Toby had been right; after the bail hearing the whole case unraveled quickly and the judge almost held the FBI in contempt of court due to their tricks and lies; Toby pulled the right strings and Agent fucking Taylor had to get himself another job. No trial.
They had a last meeting; Chris had that unflinching gaze - he wouldn't change his mind and Toby had enough pride left to let him go, barely hearing the words of gratitude. Too many of them, and no real feeling.
And there it was; real freedom but nothing like the bliss Chris craved when he was trapped inside Oz. Just pain, anguish and suddenly waking up in the middle of the night, sweat rolling down his back. He was going down; badly.
There had been a time when he'd known ways to soothe the pain, calm down the anguish, fill the void. He'd been good at that. Chased around until he'd found someone to fuck; bring the prey home; play with it and according to his mood... Well he didn't want to think about that anymore.
He tried again but the whole thing had lost its charm; had become a boring routine, always the same words, the same moves, the same tricks to get what he wanted; the truth was that he didn't want it hard enough to play the game. Old cats were like that, probably, still able, maybe more able than they'd ever been but somewhere between yesterday and now the will was gone; he looked at potential preys, watched them; the way they moved, the sound of their voice, their smiles, looking at them with covetous eyes but when the moment had come to pounce, he just felt nothing but weariness.
Fuck I'm getting old.
"Mr Keller, I listened to the piece you wrote in prison."
Chris made a conscious effort to listen to Francis McKenzie, turned away from the window. He'd almost forgotten he was there, standing behind him in his cozy office, all dark wood and leather couch.
"Toby played it for me twice, he told me the prison psychiatrist found it in your locker and kept it."
Toby... TOBY? Chris frowned, opened his mouth but McKenzie was going on.
"You remember this piece, don't you? It's a... well I don't know if the word sonata is appropriate; very dark, very moving; Toby..."
"I assume you're talking about Mr Beecher here?"
Francis McKenzie stood speechless for a couple of seconds before his freckled skin turned to a bright shade of red.
"Yes, errr... Mr Beecher and I..."
"It's OK; I just wanted to make sure."
Toby fucked McKenzie, fucking McKenzie fucked Toby, he'd touch the man who was his, kissed his lips, sucked his cock, fucked his ass. He tried to go on listening, to focus on something else; Toby had played that piece he'd spent so much time writing while in Oz; writing because it was the only way to remain sane, to remember where he belonged and what his life was; writing every fucking night after lights out ... He'd left it in the locker, it had been a moment of shyness. You're not a composer, Chris, only a player; this belongs in to the trash can. And now Toby fucked McKenzie and played this piece of shit?
He didn't have the slightest idea of how he got back to his hotel, pictures parading in his mind in bright, vivid, sickening colours. What the fuck; Beecher, who do you love exactly? Not this podgy business man, don't give me that shit. He should've asked McKenzie how it happened. When he was in prison? Yeah, must've been that; fucking bitch felt lonely, working hard to get Chris out of hell and McKenzie had listened, and helped, he could see the picture crystal clear.
He'd fucked Toby. The fucker would die, like all the other bastards always trying to push him over the edge making him angry; well he was angry and now they were gonna see how it was when Chris Keller was mad. There was no way that cocksucker would steal his Toby...
The lamp went flying, crashed against the wall, broken glass, shattered mirror, sparks. Blind fucking rage.
He's not your Toby. You broke up with him.
His sleep was haunted with blazing nightmares and he woke up in the middle of the night, shaking, shivering, sweating, cold as hell inside and shit how could he feel so bad? His chest hurt, his head hurt and the first thing he thought was "shit I'm fucking dying!" and the pain was stealing any conscious thought but he managed to punch Toby's number on his phone just to hear Toby's voice on his cell phone; the message; Jesus he could've cried.
When the pain receded it was too late to go back to sleep; Chris felt dirty, exhausted and angry. He had 3 hours left before dawn and that was enough; more than enough, he thought with bitter satisfaction; not like he hadn't done that before.
He dressed and walked out.
The phone woke Toby up too early; finding the phone where he'd left it, by his side.
/When did I pick up this habit of sleeping with my phone? You know when. /
Francis' voice sounded annoyed.
"Yeah, what time is it?"
"6 am, I'd say. Actually I won't be able to see you today, Toby. Someone... Someone just trashed my car."
A twinge of anxiousness deep inside Toby's chest, a dire warning.
"Trashed your car? Where was it?"
"As usual; parked in my private parking lot."
"They trashed it?"
"With a hammer, a mace, the hell if I know."
"How bad is it?"
"There's not much to save, it's totaled. I guess I should be happy they only trashed the car; I was asleep upstairs, it would've been easy to walk up and..."
Toby ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
"Are you OK?"
"Yes; I have to fly to London, I thought I'd leave on Tuesday, but after this incident I'll probably take the next flight out."
"Francis, it was just a kid, playing a wicked game; you're not in any danger; what is it that worries you that much? I don't understand."
The silence lasted too long; Toby tried to decipher something in it.
"I don't like to make accusations without evidence, Toby." "Listen, I don't really get it. Who do you think did that?"
The silence again.
"Forget about it, it's stupid. Listen, we'll talk about that when I'm back, OK?"
"Why does that sound like I'm not going to see you again? I mean..."
"Don't be absurdly paranoid, Toby. Listen, I have to go; a tow truck is picking up what's left of the car."
"OK. OK, if it's what you want."
"That's what I want."
Toby was about to hang up a bit too angrily when Francis' words reached him.
"By the way, I had a meeting with Keller yesterday; he looked pretty... dazed."
The phone went dead but Toby stood like that for a moment, dumbstruck. After a while he made up his mind -he had to know.
Chris Keller was in New York, in a little theatre, sitting on a chair in front of the stage, his chin on his hands, listening to Andrew Manze playing Tartini's Devil's Trill, sweat rolling down his face, his body oscillating with every move he made, the bow dancing madly over the strings. Andrew, sharp nose, big blue eyes and his prominent chin wasn't exactly alluring but as soon as he'd got a violin under his chin, his left hand holding the neck, he played like the devil-and didn't the legend say that the devil himself, sitting by Tartini's bed, had played for the composer this amazing and very difficult sonata?
Andrew Manze lowered his bow and pointed his chin at Chris.
"What do you think?"
"It's brilliant, as usual; exciting, heartfelt... didn't the BBC music magazine call you `the most brilliant young blade of baroque music'? They had a reason to do so."
"As much as I love being praised, Chris, I'd love you to tell me... Which version did you love most?"
"The last one; I love this way you sharpen the attack of each trill. And you're excellent in the 3rd movement..."
His phone rang, he smiled at Andrew who was pushing back his glasses on his nose, and answered.
"Where the fuck are you, Keller?"
"Toby! What a nice surprise. I'm working. What do you want?"
"McKenzie called me; someone destroyed his car last night."
Chris sighed, rolled his eyes.
"Toby, I'm really busy, can I call you back?"
"Don't need to; I'll be in town tomorrow, some stuff to look over at Beechers' Office."
They arranged a meeting and hung up; Manze resumed playing, and Chris went on offering wise advice, not even knowing what he was saying. He was gonna see Toby again, face to face, spit out the words which haunted; he'd been sure that his little trick with McKenzie would work; he was sure Toby had nothing to do in town in the middle of December but fuck he needed to see him and he wanted Toby to make the first move.
They met in a trendy restaurant in Soho; one of those places, Chris thought, that looked like nothing; not really a restaurant, rather a canteen for grown-up elitist pricks; not quite a bar, getting plastered there was a luxury and the drinks weren't even chilled; not really a gallery, and fuck who could like the shit exhibited here? The room, decorated with huge metallic glassy panels, strange mobiles hanging from the ceiling was crowded and noisy; the music was too loud and anyway PJ Harvey when he was having a drink wasn't exactly Chris' idea of happiness.
But Toby was here.
"Sorry, the place sucks."
"Dunno, kind of like it," Toby said, glancing around.
Shit. If he'd been in prison, been in Oz, he wouldn't like it, for sure. He leant forward, playing with his glass.
"So," he said in a conversational tone, "You're fucking good ol'Francis? Suck his dick, take it up the ass and all that? How's McKenzie in bed, Toby?"
Toby sat back, wrapped his hands around his cup of coffee. No alcohol for him, not any more.
"You ended our relationship; I supposed you didn't give a damn about who I fucked," he said.
"Well I do, OK? I do. McKenzie? Who else? Your narrow minded gay community icon Neill?"
"Do you want a list? You'll have to give me some time, Chris, because it's pretty long," Toby said with a snort.
Chris' head was spinning with anger; he hated it all, the mocking gaze, derisive tone... Bitch!
"Don't play games with me, Toby."
"We're done, Chris; I'm using your own words here."
/ We're done but you're under my skin baby and nothing can take you away; you're more permanent than the most permanent tattoo... /
"Are you the one who trashed McKenzie's car?"
"I could've trashed him."
"He's a friend."
"My friends don't fuck you. I didn't even smash his head against the wall, which was pretty much what I had in mind when I went to his place. He calls you Toby, fucks you? Who the hell does he think he is?"
Anger and exasperation were slowly building, hot and dark, in Toby's belly, Toby's mind.
"Listen to me, Chris; I'm sure McKenzie knows you did it; if he presses charges you're in deep shit..."
"He won't. No motives, no evidence... Would you testify against me? For ruining a car? After the great job you did to get me out of prison? Come on, don't be stupid."
"Yeah, baby and remember, you didn't put up any fight in that bar, uh? You were fucking hungry for my dick, weren't you? Is that the way a serious smart lawyer, a father of two young kids, behaves? Tell me, Toby! Who's the craziest of us both?"
"You're going too far, Chris."
"I'm just trying to warn you when you're doing wrong. You don't love McKenzie."
"When you were in prison he supported you all along, listened to me for hours, never said a word against you."
"I bet he did, the shameless prick! I'm ready to concede he's a true Samaritan; but tell me, how come you can take it from a guy you don't love when you don't want what I have to give because I don't love you? What's fucked up in that?"
Toby didn't have time to react, Chris leaned forward, grabbed him by the nape of his neck and dragged him close, pressing their lips together, whispering "Come on, you know that's the real thing!"
Before Toby could pull away a voice behind them boomed.
"Get a fucking room!"
Chris tensed, his gaze blazing, his face frozen in a chilling smile and he turned away to take a look at the man standing nearby; silence shivering with anger and amazement as Chris rose and walked up to the other guy, moving in for the kill.
"Gentlemen," the bartender squealed... And Toby, back to his senses, pulled Chris back, squeezing his arms hard to take him out of whatever madness he was sinking in.
"Come on, Chris; don't, don't do anything you'll regret; he's not worth it, come on, let's go to my hotel, we can talk there."
For a few seconds Chris stood absolutely still, growling with rage, shaking his head like a bull about to kill, then turned his eyes to Toby, dazed, veiled, glassy eyes that saw nothing, remembered nothing.
"Chris, please; let's go."
He seemed to give in and stepped back while the other man's friend was pulling him back too; and they left. Toby threw some cash on the counter but Chris picked it up and just about spit into the bartender's face.
"Fuck this place and fuck you!"
The ride to Toby's hotel was silent; Chris curled up against the door, banging his head softly against the cool glass. Toby gave the worried driver a reassuring look and a generous tip.
Chris spent a long time sitting at the desk in Toby's room; indifferent, locked far away in an unknown world, tapping his fingers against the wood, following the patterns of the marquetry, his head low; Toby stood by the window, watching the cars below; with the strange feeling he was locked in here with a dangerous but endangered species. The prison had taken his toll on Chris but Toby hadn't seen it; he didn't know from the inside what prison was like, smelled like, felt like; he'd been blind to anything that wasn't just taking Chris out of that hell, no matter how; and meanwhile Chris was slowly drowning.
Turning to Chris, he looked at him for a moment, uncertain what to do. He was about to say something when Chris talked.
"McKenzie told me that you'd played my Sonata?"
"Yes; you'd forgotten the sheets in your locker... Sister Pete gave them to me." "Did you see her again?"
"Yes, twice, she's a smart woman. Anyway I read them and figured out it was from you so I sat in front of Holly's piano and played it. I thought it was wonderful so I played it again for Fr... McKenzie."
"I'd better get used to it, I guess? You two being together? Shit, it just shatters my mind you know; the idea of him inside you... You inside him, whatever you're doing together."
Toby took a deep breath.
"We're not together, Chris. It happened what... three of four times because I was feeling terrible, and I call him Francis, he calls me Toby; OK, what does that prove? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You left me, Chris."
"I had to! You kept pushing me away because what I had to give wasn't good enough. I was just out of that place, you'd saved me, I would've given my life for you but you didn't read what you wanted to read on my face when we were fucking."
"It was just fucking; I thought it was more."
"I was exhausted and out of my mind; lost and disoriented; I figured fucking was what you wanted."
"What did you want?"
"I don't know. Sex is always good."
Toby rubbed his face against the palms of his hands, trying to clear his mind.
"You use sex as a weapon; you use sex as a gift; you use sex to reward, punish; you use sex instead of talking."
"I don't like to talk. Listen, after 6 years I thought you'd understand; I don't talk, I fuck; I don't explain, I play piano; I won't change now, it's too late. Now if you're gonna try every lousy fuck with a dick to replace me; don't. I'm better than anyone; I can blow your mind; I want you."
Still sitting he grabbed Toby's arm and pulled him close.
"Come on, don't be stupid; you know we both want it."
His heat, his breath, his hands on Toby's shoulders, stroking, pushing him down, pushing him to his knees, between Chris' legs; strong fingers gripping the sides of Toby's skull, thumbs rubbing his temples, his lips hovering over Toby's lips.
"Do it, Toby; do it for me. Show me you care; do it, we both need it..."
Soft whisper winding around Toby's mind like a silky rope, trapping him; a litany to shut up any coherent thought, rob him of any willpower. Mind games.
Chris popped the flyer of his pants open, freed his cock, rubbed it against Toby's cheek, pushed it against his lips...
"Come on, open up, baby; let me in!"
Toby's lips parted, welcoming Chris' cock.
Warm soft flesh, short coarse hair, the taste and the smell of Chris, his fingers tangled in Toby's hair, not holding, not pushing, just resting in its silky warmth; Chris mumbling something about not wanting to come in Toby's mouth, dragging him on the bed, pulling down his pants, stripping him and seeing the change.
"You worked out; fuck, I can't believe it."
Didn't seem like the right moment to tell Chris that Neill dragged him to the gym every couple of days, so he just shut up, let the nimble hand wander over his body, his arms, his shoulder, re-learning him, the new him, slimmer, harder, pushing him on his stomach, hard, pinning him there...
"Don't be stupid!"
"What kind of a slut do you think I am?" "The best, baby."
Lotion was fine, Chris found a bottle of it in the bathroom; he coated himself with it, hands shaking, Toby's harsh breathing loud in the room, grabbed the other man's hips, pulled him close and just -fucked him, making him yell in surprise and pain; one single long thrust, no preparation, nothing, just that, this maddening penetration, nothing subtle or nice. Then Chris stopped, listening to the ragged gasps, groans; closed his eyes, waiting for his heartbeat and Toby's to slow down, giving him time to get used to him, counting fifty in his head, motionless, his fingertips bruising Toby's hips.
"Let's go," he said, and moved. Pulled back, pushed forward all the way in, and again, twisting his hips while Toby tried to move back, stilled by merciless hands.
"Don't you fucking move; don't you; it makes me crazy; keep quiet."
"Shut the fuck up, OK? It's my show."
And it was, Jesus fucking Christ it was, Toby could barely think or react, thrown back deep into the mattress with each thrust, his hips painful under the hard fingers, his dick rubbing against the soft sheets, Chris' harsh voice whispering insults and obscenities against his ear until Toby couldn't take more, begged for release and Chris laughed, twisted his hips once, twice and said "Come."
Toby did, fire burning his belly, rushing down his spine, exploding in his cock and he yelled against Chris' hand... Chris thrust hard one more time before coming too, collapsing on top of him, heavy and limp, refusing to move, an arm under Toby's neck, the other one locked around his waist.
Long before dawn, a ray of sun crawled over the carpet, climbed the bed and played along Toby's jaw, waking him up, sore, exhausted, crushed under Chris' weight, blood pounding in his head.
/ I have to leave. Right now. /
He pushed Chris softly off him and got up, grabbed his discarded clothes, crawling under the bed to retrieve his lost sock.
Two hands grabbed his ankles and pulled him back hard, his skin rubbing against the thick carpet, burning, the pain rushing through his veins; he landed on the mattress, his head hitting the night table.
"Were you fucking walking away from me?"
Cool voice, cool smile, ruthless grip around his wrists pulling them above his head while he was trying to take over.
"Don't you, bitch."
"Chris; don't. You're hurting me."
"Yeah? Well I don't give a damn... Answer my question; were you walking away?"
"You said we were done."
"Fucking answer me, you stubborn cunt! To which of your lovers were you gonna run? Katherine? Neill? Fucking McKenzie?"
"Stop that! I promised the kids I'd be home tonight."
"Did you? Well, guess what? You won't make it, baby. You're staying with me one more day."
"Let go of me, Chris; you can't hold me back if I don't want to!"
Wrong move, wrong words, wrong tone; Chris' eyes darkened under the storm, his mouth twitched in his oh-so-polite scary smile.
"I think I can. I just decided I will."
Later Toby remembered calling his father to tell him he had some unfinished business, wouldn't be back in time and would he mind keeping the kids one more day; and Chris held Toby's arm painfully twisted behind his back all along; remembered one whole day and one night of frenzy, what Chris called "sexual experiments" in a soft mocking tone that chilled Toby, scared him; remembered loving it all, and wanting more; remembered waking in the morning so wasted he couldn't get up; Chris already getting dressed and walking to the door with this wide lazy stride of his, turning to Toby.
"Don't fuck around, Toby. Be a good boy."
He remembered sleeping through the day, flying home in a haze of shame and anger, lying to everyone, pretending to be sick, hiding in his room, waiting for the marks and bruises to fade.
Two weeks later Chris played in Boston for a charity; his first concert after so long and to Toby who'd expected a dark and haunted interpretation of Grieg maybe or Stravinsky it was a bitter surprise to hear a subtle and ethereal version of Chopin, no less, and Brahms. He listened incredulously to the thunder of applauses at the end, looked for something he didn't find on Chris' quiet and happy expression.
He switched off the TV and threw the control across the room, yelling "Fucking bastard!"
"I think I won't see him again, I don't even want to," he told Sister Pete on the phone, his voice shaky.
And for three years, he didn't.