His son was lying on the bed like an empty shell between beeping monitors and shining screens, his eyes closed, long eyelashes shading his pale cheeks. He'd been lying there for a whole month already and nothing had changed. Of course the physical injuries had partially healed, the bruises had faded but the little boy's waist and breast were still immobilized in a tight corset; and the worst of all, the thing that made it impossible to believe he was only sleeping, a respirator kept his lungs working with a regular soft hiss Toby had come to associate with his own despair. To his father Gary looked thinner and paler everyday, more and more ghostly, less and less real and sometimes he had to fight the urge to shake him, wake him up from this unbearable stillness.
He hadn't left the room for more than 12 hours in a row -for Gen's heartbreaking funeral, a pale attempt at celebrating Christmas, a few hours of sleep and some time with Holly because he didn't want her to feel abandoned, to think maybe she'd lost her father too.
Chris had left messages, sent e-mails; Susan had done the same; he'd deleted everything. After his last conversation with Chris from the hospital on the first day, there didn't seem to be much more left to say. He wouldn't go back to Chris because he wasn't able to take back the job that had got him so far from his family; he was unable to feel the gap that had suddenly opened up between them and that he couldn't fill, no matter how much he missed him; he wouldn't get involved in Susan's life any longer because he wanted to keep all his energy for the little boy lying on the bed and the little girl who kept calling her mother in the middle of the night.
They were done, the page was turned, the adventure was finished; he was back home, back to the place he should never have left and he couldn't help thinking, more and more often as weariness grew on him, that if he'd been there, Gen would still be alive and his son playing with his friends.
"You won't leave us, will you?" Holly had asked him a week ago, throwing a pained glance at her brother's empty form. "No, Honey, never again."
And now there he was, sitting in front of the bed on a grey winter dawn; he knew he should be going home and face loneliness again; shower, sleep for a while, have lunch with Holly and then come back, spend the rest of the day, and part of the night with his son; he wanted the miracle to happen while he was here, talking to him, reading to him, singing to him, muttering stupid nursery rhymes, feeling the nurses' compassionate look on him every time one of them walked past the door.
Every one had come to him; his family, Gen's family, long lost friends; Neill and Katherine had even taken turns to spend the night home with him when he felt so shaken he wouldn't let sleep take him. They'd been there sitting by his side, silent and understanding, helpless; nothing could take away the numbness, the anger, the guilt, the pain that kept roaming around his mind like wild beasts pacing a tiny cage, threatening to destroy him, destroy what was left of his sanity.
In the beginning, he'd took up drinking again, but booze made him unable to wake up, unable to think, made him numb and the children needed more than that, needed a sharp minded father who'd be able to make the right decisions; so he only allowed himself a drink or two before he went to bed, when he couldn't keep the grief and pain and fear at bay; alcohol helped, it was a deceptive dangerous help, but a help nonetheless, making him able to face this nightmare he was living through.
Sighing, he rose, bent over the small body and brushed his fingertips against the sleeping face, the blond untidy hair; then left the room with a last glance backwards, hesitating on the doorstep like every day. Maybe he should stay; maybe today was the day Gary would rise from the dark place he was trapped in and come back to them, maybe if he left he'd miss that, or Gary would feel he'd abandoned him and give up. But he was so tired already he could barely stand, how would he be able to help anyone? He walked out the door and up the corridor, warned the nurses that he was leaving and that his father would take his place soon.
He was at the bottom of the stairs when he saw his father -recognized the broad back and the hunched shoulders; noticed how old he looked suddenly, and worried, and how affectionate he'd been all the time, never leaving his son alone, taking care of everything, alleviating the burden as much as he could; and now he was here like every day and their looks met, they hugged, Toby nearly disappearing in his father's embrace.
"You go get some sleep, Toby; you look exhausted."
"Yeah. I'll be back in the afternoon."
"Take your time, I'm here and your mother will join me later." "Don't forget, Dad, you have to talk to him; he can hear us."
Harrison Beecher nodded wearily, didn't even ask how Gary was doing; if any change had happened, he would've been told already and he watched Toby walk away, swaying a little with exhaustion, and sighed, waiting for the elevator to take him up to the little boy's room.
Toby was still wet with the shower when the phone rang -only his family and the hospital had his new number, and he rushed down the stairs, heart racing wildly.
Stunned, as if Keller had just risen from the dead.
"You fucking shut me off, Toby, you said what we had mattered, you wanted to stay with me, that I needed you; and now you're shutting me out of your life."
A chair welcomed him as his knees gave way; one thing was to delete the mail and the messages on his cell phone without listening to them, pretend he'd be strong enough to break up; but to hear Chris' voice, deep and growling with anger in his ear was quite something else, something he felt unprepared to.
"Chris I can't..."
"Yeah you can; I'm gonna tell you, I'm at the airport and I'll be there in about 2 hours so you'd better be home; we have to talk." "Don't you think I'm going through enough right now?" "What you going through has nothing to do with us; don't use what's happening to run away from me." "I'm not running away from you! But my son needs me, and my daughter needs me, and my whole life just collapsed at my feet and I don't know where I stand anymore and all I wanted was a little time to..." "You're a fucking liar, Toby! You didn't intend to come back to me, admit it!"
People's anger always seemed to take Toby off-guard; enraged him or depressed him, depending on his kind of mood; he felt a dark wave of desperation drown him.
"You got it all wrong, Chris."
"Yeah? Then you'll be happy to enlighten me when I'm here."
First thing Chris noticed when he arrived, around 9 in the morning, was the heat of the house after the freezing cold outside; then his gazed zeroed in on the man in front of him; a short sleeved black polo and an old jean did very little to hide how thin and pale and tired Toby looked, his shining eyes a shocking electric blue, hollow cheeks and a golden stubble where the light caught, lips tight -to prevent them from trembling. He was barefoot and his hair was too long and dirty.
"Planning a trip to Kathmandu?" Chris asked before leaning forward to kiss those warm dry lips, catching the flesh between his teeth and when Toby stepped back he didn't let go, following his retreat until Toby had his back against the table, his palms on the shiny dark wood closing into fists, helpless; and kissed him harder, forcing the reluctant lips open, sliding his tongue in the moist heat of Toby's mouth and finally pressing fully against him, bending him back.
Toby turned his face away to escape the kiss and catch his breath.
"It's OK," Chris said, and took Toby's chin between his fingers, pulled him back, kissed him again until he felt strong arms lock around his waist, hands sliding under the woollen overcoat, the velvet of a short jacket, fumbling with the shirt to pull it out of the waistband of Chris' pants, and eventually reaching the skin. Chris knew then it was safe to hug him, squeeze him, keep him locked in a tight embrace and deepen the kiss until they were both breathless. Toby threw his head back and let the cold fingers strip him, shivered at their touch on his cock, felt it harden under the caress.
Sex was nothing, Toby thought, sex was like booze or drug, something that kept the pain at bay; he wasn't going to deny him this relief, as fleeting as it could be.
"Please," he whispered, and Chris fell to his knees to take Toby's cock into his mouth, playing with it, licking it, sucking it, until Toby's knuckles went white with the effort of clutching the table and his knees shook with pleasure; until he came in Chris' mouth with a half-suppressed moan; Chris hands holding his hips tight, stopping him from collapsing.
How did they go upstairs; had he been walking, had Chris carried him? He didn't know; just that he was naked on the bed, showered with insane kisses, turned around like a kitten, licked and softly bitten, arching his back to get more and being rewarded with the soft growl that he'd came to understand as "I'm gonna fuck you."
Chris got rid of his clothes hastily; no time for teasing here, his desire was too strong, he needed Toby and Toby needed sex, oozed need, moaning, urging Chris to take him; but fucking Toby, entering him when he was so tense, so tired, so unable to relax was like stabbing him, tearing, forcing the flesh open, no matter the amount of lube he used, and Chris couldn't, wouldn't do that.
"Come on, baby, open up for me; don't let me think I'm raping you, hurting you," he whispered, his hot breath raising every hair on Toby's body, "relax, let me in, it's gonna be good, come on, come on, take me in, yeah, like that, come on baby..."
He kept on urging him, soothing him until Toby collapsed on his elbows, hissing softly and finally did open, letting Chris thrust inside him, move inside him, take him to heaven, drag him down in the bliss of hell and back to heaven again.
"Oh my God" was all he was able to say afterwards, when they were done, melting in each other, Chris' face buried in the damp dirty curls on Toby's nape, a thigh thrown over Toby's hip, his body wrapped around him. "Oh my God!"
Toby dozed off in Chris' arms, Chris dozed off against Toby's warm skin, breathing against each other; only the cold winter sun woke them up. They rose and got dressed.
"Let's go to your old room," Chris said, holding out his hand to grab Toby's wrist and pull him into the stairs, "I have something for this room in winter; don't know what it is."
When they were settled on the old bed, lying side by side, Chris asked "Do you wanna talk about it? The accident?"
"Maybe you should, maybe you'd feel better afterwards," Chris added. And maybe, he thought, maybe I'd know where I'm standing with you right now and how far I can go; which would help, a lot, because I'm really lost, here.
"How long are you staying?"
"Just for the day, I'm afraid; tomorrow I have to play for this stupid charity gala you negotiated weeks ago. What the hell went through your head, by the way?"
Toby smiled; he remembered thinking at the time that Chris needed to play for an audience more than anything else, needed some training before he went to play Mozart at the Fenice. It had been so important to him at the moment and now... Now it didn't mean anything anymore, he realized with a twinge of guilt.
"What are you going to play?"
"Schnberg, first; then Bach as a reward because Schnberg's a tough one." "I'm sure you'll do great."
"I'd do better if you were there with me." "Chris, I can't leave Gary; the kids... I'm all they've got left now."
Chris nodded; he understood; didn't really like it but what was he supposed to do? Next time if there's one, he thought, choose someone who's got no kids; they're too much of a burden.
"What do the doctors say?"
"Nothing new. He can wake up today, next week, next month or never; and even if he wakes up they don't know what the damages will be."
Chris sighed, moved to lean on his side, watch the man lying close to him.
"How did it happen?"
"A guy... He was drunk, didn't see Gen, their cars crashed at the junction. She died instantly and Gary..."
He couldn't go on, barely could hold back the tears and Chris took his hand, squeezed it.
"What about the other driver?"
"He was sentenced to 20 years in a prison nearby. My age, worked for an insurance company, he'd just had a drink or two with his colleagues; exactly what I used to do; I can't even hate him." "No one asks you to. He's in prison, uh? Guess he got a nice little welcoming party." "What do you mean?"
"Ah, you know, a young enough guy, a little lost, he ain't used to the place, lands there among hardened criminals; there's a good chance he gets raped the first week and killed on the second one."
Toby glanced at him in shocked surprise and Chris sighed; he didn't want to broach that particular subject; it wasn't one he liked and he'd come here to get a question answered, once for all. He got up, and went to the piano, sitting on the old leather stool, resting his hands on the keyboard, his back on Toby.
"So where are we now?"
Toby sighed, said softly that he wouldn't work for him anymore.
"I'd gathered that much; I've called some people I know, I'm OK with that. It's not what I'm talking about." "We had sex just a minute ago and you're sitting in my room, what more can you possible want?" "I feel like I'm losing you," Chris said as fast as he could "like you don't want me around anymore."
He heard the mattress creak and a presence behind his back, two hands on his shoulders forcing him to turn around, eyes catching his and not letting go.
"I don't want to lose you," Chris said, flat voice, "I love you."
Lifting his shoulder he turned his head, rubbed his cheek against Toby's hand as a cat.
"How do you know for sure?" Toby asked, sounding wary.
"You know that you love me? Just like that?" "I don't want to lose you; I don't want to hurt you; I'm afraid to mess up when I fuck you. I know you feel guilty about your son and I don't try to use that against you."
Wariness turned into surprise.
"What do you mean?"
"You feel guilty; rich guys like you, always got what they wanted, big house, big car, big job..." "Chris, you're richer than I am!"
"Doesn't matter, inside I'm poor; let me finish, will you? Guys like you I know how they work, got some of your kind before, they want to be punished because they couldn't prevent anything, were helpless; I do that -very well, from what I heard; get rough on them; could've got rough on you and you would've liked it." "I don't think so," Toby said with a flare of anger. "You don't know what you're talking about; you never tried that, I never got like that on you; I would have, but I can't and that's the reason why... I fucking know I love you."
"Doesn't seem to make you very happy."
"Who would be? Who would like the prospect to have his life shattered, feel that vulnerable and exposed? I don't know what it's about you, Toby, but I love you. I tried to find out, but I can't. I thought that after lots of sex the feeling would wear off, that when I would've seen you unshaven and messy in the morning, seen the flaws I generally notice after a while, I would get tired of you, get rid of you -just like the others."
Toby remembered the FBI agent talking about that, telling him how short-lived Chris' fancies were.
Chris gave him a sad narrow smile and held out a hand, traced the outlines of Toby's face, his nose, the circles under his eyes, his tight lips and the stubble on his cheek.
"Now I don't think it will wear off, every little thing about you is priceless to me. I love you, do you love me, Toby?" "Stop! Stop that, please! Right now, my kids need me more than you do; you can survive without me for a while; I'm not sure they can. Do you understand that?"
Chris had that strange look, painful smile again; he shook his head without a word, and looked away.
"You don't believe me," Toby said.
"I don't know what I believe or not. I missed you so much; I don't know what's happening to me. I guess I'll believe it when you're back to me." "You'll have to share me with my kids; I can't change that." "Yeah, kids. I'm OK with that particular kind of sharing; it's the other kind I don't like. Toby, do you have someone else?" "What? What the fuck... Do you think I've been fucking nurses? Or Katherine?" "You've been in pain; you could've been looking for comfort, someone could've taken advantage on you; Katherine, yes, or your ex-hippie boyfriend." "Neill."
"Yeah. Him too. Please just tell me there's only me; no one else fucking you, just me; and I'll be patient; that you won't go with anyone else, sleep with anyone else. You know, if I fell for you, then a lot of other people probably do."
Toby snorted, incredulous.
"Remind me... Aren't you married or stuff?"
"Yeah; that's not the same."
"Ah! Of course it's not; you're the real man here, aren't you? Jesus, how can I be listening to this bullshit while my kid is lying unconscious in a hospital bed?"
But Toby's angry puzzlement didn't reach Chris; the dark eyes looked green in the cold light of day, green and deep and Toby was drawn to those eyes by the sheer force they held, a spell, a magic charm, and couldn't look away.
"Just tell me there's no one else, tell me I'll be the only one."
Toby sighed, shook his head.
"I can't believe you're asking me that."
"Fuck you, Chris! try to understand me; Gary's my kid, I don't know if he'll survive; I'm unable to think about anything else right now, I cant! I really can't; whatever I'd promise now would mean nothing!" "But fucking me was OK so what am I to you? Just a piece of flesh? Are you using me to shut up the pain?" "How dare you? You've been setting the rules from the beginning; your rules, right? -sex, no love; now you change your mind and I should do the same, no matter how I feel, no matter if my little boy is dying while we're having this conversation? Fuck you..."
He was yelling with rage, hitting Chris' shoulders with both fists.
"...You insensitive selfish motherfucker!"
Breathless, he turned his back on the other man and went to the window, trying to quiet down, resting his forehead against the cool glass; heard Chris rise. Strong fingers grabbed his arms from behind, pulled him back; he felt Chris' chest against his back.
"You're hurting me! Let go of me!"
"Tell me you love me; tell me there's no one else. I don't ask for more."
Toby sighed; dealing with Chris in stubborn mode required some iron will -he wasn't sure he had it at the moment.
"Love doesn't mean..."
"You love me."
"Well, sounds like I do; but it doesn't mean..." "You loved me from the beginning, didn't you?" "Chris, I think..."
"Yeah you did and I didn't believe that you could get me to love you; nobody did before, you're the first." "Yay me! Where's the medal?"
"So you'd better not let me down, Toby."
And it was much later, months later, years later, much too late anyway that the true meaning of the sentence sank in, because at the moment Chris turned him around, wrapped his arms around him, kissed him and the sentence remained unanswered. Toby didn't hear the warning, didn't hear the storm in the distance, clouds gathering at the edge of future, ready to rain down on him later -much later, when he would've stepped too far from the shelter of his own life to run back.
They had sex again that afternoon, sex was good, sex took Toby's mind away from Gary and then Chris played while Toby dozed off, hearing everything but unable to move or speak, unable to identify the music, but cradled in it, wrapped in it, flooded with it; music that had nothing real, like a soft breeze running through him -Chopin probably and Brahms and Schumann and things he'd never heard before -later he realized he'd missed this first attempt at composing Chris was offering him.
Days were still too short; the afternoon was cold and dark, soon it was time to go; they showered and got ready to go.
"I don't know where you find the strength to go through this; you're so brave."
"What am I supposed to do, anyway? It's not like I have any choice." "Tomorrow's concert will be just for you, Toby, you and your kids."
The taxi stopped in front of the hospital.
"I'd like to see him," Chris said.
"Are you sure?"
Because if keeping Toby meant he had to put up with his kids then he would; he threw an arm around Toby's shoulders and they walked inside together; Toby's body stiffening with anxiousness as they went, his pace slowing down as they reached an open door, a glass wall separating the room from the corridor.
"I won't be long. Just talk to him, you know, let him know we care."
That earned him a grateful look. Jesus, he thought, to what lengths do I have to go to make him mine?
He walked into the room alone and sat by the bed; it was too small and crowded with medical stuff to have more than one person inside; Toby was watching from the door: he saw Chris lean forward, his mouth against the little boy's ear; he had no idea of what he was whispering, but he guessed it was about what Gary was missing right now, what he would be missing later if he didn't wake up; girls and music and whatever makes life so good, how much his father was worried about him... He couldn't help but smile; he was sure Chris' arguments were much more relevant than his own.
"He looks like you a lot."
Before Chris left, Toby asked "How's Susan?"
"Impressive; I think she could be carrying twins, she looks a little like a whale; but she's fine, smiling and fine; made a lot of paintings and a beautiful portrait of you, gave it to me. I'll hang it in front of my bed, it will the first thing I see in the morning when I wake up."
"When are you leaving? Going back to Italy? Home?"
"Don't know yet; I might wait for Susan to have the baby and your son to be back."
"He won't die. Come on, have a little faith, Toby." "Sometimes it's just hard to believe."
"You made me love you; you can make him come back."
He gave him a last kiss and left; Toby stood there for a long time, staring into the night, depressed and lonely again, then made his way back to his son's room, waiting for a miracle.