Beta-ed by Eliza, thanks so much to you.
"Dad, I could use some time off."
Harrison Beecher turned to look at his son and frowned.
"Up to something, son?"
"I... I want a little time for myself. A friend of mine," friend, my ass, he snorted inwardly, "A friend of mine needs help." Harrison frowned, inquisitive but Toby continued. "I wrapped up Jackson's case yesterday; did you read my note?" "Yes, surprising ending, isn't it?
"Not like it was unexpected but I'm relieved; and he had much more to lose than 200 000 $ anyway." "You did a nice job on that, and it's not like we're overwhelmed with work," Beecher Senior said, smiling "Take your holidays, Toby. You deserve it."
He offered to drive his son back home but Toby took a taxi; since he'd stopped driving, he tried to get used to this new disability, sure that he would be unable to drive again, even when he'd be given his license back; just sitting behind a wheel made him sweat, he kept seeing the little girl on the bike, feeling the sudden rush of adrenalin and the shock when the car had crashed into the wall. His stomach churned and he had to close his eyes and take a deep breath to overcome the sickness.
He asked the taxi to stop more than a mile from his house and walked back home, his jacket thrown over his shoulder, under the warm setting sun. He hadn't locked the door, and it was a strange feeling; coming back home and finding someone there for the first time in two years.
From the hall, he could hear the music; Chris was playing, the same part over and over again until it sounded like he wanted it to, probably; then he went on with another phrase. Toby leant against the door to listen and the music followed him into the living room; he poured himself a drink, downed it and took a deep breath.
"OK, let's go."
The cellar was bathed in semi-darkness but sun was everywhere, snaking between the slats of the blinds, creeping on the floor up Keller's legs, resting on the nape of his neck, his cheekbone, delightful vision and Toby thought maybe he should have a camera. But of course Chris wouldn't like it so he watched long enough to imprint every detail on his mind, then sighed and walked into the room, the old wooden floor creaking under his feet; Chris looked up, smiled but didn't stop playing.
"So? Got an answer for me," he asked, letting his fingers run on the keyboard, magically waking up the enthralling mood of Rachmaninoff's second concerto.
"I took some holidays, two weeks for you."
"No, not that," Toby said, laughing, "I mean you and your case. You, as a person, are leaving."
A deep sigh and Chris let the music die in the middle of a phrase, notes trailing in the warmth of the room; there was a frustrating moment for Toby; he knew the concerto by heart and had already anticipated what would come after.
"Yeah? Why? I love this place."
"Of course you do but I don't fuck my clients; we would be in a very awkward situation if someone came to believe that I took up your case because you'd fucked me." "But it's the truth, isn't it?"
Smug bastard, Toby thought.
"I love challenges."
Chris shut the lid down and rested his elbow on the wood, looking at Toby with a strange expression of amusement.
"A little fun, uh? I think it's gonna be a hell of a challenge. What do you think we can expect?" "I don't know yet but we'll salvage as much as we can and if I understood what you told me last night, the most important thing is your freedom, isn't it?" "Yeah. I wanna be free to play whenever I like, whatever I like, and sign up with a company that will let me enough freedom to live my life the way I want."
Toby looked at him and asked again.
"You're not in it for the money, you sure about that? I don't want you to come to me afterwards and tell me I made you destitute."
Chris laughed. "Please, don't do that, Toby, I'd have to come and live here."
"You know what I mean."
"Ah, you're a tough bastard when it comes to business, aren't you?"
He rose and went near Toby.
"I'm not in it for the money. I wanna be free; get rid of those people who've been living off me for 15 years. I hate them," he said in a soft chilling voice. "I'll do that. I'll find a way."
"You're very self confident," Chris said, his breath trailing against Toby's cheek. "Not really; only in my job."
"Yeah? Well I'd say you're good at a lot of other things, baby." "Don't you fucking baby me, Keller."
Chris stepped back, looked at Toby's flushed face.
"In the beginning, I used to call my dates baby because I didn't want to take the risk of fucking with their names, you know, when you call Jill Sarah, stuff like that; it had earned me some good slaps when I was a kid."
Toby chuckled, yes, he knew what Chris was talking about; he remembered Gen's face when... whatever.
"But you're right; you're no fucking date so I won't call you that."
They stared at each other for a while, blue against blue, cold icy gaze against dark stormy look then Chris leant forward and kissed Toby's mouth.
"I wanna have sex with you before I leave," he said, his gaze on Toby's wet mouth. "All right but after that..."
Chris' kiss cut him short, he heard a low growl and a strong body pushed him to the bed.
"No one will ever know; now let me think of the best way to make you mew the way you do when you're happy with me."
He tugged at Toby's shirt, trailing him to the door. "C'mon, let's go to your room; I'm too old to do it on the floor every time."
"Never tried on a piano?"
"No. It would be a sacrilege."
Chris found the right way; a long teasing session, kisses everywhere, bites, and Chris' tongue wrapped around Toby's cock, never long enough to make him come, but long enough to make him crazy; and finally the tip of his cock against Toby's ass.
"You're the hottest fuck I ever had, Toby, I swear," he said, and pushed his cock inside hard, feeling Toby's body jerk in surprise, his mouth open -and he did it; mewed like a wild cat about to pounce, low and fierce, his head thrown back, caught in the slow rise of pleasure, moving back to meet the hard thrusts - but Chris withdrew, panting, looking deep into Toby's eyes.
"I won't beg you!" Toby said.
"Hey, tough guy, it's not what I want. Turn around; turn around, I wanna see your ass, and your back and your hair when I fuck you."
Toby's hips were pulled up by strong hands, his ass bitten hard and Chris' tongue teased his opening, wetting it, licking it, pushing just the tip inside until Toby moaned loud and banged his fists against the bed. "Yeah, like that, Toby, hold tight; I'm gonna give it to you hard."
And he did, he sure did, hard and deep and long until Toby couldn't hold back anymore made that noise; Chris laughed and bit his shoulder fiercely. "Come on, come on, do it again!"
They had to wait for their hearts to stop racing, their cocks stop pulsing, their breathing come back to normal, and then Chris rolled off Toby and remained like that for a minute or two, a hand on his eyes; before saying, "Mind if I take a shower before leaving?" "It's a joke, right? Of course I don't."
Leaning against the door, later, running the towel over his body to dry himself, Chris asked. "I'm surprised you agreed so easily, I thought maybe I'd have some work to do to persuade you." "Oh did you? I thought you relied on your incredible gift for sex to do all the work," Toby said.
Chris looked at him through half-closed eyelids, the towel in his hand. "I trust you on that, Toby," he said after a while, his voice and eyes solemn. "I'll do my best. But I keep wondering about the reason that made you choose me? There are a lot of very talented famous influential lawyers who would've helped you with that."
Chris put on his jeans, his shirt, buttoned it, nodding. "Maybe. I just don't trust them. I fired the people around me because I'd stopped trusting them, I left the company because I didn't trust them anymore. Trust is everything."
Then he was gone and Toby was alone.
Chris took a cab to the motel out of town where he'd left his stuff, some clothes and important papers. "You know," Toby had told him, "for a moment I believed you'd crashed on my doorstep like a stray dog." "I don't think you believed it; I think at the moment, believing it suited you."
He trusted Toby to do his best for reasons he didn't quite understand himself; his trust was partly rational, based on things he'd learned about Beecher from other people; partly instinctive. And the sex, well, the sex had made things easier of course, it had been a nice touch, really nice. What you can learn in bed about someone doesn't lie, the way someone gives in, fights, leads, pushes, nudges, Chris thought, that's what he really is and if he's half as stubborn and inventive and passionate as he was there, I'd say chances are pretty good I'm out of this shit.
After two weeks Toby had a fairly precise idea of the way he was going to negotiate.
"You don't want to go to trial, do you?" He asked Chris on the phone one day he'd called him to sum up the situation.
"Fuck no. What about the guy I hurt?"
"I... won't go to prison for that?"
Toby would've laughed but something in Chris' voice held him back. "No, I worked on a financial compensation and anyway you didn't hurt him on purpose; besides, he shouldn't have been there, he was just some fan who'd managed to break in." "Fine. Call you back later."
Toby broke the news to his father one day they were having dinner together, alone; and Harrison Beecher didn't like them.
"It sounds a lot like you're giving us up, Toby," he said, staring at his crab salad, shoulders stiff.
Toby had expected that, he'd heard the same thing 12 years ago, when he'd been facing the choice that would commit his own life, fought -and lost. This time he wasn't ready to lose again.
"I'm not giving anything up; just working on my own on a case that interests me."
"And it will take a lot of time, so I guess I won't be seeing you for a few weeks; maybe some months."
Toby put down his fork and knife and looked at his father.
"Maybe some months and I'm not the only lawyer in your practice, and our cases lately have been so boring that I could die, so you'd better let me have some fun before the idea takes me to just -leave."
"It would be a desertion."
"Yeah? Well, fuck that. I agreed to work here when I had proposals from every best practice in New York and London; I was the best when I left Harvard but you used the same word, remember? Desertion; so I stayed, because Uncle Harry was dead and you needed me, you said I would be free soon enough, then I married Gen who was the perfect wife for me, or so you said. Dad, it's been 12 fucking years."
Harrison Beecher glared at his son. "Unhappy years, I guess? Miserable earnings..." "I didn't say that. What I said is that every time I try to do something by myself, you use the same old emotional blackmail... I hate that. Angus could take my place, I could leave -I don't." "Should I thank you for that?"
Toby looked at him and sighed. "Whatever, I like this case, I'll take it." "I hope it's not a too easy one."
And that was low, Toby thought, that was really low; he was known to lose easy cases and win the most difficult ones; a matter of motivation, probably. Hell, he was very motivated right now.
Later he called Keller and they had a long serious conversation, nearly two hours, Toby sprawled on the couch in the living-room, surrounded with files, notes, his computer roaring behind him.
"You gonna work all evening?"
"Don't think so. I'm supposed to have dinner at my parents' place with my girlfriend." "Ah, the sexy lawyer?"
"OK, go get ready, then; I'm going out myself." "Girlfriend?"
"Ex-wife. About the same, you know, a fine woman. But apart from sex we didn't have that much in common so..." Toby shifted and sighed.
"Yeah. Have fun then."
The dinner was awkward; Harrison Beecher didn't speak much and threw challenging glances in his son's direction but Toby was determined; he didn't want Katherine to be caught in the middle of a storm before coffee. He waited as long as he could and finally told everyone about his decision; of course he had to explain how he'd met Chris Keller and thank God his grandmother wasn't there; he couldn't have kept cool under her shrewd look.
"I met him after the master class, we talked a bit, I gave him my card."
Katherine looked at him, looking hurt.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I wasn't sure until yesterday that Christopher Keller and I agreed on every detail." "I heard strange things about him; his... behaviours. Tendencies; he's been married three times but from what I heard he spends a lot of time with young men," Harrison Beecher said. "A homosexual?"
"Those artists, sensitive and all!"
"Keller doesn't really look like a fag to me and he's a bloody good pianist."
Thank you for that, Angus, Toby thought smiling to his brother.
"And what about that man he killed? Neill Philips told me once..." They bowed their heads to listen to Katherine and Toby closed his eyes, tried to relax. "He doesn't seem to be a very honourable man." "Jackson was certainly not an honourable man and we did defend him; it's an interesting case, and as Angus said, he's a bloody good pianist; probably the best." "And a star. They won't let him go," Angus said. "Come on, he's no Britney Spear, he doesn't make that much sales." "No, but that kind of artist does a lot for the prestige of a company. They won't let him go, believe me." Toby smiled. "Want to lay a wager on that?"
Katherine drove him back, finally, questioning him about Christopher Keller with the wary interest she showed for dubious people; but Toby didn't have much to say, he didn't know much, after all.
A week later, informed by a friend she'd met in Harvard that something was going on, Lea Winsley invited Chris Keller on her new CBS evening show. She'd expected a rebuff, but he came, alone, dressed in a very casual way; black jeans, black long-sleeved polo, boots; he'd lost weight, looked tired, a bandage around his right wrist, his hands restless against his thighs. He'd given up his usual smug attitude and answered the questions honestly, didn't try to play games, explained why he'd ran amok, didn't try to justify anything, just said he was too weary to go on. He explained how he'd been recruited when he was 21, just out of prison, and had agreed to everything, at the time; read aloud some clauses of the contract that sounded very abusive -Toby had worked hard on the choice; choked on some words; and when he said, "I'm not asking for much, you know, just freedom," he sounded so true that Toby was sure that every listener believed him -hell, he would've believed him, himself, if they hadn't worked so hard on every detail.
"Tomorrow's Valentine day," Lea Winsley asked, "is there someone in your life, Mr Keller?"
/Jesus, don't say anything stupid, please! /
Chris' trembling smile and his softest voice.
"I've been married three times but... When God gives you these hands as a gift..." The camera made a close up on Chris' fingers, "there's a counterpart; I'm not sure God gave me the ability to love; it's something I gave up years ago. Music's my only lover."
He agreed to play in spite of his wounded wrist, sat in front of the piano and played one of the most poignant Chopin's nocturnes, fascinating, his hard profile softened with wistful pleasure, his hands relaxed on the piano, languid gestures rousing effortlessly the emotions that had been asleep in the score, summoning up the pain and the passion to flood a mesmerised audience; exactly like a sorcerer and it was enchanting, Toby thought, and infinitely precious, this gift he had.
Toby's throat was tight when the fingers finally stilled on the keys before withdrawing almost reluctantly; and Chris raised his head, emerging from the depths of his own dream, looking lost, echoes of the last notes trailing in the room; then rose and came back to his seat, loud applause breaking out.
One hour later, back to his hotel, Chris called.
"Never again," he said.
"You did great."
"Yeah? Well don't expect much more, this was the first and only time I'll do that; when she asked me about prison I could've smacked the bitch." The leopard cannot change his spots for long, Toby thought. "You said the perfect things about those rumours; really, you moved me." "Did I? Did you touch yourself?"
Toby breathed and shook his head.
"No, you didn't move me that way. But playing Chopin caught everyone off guard, and what you said about going to a church to pray when you left the studio last month... I almost believed it," Toby said, playing with the fringes of a cushion, smiling.
A short laugh and Chris' mocking voice.
"Really? Well that and the stuff about love were the only things that weren't lies."
Toby straightened on the couch, stunned. "You're joking, right? About the church, I mean." "No, I did just that, go to a church like when I was a kid and hoped that some holy spirit would show me the way, hope for a miracle and prayed; but that church was fucking empty. I mean, no god there, but I had no other place to go, no other place where I wanted to go."
Toby felt embarrassed and stupid, he kept silence and Chris continued.
"No more interview, no more public appearance, you'll deal with all that alone, Toby; I'm leaving."
"Leaving? Where are you going?"
"I don't know yet. I'll call you."
And Chris hung up. Shit.
A week later, his files ready, Toby took a flight to New York for a first meeting with the lawyers of the record company and discuss Chris Keller's dismissal. At the same moment, Chris left New York for Minneapolis.
At the airport Chris took a cab to Bonnie's new house, the one he'd bought for her; settled down in the spare room and threw himself on the bed; Bonnie wasn't there, but he had a key; she didn't mind him coming, she knew he had no home anywhere and sometimes he got bored with hotel rooms, he needed something that looked like a place where people really lived. His old piano, the one he'd bought with the money of his first concert waited for him in the basement. A cellar at Toby's place, a basement here; did that mean something?
Jesus, he hoped Toby would succeed because he wouldn't pretend much longer, pretend to be sane and cool; he felt craziness simmer much too near; the old hunger was back again.
No. He wouldn't give in; he was done with the danger and the hunt and the fear, and drugs and all the things that had tainted his life.
Finally he played all evening and part of the night, went to bed exhausted and jerked off between the sheets.
He fell asleep late, but at 5 am, the phone rang.
Toby had waited as long as he could but he had a meeting with the people from the company at 8 and he needed an answer.
He'd spent the whole night pondering the arrangement he'd been offered. His reluctance to just agree, his stubbornness had taken his adversaries aback; sitting in a huge office in the Company's building, he'd been lectured about the opportunity they were offering Chris Keller -just two more record and just a very low amount of damages; he'd better seize the offer while it was still on the table. He kept thinking about it a lot, read Chris' file again, the contract again and called.
"Do you fucking know what time it is?"
"Sorry. They made an offer."
Chris Keller stretched, sat on the bed, his mind still dizzy with sleep.
"A good one?"
"Kind of offer any good lawyer would accept without hesitation." "And what about you?"
"It's not about me. Do you want to hear it?" "Yeah, spill."
Chris listened and cut Toby off in the middle of his speech.
"Ok, what's wrong?"
"They want you to finish the session and record two albums. Chopin and..." "No. No way; we had an agreement, Toby." "I know; that's why I didn't give them any answer. On the other hand I don't know what I can get if I tell them no. We don't have much room for manoeuvring." "I could commit suicide."
"Please, be serious."
"I am deadly serious."
Toby sighed. "Don't, Chris. You didn't pay me yet. OK, let's try something else. What do you want? Give me some clues; you're not here but I want to be able to say yes or no immediately, leave them no time to think." Chris rose, walked to the window, watched the garden slowly fading from summer to autumn in a grey dawn. "I don't give a damn about money. I wanna be free, Toby. I have to." "Ok, listen, being free and unable to pay any rent might be a little too much; they'd love to ruin you." "Yeah, I guess they would. Listen, I want you to fight for the sheer pleasure of fighting; I know and you know that's the reason why you accepted to defend me; you got balls, and nerves, Toby; show those pricks, show them, I want them to pay for 14 years of slavery, for contracts I signed without reading, for all the times did things I didn't want to do, played things I didn't want to play... Those years are over, I need a fresh start, leave everything behind, do you understand what I'm saying?"
The silence lasted for a whole minute.
"Yeah, I'm still here, just thinking about something... How far... How far are you really ready to go?" "I told you."
"You scare me."
Chris laughed, "Come on, Toby, you know better."
But Toby didn't laugh and Chris could picture him sitting at a desk in some hotel room, his fingers rubbing his forehead, frowning in concentration.
"You can do better than that, Toby."
"I'm going to be a very expensive lawyer." "If I'm ruined, I'll have to pay you with music and sex." "Very tempting; OK, I'll try. Whatever I think is good, I take; the only limit is, you don't want to have anything to do with them." "You got it, baby."
"We agreed on that."
"Ah, OK, you're no fun, Toby."
"No. When I work, I'm no fun at all. Hey, go back to bed; I'll call again."
He did. Two days later, he did.
"I got your agreement, Keller," Toby said, hoping his smile could be heard.
"Yeah? What did you get?"
"You're free; and still got plenty of money. The only thing missing is your signature at the bottom of the papers. Hurry up before they change their mind."
There was a long silence and Chris' voice, shaky.
"How did you do that?"
"Ah, I remembered something you said, once, about you being lazy, and that you'd let anyone sign your contracts... On one of them, the last one, the signature was different, I bluffed; said that second woman you'd married and who worked for them..." "Kitty"
"Yes, Kitty; had faked your signature. I told them she'd agreed to testify; by the way, how could you ever accept such financial conditions? It didn't occur to me when I met you that you loved being fucked so much."
He could hear the gears turning in Chris' head. "You lied."
"Did I? Your Kitty said she'd signed it."
"Come on, she didn't."
"Well, I don't give a damn about that, on the phone she told them she did, she wrote it in a letter and the signature did look different. After that, things went smoothly."
There was a smile and some amusement in Chris' voice when he said, "You son of a bitch." "Yeah, but you're free. And I kept Kitty's letter, by the way, I'll give it to you later, do with it what you want; you're a lucky guy, Chris, your women would do anything for you. Now hurry up."
The emaciated unshaven Chris who signed the papers looked crazy, his hands badly shaking; maybe, the guys from the company thought, maybe after all it was a good thing to get rid of him. He didn't say a single word and when they held out their hands, Chris just shrugged and turned away, leaving Toby alone to soothe the mood.
Three hours later they were sitting face to face in the bar of Toby's hotel.
"Let's get drunk and fuck like rabbits," Toby said, "in honour of your recovered freedom." "Booze and sex, they don't get along well."
Toby swallowed his second Vodka Martini. "Doesn't matter; I intend to let you do all the work, tonight; I deserve it." Chris laughed, and serious again, asked, "Why do you like to drink that much?" "I don't know; I feel good when I'm drunk; I feel different; bolder, sexier, smarter..."
Chris brushed his fingertips against Toby's wrist.
"You look bold and sexy enough to me, baby."
"Yeah, call me baby tonight, makes me all hot."
Something passed in Chris' eyes, a shadow, then he laughed.
"One more and you stop."
"Two more; three's nothing."
After that Toby didn't remember much, he'd drunk, they'd laughed, he'd described the way he'd lured their enemies in the trap he'd prepared and how Kitty had helped, "you should pay her, and fuck her too, just to thank her."
His fourth drink barely finished, he was dragged out of the bar, into the elevator, Chris' thigh grinding against his crotch, his tongue deep into Toby's mouth, and he'd pulled him closer and whispered. "Please, make me forget that my life's such a mess; you're my first real success in years."
But later, as he was lying naked on the bed, waves of exhaustion washed all over him; Chris' fingers on his skin, hot and skilful, didn't bring the expected madness.
"I think maybe I'd better give up," he said, ashamed and Chris laughed; "you know," he said, "sometimes it just doesn't work; and I'd told you that alcohol and sex didn't go along fine."
He kissed Toby and rose.
"I'm sorry," Toby said, and yawned, stretching, blue eyes roaming all over him, smiling. "Don't be, there's nothing to apologize about, really; you're tired, I should've remembered you'd spent too much time working." Toby closed his eyes. "Spend the night, please." And Chris did, undressed and wrapped Toby in a warm embrace, his skin softer than silk, his body harder than steel, his breath tickling Toby's neck.
"What are you going to do, now?"
"Take a break, I guess, maybe leave for some months, travel; then I'll buy a place to live, and think about working again."
Toby's eyelids were heavy, his body went limp; Chris amused laugh was the last thing he heard before drowning in sleep; when he woke up in the morning he was alone, not even a note on the table, but the sheets smelled of Chris. When he left, in the afternoon, elated with triumph and another sensation he couldn't quite put a name on, the stiff desk clerk just said; "Your room's been paid by a man who left this."
A simple note, Chris stark writing on it, saying, "Thank you."