Thanks to Rifka for the wonderful, efficient and fast beta! The remaining mistakes are solely mine.
Toby entered the untidy room where Chris was lying; a cheap suffocating hotel room; dirty sheets, dirty floor, but the man lying there was naked, covered with a thin layer of perspiration, his hard belly flat, every muscle of his body chiselled in the semi-darkness; and Chris was hard, hard and waiting, the invitation plain in his blue eyes as Toby joined him on the creaking mattress and began stroking him, drawing light circles on his chest, his belly, then lower, bending over to take the head of Chris' cock between his lips, taking it deeper and deeper, letting it grow in his mouth, his throat convulsing around it while a lazy hand slid down his back, reaching his ass, fingers teasing the opening, loud moans escaping his mouth. He began sucking, licking, teasing the crown of Chris' cock just under the head, tasting the first drops of pre-cum; but had to let go, mewling when three fingers stabbed him, fucking him deep, bumping with deliberate roughness against his prostate, sending him in heaven ....
"Go on," Chris said and Toby resumed his licking-teasing-sucking, all along the shaft now, pleasure slowly growing...
"Daddy, Daddy... Gary's crying!"
Fuck. Toby tried to sink deeper into sleep, refusing to let go of the dream.
But another anxious call and Gary's sobs dragged him out of his trance, made him rise from the rumpled sheets, disoriented and frustrated, his hard cock rubbing painfully against the fabric of his pants... Fuck, he'd gone to bed still dressed. He looked out; it wasn't dawn yet but Gary was going through one of those nightmares that didn't seem to disappear.
And suddenly Toby's dream was gone. He climbed the stairs to the kids' room and sat down on Gary's bed, holding the little hand in his, stroking the warm fingers with his thumb.
/ Chris, I miss you so much. /
The next day he decided to try and visit him again.
It was his fourth trip to Oz but the last one had been painful and useless. Chris had refused to see him and Toby had broken down in the corridor where the prison psychologist, Sister Pete, had rescued him. He'd found that strange, a nun working among those men, wondered if she was able to help any of them. The place looked like a sanitized picture of Hell.
"How am I supposed to help him? He doesn't even want to see me!"
She'd sighed and looked at him, thoughtfully.
Sister Pete had tried to reconcile the man who'd refused to work in her office, his hard cold gaze, his cool and bold alluring look, that half-crazy smile to the pictures she'd seen, the covers of the records - Leonard had been enthusiastic about the young pianist and his interpretation of Beethoven's concerti; and after her husband's death, Sister Pete had gone on buying Keller's record because Leonard would have. When she'd learned that he'd been sentenced in there for murder, she'd thought it was a bad joke at best, a tragic error at worst; she'd expected someone... Ah, what had she expected actually? Someone sensitive and subtle-minded, shy maybe or at least reserved, frightened and crushed by an adverse fate? Their first encounter had shattered those romantic fantasies. Chris Keller looked as ruthless as any other inmate; more alluring probably than any other man she'd met, cold, smart and obviously dangerous. She'd laughed in Glynn's face when he'd told her about the charges and now she wasn't sure of anything anymore; Keller was a loner, a fighter; not at all a lost fragile soul like poor Dobbins had been and Sister Pete felt betrayed and fooled. Artists shouldn't be that way.
"Your friend is a very disconcerting man, Mr Beecher." "Please call me Tobias, Sister," Toby said with a smile. "Maybe there's a way to arrange a meeting without him knowing it."
Toby had seized the opportunity and now he was standing in Sister Pete's office, feeling much too nervous, maybe a bit scared of Chris' unpredictable reaction.
Sister Pete let Chris inside, thanked the hack and closed the door on him, her back against the wooden panel, her heart beating loud and fast while Keller looked around and saw Toby. For a second, she thought he'd storm out, saw the lean body tense, hands clenching into fists; Toby said nothing, did nothing, just stood there, passive and eventually Chris closed the distance between them. She'd expected a friendly hug but Chris tackled Toby back with an exasperated growl, catching him as he was stumbling, pulling him against his body and tilting his head to kiss him, devour him; both hands locked behind Toby's head as he pushed him back against the wall, never letting go of Toby's mouth.
Desire rushed through Toby's body and strength deserted him as he kissed back, opening his mouth to the questing, probing tongue, one of Chris' hands sliding down his back, under the waistband of his pants, finding the skin, grabbing his hip, his ass, turning around to seize his dick and rubbing hard against it. And in spite of the painful roughness of the caress, something inside Toby snapped. His mind went numb, pleasure building deep in the pit of his belly, the small of his back, growing, pervading each cell of his body, too strong to be denied and he tried to break the kiss, caught Sister Pete's stunned look above Chris shoulder before closing his eyes, locked in a fierce embrace, his chin pulled back, his mouth caught again, lips bitten by sharp teeth as every nerve in his body tingled, heart beating too fast, lungs working hard to catch some air and suddenly he felt it, the last shiver before the blindness, the madness and Chris' mouth swallowed his moan.
When Toby opened his eyes, they were alone and only Chris' weight was holding him up.
"Did you miss me, baby?" the dark voice whispered in his ear "because I sure missed you."
And whatever Toby wanted to say, whatever he'd come for, he didn't remember what it was, the only thing he wanted were those arms wrapped around him and Chris' body as a shield between him and the world, him and reality and wasn't that ironic that he'd come to get the comfort of Chris' strength when he was the one who was supposed to bring some.
Chris stepped back, let his hands slide off Toby and whispered "Get me out of here, Toby, get me out of here fast."
And fuck, even if it was an order Toby just nodded.
Then Chris was gone; leaving it to him to explain to a shocked Sister Pete what had just happened.
"You love him," she said, looking concerned. "Yes, I do."
She looked at him thoughtfully but said nothing more.
That same day, during the endless hours between lockdown and lights out, standing in his cell Chris spent a long time looking at the deserted quad, banging his forehead against the glass wall until it hurt for good, until he allowed the pain to draw tears and could pretend it was just that. The pain. Not the sorrow, the despair, the fear, the hopelessness, helplessness. His podmate didn't seem to notice; most of the time the poor guy worked very hard to make himself as invisible as possible, sleeping, reading, anything to avoid drawing Chris' attention to him.
Back home late at night Toby found a message on his answering machine "Don't come back unless it's to get me out of here", and Chris' voice was so cold and angry Toby had to sit down.
"Did it occur to you that he might be guilty and that Daniel Vogel could be just another one; the next one being, let's say... you?"
Neill's face was wrinkled with concern and something else.
"Neill, you're biased."
"No. I'm not; I'm being realistic here; he's been seen climbing into a taxi hours only before Daniel's boyfriend called the police; and there's a witness. What more is there to say?" "A lot more," he answered with a sigh "at least about the witness."
Toby turned to Katherine who'd said nothing yet. They were sitting in a restaurant near his hotel; trendy place, nice food, cool music, a taste of intimacy and luxury, a place for the elite. I belong here, Toby thought, maybe they're right. But his mind kept showing Chris trapped in a little fish-bowl waiting anxiously for Toby to take him out.
The witness. What was wrong with the guy? He said he'd seen Chris dump the body in the woods, near a little pond where they'd found it, partly decomposed. The guy recalled Chris very clearly, which was strange because everything had happened in the middle of the night and if the weather report was right, it was raining hard; how had the guy been able to see anything precisely enough to be sure it was Chris?
"He stated that he used a flashlight," Toby told Chris during their first meeting after Chris' incarceration "but if he did, you would've noticed it, wouldn't you?"
Chris' look seemed to cut deep through him.
Toby hesitated; he knew that the answer to the second question would hurt either way.
"And you didn't."
"I wasn't there, Toby, it wasn't me."
They said that ignorance was bliss but ignorance led them nowhere in that particular case.
"I'm sure he's lying; I'm sure his testimony was somehow forced on him but I have to prove it and to prove it I have to be sure that the stuff about the flashlight is a lie. Tell me, Chris, I need to know to go on."
They were sitting alone in a little room, face to face, a hack watching them, suspicious. Chris kept his look down for a long while; Toby rested his fingers over Chris' hand and heard a deep sigh.
"There was no one in the woods; there was no light; I even fell twice because of the darkness. No fucking flashlight, Toby."
Toby nodded, pensive, trying to wrap his mind around the meaning of Chris' words, looking deep into Chris' eyes and seeing nothing there but an unusual sadness.
"The bastard's lying. I have to find out why."
Now, weeks later, facing Neill and Katherine, he couldn't stop feeling bitter and angry.
"I expected more from the two of you than shallow preconceived ideas based on personal grievances," he said..
Katherine kept silent but Neill frowned.
"I admire Keller's talent but I have no reason to believe he's innocent until you prove it."
"Which I will."
"We'll see about that."
Toby tossed his napkin and stood up.
"I'm wasting my time here; other people need me." "Are you talking about your son?" Katherine's voice was too light, just the hint of a reproach. "I'm talking about my son, my daughter and Chris Keller."
He flew back home feeling horribly guilty, thanks to her, and spent the whole evening playing with the kids, stayed with them in the little room upstairs where Holly and Harry slept together more often than they should have, curled up against each other. Holly's affection was proving more helpful than anything else, Toby thought with a smile; the boy had been making tremendous progress lately; he was walking, and running and even talking normally. Granted, his memory was still badly damaged and he couldn't read or write, barely count but at least the doctors were more optimistic now.
Toby was spending most of the time working on the case with his brother; hours in McKenzie's office to keep him informed, both of them working on the release of a live CD from the Venice's concert. McKenzie had never abandoned Keller; the company had received thousands of messages from fans and other pianists, some of whom were friends; there had been numerous petitions asking for Keller's freedom but bail had been denied due to the horrific circumstances surrounding the murder and because Keller still had his passport and could easily escape; maybe to Italy where extradition would be a bitch to obtain.
Venice's concert had been a national event and the papers were following Keller's judiciary odyssey very closely. No one could believe in Chris' culpability and no one really cared; they wanted their favourite pianist back, guilty or not and to some extent it didn't really matter; what was a man's life compared to Chris Keller's divine genius?
After Chris' message Toby felt drained but couldn't sleep, tossing and turning in his bed. The next morning he got a call from Susan.
"I thought maybe you could use some help; if you like I'll come and stay with you for a week or two, look after the kids when you're busy."
The offer took him off-guard; Susan had always seemed so independent and she'd been distancing herself so much from them that he had believed she'd stay away.
Not wanting him to come to the airport, she took a cab to his place; Holly was looking warily at that unknown woman who hugged her father so tight.
"I'm just a friend, Honey, only here to help," Susan said, making things clear to everyone that she didn't intend on taking take anyone's place.
Of course she'd brought Harry and when Toby saw him, his first thought was that Chris was an outstanding liar. The baby was 5 months old and very lively; blue eyes clear as a summer sky and short silky blond hair began curling around his face as he opened up to the world around him . Toby's caught the look on his daughter's face but she didn't say anything.
"Chris told me he looked like you?"
"Did he?" She laughed and brushed a hand against the baby's face "He must've been joking then because it was obvious from the beginning that he looked a lot like..."
She bit her lips, noticing Holly's inquiring gaze.
"My mother and my father are both blond with blue eyes; I'm the family's ugly duckling."
And for the time being Holly seemed to accept that.
Later when Harry was asleep in one of the empty rooms and the kids playing upstairs, Susan asked "How is he? I wanted to go visit him but I feared the publicity; then he sent me a short letter telling me he didn't want me to come. I'm worried, Toby; Chris in prison... It's something I can't quite picture."
"He seems to be fine; he's been in prison before, he'll survive. And he'll be out soon."
Pretending was easy.
"Even so, will he find the strength to take his life back and..."
Toby stopped her, resting a hand on her arm.
"Let's take it one step at a time; first thing is to get him out."
She remained silent for a moment before asking.
"Toby," she asked "Did he kill the guy?"
"No. I'm sure he didn't. Was he ever mean to you?"
"He was to you."
"Considering the situation I don't blame him for what he did. He didn't kill me, he never hurt you or the baby... He's innocent, Susan."
She looked deep in the eyes and nodded.
"He is," Toby said.
/ Shameless liar that you are; how long will it take to believe your own words? /
At the same time, lying in the darkness of Em City, Chris was sitting against the glass wall catching a dim ray of light coming from the guard station, writing on a legal pad he'd stolen in the storage room. A light flashed into the pod and he raised his hand to protect his face, waved to Murphy who nodded back and walked away. Chris looked at him as he repeated the same routine all around the cells and rubbed his stubbly chin before resuming his work. When he was done he tore a sheet out of the pad, folded it and shoved it in the back pocket of his pants, took them off and collapsed on his bunk, closed his eyes, dreaming of Toby; Toby's smooth and talented body, Toby's breath catching in his throat; Toby's perfect ass, Toby's cock in his hand, his mouth, the taste of him, the smell of him, his warmth all around him as Chris wrapped his own fingers around his cock and began stroking, quietly calling out Toby's name like a litany while pleasure invaded him, forcing him to let go.
Fast and efficient; he didn't ask for more; the next day he'd find some nameless guy to fuck and hurt because that's how you survived there; `if they fear you more than you fear them, Chris, you'll be safe'; that's what Vern Schillinger used to tell him 23 years ago in Lardner. Vern had been paroled more than a year ago but his name would keep him out of harm's way, some of the guys here had heard of Chris so the Aryan Brotherhood left him alone; and he'd managed to ally himself with an Irish guy; Ryan O'Reilly didn't like him; he didn't like Ryan O'Reilly but they needed each other, it was the cold and silent alliance of two feral beasts joining their skills to get rid of their enemy more easily and parting after that; each one his path. As it was, O'Reilly had good ideas and Keller knew how to use them real fine at the right moment and it had saved their lives a week ago when the homeboys had become a real nuisance.
A week later Toby asked to see Chris and he readily agreed because he wanted him so badly it hurt; he sat in front of him in the empty waiting room, glancing outside at a sunny September day and rested his hand over Toby's hand.
"If you agree I'm going to ask for a new bail hearing; and this time I don't think they'll be able to deny you freedom." "Tell me what makes you so sure about it."
Toby took a deep breath.
"Our witness, Jonas Rosenberg, he's got a very interesting record. Drug traffic, drug dealing, reckless driving, he's already spent 5 years in prison for several crimes and the next time he's in for life; which leads me to believe that he got a deal with the FBI or the cops; he's talking bullshit about you to get his sentence overturned."
Chris let go of Toby's hand and sat back, crossed arms, a cold smile on his lips.
"The motherfucker didn't see anything; OK but how are you gonna prove it?" "He saw a man dump a body and forgot about it for 5 years, he was able to recognize you in the middle of a rainy night deep into the woods and see your face perfectly clearly; at the time he lived very far from there, what the hell was he doing there? Plus I intend to use the fact that you're not about flying away to another country since you're innocent. In some way we're lucky; the corpse was in the water long enough, they won't be able to prove anything using the DNA. I demanded that the medical examiner's conclusions were sent to me, just in case I could cast a shadow of doubt on the victim's identity; I heard that the conclusions were inconclusive. They can't keep you here; too many things remain questionable in your case; they'll have to let you go and after that I think we can avoid a trial; pull the rug out from Taylor's flat feet, make him stumble, get rid of him. Legally."
Chris kept silent for a while; then sighed and Chris' voice, strangely distant.
"The fact is I don't know how I'll ever be able to pay you back." "I don't want any payment; I'm doing my job here," Toby said, shrugging "but there's one thing bothering me... That Taylor guy... What's wrong with him; what is it about you that obsess him so much?"
"If you take me out of here I'll tell you the whole story. OK?" "OK, but you have to promise me you won't do anything stupid; don't get caught in a fight or stuff like that; I don't want you hurt or worse; you have to make it just two more weeks and the nightmare will be over."
Chris nodded. Toby didn't have the slightest idea of what a week meant in Oz. Hours, days, weeks or century, all the bearings fading into an endless grey stretch of time with no intimacy, bad food, violence, danger, death, blood and the constant temptation to let go -drugs, sex, whatever.
"I'll do my best; hey, I've been doing great until now!"
Two weeks later Chris was led into the courtroom between two guards and a single glance was enough to see the bruises all over his arms and shoulders, and the left side of his face; he was limping and barely managed to hold back a hiss of pain when he sat down, turning around to see Toby sitting just behind him and giving him a lopsided smile that said, "I'm OK; I'll survive."
There was a bandage around his right wrist... Toby's eyes met his brother's who would plea for Keller and Angus nodded with a slight smile. He knew the job; he'd play the emotional part all the way; the judge's look was trailing over Keller's face as he slumped a bit in his chair, rubbing his hands over his face in sheer exhaustion, letting go.
And of course it worked.
"I'm out," Chris said with a smile, leaning on Toby's arm as he walked out of the courthouse through a hidden door to avoid the journalists.
"Not really free."
"Come on, don't you fucking rain on my parade; you don't know how good it feels! Just being able to feel the sun, look at people, no one to tell you when to eat or pee. And you! Fuck! It's great."
After that Chris gave him the expected and enthusiastic thanks; told him he owed him his life, hugged him like crazy. Then sitting in the taxi he took off the bandage and moved his hand, a hard smile playing on his lips; Toby looked for a bruise, a mark, anything but saw nothing and looking at Chris he said.
"You faked it!"
"Yeah, well, I had that little discussion with an old friend of mine the other day and it gave me an idea. The bruises look good, don't you think? Just a harmless fight. I figured that a little more would be better. I wasn't that badly hurt, just tired, I just added a little limping and the bandage; did you see their face? They all looked so sorry for poor fucking me!" "Jesus, you're really good at that, aren't you?" "That and a little more," Chris said, biting Toby's ear with a soft delighted laugh. Toby laughed too but inside he felt a stitch of uneasiness.
Toby didn't remember much of the trip to the hotel where he'd booked a room for Chris, just recalled being thrown on a king-size bed and kissed again and again, thanked, worshipped, undressed, kissed again, Chris' hot mouth everywhere; then climbing one by one all the steps to heaven, sure that it would never end and that he'd die if it did, until Chris was pounding into him with such strength each thrust lifted Toby from the mattress, forcing him to clutch at the hard body towering over him, look for some balance, tossed and turned and fucked, each thrust bringing more madness and more pleasure until eventually he opened his eyes and looked at Chris face...
Cold, empty, unloving face. Orgasm twisted Toby's body just when his heart broke; he yelled in pleasure and anger and bit Chris' shoulder hard; causing him to go rougher on him, pleasure and desolation washing over him as he watched Chris come, his eyes barely shining...
"You don't love me," Toby said.
"Don't be stupid," Chris whispered, wrapping Toby in his arms, kissing the vein pulsing on his forehead, his eyelids, his mouth; but Toby turned away.
"You don't love me; I saw it in your eyes."
Chris sighed and rested his forehead against Toby's neck.
"Why can't you just be satisfied with what I'm giving you?" "You said you loved me; you don't. It was a lie."
Chris pushed Toby back as softly as if he'd been a little child.
"How the fuck would I know? I never loved anyone. I didn't lie, Toby, but I don't know what love is; I'm like a blind man trying to figure out what colours are. What I feel for you is the closest thing to love I ever felt." "You were repaying me with sex. It wasn't love. We're back exactly where we began; sex and business." "Don't tell me you didn't like it; I know you did."
Chris' hand on his cock, stroking with exquisite softness and Toby leaned back, shaking while Chris' mouth roamed over his body.
"Fuck me," Chris said
"You can go to hell! I won't play this game any longer." "Come on, you know you want it; fuck me."
Toby arched under the relentless and skilful caress.
"How many love making sessions before we're even? Before you feel you don't owe me anything?" "It's not about that; don't be stupid." "How long, Chris?"
A sigh and the hand withdrew, Chris body left his, the silky sweaty musky touch and scent deserted him and Toby felt the cold and the pain.
/ It's over. /
Chris sat on the edge of the bed, his head low.
"I would've talked to you; I wanted to; I'd been thinking about it in the plane; but after what happened... Prison... made me see things otherwise."
"I know nothing about you, do I?"
"Fuck that! Listen Toby; I will never live up to your expectations, true love and all that bullshit; as much as I like you it's not enough to keep me glued to you; I'm not what you expected; I'll never be."
Silence and realization fell on Toby.
"That night in Venice... You didn't spend it alone, did you?" "No. Of course not."
Chris remembered them both very well. So young, so hungry, so eager to let him do whatever he wanted to them, their round asses, the girl's narrow waist, the boy's slim hips. He wasn't ready to let go of that particular kind of pleasure, not even for Toby.
The look on Chris' face... evidence. You don't change people; you think you do but you don't. `It's in the nature of dreams to vanish,' his grandmother had told him.
And now Keller was talking.
"After you left I realized it would never work; we would fight and fight again until one of us got hurt and gave up and I don't want to hurt you; I don't want to be hurt either."
"What were you afraid of? Were you scared that I'd stop helping you? Afraid of being found guilty and spend your life in prison, or worse?"
"I think too highly of you for that. What I'm afraid of is that some day, any day, you'll find out that I'm unable to fit your idea of love and stop loving me."
"Why the fuck should I love someone who doesn't love me?"
"Yeah; that's what I mean Toby; forget me; take back your life," Chris said holding out a hand and touching Toby's jaw "You don't need me. You'll be happy without me. You'll never get what you want from me; I'll never get what I want from you. Let's stop it before someone gets hurt."
"I'm sure enough of myself; what about you?"
Toby closed his eyes again and lay back. He should've known. Chris' surrender that morning in Venice had been too complete and too fast; Chris never acted that way.
After a moment got up and showered, shaking with grief. Coming back into the room he found Chris still sitting, looking numb.
"If I asked for more sex I guess I would have it?"
"Shut the fuck up and listen to me... I won't let you down now; to tell you the truth as I see it there will be no trial because the file's fucking empty; and if there's one you won't go back to jail, I'm pretty sure about that."
Chris turned his eyes to him, looking suddenly tired and old.
"You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"
"No. I wouldn't. I'll keep in touch. Do what you have to."
The door slammed, Toby was gone and Chris felt sorry and lonely and fucking wonderfully... Free.