sudden, confirming Chris' suspicion that she had some hankering of what her hubby had been doing and that she was not happy about it. Score one for O'Reily. "And call me Gloria, I expect we're going to be seeing quite a lot of each other."

"That's right -- you'll be at the party, won't you?"

Grateful for something neutral to focus on himself, Chris said, "What party?"

"The one we're throwing for Gen and Vern next Friday," Toby said, moving his arm and shifting away a little, enough that Chris could start breathing easier. "We got Kev Ketchum to agree to play at it."

"That must have cost a pretty penny," Chris said, sitting up straighter. He canted a curious look at Toby, "So what's the deal with that, you and your old man footing the bill for your ex to get hitched to somebody else?"

"The deal is we're only providing the venue, the groom's the one actually paying the bills."

"He must have deep pockets. Who is he anyway?" Chris asked, and wondered why the three of them suddenly looked at him like he came from another planet. "What?"

Mary Pete rolled her eyes. "The Tattler only ran a six page article on him last month, Chris."

"Yeah, and I told you: I only write the stuff, I don't read it. So?"

"His name's Vernon Schillinger," Toby said. "He made his first fortune in oil in nineteen-fifteen, out in Oklahoma. Then he parlayed that into automobile manufacturing, and lately he's been branching out into -- Chris?"

Toby must have noticed he'd lost interest pretty much at the Vernon Schillinger part. "Branching out into publishing?" Chris finished. "That's the sonofabitch that fired me from the Observer." Which loomed as a minor detail all of a sudden and Chris moved around on the seat to face Toby. "That's who your ex is marrying?"

"Yes," Toby said, looking back at him with some uncertainty. "Why? I mean, I understand he probably isn't your favorite person in the world, but--"

"Fuck that. Is that all you know about him?"

Toby shrugged, the look of uncertainly growing. "Pretty much. His politics are kind of conservative and narrow-minded, but--"

Chris snorted. "Yeah, you could put it that way." He sat back, thinking -- no, knowing he didn't like the sound of this at all.

"Well," Mary Pete said, with a puzzled look at him, "I'll see you later, Chris. Tobias -- it was a pleasure to meet you again."

"You, too, Mrs. -- Mary Pete. And I'm sorry we kind of put you on the spot about Saturday night."

"Oh, that's all right. I needed an excuse to spruce up my wardrobe," she told him, smiling, and Chris aimed a curious look at her. She got on his case about Saturday night but let Toby off the hook? Something about that struck him as a little unfair. "I'll look forward to meeting your father."

"I'm sure the feeling's mutual," Toby told her, standing with Chris as the women left and Miguel Alvarez came over.

Chris stared, nonplussed, at the bill Alvarez handed him. "What's this for?"

"Mrs. Reimondo said you'd take care of it," Alvarez told him, signaling a busboy to come over and clear the table, asking if they wanted anything else.

"No, I'm fine," Toby said, watching Chris. "You want anything else?"

"No. She stuck me with the bill," Chris said, and really did not appreciate Toby laughing at him. "Oh yeah, laugh it up. How come she's not getting back at you?"

"Maybe because I only met her yesterday and you've known her -- well, how long have you known her?"

"Three years."

"Well, there you go," Toby said, as if that was supposed to explain everything. "If it's any consolation I'll take care of our bill," he said, accepting it as Miguel came back.

Leaving tips for Miguel and settling the bills at the cashier, they headed outside and back toward the courthouse, Toby asking, "So -- Schillinger. I take it your objection to him is more than him costing you your job."

"You could say that," Chris said as they crossed the street. He cast a look at Toby, asking, "Your wife have all her marbles?"

Toby threw him a slightly offended look. "Yes," he said, sounding a little frosty. "Why?"

"Well, I'm thinking she'd have to be short a few to want to marry Schillinger."

"Look, the man's got some shortcomings, I'll grant you--"

"He's a fucking Nazi," Chris told him.

Toby came to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, turning to face him. "When you say--"

"I mean he's in like that," Chris crossed his index and middle finger, "with Adolf and his boys."

"Oh, come on," Toby protested. "His politics are a little right-wing, but--"

"Hey, you want proof, I got proof. I was in Berlin in 'thirty-six, covering the Olympics, and I saw Schillinger in cahoots with the Fuhrer and associates a whole bunch of times. Snapped some photos, too -- they aren't up to Mary Pete's standards, but he's there, plain as day. That's why he fired my ass."

"Well," Toby began, looked stumped, walked on a bit. "Maybe he had some...kind of business with them."

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he did."

Toby canted a worried look at him. "You're sure about this?"

"As sure as I am of anything. I asked around, found a out a whole lot of things about Schillinger that I bet didn't make that Tattler article," Chris said, hands in his pockets as he walked along beside Toby. "You know he's in with the Klan?"

"No," Toby said, not sounding pleased to hear that, either, and murmuring under his breath, "No fucking wonder."

Chris shot him a curious look now. "No fucking wonder what?"

"Umm, this case -- it's Schillinger who's really behind it. I don't have proof, mind you, but I know he put Col. Galson up to starting the ball rolling, and that he's made sure his paper keeps it front and center. I thought he was just trying to use it as a platform to launch a political career -- he's always trying to get Dad to give him an entree to the President, but..." Toby paused again, looking upset. "Gen wouldn't get involved with someone like that."

Not knowing the ex-Mrs. Beecher, all Chris could tell him was, "Maybe she doesn't know."

"She's not stupid."

Given she'd booted Toby out of her life Chris had his doubts about that, but guessed Toby wouldn't exactly appreciate hearing that at the moment. "Neither's he. It's not something he goes around advertising, after all."

"No, I guess not," Toby said as they reached the courthouse and started up the steps. "I don't like the sound of this at all."

"Yeah, well, don't let it throw you off your game," Chris told him, suddenly worried Toby might misfire with the rest of the case and hand Robson -- and Schillinger? -- a victory.

Somewhat surprisingly, Toby threw him a cocky look. "Oh, don't worry about that. I want to win twice as much now."

And as Robson brushed by them, shooting them a dirty look, Chris had feeling Mr. Robson was about to learn what it felt like to be a mop - - because something told him Toby was going to clean the floor with his learned opponent this afternoon.

OK, here ya go, counting down to near miss kiss number one, and that will along later today if nothing loopy happens. The courtroom showdown may not be quite what some were hoping for, but I think it works -- and don't ask me what got into the Colonel. I and the muses hope you like it.


HI, SOCIETY - Chapter Two, 7a/10

Toby took his seat beside Giles as the courtroom began filling up, his mind turning over what Chris had told him. He supposed Vern being connected to the Klan was hardly startling, all things considered, but he couldn't say it was a pleasure to have some of his darker suspicions confirmed. That Gen's husband-to-be might have close ties to the current regime in Germany, however, that was almost frightening. And maybe there was no 'almost' about it. He'd known for quite awhile that Vern was a strong supporter of American isolationism, but hadn't liked to think there was anything more sinister behind that than a willful ignorance.

Could Chris be brewing up a tempest in a teapot, spurred by some very understandable hard feelings towards Schillinger? Turning in his chair, searching for and easily finding the other man in the crowd, Toby considered that possibility, finding that he was strongly inclined to believe Chris. He didn't know what kind of sense that made, placing so much trust in this man he'd know for -- he checked his watch -- just about twenty-four hours. Especially when he had to admit he didn't know Gen well enough to say she would not take up with Vern Schillinger if she did know everything about him.

Well, Toby had spent a considerable portion of the last three years pondering that riddle, never getting very close to an answer, not even in the bottom of a bottle. How did you share every day of six years with someone, have children with them, and yet in every essential way have to acknowledge you'd had a stranger in your bed every night? He didn't doubt Genevieve had often wondered the same thing. Hadn't she practically said as much when she had asked for the divorce, countering his protests with a straight to the heart shot, 'Toby, what's the point of prolonging it?' she'd said, weary resignation weighing down every word and look. 'We can both do better.' And sure, that had wounded his ego more than anything; Toby could hardly claim to have been passionately in love with Gen. He had cared for her, though, and after six years had felt comfortably settled into the marriage. If it wasn't what he had hoped for, if there was none of the passion and excitement he sometimes longed for, it was better than nothing and maybe those other things were unrealistic expectations anyway. Finding out Gen didn't even get that much out of the marriage, that she'd only done it for the money and that was no longer incentive enough to endure the tedium, hadn't exactly bolstered his confidence.

Funny how recalling all that only produced a tiny fraction of the usual bitterness. Maybe he'd gotten over it all and just never noticed? Or was it because something else had so thoroughly captured his attention? Toby thought about that as he looked at Chris, feeling a warmth that had nothing to do with the summer heat. He couldn't speak to the passion but there was certainly no lack of excitement when he was around the other man. And so far as he could tell the feeling was mutual, judging by Chris' behavior at the caf. True, he hadn't quite provoked a blush out of the other man, but Mr. Keller had certainly shown all indications of being nicely twitterpated, as Aunt Clara would say. To the best of his knowledge Toby had never had that kind of effect on anyone before, certainly not Gen; that he could do it to this man who, going by yesterday's performance, could probably teach a course in sure-fire seduction techniques - well, that did quite a bit to boost his confidence.

His sense of deep satisfaction wasn't only in turning the tables. No, he'd enjoyed every not-so-casual touch and brush of hands or knees, and felt a fluttering in his stomach whenever those gorgeous blue eyes locked onto his. He wishes those touches could be a little more deliberate and lingering, too. Recollecting last night's dream, Toby couldn't help wondering what it would be like to touch Chris even more intimately, like a lover, to kiss his mouth... Eyes captured by those deep blue eyes again, almost lost in them, Toby felt the color rising in his face once more and tugged at his collar when swallowing also proved a little difficult for a moment. And damn it, Chris didn't look the least little bit rattled, he just sat there with that smug little grin on his face - and had the balls to wink at him again.

A silly smile suffusing his face, Toby quickly broke that gaze, turning away and pretending to be absorbed in the papers before him. If asked he couldn't have said what the hell he was looking at, all he could think of was what might happen tonight when they went on their date.

He had to pause and think about that. They were going out, on a date. Shouldn't that strike him as outrageous, floor him at least a little bit? Maybe so, probably so, but somehow he couldn't feel anything but a delicious sense of anticipation as he thought about it. He was puzzled, no doubt about that: why now, why this man, when David' advances had only made him uncomfortable? Could it be as simple as where David had tried to bully and demand, Chris as appeared to be just as flummoxed by all this, certain of his appeal but not much else?

"Tobias?" Giles said beside him. "Are you feeling all right?"

"Umm, yes, fine, thank you," Toby said, twiddling with his glasses, putting them in his pocket, taking them out again, shuffling some papers together. "It's just a little warm today."

"Yes, you look a bit flushed," Giles said, and Toby wonderes if he was imagining the knowing tone in the older man's voice. "So what do you think our chances are?" Giles asked after another moment.

Yes, Tobias, get your mind on the business at hand, he sternly told himself. This was not the time and place to be mooning about Chris, or fretting over Gen and her choice in a future husband. He'd have plenty of time for both of those things later. "I think they're good," he told Giles, watching the jury file in, searching those twelve sober faces for some indication as to how the wind was blowing. If no one glanced their way with an especially friendly air, neither were they being impaled with glares of disapproval, and Toby took that to be a good sign.

He looked over at Robson, wondering at the full extent of his involvement in Schillinger's activities. There was some cause for comfort, he supposed, in imagining the ineffectual nature of Vern's business if Robson was any example of the calibre of his flunkeys.

Smiling confidently as Robson aimed a petulant look back at him, Toby didn't doubt there was a personal element in all this for the other lawyer. Triumphing over a Beecher, and Beecher, had likely been a long-held ambition for Robson ever since Harrison had fired him from the firm. Well, it wasn't going to happen today, though, Toby was determined on that point. James Robson would just have to carry that chip around on his shoulder awhile longer.

"Where's the Colonel?" Giles asked.

"I don't know." Toby supposed misplacing his client might explain why Robson was looking a little twitchy over there.

As if cued, however, Col. Galson appeared, looking strait-laced and commanding as he moved down the aisle and backed Robson up with a look as the lawyer got a little too close for the Colonel's liking. Toby wished he could overhear the furiously whispered exchange going on; judging the Colonel's manner he was being doggedly adamant about something, while Robson was looking fit to be tied.

Giles leaned close, whispering, "Tobias, what's going on?"

Toby gave his head a small shake. "I'm not sure." Although he a glimmer of a hunch. The Colonel was pissed off about something -- the way the case was proceeding, how Robson was handling it: either of those could be aggravating to a by-the-book kind of guy like the Colonel. But what it meant...? Toby couldn't take it any further with any real certainty.

Further speculation was halted by Judge Metzger's appearance, and Toby was just getting to his feet, ready to begin, when Robson popped up like a jack-in-the-box -- sharply nudged by Galson -- to say, "Your Honor, may I approach the bench?"

With a look of dubious resignation, Metzger motioned for both counsels to approach. "This had better be good, Mr. Robson."

Looking like the words were choking him, Robson said. "My client instructs me he wants to drop the case.:

Toby was grateful for all the time he'd spent practicing a poker face because that had not struck him as one of the likelier prospects at all.

Metzger fixed Robson with an exasperated look and aimed it over at the Colonel for good measure. "Let's take this to my chambers, gentlemen."

As Metzger called for a short recess Toby went back to collect Giles, replying with a little shrug of his shouders to the questioning look Chris shot him.

Giles also wanted to know what was up as they headed for the judge's chambers, but Toby couldn't tell him much, either, just that Colonel Galson no longer wanted to pursue the matter. "Would you mind that?"

"Mind it?" Giles shook his head. "Not hardly." He shot Toby an impish little smile, adding, "Although I suppose I can't complain about all the publicity's that's come from this. My publisher was telling me sales for my book, especially All's Fair, are going through the roof."

Which just went to show there really was a silver lining to everything. Although something told Toby that Robson might be having a hard time locating one right now. His opponent was trying to pace off his agitation, and not having much luck, as Toby and Giles stepped into Metzger's chambers.

"Well, Colonel," Metzger was seated behind his desk, "would you explain yourself."

Appearing composed and not about to budge, the Colonel said, "I've just had enough of this half-assed case and this dumbass shyster here," he aimed a thumb in the direction of Robson who didn't appear flattered by that form of address.

Metzger looked like he had some sympathy with the Colonel, especially on the Robson part. Even so he pressed, "You brought this half-assed suit in the first place, Colonel. Why did it take you three weeks to decided you didn't want to pursue it?"

Looking aggrieved and grumpy, Galson said, "Look, the CCM came to me and asked me to represent them--"

"Excuse me," Toby interrupted, "the CCM?"

"Committee of Citizens for Morality."

Toby looked over at Metzger, glad to see he wasn't the only one who remained largely unenlightened. Robson knew what it meant, though, and Toby bet that meant Vern was in the mix somwhere. "So you had no personal stake in this?"

"Hell," the Colonel grumbled, "I got better things to do than have an attack of the vapors because some colored boy's talking about a pansy book. My daughter's got a good head on her shoulder; reading a story about a pair of queers isn't going to make her one. If Schillinger's not so sure about those two dumbass boys of his I don't see why everyone else and their brother needs to get bent out of shape about it."

"If you felt like that all along, Colonel--" Metzger began.

"Look," the Colonel leaned forward, jaw thrust out, "you're all sore at me and I don't blame you. I'm pretty goddamn sore at Schillinger and this jackass shyster making me think this was about one thing when it was about something else all along. Mr. Beecher's been making me see that just about from day one, and his questioning of that colored boy this morning just cinched it for me."

"The jury might rule for you," Metzger pointed out.

The Colonel dismissed that with a snort. "Only if they're a bunch of dumbasses, too. No," he sat back, arms folded, resolution set in stone, "this isn't about corrupting those students of that Mr. Truman. It's about Schillinger and his CCM wanting to control what anybody read, says, or things because they're a bunch of ignorant assholes. Going along with that wouldn't make us any better than those Nazi sonsofbitches running around burning books and crap."

Flabbergasted didn't even come close to describing how Toby felt at that moment.

Judge Metzger looked equally bemused. "Well, Mr. Beecher, how does this set with you and Mr. Giles?"

Toby looked at Giles, who nodded his consent. "We would be agreeable, Your Honor -- with one proviso: that Colonel Galson issue a public apology to Mr. Giles." He didn't for a minute imagine that would really alter whatever ideas the public may have gotten fixed in their minds, Chris' article would likely be a lot more helpful in undoing any damage done to Giles' reputation, but a public statement was a good gesture -- and it had the added bonus of likely royally getting Vern's goat.

"Sure, I can do that," the Colonel said as if it would be no particular skin off his nose.

"In that case, gentlemen," Metzger said, getting to his feet, "case dismissed."

Chris watched everyone returning to the courtroom, trying to figure out what was going on. Whatever it was, Robson looked like he was about ready to blow a gasket, while Toby -- Toby looked as tickled as a guy could and not be the other side of loony. Even with that warning he wasn't ready to hear Metzger thank the jury for their time and excuse them, announcing that the case was dismissed.

Making his way through the milling crowd, all them buzzing with curiosity and speculation, Chris reached Toby's side just as he was snapping shut his brief case. "So...?"

"So," Toby looked at him with a secretive little smile, "case closed."

"And you won."

"Tobias made Colonel Galson reconsider his position," Giles said, beaming. "I'd chalk that up as a victory."

So would Chris. "See -- ya you had 'em eating out of your hand."

"I think you were referring to the jury, actually, not the plaintiff."

"What -- you're gonna quibble 'cause I
underestimated your powers of persuasion?" Chris teased, losing himself in Toby's eyes for a moment as Toby smiled back at him. "Uh... Yeah," he looked away with an effort, "I'm impressed."

Toby shot him a shy little grin. "I'm glad you're impressed."

Fuck, Chris was having a hard time finding anything else to look at. He focused on the polished toe of his shoe for a moment. "So what happens now?"

"Everyone goes home and gets on with their lives, and Robson," Toby looked over at his colleague haphazardly stuffing things in his brief case and looking like he was going to blow steam out his earns any moment, "gets to deliver the news to Vern."

"You know, he doesn't look too anxious to do that."

"Funny, I get that same impression."

Dangerously close to getting captured by Toby's beautiful eyes again, Chris abruptly focued on Giles, noticing the author was watching them with a whole lot of interest. "Congratulations, sir. You must be glad to have this over with."

"That would be putting it mildly, Mr. Keller," Giles answered as they moved along, heading out of the courtroom. "It's been very difficult to get any work done with all this hullabaloo going on."

"I can imagine," Chris said, holding the door for him and Toby. "Took me a long old time to get settled down and get the hang of reporting while the bullets were flying."

Toby and Giles each sent him a curious look as they all went down the steps, Toby asking, "This was when?"

"During the war in Spain, in 'thirty-six."

"Must've been a busy year for you."

"For awhile there, yeah." Until good ol' Vern had pulled the plug on it all.

"Well," Giles said, "I've never had to write while in combat -- thank you God," the younger men smiled, "but I admire anyone with the fortitude to do so." He halted in his progress, looking at Chris and Toby one step above. "If you don't mind my asking, are you the Christopher Keller who wrote In Fields Where Roses Lay in the Saturday Evening Post?"

"Umm, yeah," Chris said, a little cautious and caught off guard. Why would Giles be bringing up some nothing little story from two years ago?

"That was a marvelous story," Giles said, looking and sounding utterly sincere. "And forgive me, but there was such a feeling of authenticity to it -- was a it a little autobiographical?"

Somewhat uncomfortable with Giles' apparent enthusiams -- and with Toby avidly handing on every word -- Chris shrugged, resuming his progress down the steps. "Kind of, I guess. Mostly just the part where he's searching for his father's grave."

Expression sympathethic, Giles patted his arm. "Did you find it?"

Chris nodded, remembering a field of gravestones in France. "Yes."

"Yes, that read very true."

"Umm," Chris frowned, embarassed but sort of pleased, too. "Thanks." He stuffed his hands in his pockets, bit his lip, and didn't know what else to say.

"You're very welcome, Christopher." Giles gave him an indulgent look as if he understood exactly how Chris felt. "And if you're still interested in interviewing me I would be delighted to grant it."

"Yeah? That's great." Chris felt on much surer ground here, when the subject was somebody else. "When would be a good time?"

"How about tomorrow?" Giles said as they reached the sidewalk. "Perhaps you and Tobias could come to lunch at my home?"

Chris looked at Toby to see what he thought.

"Sure, that would be fine," Toby said, looking like he didn't quite know why he was being included, but not minding.

Chris didn't understand the inclusion, either, but he certainly had no objections and was pleased to see they were in accord there.

With time and place settled, Giles thanked Toby profusely once more, then took his leave of them, and a somewhat awkward moment descended as they just stood there in the middle on the sidewalk, not quite meeting each other's eyes or knowing exactly what to say next.

"Guess I should--"

"I'd better be--"

Speaking at once, they flashed each other flustered smiles and looked around at everything else, focusing on a pigeon who was living somewhat dangerously, avoiding pedestrians as it hunted for any tidbits of food on the hot cement. Those pedestrians weren't quite so tolerant of the two men standing there, blocking th way, however, and after a near-collision with a particularly harried woman out with her children, one in a stroller, they were finally motived to end the impasse.

"What were you going to say?" Chris prompted.

"Ah, just that I'm meeting my kids at the park in awhile," Toby checked his watch. Manner somewhat shy, diffident, but not unwelcoming, he said, "You're welcome to come along, if you'd like."

Toby wanted him to meet his kids? "Yeah, I could...do that." Even though he had no idea what it signified.

Looking pleased, Toby stepped to the curb, hailing a cab. "You mind if we stop by the office first?"

"No, not at all," Chris said as a taxi pulled up. They could go by way of Timbuktu for all he cared.

Thanks to Christy & Anne for some Central Park info; also National Geographic for their May 1993 issue which provided many useful video aids. I'm thinking some warnings may (finally) be required here, so...

The following contains a moment of ChrisAngst, which is directly related to a brief visual which may squick some sensitive members of the audience; it's over very quickly, however, and is meant to lead into a moment of UST almost immediately afterwards. OK? More UST follows in the park as our boys find themselves on the verge of succumbing to serious liplock. The author apologizes in advance if this causes any sense of frustration among the audience and can only suggest that if it's bad for you think how they feel. <Overhears what sounds like ChrisMuse muttering, "You got that right," but chooses to think this is directed at his supervising TobyMuse who's busy with a crossword puzzle.>

Let's see, I'm giving a little nod back to "The Philadelphia Story," with Chris' background. Macauley Connor's father had been a teacher in a small town, so some of that has been transferred to Chris here with a little tweaking around of details. (This was also part of the white tie & tails negotionation with ChrisMuse: "If DSR/HTF Chris can have a happy childhood, I want one, too. So there." Since he seldom asks for much, besides TobyMuse, it seemed a small enough thing to give in on. We're still discussing Spot the Wonder Dog, however.)

Anyway, here it is.


P.S. This part came out longer than expected, so the near miss kiss comes in part 7b. If by some act of yahoo weirdness, you don't get both parts, let me know and I'll try and figure out what's screwed up.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 7b/10

Chris looked around Toby's office with considerable interest. As expected everything was very neat and tidy, not too many personal touches, but he thought that might have a lot to do with Toby being kind of cautious about how much of himself he shared with others. What was there struck him as fairly significant, and he walked over to a cherrywood console table where a selection of family photos was arranged, paying particular attention to the three smallest Beechers whose bright faces beamed out from the majority of the frames. He picked up one of the whole family out at what Chris guessed would be the Long Island estate: a family portrait of sorts, with Harrison looking pleased as punch with his sons beside him and the grandkids -- who all looked like they couldn't wait to get out of their uncomfortable duds and get down to the seashore to play in the sand -- on the steps of an impressive-looking house.

He was also struck by the absence of the ex-wife from the arrangement. There were three older women featured, one of whom he guessed must be Toby's mother. "I was sorry to hear about your mother passing away."

Over at his desk, looking through a drawer, Toby shrugged. "Thanks. It was kind of a shock."

Chris could imagine, and he didn't blame Toby for not wanting to dwell on it, but he couldn't help being a little curious. "What was she like?"

Keeping all his attention on the box of paperclips he'd found, Toby said, "Sort of complicated."

"Yeah," Chris settled a hip on the desk, reaching for a glazed, fire engine-red shallow bowl that looked like a prime example of primitive art, "most people are, especially women, I think. Your kids make this?"

"Yeah, it's Holly's. I think it's supposed to be an ash-tray." Toby sat down in his padded leather chair, looking over at the photographs. "Chris... " He sighed. "There are some things I can't really talk about right now, and my mother is one of them."

"Oh." Chris wasn't entirely sure how to take that but decided this might be a good time to practice that not jumping to conclusions thing they'd talked about. "Because you don't want to run the risk I'd write it up for The Tattler?" May as well toss the ball right out there.

Toby flashed him an apologetic look, getting up to come around to him. "No. It's true it concerns some matters I don't want becoming public, but it's not because I'm concerned about what you might publish."

Brows drawn together, Chris considered that, and decided it couldn't hurt to ask that right out, either. "Is Devlin blackmailing you, Toby?"

The other man bit his lip, a worried look in his eyes. "I can't tell you that."

Chris cocked his head, looking back at him. "You know that's a yes, Toby. Come on -- he can't have anything that bad on you." And if he did, well, Chris was hoping O'Reily had something just as good, or better, on James Devlin.

"On me, specifically, no, I don't think so. It's...other members of my family." He gave Chris an anxious look. "It's not that I don't trust you, Chris--"

"There's no reason you should, you barely know me," Chris said, looking away, not sure why that mattered so much to him.

"I know enough," Toby told him, touching his arm, letting his hand rest there. "I'm handling it."

"Does your father know?"

Toby shook his head. "No, that's why all this play acting is necessary. He agreed to let Gen and Vern get married out at our estate so long as there was no press coverage." He made a wry face. "Dad thinks the only reason Vern asked Gen to marry him was because of her social connections, chiefly the ones she has to Dad, and he doesn't want to help Vern's social climbing."

"I can understand that, although I think Vern's got more than social climbing on his mind."

Toby looked like he thought so, too, now, and Chris wondered if it had been entirely wise to fill him on Vern's less publicized activities. Too late now, and if Toby was going to have much to do with Schillinger it might pay to know just what he was dealing with.

"Anyway," Toby said, moving his hand but staying close, "that's why my old friend Chris Keller and his Aunt Marie will be crashing the party." He frowned then, looking like something had just popped into his mind. "What about your connection to Vern? Is that going to be a problem?"

"Don't see why. He might know me to look at but that's all." Chris smiled, reaching over to straighten Toby's tie. "There's no reason for him to know I'm not your old pal from Harvard."

"I hope not. That could kind of throw a moneky wrench in things." Toby said, making a I-can-fix-my-own-tie face at him and taking a step back as if suspecting Chris might tidy something else. "Umm, did you go to college?" he asked, gaze fixed on the top of his desk.

Chris frowned at him, tempted to make one of those huffy little noises Toby went in for. "Nah, I got my liberal arts degree from some bum on the street," he said, wondering if he sounded as annoyed as he thought he did. Probably so going by the chastened look Toby sent him.

"I didn't mean--"

"Yeah, you did."

Toby huffed then -- and Chris had to bite back a smile. "Well, if I did, I'm sorry. And it wouldn't matter to me if you hadn't," he stated in a tone that dared Chris to dispute his sincerity. "As a matter of interest, however," he added after a moment, adjusting the placement of his pencil holder, "where did you go?"

"Georgetown. Respectable enough?"

Toby shot him a sly little smile, saying, "Enough to make me wonder how they let you in."

"Umm hmm," Chris refused to rise to the bait. "I'm sure they wondered that, too."

"So," Toby adopted a pose to match Chris', arms folded over his chest, "liberal arts? That why you wound up a reporter?"

"That, and Uncle Mike published the local paper back home. He kind of taught me the business from the ground up." Chris picked up a paperclip, bending it out of shape then back again. "Think he kind of hoped I'd take it over from him someday."

"Why didn't you?"

Chris shrugged. "Maybe I will yet -- Uncle Mike's still going strong, it's not like I had to decide then there. I kinda wanted to get out and see the world before settling down like that."

"At least you had the option," Toby said, looking a little wistful.

"What -- your folks insisted you had to become a lawyer?"

"Not exactly -- although it is the family tradition for as long as anybody knows. No," Toby tilted his head, thoughtful, "I love what I do, the law is what makes a civilized society possible; it's important and can make a difference. I don't have any regrets, it's not that. Sometimes, though," he sighed, "I kind of wonder what it might have been like to try something else."

"Yeah, well, I think everyone gets nudged along a little. I don't think Uncle Mike would have been as encouraging if I'd told him I wanted to join the circus or something."

Toby smiled. "Yeah, parents -- or aunts and uncles -- are funny that way. You mentioned an aunt, a real one?"

"Kate, yeah, my mom's sister. She's a school teacher back home -- or was, she finally retired a couple years ago." Chris put the paperclip back, wondering how Toby'd got him to talk so much about himself; he wasn't sure he'd told Kitty all that stuff in five years of marriage.

"A small town, huh?" Toby said, moving back around to finish looking through the drawer. "Guess that was another wrong-headed assumption."

"What?" Chris wondered what he was looking for.

"I don't know," Toby shrugged, coming up with an appointment book. "You just don't seem like the small town type."

"It's small, not bucolic -- it's not like we had cows clomping through town or anything."

Toby had his mouth open to reply to that when someone rapped on the door and Harrison Beecher stuck his head in. "Hi, Dad."

"Toby -- I just heard about your case," Harrison said, looking like he was very pleased with the news. "I guess you won't be mocking the cuff links now."

Grinning at the joke -- whatever it was -- Toby glanced at his cuff links. "Well, I'd almost believe it was some kind of magic."

"Nonsense, you did a fine job, Toby. I think this calls for some kind of celebration."

With a sort of aww, shucks manner, Toby said, "That's not really necessary, Dad."

"Maybe not, but I think you deserve something for all the work you put into the case," Harrison said with an indulgent look. "How about tonight? I can make reservations--"

"Ah, actually, Dad, I sort of have plans for tonight."

"Oh -- well," Harrison looked pleased about this, too. "Another date with Kitty?"

Chris turned away for a moment to hide his smile as Toby looked a bit disconcerted at that.

"No, not Kitty. Umm, Chris and I are going somewhere."

"Well, that's good, too. And pardon my manners, Chris," Harrison said, smiling over at him. "How are you today?"

"Just fine, sir."

"And your aunt Marie?"

"Full of vim and vigor."

"That's good. By the way, does she have any particular interests? I know you boys won't have any trouble keeping yourselves occupied but I thought your aunt might have something she'd especially like to do out at the house. Sailing, perhaps?"

"Ah," Chris tried to picture Mary Pete on a sailboat, but it sort of strained his imagination, "I'm not sure about sailing. I know she has an artistic bent."

"Really?" Harrison looked interested by this -- possibly even genuinely so. "Painting, that sort of thing?"

"Yes, and photography. She hardly ever goes anywhere without a camera."

"Well, I'm sure she'll find plenty of use for it. So, where are you boys going tonight?"

"Chris is taking me to see a friend of his, Leo--" Toby looked over at Chris for help.

"Glynn," Chris supplied the surname. "He's a former prize-fighter--"

"Yes, I know the name," Harrison said, evidently to his son's surprise. "He was a real contender, wasn't he?"

"I believe he was, sir." Chris gave the elder Beecher an interested look. "You follow boxing?"

"I used to; even boxed a little myself when I was in college." Harrison must have noticed Toby was sort of gaping at him, like he was wondering where his real father had got to. "Don't look so surprised, Tobias. I had a whole life before you ever came along."

Chris grinned at the huffy look Toby got then, matching the tone of his voice as he told his father, "I'm sure you did. I just didn't know you liked boxing."

"Well, your mother didn't care for it, that's why I never took you or Angus to the matches" A nostalgic gleam in his eyes, he said, "The last one I went to -- you were away at Harvard -- was in 'twenty-six, when Gene Tunney beat Jack Dempsey for the title."

Beechers, evidently, were just full of surprises, and Chris found himself warming to the elder Beecher; it suddenly made him feel like kind of a heel, too, playing this charade. And he supposed that was probably a good reminder to himself to not get much more deeply involved with the family. It was all built on a falsehood, after all, and eventually the truth would have to come out. He sort of doubted Harrison would be very understanding then. And Toby...? It was just a lot of foolish wishful thinking, wasn't it, that Toby was inviting something more between them. This was just a game, Chris couldn't start thinking it was anything more because it couldn't be. Right?

"You boys have a good time then," Harrison was saying, heading for the door. "But we'll still have that celebration -- maybe tomorrow?"

Toby nodded. "I suppose. But I still say it's not necessary."

"And I say it is," Harrison countered. "Oh, hello, Katherine."

"Mr. Beecher. Hello, Tobias."

Chris watched as Toby's father went out and a beautiful young woman came in, giving him only a cursory glance as they were introduced, all her energy zeroed in on Toby. Spirits plummeting even further, Chris made his way over to a row of glass-enclosed bookcases, trying not to overhear anything as Katherine gushed on about how wonderful 'Tobias' was, and how impressive he must have been today. He did turn for a moment, looking over at them and thinking they probably made a very attractive couple. He imagined they had all sorts of things in common. And they probably wouldn't have to lie to Toby's father about anything.


He frowned at their reflection in the polished glass -- feeling a sinking sensation in his belly as he watched them move closer together, watched Katherine lean in for a kiss. A very passionate kiss, and Chris closed his eyes, feeling like an idiot.

He had to get out of here, that was all he could think as he watched Toby give Karherine an affectionate nudge out the door. "Ah, listen," Chris managed to find his voice, "I guess I'd better be moving along."

For some reason Toby gave him a puzzled, disappointed look. "Now? I thought you were going to come meet the kids."

Yeah, so did he -- five minutes ago. "Yeah, well--"

"It won't take long," Toby insisted, "and I promise they don't bite or anything," he added, sounding like he meant that to be sort of teasing, or something. "You have to meet them sometime."


"Come on," Toby said, handing him his hat and taking him by the arm, steering him out of the office and along to the elevators. "You might even like them."

Short of telling Toby to fuck the hell off, Chris didn't know how to get out of this. Five minutes. He could do five minutes of watching Toby with his kids, and imagining what a pretty picture postcard they'd all make with Katherine added.

He was expecting it to be just about the most miserable five minutes of his life, though.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 7c/10

Toby scrubbed at his mouth again as he followed Chris out to the curb, not especially appreciating Katherine just laying one on him like that. What the hell was she thinking? And how did he diplomatically tell her to knock it off?

"Sorry about that," he said to Chris, by way of apology, as a cab pulled up and they got in; he couldn't Chris had found that display anymore amusing than he had.

His companion just shrugged, gazed locked out the window.

Toby told the driver to take them to Central Park, then settled back with a sigh. "You think Dad was serious or trying to pull one? I just cannot picture him in a boxing ring."

Chris' reply was a distant, "You never know with people."

"I suppose not. You'd think he might have mentioned that sometime in the course of thirty-five years, though." Given all the other Beecher family secrets floating around, however, this one wasn't so bad. Made him wish they were all as innocuous. "By the way, that was pretty smooth, mentioning how Aunt Marie has a passion for photography."

"Uh huh."

Frowning over at the other man, his withdrawn manner, Toby said, "Chris? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Chris replied, still not looking at him, still sounding a little chilly.

"You're awful quiet all of a sudden."

The broad shoulders lifted in an indifferent shrug. "Said it all, I guess."

"Oh, I doubt that. We haven't even gotten around to you reporting while the bullets were flying."

"Yeah, I'm sure you're anxious to hear all about that."

All right. Toby scooted around to face Chris -- except that Chris was still looking steadfastly out the window -- bothered by the frosty tone of his words. "Chris -- what is it? Look," he touched the other man's shoulder, rubbing lightly at the tensed muscle, "if you really don't want to see the kids--"

Chris pulled away from him, turning to face him now, expression guarded, but Toby thought there was something suspicious -- and a little bit wounded? -- is his eyes. "Katherine seen them?"

"Yes," Topy answered, not entirely sure what this was about, but sensing Chris was upset about something.

"They like her?"

"I don't know. I suppose. Chris--"

"Yeah," Chris sat back, arms folded over his chest, "kids need a mom."

"They need someone to love them," Toby said, venturing along carefully, an idea in his head that seemed ridiculous to him, but... "I'm not sure the mom or dad part matters that much, though. Chris--"

"So when are you asking her to marry you?"

Well that was too goddamn much. "Whenever Hell freezes over. Chris -- and don't interrupt me again -- she's a colleague, nothing more," Toby told him. "Will you look at me, please?" he asked, touching his arm, trying to pull him around.

Making it clear it was very grudgingly done, Chris shifted around to face him. "A colleague? She say hello to all her colleagues like that?"

"I have no idea -- it might give Abercrombie a good jolt, though," Toby said, thinking of one of the firm's more elderly members.

"And what about you? Do you get that friendly with all your colleagues?"

Toby's sigh was a little exasperated. "Look, she gave me the tonsilectomy, all right? And it was not a dream come true."

Adopting an air of utter indifference, Chris faced forward, back to not looking at him. "Hey, it's none of my business."

"Uh huh. That's why you're sitting there having a jealous hissyfit? Because it's none of your business?"

Mouth set a little petulantly, blue eyes glaring murder at him, Chris looked back at him. "I am not jealous, and I sure as fuck am not having a hissyfit."

"You're not, huh?" Toby knew if he valued his life -- and this just-beginning thing with Chris -- he didn't dare laugh like he wanted to; something told him Mr. Keller wasn't quite ready to find any of this amusing.


"Well that's good," Toby said, reaching over to clasp Chris' hand, "because there's no reason in the world you should be." He waited, holding on, feeling the rigidity of Chris' body slowly ease.

"Yeah?" Chris checked, cautious

"Yeah," Toby confirmed, gently squeezing his hand, twining their fingers together.

"Oh." Chris looked at their hands, then over at Toby, still looking a little put out. "Just a colleague?"

"Uh huh. And one who stepped way over the line."

"Didn't look like you minded."

"Then you weren't looking that closely."

"You could have stopped her."

"Well, next time I'll whip out a cross and try to keep her at bay the way they do vampires in the movies. How about that?"

Chris sent him an aggravated look. "It's not funny."

"Yeah it is." It was also incredibly flattering, in a really goofy sort of way. He had a feeling there was more going on, though, and asked, "That's not all, though, is it?"

Gazing at their clasped hands again, Chris said, "Toby -- even if... Look, what about when everyone has to find out you and me don't go back to Harvard and Mary Pete's not my aunt and--"

"Chris," he squeezed the strong hand again, "I don't know. It'll be awkward."

"It'll be a fuck lot more than awkward."

"Maybe." He shrugged, repeated, "I don't know. I don't care right now."

"Well maybe you should."

Probably -- but he didn't. "We'll handle it."

Chris looked at him, expression open again, some worry still lurking in those blue depths, though. "We will, will we?"

"Yes. Chris -- I don't know what the hell is going on here, either... " He bit his lip. "But I like it. And I don't want it to stop." He doubted that amounted to much in the powers of persuasion department, he could only hope Chris would believe him anyway.

Chris looked at him for a timeless moment, searching for something, a shy little smile flickering at his mouth when he appeared to find what he wanted. "I'm sorry, I...guess that falls under making unwarranted assumptions," he said quietly.

"I guess. Maybe kind of warranted, though, all things considered."

"She's nice looking."

Toby nodded. "She's very nice looking. Smart, and a really good lawyer, too."

Chris was watching his face very carefully, looking mildly pissed. "You really think you're funny, don't you?"

Grinning at him, Toby said, "Get used to it."

Chris sat back with a heartfelt sigh. "I'm either gonna end up in a rubber room after this week or..."

"Or what?" Toby prompted and felt a sweet shiver course through him as Chris looked at him with more warmth and affection than Toby thought he'd ever seen in someone's eyes.

"Or -- "

Live happily ever after? Chris thought, knowing he couldn't say that, but wondering if Toby was reading it in his eyes anyway.

Oh God. That wasn't so far off, either, not the rubber room part. When Mary Pete was telling him how she'd felt when she fell in love with her husband how come she'd skipped right over this part, about how you went completely out of your mind?

Noticing the taxi driver was giving them odd looks in the rearview mirror, Chris thought it was probably a good thing they'd reached the park.

"So your kids don't bite, huh?" Chris said as made their way through the park, heading in what looked like the direction of the carousel.

"Not usually," Toby said, smiling, in step beside him. "I should warn you they can be sort of shy of strangers."

"That's okay. I'm sort of shy of kids."

Toby came to a dead stop at that, and Chris cast him a curious look. "What?"

"Oh," Toby said after another moment, walking on, "I was just trying to picture you being shy -- it kind of boggled me."

Yeah, Chris could just see him getting boggled. "Very funny."

Grinning, Toby caught him by the arm and tugged him along. "Come on."

Chris went, wondering if the youngest Beechers thought they were humorous, too.

"Of course," Toby said, looking on as Chris told Gary about his motorcyle, a 1937 Indian Sport Scout, which apparently was a very major deal to judge by Gary's enthusiam, "you couldn't do anything so mundane as just drive a car like everybody else."

Chris gave him a puzzled look. "What's wrong with riding a bike?"

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it," Toby replied, hands in his pockets as he leaned against a tree, watching Holly and Harry who had returned to the joys of the merry-go-round after their introduction to Chris; Harry had been his usual live and let live self, Holly had fixed this tall, dark stranger with a skeptical look that said she'd take him under consideration and get back to them with a final decision at her leisure, and Gary -- evidently anybody who rode an actual, for real motorcyle was vastly more interesting than his stick-in-the-mud dad. "I just implied it was a very you sort of thing for you to do."

"Well what the f -- what does that mean? Why would I do something that wasn't like me?"

"You wouldn't, obvbiously. Lots of people just do whatever everyone is doing, though."

"And what about you, Toby? What do you do?" Chris said, giving him a look that dared him to not follow the crowd.

Toby met that gaze, matched it, told Gary, "Stay with Patricia and your brother and sister."

"Where are you going, Daddy?" Gary said as Chris got to his feet.

"Chris and I need to talk about something."

"Oh." Gary nodded, still at the age when simple answers were sufficient, and picked up his toy motorcyle to go back Patricia's side.

"What do we have to talk about?" Chris said, voice soft.

"Umm," Toby caught his arm, tugging him away, suddenly thinking it was extremely considerate of whoever had laid out this park to include so many little secluded spots, "I think we need to clarify just how well we knew each other at Harvard."

"Yeah?" Chris leaned back against another tree, just watching him, letting Toby drink in the sight of him there in the dappled sunlight.

"Like I said," Toby moved closer, "we couldn't have been roommates, Dad met all of them. But I think we must have done a lot more than just crew together."

"I bet we studied together."

"In the library?"

"Maybe in our rooms, sometimes."

Toby was about as close as he could get. Just about. "What did we study?" he asked.

"I forget."

A ladybug had landed on Chris' shirt collar; Toby reached to brush it away. Somehow his fingers brushed against Chris' throat, stroked along his jaw, his cheek. "Me, too," he whispered, watching his thumb skim along Chris' lips. His hand slipped around the back of Chris' head, cupping the nape of his neck, his eyes drifting shut for a moment as he felt Chris touching him in the same way. When he opened them, they were impossibly close, soft puffs of breath caressing each other's faces, mouths yearning towards each other, a feather-light touch that made them tremble and try to burrow closer into each other's arms--

"Tobias!" Goodson Truman's voice rang out. "Tobias! Patricia said you were around here!"

"Goddman it," Chris whispered, forehead resting against Toby's.

Toby echoed the sentiment, fervently.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 8a/10

Not wanting to have this moment end, afraid another like it would never come if they lost this one, and aching to finish it, to kiss Toby's lips and learn the taste of him, Chris held onto him as Goodson Truman's voice rang out. And Toby -- Toby didn't push him away, didn't tell him to stop. No, Toby pressed closer, his arms around Chris' neck, stroking his cheek sensuously against Chris' face. His own arms were around Toby's waist, hands kneading the small of his back, sighing into the golden hair as one hand drifted up there to catch in the silken curls at his nape.

"You should probably see what he wants," Chris murmured in Toby's ear, longing to kiss him there, kiss him anywhere -- knowing he'd never be able to stop once he started, though. And as much as he wanted to stay locked in this one blissfully perfect moment forever, he sighed, a pretty harsh reality was likely to come tromping through the trees any moment now. Even so, it was difficult to let him go, step back, fingertips grazing the contours of his face, unable to stop marveling at the sight of him.

"I guess so," Toby said, voice pitched to an intimate tone that Chris wanted to believe was for him alone. He caught his breath as Toby reached to cover his hand, press his cheek into Chris' palm, eyes locking onto his with a look that only fed the hunger in Chris' belly. A look that held its own hunger and promised this was just the beginning.

Chris held onto that promise as he watched Toby walk away. He sank back against the tree, face tilted up to the light shining through the leaves, exhaling a deep breath. This was it, what he'd been searching for in so many eyes, thinking for awhile he'd found it in Kitty and trying not to be disappointed when it turned out to be something very ordinary. He liked going to bed with Kitty and she was a lot of fun to be with -- but there had never been anything like this longing to just be near Toby, to look into his eyes and feel like he'd finally found some long-missing, precious beyond price part of himself.

Love -- he was in love, and it was so much more than he had ever imagined. He'd never dreamed you could feel this much, or that its immensity could almost be terrifying.

And maybe the most amazing thing of all was that he wasn't alone. Jesus Christ, he'd never thought anything could feel that good.

Barely registering what Goodson was saying -- some enthusiastic congratulations about the outcome of the case, he gathered that much -- Toby glanced a little anxiously at the path Chris ought to be walking, worried as there continued to be no sight of him. He had the sudden irrational fear that, having taken his eyes off Chris, the other man had vanished. Maybe he was going to wake up any minute and discover this had all been some fevered dream and there was no Christopher Keller? Everything felt so ethereal right now, he could almost believe that.

He'd almost kissed Chris, had been within a hairsbreadth of knowing what his mouth felt like, tasted like -- if Goodson hadn't come bellowing along. And now Goodson stood there, smiling, chattering away, and all Toby wanted was for everyone to go away so he could go back to that magical spot and wrap himself back into Chris' arms to finish what they'd started. Closing his eyes for a moment, taking some deep, calming breaths, Toby told himself there would be time enough for that. He'd make sure of it, somehow.

Then he caught sight of Chris coming towards him at last and knew he was probably smiling like he'd just won the Irish Sweepstakes. But, hell, that's how he felt. Why should he hide it?

He would have slipped his arm around Chris, just the way Goodson was standing there with Patricia, except Chris dodged the move, shooting him a look that so clearly told him to behave himself that Toby felt another grin stretching his mouth.

"Goodson Truman -- Christopher Keller," he said, introducing the two men, not entirely sure he liked the way the way they seemed to be sizing each other up and reaching the mutual conclusion to be rather dubious of one another.

"What do you do, Mr. Keller?"

"Chris is a writer, too," Toby said.

Goodson acknowledged some slight interest in that. "Really? What do you write?"

"He's had short stories published -- one in the Saturday Evening Post a couple of years ago, and has done a lot of foreign correspondence," Toby once more answered for Chris, drawing a curious look from Goodson, and an annoyed one from Chris.

"Can't Mr. Keller answer for himself?" Goodson asked, giving Chris a challenging look.

"Yeah, Mr. Keller can answer for himself fine," Chris said, insolence rolling off his tongue and permeating his manner. He looked at Toby then, irritation flashing clear in his eyes. "I'm not fucking Charlie McCarthy."

It was on the tip of Toby's tongue to say, 'You'd damned well better not be,' but that rapidly developing instinct was telling him his attempt at humor might fall a little flat in this instance. "I didn't mean to imply you were," he said, achieving a neutral tone. "It's just that Goodson writes as well. He's been working on a biography of his grandfather for some while now." He looked back at Goodson then. "How's that coming? Patricia said you were almost done."

"I am," Goodson said, posture relaxing a little -- out of the corner of his eye Toby saw Chris easing up as well. "I've had a few people look at it and express some interest." He lifted his shoulders slightly. "I'm somewhat more optimistic than before." He looked at Chris again, a little more open. "You're primarily a journalist, Mr. Keller?"

"Primarily," Chris agreed.

"That must be an interesting line of work."

"I usually think so. You still teaching, Mr. Truman?"

"I hope to be. I find it very rewarding."

There, that wasn't so bad, Toby thought. Although he would have felt better if they didn't keep eyeing each other suspiciously.

Stepping into the not-quite-awkward silence, Patricia said, "Foreign correspondent? That sounds romantic."

Chris' shrug was a little diffident, even as he smiled at her, turning on the charm -- but muting it as he caught sight of Toby frowning a little. "I don't know about that, ma'am. It's a little hard to find the romance when you're walking through the burned out remains of someone's hometown, or watching them gather up the bodies."

"No, I suppose it is," Patricia said, looking like she was sort of sorry she'd asked now.

And Toby had a feeling that whatever Chris wrote by way of fiction, it probably wasn't comedy.

Giving him a thoughtful look, he kind of had a feeling he wasn't ever going to be bored, discovering all the things going on in that handsome head.

Chris stared, nonplussed, at Harry Beecher, reaching up to tug at his coat. "What's he want?" he asked Toby.

"Probably for you to pick him up," Toby told him, his own arms full with Holly as Gary walked along beside him. "Bet you're all tuckered out from a long day on the merry-go-round, huh?" he asked his youngest.

Chris didn't find that answer especially helpful. He looked at the smallest Beecher, at Toby, on down the street at the Beecher residence still a considerable distance away (especially if you were only four years old), sighed, and reached down to scoop Harry up -- disconcerted once more as Harry looped an arm around his neck and appeared ready to settle in comfortably. "He doesn't drool or anything, does he?" he asked, guessing he should be pleased to provide Toby with so much amusement.

"Well, he's almost housebroken. And if there are any accidents I'll pay for your dry-cleaning." Toby shot him a curious look as they walked on. "You really are shy of kids, aren't you?"

"Just never been around them much."

"It might be a good idea to start getting used to them," Toby said, and Chris looked over at him, thinking about what that meant, and deciding maybe Toby had a point there.

Even so, he was kind of relieved when they got to the front steps of the Beecher house and, once Toby had set Holly down, he could place a sleepy Harry in his father's arms.

"I...guess I'll see you." In about two hours. For a date. Oh God.

Toby smiled, nodding. "I guess you will."

"Umm, okay, then." After another long moment, committing to memory the sight of Toby standing there, surrounded by his children, Chris managed to make himself move, hail a cab and get in, feeling like he was drawing his first really deep breaths in hours as the cab pulled away into traffic.

A date, tonight. And they'd almost kissed in the park.

Oh God.

He sank down in the seat, pulling his hat down, wondering if you could die of twitterpation.

And yet some more... <sigh> Hope no one's thinking this is kind of too much of a good thing, because I'm not done yet. I sort of promised to get the first kiss posted before Christy takes her long vacation, so that kind of means popping these puppies out pretty quickly for awhile yet.

Let's see... Some warnings may apply. There is a m/f moment, as Kitty shares one of her fondest memories with you; and somebody gets a little carried away with himself in the shower (this is not the wet dream, though). Otherwise it's more of the same.


P.S. I've proofed it several times, so typos should be minimal to (hopefully) nonexistent.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 8b/10

Checking the clock and seeing it was about time to close up shop here, Kitty got her desk straightened up, then rummaged through her purse for her compact to see what needed some freshening. Thanks to the fan whirring away on the bookcase to her right she wasn't feeling too wilted, and was pleased to see she looked like she was holding up pretty well, too. Chris was always teasing her about being vain, and maybe there was something to that, but she sort of thought he was a fine one to talk. When she'd called him on it, him sprawled across their bed, all playful/lazy and flaunting that body that you knew was just made for sinning, he'd smirked and admitted, 'Well, maybe it ain't vanity if you really got something to show off.' And if that's how it worked, well, Kitty reckoned she had as much right to some as he did, and she fished out a tissue to blot her lips before freshening up her candy apple red lipstick. She'd sure never had any complaints out of him.

Smiling at that, and thinking about the heat, Kitty had to admit there were some things that could be said in favor of a nice hot day like this, her thoughts drifting back to a hot Sunday afternoon last summer, when she and Chris were still together. She'd finally got him to go cut the grass in the backyard, and while she relaxed on the porch swing, sipping a tall, cool glass of lemonade she'd let her eyes feast on her husband. Chris'd been stripped down to nothing but a pair of work boots and shorts made from a pair of his worn out old blue jeans, the soft denim hugging his behind real nice. She could close her eyes now and picture him clear as anything, his tanned skin glistening with sweat as he pushed the mower across the lawn, the air filling with the scent of fresh-cut grass, the hot air growing heavy as she'd watched the beads of sweat rolling down his chest. She licked her lips at the memory, seeing herself pressing the cool glass to her cheek, fishing out an ice cube to press against her wrist, her throat, watching him watch her. Chris had come over to her, reaching for the glass and taking a long, long swallow of the tart lemonade as she'd stroked his belly. Kitty remembered how he'd shuddered as she'd kissed him there, her tongue licking up the salty taste of his skin. He'd urged her to settle back in the swing, raising one knee as Chris ran his hand up along her bare leg, up to her thigh, his fingers stroking the inside, soft and slow as he leaned in to kiss her mouth like he'd taken special courses in kissing till that alone could turn you to jelly -- or written the book on it, even. Kitty could feel his lips branding her skin even now, trailing along her throat, his beautiful fingers undoing the front of her dress, pushing the fabric off her left shoulder, kissing her there, and along her collarbone, bending his head to her exposed breast as she combed her fingers through his damp hair...

Kitty sighed, opening her eyes, a very satisfied smile curving her lips at that memory. She bet Miss Howell across the way had gotten herself quite an eyeful that day.

Waiting for the fan to cool her down again, Kitty had to admit she was going to miss that. He might not have been the most faithful husband, but she'd begun to get used to that, accepting it as just part and parcel of how he was about everything. She guessed it was just his curiosity, this desire to sample just about anything passing by because of not wanting to miss a chance at finding whatever it was he was looking for. And wasn't it funny how she'd been given more pause by some of the other women he'd dallied with than in discovering that, every now and then, Chris' eyes wandered over to another man. Bonnie Fitzgerald, for instance: Kitty still wasn't sure if she'd been more floored by her walking up to them at The Flying Monkey Cafe that time and, bold as brass, saying she wanted to sculpt Chris, or at Chris looking at Bonnie like he wouldn't mind taking her to bed at all. Kitty was ashamed of herself now, judging Bonnie like that; she was a little envious, too, knowing Bonnie could talk to Chris about things Kitty never could, and that had as much to do with why he liked her as anything. Angelique was like that, too, talking to him about her painting. She'd gotten him to pose for her, too, of course.

No, that man had no business calling anyone vain, Kitty thought, smiling, knowing she wouldn't want him any other way.

Funny, though, he hadn't been preening last night, with Toby. No, he'd been looking like this time it was him getting swept off his feet. She'd thought at first maybe Chris was just having some fun with Toby, and maybe it had even started out that way for him but it sure looked to Kitty like he'd been caught big time. It sure looked like the feeling was mutual, too. And if anyone had told her ten years ago that she'd be hoping for her ex-husband to find the love of his life with another man, she was pretty sure she'd have said they were nuts. Six years of having Chris Keller in your life, though, it kind of changed the way you looked at a lot of things.

Looking around as Tim came out of his office, hat shoved back on his head and carrying his jacket, she said, "Ready to call it a day?"

"Yeah, more than ready. Walk you out?"

"I won't say no." She'd heard Tim McManus had been quite a skirt chaser awhile back and had asked him once why he'd never tried anything on with you. He'd replied that, a) he didn't want her husband beating the crap out of him, and b) he'd sort of gotten over all that and settled down. Then she'd wondered how come his special ladyfriend never came around to the office to see him, or joined them for drinks, thinking it was funny she only saw him with that big, good looking Irish cop, Sean Murphy. She'd stopped wondering the evening she'd come back from the ladies room at The Emerald Room and seen Timmy touching Sean's knee under the table.

They were pretty discreet about it, and she supposed a whole lot of people believed they were just roommates. As they got outside and were greeted by Sean and Tim Bayliss just getting out of their unmarked police car, Kitty wondered if Bayliss was one of those who knew there was just a little more going on between Sean and Timmy. Going by how Timmy just sort of clapped Sean on the back in greeting, she had a feeling Det. Bayliss hadn't quite worked that one out yet.

Well, he'd only been here about six months, coming up from Baltimore in the winter. Giving him a good look over as he smiled at her and held the car door, offering to give her a lift home since Sean was going with Timmy, Kitty thought it just might be worth getting to know him better. So, when he asked her if she had any plans tonight, she let him know that while she wasn't free tonight if he asked about tomorrow she wouldn't say no.

By the time he'd walked her to her door they'd agreed he'd take her to The Emerald Room tomorrow night, and Kitty had to admit it was awful sweet how he only shook her hand when the said good night. Mind you, she thought, if he was inclined to do a little more Friday night she might not tell him no.

"I've got you under my skin
I've got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me I've got you under my skin

"I've tried so not to give in
I've said to myself this affair never will go so well But why should I try to resist, when I know so well That I've got you under my skin."

Ryan lounged back against the wall, hands in his pockets, one foot crossed over the other, as he watched Gloria rehearsing, her sultry voice doing things with a Cole Porter lyric he bet Cole'd never dreamed of. He grinned a little as she looked over at him, her dark eyes not shying away from him as she sang:

"I'd sacrifice anything come what might For the sake of having you near
In spite of the warning voice that comes in the night And repeats and repeats in my ear

"Don't you know, you fool, you never can win Use your mentality, wake up to reality
But each time I do just the thought of you Makes me stop before I begin,"

She looked right at him then, like she was singing it straight to him and nobody else as she finished:

"'Cause I've got you under my skin."

Damn. He'd thought she'd seemed a little different when she'd come in today, not giving him quite as much of the cold-shoulder treatment, not so many suspicions and doubts in her eyes whenever he'd looked her way, and all of a sudden Ryan couldn't help thinking there just might be a little thaw heading their way.

Keller better have some goddamn news for him when they saw each other tonight at Leo's, because Ryan didn't want anything coming between them, once he and Gloria started working on that heat wave.

Standing under a cool shower, Chris closed his eyes, turning his face up into the spray as he soaped himself, rubbing the lather over his throat, chest, his stomach, an overactive imagination putting Toby in the shower with him, turning it into Toby's hands gliding over his wet chest, pulling at his nipples. Toby's hands sliding down his belly, lower; Toby's strong, sure hand encircling his cock, stroking, pumping... With a shudder Chris came into his own hand, opening his eyes to watch his release swirling down the drain.

He sighed, leaning against the cool tiles. It would be nice to think this little bit of relief would help take the edge off, make it easier to get through tonight without wanting to be all over Toby -- but he doubted it.

Chris turned off the water and got out of the combination tub-and-shower, reaching for a towel, leaving it on the floor as he walked into his bedroom, opening his closet and a feeling a little irritated to realize just how much time he was devoting to figuring out what to wear. He reached for one suit then put it back, remembering that's the one he'd worn when he'd married Kitty. Kitty -- she'd picked out that dark blue one for him, saying it brought out his eyes real pretty. He made a grimace at that, somehow doubting Toby would be giving him a similar compliment, but... What the hell, he had to wear something, and this was as good a choice as any.

As he stood before the dresser mirror, fumbling with his tie, he closed his eyes and counted to ten -- no, twenty, willing himself to settle down. Feeling more in control of himself, he managed to get his tie fixed, then had trouble fastening his cuff links and had to take another moment to calm himself. He just hoped to Christ Toby was in this boat, too, that the lawyer was feeling these same butterflies romping around in his belly and alternating between grinning like a loon and wanting to just sit down and have...hysterics, or something.

Downstairs, hearing the taxi cab beep its horn, Chris took another look at himself in the hall mirror, resisted the urge to snatch up the phone and call to say something had come up and he was chickening out, and walked out to the curb. How bad could it be? They'd go to Leo's, play some poker, Floria'd feed them, maybe they'd go down the street to see who Augie had playing at his place -- what could go wrong?

His imagination was all too willing to supply answers to that, and they played through his mind all the way back to Fifth Avenue.

"Hey, mac, this the place or not?"

Chris blinked, realizing that they were there. "Yeah, this...is the place." He paid the driver, got out, and stood on the sidewalk looking up at the house. Toby was in there somewhere, waiting to see him, probably feeling just as goofy. He could do this.

All the same, as he walked up the steps and rang the bell, he almost wished he was back in Spain dodging bullets. At least he knew what the fuck to expect there.

Then the door was opening and instead of the butler he'd sort of been expecting it was Harrison Beecher standing there, smiling, like some guy dropped by every evening to pick up his son. "Hello, Chris. Come on in, Toby should be down soon." As he escorted Chris along to what he guessed would be some kind of formal drawing room or something, Harrison looked over at the stairs, at a young man Chris thought was probably Toby's younger brother. "Angus, go tell your brother Chris is here. I don't know what's taking him so long," he added to Chris.

Chris bet he knew.

"Well, sit down, make yourself at home," Harrison told him as Chris stood, taking in his surroundings and finding they weren't at all what he'd been expecting. Nothing at all like the stiff and stuffy museum set pieces he was accustomed to finding in these homes. "Can I get you something?"

"Uh, no, thank you, sir," Chris said, removing a Raggedy Anne doll a chair before he sat down.

"That's Holly's," Harrison said, taking it from him. "I'm afraid the children aren't very good at picking up after themselves -- and the rest of us aren't much better," he added, smiling again.

Yes, Chris kind of got that impression from the comfortably cluttered look of this room: books, magazines, and newspapers strewn over the big coffee table, a chess game left in progress, sheets of music left out on the baby grand over by the
floor-to-ceiling window. "I'm not the world's best housekeeper, either," he said, because he had to say something and that was all that popped into his head.

"You're a bachelor, then?" Harrison had settled into what clearly his chair, looking over at him.

"Well, I am now."

"Oh -- then you were married?"

"Yes, five years. I'm divorced now."

Harrison nodded, sympathy on his face. "I'm sorry to hear that, I know how difficult that can be."

"Well, we're still pretty friendly," Chris said, thinking that was probably an understatement given he'd spent last weekend with Kitty, helping her move into her new apartment and not saying no when she'd asked him to bed. Until yesterday, in fact, he'd sort of been wondering just why they'd bothered getting the divorce when nothing had really changed between them. Yesterday, though, everything had changed, hadn't it, the moment he'd looked into a pair of sky blue eyes?

"What's her name?"

He had his mouth open to say 'Kitty,' then changed his mind and said, "Catherine," giving Harrison her proper name. No reason Toby's dad needed to be wondering how his son's new girlfriend, and his son's friends' ex-wife happened to have the same name. And just thinking about that reminded him of what a potential disaster this all was, like some farce playing out.

"Do you have any children?" Harrison went on with the quiz, and Chris wished to hell Toby would hurry up and get down here. What the fuck was he doing up there? he wondered, casting a look at the ceiling as he said, "No, sir, we never got around to that." Come on, Toby, get the fuck down here.

"Hey," Angus leaned in the doorway of Toby's room, watching his big brother put on one tie, take it off, reach for another one, frown at it like he expected it to tell him the secret of life or something, then toss that back on the bed and grab another, "your date's here," he said, smirking as Toby threw an irritated look over at him.

"Very funny. I know." He'd heard the doorbell ten minutes ago -- and it had taken five of those minutes for his heart to stop racing. And he knew his brother had no idea how right he had it pegged.

Checking himself in the mirror one more time, Toby guessed he'd made himself as presentable as he could: light gray suit, blue tie, hair combed, nothing stuck in his teeth... Oh God. He was either going to have the time of his life tonight, or die.

Right now he'd put his money on the dying part.

Patting himself down to make sure he had everything he needed -- wallet, housekeys -- he went out, walking alongside Angus as they went downstairs, more nervous than when he'd been waiting for the results of his bar exam

Funny how that all started to evaporate as he neared the living room, hearing his father and Chris discussing the merits of Lord Peter Wimsey versus Hercule Poirot. And as he walked in and met Chris' eyes, all the butterflies camping out his stomach suddenly disappeared and it was all he could do not to just stand there, grinning like a fool at the sight of him. Somehow his voice came out sounding normal as he said, "Don't tell me Dad's spilled our deepest secret, that we're addicted to detective stories."

"Kind of hard to keep a secret like that when the evidence is all over the place," Chris said, looking like he'd also just had a tremendous weight lifted off him as he indicated a stack of books on the coffee table, two issues of The Shadow revealed as well.

"Well, I guess we'd better be going," Toby said, giving Chris a look that asked him to back him up on this.

Which he did, saying, "Yeah, guess we had. It was a pleasure meeting you again, sir," he added, shaking Harrison's hand, nodding to Angus.

"You, too. Have a good time tonight."

"We will, Dad." Just, possibly, not exactly the way his father meant it, of course.

No major warnings for this installment, except that thar be sap and angst ahead -- but that's probably a given by now. Also, they don't kiss again in this installment. But they are abouththisclose to breaking that particular pattern. I gather there may be some slight interest in that. <g>

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 9a/10

On second thought maybe this had't been such a bad idea, Chris was deciding as Floria brought them each a second slice of her sweet potato pie. Belatedly it had crossed his mind that as romantic rendezvous spots went, Leo's Place probably did not place high in the rankings. If he'd thought about it -- if he'd known to think about it beforehand -- he could have thought of many other places to take Toby where the ambience would have been much more conducive to seduction. Here, with the atmosphere as warm as the air being circulated by the ceiling fans, evoking a comfortable intimacy that felt a million times better than the anxious, emotional turbulence that had marked most of their encounters so far, if the setting did not lend itself to weaving a web of sexual intimacy, it did encourage a deeper sense of connection.

Besides, seduction was not the objective here. Not exactly, not entirely. He didn't doubt he could get Toby in his bed at this point -- he had him curious, tempted, Chris was sure of that much. But what he didn't know was if, once he got Toby there, he could keep him. And he wanted to keep him, he wanted Toby to be so much more than just another conquest, and he needed to know the other man wanted that, too. Maybe a place like this, with its blue-checkered tablecloths and enough light that Leo could keep an eye on things and Floria could be sure everyone was cleaning their plates, big band music on the radio but nothing overtly romantic, could be an asset to achieving that. It let them settle down into the kind of intimacy Chris had about given up on finding, beginning to figure he just wanted too much. Maybe not, though. Maybe you could hook up with someone on all those different levels and find common ground outside the bedroom. Hell, he was discovering you could even be quiet for awhile and not start feeling uncomfortable, worried that your partner wasn't being sufficiently entertained.

The restaurant was probably helpful there as well. Chris was reasonably certain Toby had never been to a place like this and there appeared to be quite a lot here to engage his interest. Possibly a little too much, Chris found himself thinking as he forked up another piece of pie. Toby had gotten a little too interested when Floria had brought up Kitty's name, wanting to know what Chris was doing here without her and informing him -- for about the hundredth time -- that it beat her what he'd been thinking, divorcing a fine girl like that. On the plus side, Chris was pretty sure he'd seen a flicker of jealousy cross Toby's face there for a moment at the implication he and Kitty still saw quite a lot of each other. That made him feel a little better over that business with Katherine McClain. On the other hand, however, while Toby had not automatically pursued that, Chris wasn't going to foolishly assume he was off the hook and would not be asked to explain all that.

Fortunately Floria had focused her attention on Toby, and Chris knew he had enjoyed that entirely too much, watching Toby try to get a word in edgewise as Floria chattered away, shaking her head over him being another one with no mama to feed him -- "No wonder you're all skin and bones like this one." She hadn't been impressed at learning he was also divorced, although finding out he'd at least bothered to have some children had mollified her somewhat. She'd still wanted to know what he was doing out gallivanting with Chris when he had those little angels waiting at home. Handing Toby back his wallet after having a good look at the kids' pictures, Floria had said she'd bring them something to put some meat on their bones, and Chris had gotten a kick out of that, too, watching Toby's growing dismay as he'd looked over the menu, remarking, "I never knew so many parts of a hog were edible," and wanting to know exactly what chitlins were anyway. Chris telling him, "You'd probably be happier not knowing," hadn't seemed to reassure him much.

Chris knew Floria hadn't missed Toby's look of relief when she had returned with nothing more exotic than a platter of her fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread, and black-eyed peas and rice. She'd smiled and shared a knowing wink with him, lingering long enough to make sure Toby's plate would be coming back empty before going off to "see what the simple-minded Omar was wanting. And why that boy's mama lets him out without a keeper I do not know, but then Della's never had a lick of sense herself..."

This was all clearly something new for Tobias Beecher, from Floria's effervescent personality to the menu to theirs being only two of about half a dozen white faces in the place, but Chris appreciated that Toby was making a real effort to enjoy himself. And maybe it wasn't even that much of any effort after awhile. Chris kind of liked the idea that Toby wasn't just being polite, that he really wanted to see the parts of the world where Chris was most at home.

Finished with the pie, seeing Toby was as well, Chris took a drink of lemonade and asked, "So you think you might want to come here again?"

Toby took a drink of lemonade, too. "Sure," he said, sounding casual, before looking across the table to meet his eyes. "As long as I've got some company."

Chris hastily broke that eye contact before Floria could spot what was going on here and he had yet one more person giggling themself goofy over his predicament. Not that it was a predicament, of course, or even embarassing. Nothing remotely like that. He just didn't want the whole wide world in on it yet and wished he could do a better job of not advertising his feelings all over tha place. On that basis he could almost wish this was a simple, nothing much at stake, seduction. He knew how those worked, he had those aced. This -- he'd never done this before and it was too new and dazzling for him to find any of it very funny at the moment.

That Toby could was one of Chris' chief sources of concern that the lawyer might not be as serious about all this, that it might just be a kind of lark for him. Sure, it was good that he could glance up and catch Toby watching him and looking a little distracted, just because he was sucking some grease off his thumb, but why did Toby also spend a whole lot of time looking like this was some big ol' hoot? He wished he could ask him, outright, but if Toby was just having some fun here, looking for a little break from the usual routine, Chris didn't really want to know and have to end up feeling like an idiot. Not any sooner than he had to, anyway.

He wasn't even sure he wanted to find out, beyond any doubt, that Toby was feeling exactly the same, wanting the same things. That would be a fuck of a bridge to cross, wouldn't it? Of course they had already gone a little ways along it, what with the park and all, but that still didn't have to mean Toby was wanting anything more than a summer fling.

Chris had never wanted so badly to find out he was wrong about something, though.

Toby wished he could get a better read on what was going on in Chris' mind right now. One moment he was looking as smug as a cat up to his whiskers in the cream, the next his blue were shadowed with something that made him compress his lips and gaze down at his empty plate, a worried frown furrowing his brow. Somehow he didn't think Chris was fretting about the pie.

He wished he knew how assure Chris he really was having a great time here, if that's what had him worried. They had plenty of time to enjoy something more traditional in the romantic dinner for two line, after all, and this had been fun, discovering a world he'd always tended to walk right past up to now. Funny, he'd never doubted that old bromide about how travel broadened the mind, he'd just never suspected you could achieve that within only a few miles of home. It made him wonder what other little excursions Chris might take him on, what other horizons might be expanded in the process.

Before they went much further, however, Toby did want to make sure he was clear on something, however, and he sat back in his chair, looking across at the other man. "So -- Kitty?"

Looking at him, rueful resignation in his eyes, Chris said, "Yeah?"

"You know, when most people get divorced they tend to stop sleeping with their former spouse." He didn't miss the surprised look Chris shot him; in fact he appreciated that reaction since it might be a good idea for Mr. Keller to keep in mind this was a two-way street: if Chris didn't like Katherine kissing him, Toby didn't see why he should be expected to not mind if Chris was still going to bed with his ex. "Well? And, 'Yeah, but I'm not most people,' will not be an acceptable answer in this instance." Funny, he'd meant that to come out sort of playful; it sure sounded dead serious to his ears, though.

Looked like Chris had heard it the same, because he looked very intent as he said, "That's just what me and Kitty always did best." He leaned in a little, searching Toby's eyes again. "It doesn't mean anything."

"How can it not mean anything?"

"It's just," Chris looked down at the tablecloth, fingers tracing a pattern ovee the blue-and-white checks, "sometimes I don't want to be alone and it's...I don't know, easier, I guess, to look up Kitty rather than try and find somebody new."

Find somebody new and only wind up disappointed that it was only more of the same? Toby wondered, knowing that feeling all too well. He suspected that lay at the heart of his resistance to Katherine's advances, to any of the women who had tried to catch his attention since his divorce. He looked into all those faces and just saw Gen all over again, somebody only wanting whatever cachet they thought the Beecher name bought them; being a hell of a lot more interested in his money than in him. Only he'd found a far worse answer to that disappointment than taking whatever comfort Chris might derive from Kitty; no, he'd look for his solace at the bottom of a whiskey bottle and only felt a whole lot more empty when he sobered up.

"Chris -- " He hesistated, part of him thinking what he wanted to ask was a little personal; part of him thinking they had sort of passed that point already. "Is that really why you divorced Kitty? Because all you had in common was good sex?"

One corner of Chris' mouth quirked with a little smile. "Well, it's not what we put on the papers, no, but... " He shrugged. "Yeah, pretty much."

"A lot of people would probably think that was a pretty good reason to stay together."

Chris looked over at him, a smile starting to light his beautiful eyes again. "Yeah, but I'm not most people."

Smiling, Toby nodded. "I think I'm figuring that out."

Looking very earnest now, Chris leaned closer. "I don't think you're most people, either, Toby."

"No?" It was Toby's turn to study the tablecloth.

"Would you be here with me if you were?"

"It might depend on why I'm here."

"Yeah, it might."

Toby reached across the table, touching Chris' arm, squeezing. "Do you want me to draw up some kind of official contract?" he offered, smiling -- frowning at the exasperated grimace Chris aimed at him. "Chris -- what?"

"How much of this is just a joke for you, Toby?" Chris suddenly demanded.

What? Toby squeezed the strong forearm again, longing to grasp his hand again -- longing to do more than that and suddenly wishing they weren't here under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Glynn and everyone else and their brother. "Chris, none of it's a joke. None of it," he insisted.

"You sure act like it is," Chris returned.

"Well... I'm happy. And I'm scared to death. If I'm laughing, Chris, it's not at you." It was his turn to look earnestly into those serious, intent eyes, trying to find some clue to tell him Chris believed him.

He got his answer in a quick smile that tugged at Chris' lips and lit his eyes, at about the same time Mrs. Glynn came over asking if they wanted anymore.

Oh yeah, Toby thought, we do -- but I bet it's not on your menu.

"Hey, Keller, I hate to interrupt a moment and all that, but," Ryan O'Reily came up, pulling out another chair and sitting down, "but what the fuck've you got for me?"

And finishing out the date. Which means -- yeppers -- The Kiss happens in the very next installment, which will be posted later this afternoon.

Thanks, here, to Renee for various plot bunnies; to marg for some boxing info; and to Christy for coming up with a name for Ronnie's club. She and I will both be curious to see if anyone figures it out.



HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 9b/10

"Too rich for my blood," O'Reily said, throwing in his hand and sitting back with a knowing smirk as he left the outcome of the game to Chris and Toby.

Chris called the look and the smirk and raised it with a wink, which had the dual effect of pissing off O'Reily and making Toby smile, dimples cutting deep. And that was interesting, wasn't it, how Toby wasn't minding him playing with O'Reily? It was like he'd figured out the dynamics between him and O'Reily were at the other end of the spectrum from what was playing out between them. That, and Toby and O'Reily appeared to have some business going on between them; Chris liked O'Reily and all, but if he didn't quit ragging on Toby they might just have to step outside and have some words. So what if Tody'd tied one on a couple times over at The Emerald Room -- like O'Reily never had? Like him and O'Reily together hadn't made themselves unwelcome in some spots around town? Least Toby'd never got his butt tossed in jail over it.

"Just right for mine," Chris drawled, looking not at his cards but over at Toby. "Call," he said, smiling at the little suspicious look Toby shot him as he matched the lawyer's bet. "Let's see what ya got, Tobe," he challenged, eyebrows raised.

Toby scrunched his face up some more, silently repeating, 'Tobe,' like no one had ever called him that. Shrugging it off, he laid his cards on the table: a straight flush that easily beat Chris' full house. Which was fine by Chris: winning a pot of money was pretty much superfluous at this point.

Predictably, Toby looked embarrassed at winning this round -- his third of the night -- and pushed the money back towards the rest of them. "I can't take this."

"Why not, Beecher?" O'Reily said, rolling a matchstick between his lips. "Our money not good enough for you?"

"O'Reily, give it a fucking rest." Chris leaned towards Toby, saying, "You won it fair and square, Toby -- give it to charity if you don't wanna keep it."

"Or..." O'Reily said, a suggestive note in his voice.

Toby looked over at him, a little pissed himself. "Or what?"

O'Reily replied with an insolent shrug. "I was just thinking you got enough there to get yourself good and stupefied."

"You know," Leo rumbled, "if you two have some problems, I know where you can find a boxing ring to work it off." He fixed all three of them with a no-nonsense look that told him he'd had about enough of whatever was going on here. "'Cause I sure as hell am not having it under my roof."

And when Leo Glynn growled only a damn fool wouldn't sit up and pay attention.

"So Leo, Jr.'s fighting Pancamo on Saturday?" Chris said, thinking a change of topic was in order.

"Yeah," Leo said as they got up from the dining table, clearing things up before Floria came along and started in on them cluttering up her nice table and scolding them for smoking cigars and drinking; although this time they could all legitimately plead not guilty to committing those offenses. Leo scooped up the pile of cash and coins and handed it to Toby, insisting he take his winnings. "Mary's probably turning over in her grave, but," he spread his hands, lifting his big shoulders, "he got his heart set on it -- and he's good, better than I ever was."

Chris doubted that, but Leo, Jr. was impressive all right, and Pancamo was on his last legs. "He'll fight Deyell next, right?"

"If he takes Pancamo, yeah," Leo said, sounding kind of torn between pride and concern for what his oldest was getting into. "That's not going to be easy, either; he and Moses have been best friends since they were yea high," he held out his hand at about knee level.

Lounging back against the doorjamb, hands folded at his waist, Chris said, "What was that guy's name -- he was looking like a real contender there for awhile," he frowned, like he was really trying to remember. "Something kinda foreign -- Simon...?"

"Simon Adebisi?" Leo looked over at him from the sideboard where he was pouring himself some whiskey. "That who you mean?"

"Adebisi, yeah," Chris said, snapping his fingers. "Yep, that's the guy. Whatever happened to him?" O'Reily and Toby were watching him, curious, Toby a little more so.

Making a face like this was kind of a sore point with him, Leo said, "Yeah, Adebisi had a whole lot of potential, but he fucked it away." Holding up the whiskey bottle, he said, "You gentlemen want anything?"

Chris glared at O'Reily as the Irishman smirked at Toby, turning it into a cocky grin when Toby politely declined Leo's offer. Chris did as well, smiling some more at O'Reily's look of sullen disgust that he wasn't making much headway in trying to make out Toby was some kind of dipsomaniac.

"Yeah," Leo went on, resting against the counter, "Adebisi was big old disappointment. He could have had a shot at the title, might have had a real good chance, too." He took a drink, shook his head. "Now he's just a thug."

"Really?" Chris pretended to surprise, seeing O'Reily paying closer attention even as Toby, out of Leo's line of sight, rolled his eyes. "What's he done?"

"Nothing the cops can ever make stick. Adebisi's not stupid, and he's made some good connections since he came over here -- good if you're a hoodlum."

"Yeah? What kind of connections?"

Leo suddenly gave him a sharper, suspicious look. "There any particular reason you're asking, Keller?"

Looking innocent as the day he was born, Chris admitted, "Well, yeah. See, I'm thinking of pitching this idea to my boss, about doing a series of articles on the price of fame; sort of morality tales illustrated by how some folks had a crack at the big time but blew it. Thought Adebisi might be a good candidate for a sports celebrity who'd kinda fallen from grace." O'Reily looked like he was wavering on whether or not to believe that; Toby was in no doubt whatever, and gave Chris an approving look.

"Adebisi's an object lesson all right," Leo said, sighing, emptying his glass. "I've got my doubts about him ever being in anybody's good graces, though. I can tell you this: the rumors have him working for Antonio Nappa and Nino Schibetta, using his fists to remind people when they're a little too far behind on their gambling debts." He cocked his head, giving Chris a thoughtful look. "You want to spice up your story I can tell you what my lazyass former brother-in-law says," Chris easily identified this individual as one Martin Querns, owner of the gym where Leo, Jr., Deyell and other boxers trained, "and that's that Adebisi was the one who put that show biz agent -- Nathan? -- in the hospital.":

Right on cue, O'Reily's eyes lit up.

Chris'd had a feeling O'Reily might like that. Although he hadn't quite expected to have that much information land in his lap via Leo. He'd been planning to get the details from Jefferson Keane who had a lot more of the right connections in this part of the city, but Keane had been a no-show tonight. Chris kind of felt a little twinge of envy, too, thinking Keane was probably pursuing a real story, not stuck writing half-assed gossip that didn't serve any kind of useful purpose.

No sense dwelling on that, though, not right now. No, right now the question was: would this be enough for O'Reily to fork over whatever dirt he had on Devlin? Knowing O'Reily, Chris didn't think he'd start holding his breath.

Go the fuck away. Toby stared hard at O'Reily, willing him to pick up on the idea that three was a crowd and vamoose on out of here. Oblivious to Toby's impatience, however, O'Reily just sat back in his chair, aiming a derisive look at Toby taking another sip of his club soda.

"Have you got a problem?" Toby asked, finding it increasingly difficult to contain his irritation at O'Reily's being there, interfering in his and Chris' evening out. He could understand if he didn't rate as one of O'Reily's preferred patrons at the club because he'd acted up a little one or two times; he had always been sort of grateful his memories of those particular evenings were a little blurred around the edges. But his patience was running thin.

"Me? Nah," O'Reily tilted his chair back, hands hooked behind his head, smiling. "K-boy and me just have some business to wrap up here."

K-boy? Toby looked at Chris to see what he made of being addressed that way and was a little surprised to find it didn't appear to strike him as odd. So, all right, these two had some kind of longstanding association -- far more to O'Reily's benefit than Chris', he'd bet -- that didn't mean he had to like it, especially since he gathered it included Chris getting mixed up with some pretty questionable characters.

He wanted to tell O'Reily to get on with then and wrap it up, but had the feeling Chris might not appreciate that. So he had to content himself with sitting back, sipping the club soda, resisting the urge to order something stronger, and take in their surroundings as Chris and O'Reily hashed out something that had to do with Gloria Nathan and her husband. And how was that any of O'Reily's concern? Toby wondered as he looked around at this little jazz club, Hill's, that Chris had suggested as a next stop after leaving the Glynn's. If O'Reily hadn't decided to tag along, nagging Chris all the way, it might have been a pretty nice spot for them to pick up those connections they had been making before being so rudely interrupted.

The club was smaller than The Emerald Room, intimate with the lights turned kind of low, smoke drifting through the air -- not all of it from tobacco, Chris had told him, smiling when it had taken him a couple moments to get that. The music, accompanied by the clink of glasses and bottles, a soft undercurrent of conversation, was some of the best Toby had heard. As Chris explained to O'Reily that if he wanted solid proof about something he was just going to have to learn to hold his horses, Toby looked at the small stage where the club's owner, Augustus Hill, was singing "I Only Have Eyes For You," the melody given a little bit of a different twist that made the song seem brand new:

"Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
'Cause I only have eyes for you."

Of course Toby was willing to concede his own state of mind at this moment might sort of be influencing how the words struck him:

"You are here, so am I
Maybe millions of people go by
But they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you."

God knew Toby had a pretty good idea of how that felt, and as he applauded and looked around to meet Chris' eyes he was feeling pretty sure that he was not alone. He could have done without yet another knowing smirk from O'Reily, though.

To his relief, however, O'Reily pushed back his chair and got up, telling Chris, "When you got proof, something solid that'll show her I didn't have nothing to do with it, you get the goods. Till then," he shook his head, "no dice."

"You got no confidence in your powers of persuasion?" Chris shot back, and Toby really wished he knew what the hell they were talking about.

"Yeah, I got confidence," O'Reily returned. "This is too important, though. I want to show Gloria it's more than just another smooth operation." He gave Chris a long look, including Toby in it. "Maybe you got an idea of what I mean?"

Chris only replied with a look that seemed to be inviting O'Reily to make something of it. After a moment the other man shrugged, flicked another wry smile at them, and headed out, stopping to have a word with Hill on the way.

"So," Toby looked at Chris, "what was all that about?"

Chris shrugged. "Just some quid pro quo."

Yes, Toby had a feeling Ryan O'Reily could write the definitive book on that. He just hoped the Irishman wasn't getting Chris mixed up in anything dangerous. He had his mouth opened to ask about that when Hill stepped up to the microphone, saying:

"Well, we've just had a special request, folks. This one's from Ryan, to a very special couple here -- hope you enjoy it, whoever you are," he finished as the band played the introductory bars, and Chris and Toby exchanged suspicious looks.

"I was mighty blue," Hill sang,
"Thought my life was through
'Til the heavens opened
And I gazed at you.

"Won't you tell me, dear
Why, when you appear,
Something happens to me
And the strangest feeling goes through me?

Toby knew if he kept looking at Chris, brows drawn low in a ferocious glare, he was going to burst out laughing, so he bit his lip and kept his gaze fixed on the polished wood of the table as Hill sang on:

"You do something to me
Something that simply mystifies me
Tell me, why should it be
You have the power to hypnotize me?

"Let me live 'neath your spell
Do do that voodoo that you do so well
For you do something to me
That nobody else could do."

As the rest of the room applauded, Chris muttered, "I'm gonna kill him."

Still fighting back a smile, Toby said, "I'm sure he meant well." Although that was probably giving O'Reily a bigger benefit of the doubt than was warranted. He couldn't help being interested, though, in how Chris' friends didn't seem especially surprised that Chris appeared to be romantically involved with another man. The only conclusion he could draw was that he was not the first man to attract Chris Keller's attention, and Toby had to admit to some decidedly mixed feelings about that.

He was about to mention that when he noticed something else had caught Chris' attention, a warm smile chasing away the thunderous glower as he got to his feet, moving to greet someone. And if Toby was feeling conflicted before about any other men Chris may have been involved with, those feelings crystallized into a profound sense of resentment as Chris said, "Hiya, Ronnie," and embraced the other man.

Ronnie greeted Chris just as warmly, smiling pleasantly as Chris introduced them. "Always good to meet another friend of Chris'," Ronnie Barlog said, enveloping Toby's hand in a friendly grip, pale blue smiling.

"Yeah, same here," Toby replied, not meaning a word of it.

"What're you doing over here?" Chris asked, inviting Ronnie to join them. Turning to Toby, he said, "Ronnie's the co-owner of a club over at 145th and Lenox, the 784."

"Is that right?" Toby said, not even trying to pretend to be interested and earning a funny look from Chris that pretty plainly asked, 'So what the fuck's the matter with you?'

Clearly unaware of any undercurrents, however, Ronnie just grinned and said, "Yeah, actually that's why I'm here. Richie and I are trying to get Augie's piano player to quit here and come over to our place."

"Thought you had a piano player," Chris said.

"We did -- but he sort of had an accident, thanks to some outstanding debts." Ronnie glanced at Toby as if he thought Toby wanted to be included in this particular chitchat. "Had his fingers broken. They don't know if he'll ever play again -- and they can't arrest the sonofabitch that did it because Jimmy's afraid of what else'll get broken if he identifies who did it."

Looking far too interested, Chris leaned towards Ronnie, saying, "Yeah? You got a name, though?"

"Fuck yeah -- Simon Adebisi. Whole lot of people'd like to see that bastard get nailed, but he's got them too afraid to do anything."

Sincerely hoping Chris wasn't getting any ideas about performing some kind of public service that way, Toby excused himself and headed for the men's room, hoping Chris would have finished catching up with his old pal by the time he got back.

When he returned, however, Chris and Ronnie were nowhere to be seen. What the hell was going on now? Toby wondered as he stopped a waitress and asked if she'd seen where the two men at this table had gone. Getting told she'd seen them step outside did not especially reassure him. Chris wouldn't just go off and leave him here, Toby knew that, all the same, with suspicious jealousy rearing its head he found it impossible to just sit there and wait, especially as the minutes kept ticking by and there was still no sign of Chris coming back.

Reaching in his pocket for his poker winnings, he tossed some bills on the table, then went out the front door, looking up and down the street, feeling his stomach sort of plummet as he spotted them down at the corner, near a streetlight, standing by a car -- standing much too close to each other for Toby's liking. He didn't care for the intimate looks and smiles passing back and forth, either, as he drew closer. And he damn sure didn't like Ronnie running his hand along Chris' arm.

Clearing his throat, he said, "Chris? What's up?" striving to sound like it was only idle curiosity, but kind of doubting he'd pulled it off by the way they both looked over at him, surprised -- a questioning look in Chris' eyes, an amused one in Ronnie's.

"Just saying good night," Chris said.

"Uh huh." And Toby dearly wanted to bite his tongue even as the next words left his mouth, "It takes you ten minutes to do that?"

Chris' expression deepened to one of puzzlement, while Ronnie just grinned and said, "Hey, Chris, you should've told me you were bought and paid for tonight."

"What the hell's that mean?" Toby demanded, eyes narrowing.

"Doesn't mean anything," Ronnie said.

"Sounded like it meant something to me." Toby stepped closer, getting right in Ronnie's face, well aware that Chris was watching him with every increasing perplexity.

"Tobe," Chris caught his arm, drew him back, "he's just joking around."

"Yeah? It didn't sound very funny."

"Well, guess I'll just have to work on my material," Ronnie said, shaking his head, giving Chris a doubtful look. "See you around, Tobias."

Don't count it, Toby thought, glaring until the other man had gotten in his car and driven away.

"What the hell was that about?" Chris asked, not sounding angry, just curious.

"It's about him making some crude remark like that, with you standing there. What the hell kind of friend is that?"

"Look, me and Ronnie go way back. He didn't mean anything by it, he was just goofing around. He's one of my best friends."

Toby sniffed.

Looking like he was figuring something out, Chris said, "Toby, did you think I'd ditched you for Ronnie?"

Still feeling petulant, Toby said, "No."

"You sure?" Chris asked softly.

Toby met his eyes, the warmth in them telling him he'd come far too close to making a fool of himself. "Maybe," he admitted, and Chris sent him an indulgent smile, reaching out to touch his chin.

"Well that's a damn fool thing for you to be thinking, all things considered."

Toby swallowed. "I guess." He frowned a little, feeling the warmth of Chris' fingertips against his skin, regretting the loss of that light touch, a little, as Chris let his hand fall to his shoulder. "I still say that was a pretty tactless remark."

"Friends are like that, sometimes."

Eyes locked on Chris', Toby moved closer, curling an arm around Chris' shoulder even as he felt Chris' hand curving around his neck. "Maybe," he murmured, their faces only inches apart, "you should consider finding a better class of friend, then."

"Yeah? You got any suggestions?"

Lips curving in a smile, Toby assured him, "I sure do," leaning in closer -- just as a noisy group exited Hill's, heading towards them. "Dammit," he whispered, fiercely, stepping back.

"It's okay," Chris told him, although he didn't look any happier at yet another interruption. "Come on, I should probably be getting you home anyway."

Toby thought about that as they went in search of a cab, possibilities running through his head and making him smile.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 10a/10

Seated beside Toby in yet another taxi, wondering if the driver was going out of his way to take his time getting to Fifth Avenue, Chris tried to keep himself distracted by finding just the right word for what he was experiencing at this precise moment. It was in the realm of some kind of slow, sweet torture, with every sense heightened to the other man's presence. Every sense but taste, and geez, he didn't need to start thinking about that. Once nudged, however, his thoughts couldn't seem to help dwelling on that, from the scent of the man -- a subtle waft of cologne that only accented the essence of him or how his hair had felt like warm silk when Chris'd tangled his fingers in those golden curls at the back of his neck. Short of being inside the other man Chris couldn't imagine being more aware of him -- and, Jesus Christ, he couldn't start thinking about that. It was taking all the restraint he could muster as it was not to pull Toby into his arms, make love to him then and there.

His smile was quick, a little pained and anxious, as he hastily turned to look out the window at the other cars, the lights of the city, people going on about their business just as though nothing at all momentous was occurring. Did the cab driver have any idea one of his passengers wanted to kiss the other one breathless? Kiss him, touch him... He exhaled a soft sigh, his breath fogging the window. No, somehow Chris didn't think the driver would be appreciative of a display like that. And Toby? All right, he was fairly certain at this point that Toby was in the same place with him, but that almost made the anticipation worse because of investing it with so much more significance. Every touch, every glance, was making him nuts; if Toby said, "You think it looks like rain?" Chris turned that over and over, looking for some subtle meaning.

And he couldn't help going over every moment with Toby yet again. They had almost kissed twice -- he hadn't imagined that. Nor had he dreamed it up, that Toby was the one initiating both those almost-kisses. That had to mean something, right? And what about the way Toby had reacted when Ronnie came around, almost like he was jealous Chris even said hello to him, and then getting so frosty when Ronnie'd popped off like that. And sure, it had been a kind of tactless remark and all, but Ronnie hadn't really meant anything by it. Toby sure hadn't seen it that way, though. That was maybe the one thing that gave him the most reassurance he wasn't reading far too much into all of this, too.

Chris tried to pull in a calming breath, looking back around at Toby to find the other man watching him. He searched the blue eyes before him, wanting to find some clear-cut answer there, but only saw an echo of his own curiosity and uncertainty -- although that kind of helped settle him down a little. Besides, how could Toby give him an answer to a question that hadn't even been asked yet?

The cab pulled up at the townhouse at last and Chris wasn't sure if he felt relieved or disappointed that another day with Toby was over. As much as he didn't want to say good night, he also wasn't sure how much more of this he could take.

"I guess--"

"Would you--"

Speaking simultaneously again, they flashed each other quick, nervous smiles.

"What?" Chris prompted after another moment, aware of the cab driver casting a curious look back at them.

"Uh," Toby glanced at the driver, too, then back at Chris, a shy smile fleeting across his face, "would you...like to come in for, umm," Chris could see him frantically trying to think of something, "a cup of coffee?"

"Yeah, I'd like that," Chris answered quickly, before Toby could change his mind and take it back. And before he thought of a million reasons why he ought to have said no.

Toby nodded, opening the door and getting out, holding it for Chris to follow.

Relieved of his hat, Chris looked around the big living room again, a few lamps left on and casting a warm glow over everything. It still surprised him how comfortable and lived in the place looked, and he wondered how much that had to do with there being no Mrs. Beechers on the premises. Although looking around and seeing all the personal touches -- that chess game still in progress, a couple of phonograph records left out in their sleeves, a book splayed open in the middle of the sofa, and the toys: that motorcycle Gary'd had at the park, a pull-toy duck, and a moth-eaten teddy bear that looked old enough to have been Toby's originally -- were sharp reminders of just where he was and that they were not alone. Toby's father and brother were around here somewhere, his kids were upstairs tucked into their beds. This was not the time to get carried away with anything. Just have some coffee and get out, and don't do anything stupid.

With the silence starting to feel awkward, Chris cast around for something to say as Toby picked up a stack of mail left out on the big coffee table, sorting through it. Noticing the baby grand over by one of the windows again, something that looked like a gypsy shawl thrown across the top to protect the polished dark wood from the many framed photographs arranged there, he asked, "So who plays?"

Toby followed his gaze, walking over there. "Dad and I; Holly and Harry are taking lessons." He smiled, picking up a piece of sheet music and squinting at the notes, right hand moving over the keys to pick out the melody, something kind of sweet and wistful.

"What is that?"

Toby checked the title. "'Somewhere Over The Rainbow.' Must be something new." He looked at Chris. "Shall we get that coffee?"

"You sure you know where the kitchen is?" Chris said, relieved to take refuge once more in teasing.

That only lasted a second, though, as Toby sent him a cheeky grin, brushing against him as he passed by even though there was plenty of room. "Well, at least we'll be together if we get lost."

Stopped in his tracks for a moment, Chris wondered what the fuck that meant -- then hurried to catch up.

Upstairs, Harrison cocked his head, listening for Toby's steps coming up the stairs. Hmm, he frowned a little, setting down 'Some Buried Caesar,' as he heard the piano. He glanced at the clock, thinking half past midnight was just a little late in the day to be practicing. The music stopped a moment later, though, and Harrison's curiosity started to be tinged with just a little concern as he still failed to hear Toby come upstairs. He was overreacting, of course; just because his son was lollygagging downstairs that didn't have to mean Toby had been drinking. He wanted Toby to get out and enjoy himself, after all, and this Keller boy certainly seemed good for him that way, but, well, it was hard not to worry all the same.

Harrison glanced at the clock again, decided to give it a little while longer before he went down to check on Toby, and lifted his book again, trying to concentrate on what Nero and Archie were up to with their latest mystery.

Blinking at the sudden brightness of the kitchen, Toby smiled at the way Chris looked around at everything, eyes squinted a little as if the light had surprised him, too, but also looking like he wanted to find something to object to in all the bright and shiny display of privilege. And sure enough, the first words out of his mouth were:

"So I guess for you the Depression was just something that happened to other people."

"Number one," Toby said, prying the top off the coffee pot and checking to see if it was empty, "the Depression is over--"

"I could find some people who'd disagree with that," Chris informed him, hands in his pockets as he leaned against the counter.

"I'm sure you can and neither my father or myself is indifferent to the plight of others, but," Toby rooted around in the cupboard where Lena kept the coffee, "that's beside the point. Yes, we weathered the bad times a little better than some people, but I don't see any reason we have to apologize for that. If your family was less fortunate, I'm sorry about that -- but it wasn't our fault."

Chris aimed a little disgruntled look at him. "I never said it was -- or are we back to implications and insinuations again?"

"You started it." Toby measured the coffee out, enjoying the rich aroma.

Chris shrugged after a moment. "So -- what's your second point? Or was that it?"

"Pretty much." Toby plugged in the percolator. "Besides, I bet if the offer was right you'd come over to the hedonist side of the pool any day of the week."

"So you admit you're spoiled rotten?" Chris' smile took a smug turn, like he thought he'd proved a point.

Toby gave him a long, considering look, feline imagery creeping into his brain again. "Yeah -- and if you had the chance you'd turn being spoiled rotten into an art form."

Looking a bit perplexed now, Chris asked, "What the hell's that mean?"

Toby just smiled mysteriously to himself, thinking there might be worse ways to pass the time than spoiling Chris rotten. Also thinking that, now he had Chris here, he had to find a way to keep him there until they had taken care of some of this unfinished business between them. Opening the refrigerator, he asked, "You want anything else?"

"No, thanks. The way Floria fed us, I don't think I'll need to eat for another couple of days." Chris pulled out one of the chairs at the kitchen table and sat down.

"She did seem to think we needed to be fattened up." Toby closed the refrigerator and came over to sit beside him. "Is she always that, uh...?"

"Overflowing with energy?" Chris tilted his chair back. "Yep."

"So how is it you know all these people?"

Chris shrugged. "My line of work, you just naturally meet a lot of different people."

"You and Ryan O'Reily seem kind of tight," Toby said, finally getting around to that. And it was sort of funny, wasn't it, how he hadn't minded O'Reily getting together with Chris for a private talk down at Leo and Floria's, but just the sight of Ronnie Barlog cozying up to Chris had raised his hackles right off the bat. And he still wanted to look Ronnie up and punch his lights out for saying that about Chris. Why Chris just shrugged it off beat the hell out of him.

"Yeah, we've known each other awhile."

"What's his line?" Toby asked. "I've wondered for awhile now." And had some pretty strong suspicions for quite awhile, which was the chief source of his feeling a little dubious of Chris associating with O'Reily.

Chris' smile acquired a slightly mysterious aspect now as he looked over at him. "Let's put it this way: don't be surprised if he shows up one day wanting expert legal advice."

Yes, Toby had kind of thought it was something like that. "But he's a friend of yours? You trust him?"

"Yeah, I guess. Just about as far as I could throw him," Chris amended with a wry smile. He shrugged. "We scratch each other's backs now and then."

Toby frowned over that, not sure he liked the idea of anyone even metaphorically scratching Chris' back. He got up to check the coffee, hunting up cups and saucers as he saw it was done. "So what was all that stuff about Gloria Nathan? What's she to O'Reily?"

"The light of his life, I guess," Chris said, shrugging again.

"But she's married? To her manager?"

"Preston -- yep."

Who had been severely beaten and put in the hospital, Toby gathered, by this Adebisi because of failure to pay some gambling debts. The more he thought about that, the less he liked the idea of Chris having anything to do with it all. "You're not mixed up in anything, well, illegal, are you?"

"I'm scratching O'Reily's back -- that's all."

Toby nodded, hoping that was true. "How do you take your coffee -- milk, sugar, black?"

"No milk." Chris watched Toby pour out the coffee and got up to join him at the counter. "I guess you do know how to make coffee."

Toby flashed him a smug smile this time. "Yeah -- I can scramble an egg and do toast, too. Want to make something of it?"

"Hey, tell me you like to iron and I'm sold."

Toby looked right into his eyes then, saying, "Sold on what?" and felt his breath catch as all the teasing laughter fled from Chris' expression and he looked back at him, sort of stunned and anxious all of a sudden. Oh God... Toby felt that flutter in his belly again, like in the park, like outside the jazz club, longing for something he'd never even dreamed he wanted.

Feeling desperate, like he was right on the brink of a revelation, he looked away, his hand shaking a little as he stirred his coffee.

Chris tried to look everywhere but at Toby, his gaze skittering all around this spotless kitchen filled with all the most modern features and coming to rest on the cups of the coffee sitting there on the counter. That was a mistake, though, because Toby's hand was also resting on the counter, grasping a cup and lifting it to his lips, and Chris couldn't help following that movement, watching the muscles of Toby's throat as he swallowed the hot liquid.


Sky blue eyes lifted to meet his, something that wasn't entirely innocent in their depths. "What?"

Almost against his will, Chris reached over, fingers trembling a little as they brushed against Toby's cheek. "Toby -- you gotta tell me to stop," he whispered, leaning in closer. Toby didn't move, though, didn't say anything; he only looked back at Chris, eyelids drifting shut as Chris drew near enough to feel the puff of Toby's breath against his cheek. His own eyes closed then as his lips brushed Toby's, once, twice, barely touching at all, but sending a sweet shiver right through him. He moved a little, pressing their foreheads together, breathing in the warm, clean scent of him, cradling the back of his head. "Toby...?"

Pushing back a little, Toby looked at him, astonished and excited, and...happy? Chris closed his eyes as Toby touched his face, fingertips stroking along his jaw, through his hair, tugging him back to his mouth. Chris went willingly, feeling Toby's arms tight around him even as he clasped Toby closer, pressing him back against the counter, kissing his face -- lips brushing along a pale eyebrow, across an eyelid, the tip of his cute little nose, finding his mouth again.

Somebody was making a funny little whimpering sound and Chris thought it might be him as Toby kissed him back, catching his bottom lip, nibbling for a moment, the tip of his tongue darting along it. He wanted to protest as Toby's mouth deserted his, but then sighed, holding the other man even tighter as he felt Toby's lips ghosting along his jaw, along his cheek; Chris opened his eyes to look at him, making that noise again as Toby closed them with a kiss before claiming his mouth again, parting Chris' lips, a deep sigh of pure contentment welling up from him as his tongue slipped into Chris' mouth. Kissing Toby -- it felt so good he wanted to cry, or...something. If he'd died and gone to Heaven right then he didn't think he'd know the difference.

Well, something was up, Harrison thought, setting down his book and reading glasses and reaching for his robe. Maybe Toby was just catching up with some work, or something, but -- he'd just check and make sure. He hated the thought of Toby sitting down there in the dark, alone and drinking.
Toby wanted to crawl right inside Chris, have Chris inside him; he had to settle for wrapping his arms and legs around him as Chris lifted him up onto the counter. When Chris would have moved back, Toby grabbed him, pulling him close, starving for his mouth after just two seconds of separation. Why hadn't he known kissing Chris would be this good? Maybe he had, maybe that's why he'd been trying to kiss him all day long.

Oh God oh God...what was Chris doing now? Toby's hold on Chris relaxed a little, his hands sliding up to curl around Chris' head as the other man nuzzled his neck. He could feel Chris tugging his tie loose, opening his collar, undoing more buttons until he could reach Toby's throat. Toby bit his lip, trying to hold back the little cries of pleasure welling up, tilting his head a little to one side as Chris kissed his throat, lingering over one spot, licking, sucking at it. Oh sweet heaven... He wrapped one arm around Chris' shoulder, his other hand pressing Chris' face into his neck.

"Chris... Chris..." He moaned the name, the center of his universe, as he felt a warm, knowing hand slip inside his shirt, caressing his chest. He whimpered into Chris' neck as he felt fingers catch at a nipple, rubbing, stroking.

He had to touch Chris, he had to. Slipping down from the counter, he reversed their positions, pressing Chris back against the counter, brushing his hands along Chris' face, his shoulders, chest, feeling the warmth and strength of him even through his clothes. He looked into Chris' eyes, discovering a look of stunned delight in their sapphire depths, biting his lip as he reached for Chris' tie, tugging it loose, dropping it to the floor. Chris' coat followed it, the other man looking back at him eyes wide, as Toby's trembling fingers fumbled to undo buttons.


"Shh," Toby whispered against his lips, kissing them, moving back a little, left hand rubbing Chris' right shoulder, his fingers snaking under the strap of his suspenders, slowly easing it down, off the broad shoulder. Pushing the white cotton of his shirt out of the way, Toby pressed his lips to that little hollow there in Chris' throat, then kissed a slow trail down along his collar bone, nuzzling along the strong column of his throat while he slipped a hand inside to caress Chris' chest, fingers snagging at a peaked nipple.

"Jesus Christ -- Toby..."

Toby swooped in to catch Chris' mouth, feeling almost delirious at the touch of Chris' tongue against his. If they did nothing else, if they just spent eternity kissing like this, he didn't think he could ask for more.

He wanted more, though, a neglected part of his body was positively aching for more.


"What?" he murmured, pressing his cheek to Chris', sighing, stroking his hair.

"What?" Chris murmured back.


Some glimmer of comprehension creeping into him, Toby frowned, looking at Chris.

"Toby? Where are you?"

"Oh fuck," Chris whispered.

Toby couldn't have said it better.

HI, SOCIETY -- Chapter Two, 10b/10

Well, this was just silly, Harrison was thinking as he searched for his suddenly elusive oldest son. Deciding the kitchen was the only other likely spot to find him, Harrison headed that way, calling his name, torn between concern and a little exasperation at continuing to get no answer. "Tobias!"

Finally, Toby's voice rang out, "We're in the kitchen, Dad!" although Harrison wondered why on earth he sounded so out of breath.

Pushing open the door, Harrison was a little surprised to see Chris Keller there as well, both of them looking like he'd almost caught them with their hands in the cookie jar. "Didn't you hear me earlier?" he said, noticing the cups of coffee out on the counter -- the cold, full cups of coffee, a skin of milk floating in one of them.

"Umm," Toby cast an anxious look at his friend as he answered, "not exactly. We were--" He looked over at Harrison, then back to Chris, as if he was trying to come up with something on the spur of the moment.

"You were what?" Harrison asked, looking them over, noting their flushed faces, Toby's ruffled hair -- Chris' shirt buttoned wrong and his tie not quite done up; Toby's tie was loose as well, his collar open. If he didn't know better he'd almost think... Eyes narrowing as his son turned his head, Harrison stared at what looked like a small bruise starting on Toby's neck.

"We were talking," Toby told him, about as lamely as when he was fourteen and claiming he had no idea how the Duesenberg's back fender had gotten smashed.

"You were talking."

"Umm, yes, sir," Toby said, refusing to look directly at him, shooting a look at his friend as if hoping for some rescue from that quarter.

Harrison rather suspected he was going to be disappointed as that young man was looking fairly well dazed at the moment. "I see. It must have been a very absorbing conversation."


"Still, it is getting late and it might be a good idea if you said good night," Harrison suggested.

Chris started as if he'd just gotten a jolt of electricity, fumbling around for some of the eloquence with which he must have been dazzling Toby just a little while ago. "Yeah, we should. Umm," he looked at Toby, very serious, evidently at a loss for words.

"I'll walk you out," Toby offered, more quickly recovering his scattered wits -- or at least his ability to form sentences.

Harrison let them by, watching after them, then sighed, wondering if his late wife was rolling over in her grave right about now.

"Is everything going to be all right?" Chris asked as soon as they were out from under Harrison's quizzing gaze.

"Sure," Toby said, walking with him to the door.

"You could sound more convincing," Chris remarked, pausing in the foyer and catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror there, thinking it was no wonder Toby's dad had been looking like

"Everything's fine," Toby insisted, frowning as he also noticed they hadn't done the best job of getting Chris tidying up. Throwing an anxious glance over his shoulder, he did Chris' buttons up again, and straightened his tie, letting his hands press against his chest.

Chris closed his eyes, savoring that touch, not even wanting to think about how close he was to pushing Toby up against the wall and picking up where they had left off. When he opened his eyes Toby was still there, entirely too close, a look of expectation in his eyes. "Are we okay?" He had to know this hadn't just fucked up everything.

Toby's smile was warm, confident. "We're fine," he said, brushing his hand along Chris' shoulder.

"You're sure?" Chris looked into his eyes, very serious.


Chris nodded. "Okay. I--" Love you, had a wonderful time, wish you'd run away with right here and now. He took a deep breath, settled on the second one. "I had a great time tonight, Toby."

"So did I, Chris. I--" He looked into Chris' eyes like he was thinking those other two things as well. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Chris blinked, puzzled for a moment, not expecting that even now. "You will?"

"At Giles' home, for lunch, remember?"

"Oh -- yeah. That." Geez, he'd forgotten all about that. "I'll meet you there?"

"Or I could pick up at The Tattler," Toby offered, looking hopeful.

"Okay, that'd be fine." God, he wanted to kiss him again. Looking around he noticed they had somehow made their way outside and down to the street, that a cab was pulling up the curb even now. "I'll see you then."

"You will, promise," Toby assured him, his sweet lips curved in a smile.

Words completely failing him now, Chris just nodded, getting into the cab. Slumped down on the seat, he heaved a deep sigh, wondering when this warm tingly sensation was going to fade, kind of hoping it never would.

Grateful that he was able to escape to his room without anymore questioning from his father, Toby stopped, staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror.

He'd just kissed another man, no, not a man, Christopher Keller. Kissed him, been kissed by him, touched him like...like he'd never wanted to touch anyone.

And he couldn't wait to do it all over again.

Grinning like a fool he got ready for bed, thinking he could take a pretty strong guess at what he'd be dreaming about tonight.

--end Chapter Two; continued in Chapter Three--

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