Twist of Fate

by Anne

Part 1

Late June 1998

Tobias Beecher walked hastily down the court house corridor on his way to the clerk's office. He didn't spend that much time in the court house. Did most of his lawyering in the office at settlement hearings. As much as he loved the law, he hated being in the den of lions, so to speak. All sorts of low-life criminals dressed up in their Sunday best. Gave him the creeps.

"Hey Beecher!" Toby heard a voice call his name. He looked toward the sound and saw a young man waving towards him. He looked familiar but Toby did not know his name. He was standing next to a dark-haired man in a suit; most likely a client. Toby waved and kept walking. He needed to file a brief before 4 p.m. and he was cutting it close.

"Hey, Beecher," the young man called again. "I need to talk to you."

"Can it wait? I need to file a brief at the clerk's office before 4."

"Sure. I'll wait for you."

Toby nodded and kept walking. When he came back out of the clerk's office 10 minutes later, the young lawyer was still waiting. He and his client, a dark-haired man with a sharp, hawk-like nose and dark blue eyes, were sitting on a bench.

The young lawyer stood up when Toby strolled by. "Thanks, Beecher. I need to get your advice."

"Sure, if I can help."

"This is my client, Christopher Keller," he said, introducing Toby. "This is Tobias Beecher. He's a lawyer."

The two men shook hands briefly. Keller's eyes seemed to look right through him, as if trying to peel away Beecher's skin and see what was underneath. Beecher quickly brought his eyes back to the lawyer's face but he could still feel Keller's eyes on him.

"He's been accused of armed robbery and felony murder and there are two eyewitnesses who can place him at the scene. I was wondering if you could look over the case file and see if you can find anything that will help him. As it is, I just don't see any way to defend this case."

"Look, um," he was going to say the lawyer's name but still couldn't find it. "I don't do criminal law. I'm in litigation. I'm the wrong guy to ask."

"I know that, Toby. But you were in the top of our law class. I thought maybe I could ask you as a favor. Mr. Keller can't afford a defense lawyer and I've lost so many cases, I can't go to my colleagues for help. Please."

So that's how he knew the guy! Law school. How the fuck did someone graduate from Harvard end up in the public defender's office for 10 years? What the heck was his name?

"I hate to admit this, but I don't remember your name."

"David Wilmer, Toby! I can't believe you don't remember me. We had a few classes together in our first and last years of law school."

"Okay. Okay. It's starting to come back to me," Toby said. He felt a strange prickling in the back of his neck. Toby looked over at Keller momentarily to find the criminal staring at him like he was the prey in some hunt. What the hell was up with him?

Toby flicked his eyes quickly back to Wilmer. "I'd love to help, David, but it's really not my area. Why don't you try Mankey? He's retired but he keeps up with the law."

Wilmer's face fell at Toby's refusal. "Yeah, well, thanks anyway, Toby."

As Toby walked away, he could still feel Keller's eyes on his back. He felt an involuntary shiver. What is he trying to do? Intimidate me?

Three days later, Toby was just finishing up a settlement conference when his secretary buzzed him.

"A Christopher Keller on line 3."

Christopher Keller? Why does that name sound familiar? It was right on the tip of his tongue but he couldn't quite place him. He picked up the phone.

"Tobias Beecher."

"Hey, Beecher. Chris Keller here." His voice was throaty and deep and Toby felt a pang in the middle of his gut. Wilmer's client from the court house. Shit.

"Wilmer's client, right?" Toby said, as evenly as possible.

"Yeah. I was wondering if you could come down to the jail and see me," his voice deep and soothing, almost seductive. Just what is he trying to do? Toby wondered.

"I already told Wilmer that I don't do criminal law."

"I know that. But I need to ask you about Wilmer; about his competency. I'm really worried here. Please," Chris pleaded in a breathy whisper. Despite his indifference towards this man, Toby suddenly wanted to help him.

"Okay. I'll stop by after work tomorrow. Around 5 or 6."

"Thanks, Toby." The intimate use of his name jarred Toby and he hung up the phone quickly. What the hell am I getting myself into?

Toby arrived at the county jail the next day a little after 5:30 p.m.. Keller was dressed down from the suit he had worn to court. Today, he had on only a white, sleeveless t-shirt, showing off his well-toned muscles and strange tattoo of a cross on his left arm. When he stood up to greet Toby, the first thought in Toby's mind was "white trash."

He took Chris' outheld hand and shook it. Chris gave him a dazzling smile and Toby felt an unexpected jolt run up his arm. He quickly disentangled his hand from Chris' and sat down. Toby's stomach churned with discomfort. He could not figure out why.

"So, what can I do for you?" Toby asked.

"I was hoping you could take a quick look at my case file to see if Wilmer's missing anything. I'm not confident that he's been completely thorough," Chris said. Toby arched his eyebrows in surprise. He didn't expect Chris to be this well-spoken. Maybe I've misjudged him, he thought. Wouldn't be the first time I've done that.

"Look, Mr. Keller..." Toby started.

But Chris interrupted. "Chris, please," he said, flashing those stunningly white teeth again. That had been another surprise.

"Okay, then, Chris. I've already you told you and Wilmer several times that I don't do criminal law. Why do you keep asking me to do this?"

Chris studied Toby's face as he spoke. He wore glasses but Chris could see he had striking ice blue eyes, a broad handsome face and a pert, upturned nose. Chris felt his heart beat faster as Toby explained his position. Chris listened raptly, his eyes focused on Toby's mouth. He doesn't know it yet, but he's going to be mine, Chris thought with surety.

When Toby was finished, he swept his hand through his short, dark blond hair. Chris took a deep breath to calm himself. What I'd really like to do is take those glasses off and kiss him senseless, Chris thought.

"Are you married, Toby?"

"What?! What does that have to do with anything?"

"Nothing. I was just curious."

"Well, I am. Not that it's any of your business."

Chris nodded. "Me, too. Well, I'm actually in the middle of a divorce. My fourth."

"Four? How'd you ever get four women to marry you?" Toby asked dryly. Chris smiled.

"Actually three. Bonnie, my current wife, was also number 2."

"I guess she didn't learn her lesson the first time."

"Or maybe she's a masochist," Chris offered, smiling.

Toby stood up. "Well, I guess we're done here."

"No, wait. Don't go yet. I really need to you to help me. I know it's not your field but I'm sure you're competent enough to check the case file to see if Wilmer missed anything."

"How do you know I'm competent?"

"My gut tells me so," Chris said matter-of-factly.

"Well, your gut could be wrong."

"I'm willing to take that chance. I haven't got much to lose. The D.A. wants me to plead out."

"What's the offer?"

"Thirty years."

Toby arched his eyebrows in surprise. "For a plea bargain?"

"Well, it's not my first time before the courts," Chris said with a shrug.


"It's all in the case file. Will you take a look at it? I'll find a way to pay you - if and when I ever get out of here."

Toby looked into Chris' eyes, trying to read his sincerity. He couldn't really see past the cocky, charming attitude. But something told him to give it a try.

"Okay," he said and took out his cell phone to call Wilmer.

Toby arranged to have Chris' file messengered over to the office. Wilmer thanked him profusely. He hung up and called for the guard.

"Hey, Tobe, can I get your cell number in case I need to reach you?"

Toby looked at him, startled again by the Chris' familiar use of his name; a nickname no one had ever called him. Toby couldn't think of a reason not to give it to him, so he handed Chris his business card with the cell number on it.

"Thanks," Chris said.

"I'll be in touch," he said as the guard opened the cell.

Toby rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock. 1 a.m. Shit, it's later than I thought. He looked back at the Keller case, which he had been studying for hours. Everything looked pretty solid. This guy is fried.

The file noted that Chris had been arrested after the police searched his apartment and found the shotgun he used to kill the gas station clerk. Toby wrote note on a post-it. "How did they get the search warrant?" Then he closed the file and stood up.

Time to head home, he thought as he slipped his jacket on. Well, maybe I'll stop for a drink. Just one, he promised himself as he walked over to McSwaggin's. He joined a couple of his colleagues - Mark Price and James DeSalvo - and they took turns buying rounds. But soon Price and DeSalvo were headed home and Toby still stayed.

By three a.m., Toby had had seven martinis and felt his eyes floating. He kept seeing Keller's smiling face, even though he tried to block it out. His mind went over and over the two brief meetings he had with Keller. The dark man had almost seemed to sizing Toby up - but for what? At first Toby had thought Keller was coming on to him; something that had never happened to Toby. At least not with another man.

But then Keller talked about being married and Toby was more confused than ever. How could he be flirting with me if he's straight? Gay men don't usually get married four times. Maybe once but not four times. It must be my imagination. Maybe he thinks I'm gay and can use his charm to get what he wants. Still, Toby could not get Chris out of his mind. The seductive, sexy smile; the hard body; the oozing charm. No, he told himself. This cannot be happening. I'm straight. Why is this man affecting me so?

Shit, I can't keep thinking about this. It's driving me nuts, Toby decided and had one last drink before heading out. Luckily there were very few cars on the road but Toby was having trouble keeping his car in the right lane. He managed to get home, strip his clothes off and crawl into bed next to Gen.

Gen heard the door open and looked at the clock. She felt her anger stirring anew. He's drunk again, she thought. But there was no purpose in confronting him now when his mind was soup. They would just have their usual go around in the morning.

"Toby," Gen said, shaking him. "Get up. It's after 8. You need to get ready for work."

"`Mmm?" he mumbled, groggily. Then he turned over and started snoring again.

"Toby!" she repeated, louder this time. Her annoyance was growing by the second. "Get up!"

"Alright, alright," he slurred and pulled himself up into a sitting position. "Aspirin," he croaked, his eyes still closed.

But Gen had had enough. "Get the damn aspirin yourself!"

Toby's eyes snapped open at this unfamiliar tone. He had seen Gen angry before but she never swore. Never.

She stood there staring at him, her hands on her hips, her eyes spitting daggers.

"Gen?" he said, his voice squeaky.

"When are you going to stop getting drunk, Toby? Some night you're going to kill yourself. Or someone else."

"It wasn't like that Gen. I worked late. Almost until one. Then I just had a few to relax."

"Toby, you can't con me anymore. I know you too well. You had at least five drinks last night. Maybe more. You smelled like a bar."

"I'm sorry. I'll try to do better."

"No, Toby. Not good enough. You need to go to rehab or AA. You need someone to help you. Cause I can't do it anymore."

"Come on, Gen. It's not that bad. Really. I'll work on it."

"Toby, you aren't listening. I've had it. Do something today. Fix the problem or it's over between you and me. You'll have to leave."

"Leave? It's my house Gen."

"No, Toby, it's our house. Yours, mine and the kids. Unless you want your children sleeping out on the street or in a hotel. If that's what you want, so be it. I will not sleep another night in this house next to your drunken ass!" She was shouting now. And Toby could not believe he heard yet another swear come out of her mouth. He knew she meant business and he wasn't going to be able to talk his way out of this one.

"Okay. Okay. Message getting through. I'll make some calls today. Find out what I can do. But these things don't happen all in one day. Okay?"

"I've already made the calls, Toby. You can go to AA. You start with one meeting. There is a list of where they have them on the kitchen counter. To really make the commitment, you have to go to 90 meetings in the first 90 days. It's either that or rehab. I have a list for those facilities next to the AA list. Pick one or leave. It's that simple. Do not come home drunk tonight because the locks will be changed."

Toby was stunned silent. He simply nodded and Gen walked out of their bedroom.

When Toby arrived at the office, there were three messages from Wilmer. He opened Chris' file, refreshed his memory and picked up the phone to call his former classmate. His promise to Gen had receded to the back of his mind. I'll get to it later, he told himself and starting dialing Wilmer's number.

"Hey, Wilmer. Tobias Beecher here,"

"Oh, thank God. We just finished the voir dire and the judge wants to start the trial this afternoon. You got anything?"

"I need to meet with you and your client soon."

"Come down to the courthouse. We'll be in meeting room 7."

Toby headed to the courthouse, his stride purposeful, his mind focused. He had a strange feeling that he wanted to help Christopher Keller and he didn't know why.

He opened the door to meeting room 7 to find Wilmer and Keller sitting at a conference table silently. They both jumped up when he walked in; anticipation in their eyes. Keller was wearing the same suit he wore when Toby first laid eyes on him. The jacket fit him snugly; his biceps strained the material. The pants, Toby noticed, were a perfect fit. He shook his head, trying to clear it.

Toby sat down and invited the men to join him.

He turned to look at Chris. "Mr. Kel...Uh, Chris, can you tell me again - in your own words - what happened the day of the robbery."

Chris looked confused. So did Wilmer. "I thought you read the file."

"I did. But I need you to do this. Please. There is no statement from you, other than notes from Wilmer here. I need to hear your version."

Chris nodded. "Okay. Um, okay. I was over a friend's house. We were drinking for a couple of hours. About 3 in the afternoon, I was planning on going home but then Denny brings out some coke so we all get high. An hour later, I'm riding my bike home and I spotted..."

"Your bike?" Toby asked.

"Yeah, my motorcycle."

"Oh. Okay. Go on."

"So I spotted this small grocery store and I decided to go in to get a snack. There were only two people in the store. A woman made a purchase and the drawer opened, I saw the cash. Well I didn't even think. I just pulled my gun and demanded the money."

"You were carrying a gun?"

"Yeah, I always do."

"But you're a convicted felon! How could you get a hold of a gun?"

"Oh, come on, Tobe. You and I both know there's always a way."

Why was he being so familiar? Toby wondered again. And why does it make my stomach knot up?

"Anyway, so I take the cash and decide to hightail it back to my place. Just then, the owner comes out with a shot gun and aims it at me. The first shot missed my head by inches. I was stunned! I grabbed ahold of the woman who had just left and pulled her in front of me. Then I pulled out my piece and aimed it at him. I just kept pulling the trigger until he fell."

Toby sighed and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. "Okay. Then what?"

"I heard sirens. I guess he somehow called the cops before he came out after me. I dropped the woman and took off on my bike. A couple of cop cars chased me but I lost them in the woods. Then I came home and went to sleep," he finished and paused. "It was self-defense, Toby. I swear I would never have killed him if he hadn't shot at me first."

"Well I'm sure your lawyer explained that because you killed the man in the course of armed robbery, it's a felony murder. It doesn't matter if he was trying to kill you." Wilmer nodded.

"Yeah, he did. I just wanted to make sure that was right. So there's no way you can help me?"

"What about the witnesses? Are they impeachable?" Toby asked Wilmer.

"I doubt it. The woman who Chris grabbed is a teacher. She's married with two kids. Belongs to the PTA. So far, no skeletons. The other witness, who was inside the store, only saw the robbery. He stayed hidden behind the shelves until he heard the motorcycle drive away."

"Chris, when you grabbed the woman, was she facing towards you or away from you?"


"So she didn't see your face?"

"Not for long. A couple of seconds."

"Well, Wilmer, you can focus on that but I don't think it's going to get you too far. What about the man? Where was he? In front of you or behind you?"

"He was behind Chris," Wilmer said.

"Then how did he identify him?"

"He saw his reflection in the security mirror."

"Which provides only a blurry image."


"Any cameras?"


"Well that's in our favor," Toby said. Chris liked the way Toby said "our" as if he was part of their fight now, too.

"So, how did they ID Chris? A line-up?"

"No. I never stood in a line up."

"No?" Toby asked, incredulous.

"Then how'd they get a search warrant?"

"I don't know," Wilmer said.

"You didn't check this out?!" Toby shouted.

"Hey, Toby. I'm working on 20 cases at any given time. I don't have time to dig into every single one. I assumed the police did their job."

"No, David. You can never make such an assumption. Chris, how did they identify you?"

"I'm not sure."

"Well, then we have to find out." He stood up. "I'll take care of this."

Chris walked over to him. "Thanks, Toby. I don't know how I will ever be able to repay you."

"I'll send you my bill," he said and left.

Toby arrived back at the office in the mid-afternoon. He had spent hours running in circles with the police. The arrest file had no information about how the identification was made and the cops would not give him a straight answer.

He sat down at his desk and let out a sigh. I'm already spending way too much time on this case and I'll probably never get paid for it. He took out a bottle of gin from his drawer and took a swallow while he leafed through his messages and saw one from Gen. "Don't forget," was all it said. Toby felt a pang of guilt. He crumbled it up and threw it in the trash. Another message caught his eye. It was from a woman named Carol. No last name. It said only that she was from the "station." No phone number.

"Hey, Bea," he called to his secretary. "Who's this Carol?"

"No idea. Just said to let you know she called and she will try again later."

"What's the station?"

"Police station, I thought."

Bingo! She knows something.

Toby decided to wait for her call and began doing some work on his other cases. Lord knew he needed a paycheck this month; especially if he ended up in rehab. Carol didn't call back until 5 p.m.

"This is Tobias Beecher. You're Carol?"

"Yes. I need to talk to you. About the Keller investigation."

"Yes, please."

"Not on the phone. Can you meet me at Sal's diner in an hour?"

"I'll be there."

By the time Toby and Carol had finished talking, Toby knew there was a real chance Chris would walk on all the charges.

Toby met Wilmer at the jail. He could not hide his smug smile.

"So you going to tell us?"

"You are going to make a motion to suppress all evidence of the search and then you are going to make a motion to dismiss the charges," Toby told David, the smile still plastered across his face.

"What?" David asked, incredulous.

Chris clapped his hands together victoriously. "Yes!"

"The police never did a line up because one of the officers on call that night decided the description of the suspect sounded a lot like a man he had arrested years before. The name Delancey mean something to you?" he asked Chris.

"Delancey! That prick. He arrested me when I was 17. And he was always hassling me whenever he'd see me around. He'd say, `I'm watching you, you prick. You're going to slip up again and I'm going to be there.' "

"Well, when the woman and the man described you, Delancey was sure it was you. So he showed them your picture. Just yours. No one else`s."

"How did you find that out?" Wilmer asked.

"A woman from the police station called me after the cops gave me the runaround. She said she overheard Delancey asking for a copy of Keller's mug shot so he could show it to a witness. Neither witness was ever brought to the station or shown mug shots, this woman told me."

"Will she testify?"

"She's writing a statement you can give the judge. That oughta take care of it. Without the evidence, the only thing they'll have is testimony from two very shaky eyewitnesses. You oughta be able to impeach them."

"Oh, Toby, this is great news! I can't thank you enough," Wilmer said.

"No problem. But you are going to get a bill. You know that right?"

"I'll see what I can scrounge up from the PD's office but you're probably only going to get a portion of what you usually charge."

"And I'll try to pay you the rest. Whenever I can," Keller said, taking Toby's hand in his to shake it. "Thank you. Really."

Toby felt a slight hum travel from his hand up his arm as Chris held it. This time, Toby did not pull his hand away. He nodded at Chris, who was looking intently into his eyes.

"You're welcome."

It was then that Chris broke the contact and Toby left, his arm still tingling.

Part 2

Chris shivered slightly as he waited outside of Toby's office building. It had been two days since he had been released from jail and just over two weeks since he last saw Toby. Chris had left messages at Toby's office but they were never returned. He even tried to reach Toby on the cell phone, only to get an answering service.

Now, he would wait for Toby out here and try to talk to him. Chris needed to see Toby, although he didn't know why. Maybe it was the way Toby had treated him; respected him even. That Wilmer asshole talked to Chris like he was dirt from the first meeting. Toby had always talked to Chris like they were equals.

But Chris knew somewhere inside of himself that it was more than that. Something about Toby drew him in like a moth to a flame. Chris had been with men before - mainly in prison where there wasn't any choice. He had even been with men outside of prison but that was only when he was horny and couldn't find an available, attractive woman. At least that's what he told himself.

A few of those men had ended up dead - at Chris' own hand; usually committed in the heat of the moment. Chris often chose men who reminded him of himself in his younger days - young, handsome, eager but still hiding their desires in closets and gay bars.

Don't think about that! he warned himself. It was all their fault that they ended up dead. What if they talked and somebody Chris knew found out? He couldn`t take the chance. They would think Chris He would be humiliated. Everyone knew Chris Keller was a ladies man. The very thought of people finding out made his body tense. He could feel his muscles tightening up.

Chris' attention was diverted from his thoughts when the front door of the office building opened and Toby stepped out. He turned left and kept walking down the street. Chris waited until Toby traveled three blocks and then turned his bike on and began following, keeping a block or so behind. Ten minutes later, Toby walked inside his regular haunt and Chris parked the bike, deciding to wait a bit. He wanted Toby to get comfortable. By the time Chris popped in, hopefully, Toby would not suspect he had been followed.

By the time Chris entered 30 minutes later, Toby was on his fourth martini and moving fast.

Chris walked right up to the bar, where Toby sat talking to the bartender.

"Hey, Tobe," Chris said, slapping Toby on the shoulder. "How ya doing?"

Toby looked around, startled. He had recognized Chris' voice right away. "How did you know where to find me?"

"I asked around at the courthouse. I've been trying to reach you. I wanted to buy you a celebratory drink - to say thanks." Chris sat down on the booth next to Toby but left his hand on Toby's shoulder.

"Really, Chris, that's not necessary."

"Oh but it is. If not for you, I might be up in Oz right now."

Toby nodded, very aware of Chris' hand on his shoulder. He felt it move up to his neck, raising the sensitive hairs there.

"So, what are ya drinking?"

"Martini." Toby replied. "Listen, I'm sorry I never returned your calls. It's been a hellish two weeks. I had to catch up on cases I put on hold to help you." Not to mention dealing with my wife kicking me out. But he left that one unsaid.

"No problem. Bartender, a martini for my man here. And a beer for me."

When the drinks arrived, Chris raised his. "To you for helping me win my case."

Toby raised his glass and took a sip. "Thanks."'

"No. Thank you," Chris said, earnestly. "So what are you doing here in a bar instead of home with the wife and kiddies? You have kids, right?"

"Yeah, I do," he said and paused. "I don't know."

"Something wrong?"

"Don`t really want to talk about it..." he sighed again.

Chris smiled. "Oh yeah, I know about that."

Toby looked at him. "Yeah?"

"Sure. I've been married four times, Tobe, remember?"

"Why is that?"

"Oh, I don't know. Didn't want to get too close, I guess. Always moving on the next good thing."

Toby snorted. "That's funny. You run away from relationships to avoid intimacy and I hide inside one for the same reason."

Chris thought that over for a minute. "What do you mean, Toby? You and your..."

"Don't get me wrong. I love Genevieve. And the kids. But it's not what I expected it to be. Marriage, I mean. I know passion is supposed to fade but what about love? Shouldn't that last forever? I love Genevieve but I'm not in love. Not sure I ever was."

"That's gotta be a hard thing to realize."

Toby nodded. "What about you? Were you ever in love?"

"No, I guess not. Not with any of my wives, anyway."

"Why'd you marry them, then?"

"Something about the dance, ya know? The seduction. I always loved the seduction. Marriage was kind of like...cuming, so to speak," he whispered, leaning closer to Toby. "It was the climax of the seduction. But once the sex got boring, I usually just hit the road."

Yeah, you probably can seduce anyone you want to, Toby thought as he watched Chris. Those dark eyes, that devastating smile, the buff body. Jesus, Toby, you have to stop doing that. He's a man.

"So why'd the sex get boring?"

Chris shrugged. "Maybe because I wasn't in love."

Toby nodded. That he understood all too well. The sex between him and Gen had gotten boring years before. He ordered another bourbon. Chris was still milking his second beer.

Later they moved to a table and talked for a couple more hours. Chris could not believe how much he was telling Toby about himself. And it was all truth - at least as best he could remember. He had told so many lies over the years - to get what he wanted - that the truth was hard to pick out of his murky memory. The thing was, he wanted to tell Toby the truth; wanted Toby to accept him for who he was.

"'ve been in prison before," Toby said. "That must have been rough."

"Yeah, well, a person can get used to anything."

"I don't think I could ever get used to prison," Toby said, shuddering at the thought.

"You'd be surprised what a person can get used to." Chris watched him, waiting.

"What?" Toby asked.

"You want to ask me something -- about prison."

"No. No, not at all."

"Come on, Tobe. I can see the question right in your eyes."

"Well, Okay. I was it true, what they say, about getting beaten up and, uh, raped?"

Chris nodded matter-of-factly. "Yeah but you can find people to protect you. You just have to be, uh, amenable to performing favors."

Toby looked at him, trying to discern exactly what Chris meant. "Are you saying what I think you are?"

Chris leaned toward Toby and whispered, his voice low and rumbling, "What do you think I'm saying?" Then he smiled when he saw Toby blush.

Toby felt a rush of tingles when Chris leaned in close. Chris smelled like heat and sex mixed with clean laundry. Between Chris' overt sexuality and the topic at hand, Toby began to blush.

"Never mind," Toby said, trying to change the topic.

"Suit yourself," Chris said, sipping his beer.

Toby was starting to feel as if he was floating outside of his body and he was enjoying his chat with Chris. He felt like opening up to this man he had only known for a few weeks. Sure, he had told his problems to Phil, the bartender, but Phil was always getting pulled away to do his job. Now, Toby had Chris' undivided attention and he savored it.

"Hey, wanna know a secret?" Toby whispered, then smiled like a little boy.

"Sure, Tobe. Anything you wanna tell me."

"Genevieve kicked me out."

"I'm sorry, Toby. You gotta place to stay?"

"Yeah. Hotel."

"Why'd she kick you out? You cheating on her?"

Toby laughed almost maniacally. "Not hardly."

"Then why?"

"She thinks I'm an alcoholic."

"Are you?"

Toby sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I am."

"Let me guess. She wants you join AA or some such thing and you don't think you're ready. You're afraid of failing."

Toby looked at Chris, wondering if he could read minds. He nodded.

"Hey, you know what. I think it's time we got you home. I'll bring you home on my bike cause you're in no condition to drive."

"Your motorcycle? I've never been on one. What if I fall off?"

"You won't. Just hold on to me and you'll be fine."

Toby stood up and swayed. Chris grabbed a hold of him.

"How many did you have tonight?"

"I lost count."

"Better let me help you."

Outside, Chris walked Toby over to the bike and gave him the helmet. "Here you wear this. You're more likely to need it than me," Chris teased him.

"Thanks a lot."

"So where to do you live?"

Toby looked blank for a moment. "Uh...the...uh...Hilton. No, that's not right. The Hyatt...Wait."

"Toby, you don't know where you fucking live?"

"Fuck you, Chris. My mind is...."' he started but couldn't finish.

"Never mind. I'll take you back to my place. You can sleep it off there."

Toby felt a panic rise in his throat despite his inebriated state. "No, but thanks."

"Toby, I can't bring you home unless you tell me where that is."

But Toby couldn't remember. "Okay then. Let's go to your place."

Chris helped Toby put the helmet on and then slid onto the bike. "Get behind me and put your arms around my waist," he instructed Toby.

Toby carefully lifted his leg over the back of the motorcycle. Reeling from the alcohol, he feared he might lose his balance. Chris held his hand out behind him, to make sure Toby didn't fall. Sitting on the bike, Toby got a queasy feeling but it wasn't from drinking. He started to wrap his arms around Chris' waist, slowly. Chris guided Toby's hands into place, as if locking a seat belt.

Toby felt the firm muscles of Chris' stomach move as Chris started the bike. A nervous perspiration broke out on Toby's brow. Or maybe it was the alcohol. A comforting warmth crept over Toby as he settled behind Chris, his legs straddling the larger man's. He felt a tingle begin where his crotch brushed up against Chris' firm ass. I should be very alarmed, Toby told himself, but this feels too fucking good. He laid his head against Chris' back and let himself enjoy the feelings washing over him.

Chris smiled to himself when he felt Toby's head leaning on him. Either Toby was too drunk to hold his head up or he wanted to be close to Chris. Maybe it was a combination of both, Chris thought. He enjoyed the feeling of Toby's legs against his, as if they somehow fit together. You're going to be mine, baby. Maybe not tonight but soon.

By the time they arrived at Chris' apartment, Toby was sleeping against Chris. Chris jostled him and helped him off the bike. When they got inside, Toby was surprised to see that the apartment was neat and clean. What did you expect, Toby? Garbage on the floor? Yeah, I guess I did. Gotta stop doing that.

"You can sleep in my room," Chris said, leading him down the short hallway. Toby opened his mouth to protest but he was too tired. He plopped down on the bed, his body suddenly exhausted. When he didn't move, Chris helped him undress down to his underwear, then covered him.

Chris stood for a moment watching Toby sleep, wondering what it was about this man that kept Chris coming back. Maybe it was the challenge. He knew Toby wanted him but was terrified to admit it. Chris had always known how to turn on the charm for sex and getting someone into bed never took very long. With Toby, he knew, it would require patience and finesse. The latter he had in spades; the former was not his strong suit. Still, something told him that the payoff would be worth the wait.

And then what, Chris? What are you going to do with him after you get what you want? But he deliberately pushed the thought away.

Chris started to leave the room then he heard Toby whisper. "Hey, Chris, why'd you kill that grocer?"

Chris felt his stomach clench. Here it comes. The judgment. And I was hoping Toby was different. "I don't know. I didn't really think about it. I was high. I just...reacted."

The room was dark so Chris couldn't see Toby's expression. "Yeah, I know what you mean," he said, thinking about all those times he had gotten behind the wheel of a car loaded to the gills with alcohol. I could have killed someone - a child even - any one of those times. It was just dumb luck I didn't.

Chris felt himself relax. "Goodnight, Toby," he said and left the room. He stripped his clothes off, grabbed a blanket and parked himself on the couch. Thoughts of Toby kept him up for an hour or so before he fell into a deep sleep.

Warm lips, strong hands, an unrelenting tongue assaulted Toby as he came to awareness. Was he dreaming? He couldn't be sure. He just knew he needed this, desired it. Contact, touching, sharing. He opened his eyes to see...Chris? No! It couldn't be. No, no, no, no, no. Yet, Toby did not push him away. He felt desire flood through his body, even as he told himself it was not possible.

He closed his eyes again. Gen, I'll think of Gen. But Toby didn't want to think of Gen. He wanted Chris, he knew. But he couldn't fathom how that could be. He sighed as Chris' body glided against his, chest to chest, skin to skin. He felt Chris' hand stroke his cock and he bolted upright, his eyes snapping open.

He looked around. He was alone. It was a dream. Oh, thank God! He tried to control his frantic breathing. He felt a sticky wetness between his legs and realized that he must had a wet dream. Jesus Christ, how old are you, Tobias?

Then he heard footsteps in the hallway. Chris! Chris' frame filled the darkened doorway. "Hey, Tobe, you okay in here? I heard you yelling or something."

Toby opened his mouth to speak and he suddenly realized that Chris was naked. Oh, God, this isn't happening. He felt a shiver pass through him. "Uh, I'm fine. Just a bad dream. Really. Go back to sleep." Chris nodded and stumbled back to the couch.

Toby quickly got out of bed and grabbed his clothes. He went into the bathroom to clean up the mess. He took off the wet underwear and threw them into the garbage can. Then he dressed and slipped out of the door quietly. He walked for a few blocks before coming to a taxi stand at a hotel. He went back to his room at the Hilton, which he finally remembered was where he was staying. He got back into bed and set the alarm for 7.

Chris didn't wake up until almost 9. When he walked down the hall to the bathroom, he checked in on Toby but wasn't surprised to find him gone. Probably already at work. He walked into the bathroom and started to pee. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something strange in the garbage can. He leaned over and picked up the item. Underwear. What the fuck?

Then it dawned on him. They were Toby's. But why would Toby leave them here? Then the smell of dried cum wafted up to his nostrils and Chris smiled. Had yourself a wet dream there, Toby? Who was it about? As if I couldn't guess, Chris thought. Won't be much longer now.

Part 3

Toby spent the next week trying desperately to get Chris out of his mind. The charming smile, the rock-hard body, the ever-so-sexy voice threatened to engulf his entire life. Toby could not believe that this was happening. He was short-tempered with everyone at work; with Gen when he spoke with her on the phone. The only ones he had any patience with were the kids but he was only seeing them on Saturdays.

Toby worked long hours and then went to bars to try and wash Chris away with drinks. Chris kept calling but Toby kept refusing to take his calls, turned his cellular off and prayed Chris wouldn't find him again. He began finding new watering holes. Changing every couple of days.

He knew he was spiraling into hell but he felt powerless to stop it. One afternoon, after a liquid lunch, Toby decided to quit early and drive home. He had stopped at a liquor store, deciding to drink at home and make an early night of it for a change. His body was exhausted from the drinking, the late nights and fighting his attraction for Chris.

Toby took a short cut through a residential neighborhood. It reminded him of the one he had lived in with Gen and the kids. He didn't see the little boy jump out in front of his car until it was almost too late. Somehow his sluggish reflexes kicked in and he swerved into a parked car. The last thing he remembered was his head hitting the steering wheel.

He woke up in a hospital, an IV running into his arms. A nurse walked into his room and saw he was awake.

"Well, good morning, Mr. Beecher. It's good to see you awake. How are you feeling?"

"Where am I? How long have I been here? Is that little boy okay?"

"Whoa, Mr. Beecher. One question at a time. You are at St. Luke's Hospital and you have been here for two days. You have a concussion, two broken ribs, a broken leg and a ruptured spleen. But you lucked out. You're going to be fine."

"What about the boy?"

"I don't know anything about a boy."

"I hit him or almost hit him with my car. I'm not sure."

"I'll check on that for you," she said, picking up his chart and writing on it.

"Does anyone know I'm here?"

"We contacted your wife. She came down to see how you were and told us she would contact your office," she said, pausing. "Mr. Beecher, your alcohol level was .17. You could have been killed."

Toby groaned. "Do the police know? Are they going to arrest me?"

"I honestly don't know, Mr. Beecher. But I will find out."

The nurse, whose name was Theresa, came back an hour later to tell Toby that no one had been hurt in the accident but him. The police had decided not to press charges since no one was hurt. But they suspended his license for six months.

Thank God, he prayed.

"Mr. Beecher, we have a detox program here at St. Luke's. Would you like to commit yourself?"

And just like that, without thinking, Toby agreed. After all, he had been without alcohol for two days and he felt fine. Well, achy, but fine. How hard could it be? He signed the forms an hour later and was moved to the detox ward. He called the office, telling them he would be out of work for another week. And he called Gen to tell her where he was.

"Toby, I don't know if this is going to fix the damage already done."

"Don't worry about that, Gen. I just wanted to let you know," he said and hung up abruptly. The last thing he was thinking about was getting back together with Gen.

The first night in detox was uneventful. Toby slept well and woke up feeling refreshed. Piece of cake, he thought. He knew it was the right thing to do. God had given him a second chance with that accident. He prayed, thanking God that he had not injured the boy.

The second day in rehab, they took out the IV and with it, the pain medication his body had learned to us as a substitute for the alcohol. By late evening, Toby thought he was going to climb the walls. He rang for the nurse.

A large woman with dark hair came in a few moments later.

"What do you need?"

"I'm in pain here. I need something."

"That's just the withdrawal. You'll feel better in another day or so."

"Another day or so?! Listen, I was just in a car accident. I broke my leg and my ribs. See?" he said, lifting his covers to show her the cast. "I'm supposed to be on meds."

"You can have Tylenol or Advil."

"Are you kidding me? They aren't going to touch my pain."

She just looked at him and left, locking the door behind her.

By 3 am, he was shivering in his bed, beads of sweat breaking out across his forehead. His gut was twisted in knots and he couldn't sleep. He stared at the clock for hours, counting the minutes. By morning, he had dark circles under his eyes and felt like he'd been awake for days.

A young, blond male nurse opened his door at 7 a.m. "Good morning, Mr. Beecher. Ready to face the day?"

"Fuck you." Jesus, when did I develop such a potty mouth? Since Chris. That's when.

"Ah, you're new. Haven't reached the 48 hour mark yet, eh?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Most people usually start feeling better 48 hours after they had their last drink."

"Well I haven't had a drink in almost five days so there goes your theory."

"Then you must have been on meds."

Toby only grunted in response.

"Time to take your shower and start the day."

"Why? We going on a field trip?" Toby drawled sarcastically.

The young nurse just looked at him. "Joke all you want but your day is going to be filed with AA meetings and group therapy."

"Oh, no. I don't want that shit."

"Well, I'm afraid it's part of the program, which you voluntarily signed up for. Remember?"

Toby glared at the nurse and followed him to the showers, which turned out to be quite tricky with a cast on.

After a one-on-one meeting with a shrink, Toby attended an AA meeting with other patients and then a group meeting with yet another shrink - this one a student doctor. By that time, it was noon and all the patients went back to their room for lunch. But Toby couldn't eat a bite. He bitched all morning about the meetings but they had kept him busy and his mind off of his pain - well, partially.

He laid back on his bed and his exhaustion propelled him to sleep.

Gen attempted to yank the keys out of the door but they seemed stuck. Damn it! She left them there and ran to the phone, which had started ringing before she even put the key in the door. Baby Harry bounced on her hip as she picked up the phone. "Hello," she said breathlessly.

Gary and Holly sauntered in behind her. Gary saw the keys dangling in the lock and pulled them out with one yank. Then he closed the door.

"Mrs. Beecher?"


"My name is Christopher Keller. I'm a client of your husband's. I've been trying to reach him for a few days but his office tells me he's not due back for another two weeks. Do you know where I can reach him?" he asked, using his best "business" voice.

Gen sighed and closed her eyes. "Can you hold on for a minute?"


Gen put the phone down and walked into the living room and put Harry inside his playpen. Then she picked the phone back up. "Mr....Uh...Keller? I really can't tell you any more than you already know."

"Is he away on business? Because it's very important that I speak to him," he said and then dropped the act. "Look, Mrs. Beecher, I'm a friend of Toby's too. I'm worried about him. The last time I saw him he..." but he let the sentence trail off.

There was something in this man's voice that made Gen want to trust him. "Okay. Okay. Toby is in the hospital. He was in an accident five days ago," she started and heard the small gasp. "He's okay. A few bruises. But he checked himself into detox at St. Luke's and that's why you haven't been able to reach him."

Chris smiled. "Well, thank you, Mrs. Beecher," Chris said and hung up. Chris let out a sigh. Well, at least Toby wasn't avoiding him. Chris had been trying to reach Toby for days, calling his office and asking people down at the courthouse. He was desperate to speak with him. They had come so close to making a connection. Chris didn't want to lose the momentum.

On Toby's eighth day at St. Luke's, Theresa told him that he had visitor.

"Visitor? Who is it? My wife?"

"I'm not sure."

"I didn't know we were allowed visitors here."

"Actually, today is the first day you can have them."

Toby walked out into the glass-walled visitors room and looked around. He saw no one he recognized at first. Then he noticed a man sitting alone, with his back to Toby. Dark, short hair, thinning a little at the top. Could it be? The man turned and Toby saw the profile. Chris. Toby's stomach went into a flip-flop and he wanted to run. Chris saw him then and stood up, smiling.

"Toby!" he said and walked over to Toby.

"Chris, what are you doing here?"

"I thought you might need a visitor."

"How did you find out I was here?"

"I called your wife."

"And she just told you?" A twinge of irritation crept into Toby's voice.

"I told her you were a friend of mine. Maybe she thought you could use one," Chris offered, wanting to move past this.

"Chris, I hardly think that we're..."

"So how are you doing here? Giving up the bottle, eh? I gotta tell you, that's very brave. That last time I saw you, you drank enough to put two men in the hospital," Chris teased him.

"Yeah, well, I guess I am an alcoholic. Needed to happen sooner or later."

"Been going to AA meetings here?"

"Yeah. The first few were hard but I guess I am getting used to them."

Chris led Toby to the table he had been sitting at. "So, when you getting out?"

"Not sure. Another couple of weeks, maybe," he said, pausing. "To tell you the truth, I'm a little scared about leaving." Why am I telling this to a man I barely know?


"I'm afraid that I'm going to go right back to drinking," Toby said, hanging his head down. "I've always been a weak man."

Chris put his hand on Toby's arm. "Hey, don't sell yourself short. We're all weak. We all have our addictions."

Toby looked at Chris and felt somehow that this man understood him. This man whom he had nothing in common with; who was from a different world than Tobias yet knew exactly how Toby felt.

Toby nodded.

"When you get out of here, we'll hang out."

"You and me?"


"A lawyer and a...what are you exactly?"

"I guess you could call me an odd job man. I've worked in construction, bartending, auto mechanics. Whatever gets me by."

"Chris, we don't have anything in common. What are we going to do? Where are we even going to hang out?"

"I can take you to some clubs I know. I can teach you the secrets of survival in the cold, cruel world," Chris said, smiling.

"Yeah? And what am I going to teach you? The law?"

"How to be a better person," Chris said and was surprised at his own words. Do I actually mean that?

Toby was unexpectedly touched by Chris' words. Chris stood up abruptly and said a curt good-bye. Toby sat at the table, watching him walking away.

"So, Toby, how is your time in rehab going?" asked Dr. Thomas Dryer, Toby's psychiatrist at St. Luke's. Toby had only spoken to him once before - the second day he arrived. The rest of the time he had spent in group sessions with another therapist.

"Peachy. Enjoying myself," Toby said, smiling.

"Now, Toby, let's not waste time with jokes and sarcasm."

"Well, what do you want me to say? I fucking hate it here. It feels like prison." Not that I have even a clue as to what prison is like but it must feel like this - trapped like an animal.

"That's a start. Is there anything positive you can say about your experiences here?"

"Well, I guess the fact that I am no longer having horrible hangovers is a plus."

"So your mind is clearer."

"Well, yeah. But now I'm thinking too much. And I realized that's why I drank to begin with. To stop all the Goddamn thinking."

"What kind of things are unpleasant to think about?"

"My failing marriage; not being able to be there for my kids."

"Do you think it would be helpful for your wife to come and sit in on a session?"

"No!" he almost shouted, then lowered his voice. "No, the problem is not Gen. It's me."

"Why is it you?"

"I don't know. I guess I just don't love her. Well, I'm not in love with her."

"Were you once?"

"I think I was once. I don't honestly know."

"Then why did you marry her?"

"Because that's what you do, right? Get married, have kids. Gen was my college sweetheart. We dated for years. I guess I just assumed that marrying her was the next logical step."

"Did you date anyone else during college?"

Toby shrugged. "A few girls. Then I met Gen. We clicked and I stopped looking, I guess."

"There must have been something that drew you to her."

Toby smiled as he remembered meeting Gen. "Yeah. She was pretty, sweet and she was crazy about me. What more could a guy ask for? Plus I knew she would be a great mother. And she is."

"Did you ever feel passion for your wife?"

"Well, yeah, sure. In the beginning. You know, the whole hormone thing. I mean anyone can be passionate at the beginning of a relationship."

"What about a year or two after you began dating?"

"No, not so much. But we were comfortable with each other. I figured there was no point in starting up with someone else. The same thing would happen all over again."

"Toby, I need to ask you a very personal question and I want you to think before you answer."


"Have you ever been attracted to men?"

Toby's eyes opened wide in shock. He felt as if the doctor had just cleaved his brain in half and honed in on his secret attraction to Chris. "Where the fuck did that come from?" he yelled.

"I asked you to think about it for a minute. Please."

"I don't need to think about it. No. The answer is no."

"Toby, you haven't even given yourself time to consider the question. I can't help you if you won't be honest with yourself."

Toby fidgeted in his chair, his heart began hammering in his chest. "I don't know where this came from, doctor, but I gotta tell you, it's making me very uncomfortable."

"Toby, I asked the question because I have known men in similar circumstances who were in denial about their attraction to men. It's a least worth considering, don't you think?"

Toby shook his head. "I really don't want to talk about this anymore."

"Okay, Toby. That's fine. But could you think about it before you come in again? You and I have one more appointment before you leave."

"Fine. Fine," he said curtly and stood up to leave.

Chris sauntered into C.J.'s and took a seat at the bar. He nodded at Joe, the bartender, and ordered a beer.

"What you been up to, Chris? I haven't seen you here in awhile."

"Yeah, well, been keeping busy," he said and glanced around the bar, looking for the next lucky fellow. It had been months since he had been laid; since before his arrest. He was horny as hell and his plans for seducing Toby were temporarily put on hold.

The place was packed with men hoping to get lucky tonight, as Keller knew from his frequent visits. There were some couples making out in the back tables; a little heavy petting but nothing anyone could get arrested for.

A tall, tan blond caught his attention. Chris waited until the man looked at him. When he did, the blond did a double take; no mistaking the message in Chris' eyes. The blond smiled and walked over.

"Hey," he greeted Chris, standing close to him. Chris figured he was probably about 22 years old.

Chris said nothing, just kept looking into the blond's eyes. He felt a rush of adrenaline kick in. Oh yeah. Let the games begin. Chris put his hand on the blond's hip and pulled him closer, placing a scorching kiss on his lips. He felt the blond respond; his erection sprang to life. Game, set, match, Chris thought. Oh how he loved the seduction.

Now what are you going to do with him? A voice inside his head asked. Fuck him and then kill him like you did the others? Huh? And what about Toby? Did you forget about him? Chris stopped cold, stunned at this new voice in his head. Where the fuck was it coming from? It was like Toby had somehow gotten in his head. He pushed the blond away and stood up.

"Hey, what's wrong?" the blond asked, his face twisted in surprise and disappointment. But Chris ignored him and walked out of the bar and got on his bike. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! he cursed as he started the engine. What was Beecher doing to him? He could see Toby's ocean-blue eyes looking at him, accepting him, and all Chris wanted to do was float inside them.

He went home and beat off, visions of Toby dancing in his head.

Mid-August 1998

Toby walked slowly towards the cab, leaning on his a cane. The driver was hold the back door open for him. Toby's ribs were still tender and if moved too quickly, then the pain shot right through him. As he placed his hand on the door to pull himself in, he heard the roar of an engine and looked up. Chris! He drove his bike right up to where Toby stood and pulled his helmet off.

"Toby! I'm here to give you a ride home."

"How did you know I was going home today?"

"I called the hospital. I wanted to surprise you."

Toby smiled. "Well, that you did." Toby reached into his wallet and gave the driver a ten for his trouble. Chris gave him a hug and grabbed his hospital bag and stuffed it into a satchel on his bike.

"I need to go to Gen's. After I checked into rehab, I asked her to check me out of the Hilton and get all my stuff. I need to go get it so I can get a new place."

"Hey, Toby, why don't you stay with me until you find a real apartment?"

"Thanks, Chris, but I couldn't. Really."

" You shouldn't be living in hotels. Do you want to bring your kids to a hotel when they visit you? You know my place is clean and neat."

Toby thought about it for a few seconds and smiled. "Okay, thanks. But only until I can find my own apartment."

"Deal," Chris said and helped Toby get on the bike. When he felt Toby's hands around his waist, Chris smiled. The feel of Toby against his back felt right somehow and he would remember this even if nothing sexual happened between them.

Toby inhaled Chris' clean scent as they drove and began to wonder if he had made a mistake. How could he live in the same apartment with Chris while trying to deal with these tumultuous feelings? He had finally admitted to Dr. Dryer that he had feelings for Chris but was clear to add that they were not sexual feelings.

"So you're attracted to Chris but you've been trying to fight those feelings?" Dr. Dryer had asked during their last session, just yesterday.

"Well, yeah! I'm straight. I shouldn't have these feelings."

"And you've never been attracted to men before?"

"No, never." But isn't that just a teeny bit of a lie, Toby?

"So why this one?"

"I don't know. I've been trying to figure that out. He's a criminal, for God's sake," Toby said, pausing. "But still, there's something about him. I can't explain it."

"Has Chris expressed an interest in you sexually?"

Toby took a deep breath. "I'm not sure. Sometimes I think so but then I wonder if I'm imagining it. I think he's just flirtatious by nature."

"And how would you describe your feelings for him? Are they sexual?"

"No," he said defensively. "I told you, I'm not gay."

"Well, then you describe your feelings for him."

Toby sighed. "I don't know how to. I feel comfortable when I'm around him. I can be myself, which sounds a lot like friendship. But it goes beyond that. I want to hold him; maybe even kiss him. But I do not want to have sex with him."

"Do you think that you're in love with him?"

"I might be. Yes."

Dr. Dryer had suggested that Toby simply accept the feelings. After all, what was the point in fighting something you felt inside? "Let the emotions wash over you. Enjoy them, for Heaven's sake. Spend time with the man and let your fantasies take over. You don't have to act on them. Eventually, they made fade," he suggested.

So Toby decided to listen to the doctor. What could it hurt after all? If he didn't act on his feelings, then nothing would be any different. He could be friends with Chris without expressing his feelings. He held tight to Chris as they headed home.

After picking up some things from Toby's old house, Chris drove Toby back to his place. Gen had been at work when they arrived; the kids were at school. He was hoping to see them. He missed them terribly.

Chris led Toby into the apartment. Toby followed Chris into the bedroom.

"Here, I'll clean out a couple of drawers for you," Chris said, rearranging his clothes.


"And there's plenty of room in the closet for your clothes."

Toby had left Gen a note with Chris' address and number and asked her to bring his suits over when she got a chance. Since his license was suspended, he would have to use public transportation.

"So you wanna do anything tonight?"

"I think a relaxing evening at home is probably the best plan," Toby said.

Chris nodded.

Toby cooked dinner for the both of them. They talked about their work schedules.

"I want to help out. Dishes, vacuuming. Whatever you need."

"That'd be great, Tobe."

They watched t.v. after dinner and talked. Toby started to get tired around 11 p.m. He went to the bathroom and changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth.

He saw the blanket and pillow on the couch and started to fix it up.

"Toby, what are you doing?"

"Fixing up my bed. I'm sleeping here, right?"

"No, you're sleeping in my bed."

Toby shook his head. "I can't do that, Chris."

"Look, I'm a night owl. I usually stay up until at least 1 a.m. Later on nights I work. And I fall asleep on the couch anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, Toby. Go to bed."

"Okay. Thanks. Good night."

Toby laid down and Chris' scent filled his nostrils. The same scent he remembered from the motorcycle ride. He sighed and inhaled deeply. It was so comforting to be here near Chris; to be his friend; and yes, to love him. Toby imagined Chris lying next to him, spooning him and he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Part 4

In the morning, Toby headed off to his first day in over three weeks. He took a cab so he wouldn't put too much stress on his leg. Before Toby left, he peeked in on Chris, who was soundly sleeping on the couch. His arm was flung over his head and the blanket was down near his waist, leaving his smooth, muscular chest uncovered.

Toby had a strong urge to reach over and touch Chris gently; to smooth his hand over the firm skin. He smiled as he watched Chris sleeping.

Halfway through the day, Chris called Toby at work.

"Hey, how's your first day back?"

"So far, so good. I haven't told anyone about," he whispered. "They all figure I've just been recovering from the injuries."

"Just as well," Chris said. "You been to a meeting today?"

"There's one at 5 p.m., at a church around the corner from my office. After that, I'm going to stop by and see the kids. Gen said it would be alright. I haven't really spent any time with them in months. Before the rehab, I was out drinking every night..."

"It's okay, Toby. I'm sure they'll be thrilled to see you. I gotta work tonight. I'll be home late so I probably won't see you until tomorrow."

"Okay, then."


The AA meeting was small - about 20 people. After it was over, an tall man in his 50s came up to Toby.

"First time here? I don't recognize you."

"Yeah," he said, holding out his hand. "My name's Toby. I just got out of rehab. This is my first post-hospital meeting."

"Nice to meet you Toby. I'm Luke. I'm in charge of the meetings at this church. We have three a week. Hope to see you at more of them."

"Yeah, well I work close by, so I'm sure I'll be by."

"Do you have a sponsor yet?"

"Actually no. I guess I gotta do that, huh?"

"Be a good idea to find one tonight. Hey let me introduce you to Stephen. He's getting his 3-year badge tonight and he's been looking for someone to sponsor," Luke said and called Stephen over.

Stephen was slightly shorter than Toby with dark, curly hair. He appeared to be in his early 40s.

"Stephen, this is Toby. He just got out of rehab and needs a sponsor."

"Hi Toby, I'm Stephen."

"Nice to meet you."

"So you're looking for a sponsor? Just so happens I'm looking for a....well what would you call it...a sponsee?" Stephen said and laughed. Toby smiled.

"I guess so."

"Well, Toby, let's sit down and get acquainted."

Toby left the meeting 30 minutes later feeling a bit jubilant. He had taken to Stephen right away and Toby knew he would feel comfortable calling him in a crisis. He practically skipped down the street, as well as a man in a cast could, anyway. A few blocks later, he caught the bus.

He arrived at Gen's around 7:30 p.m. When she opened the door, Gen's face was set in a tight smile.

"Hi Gen. Is something wrong?"

"Toby, it's 7:30! You know it's the kids' bedtime!" She snapped.

Actually, he had no idea. Even when he lived there, Gen took care of the kids' bedtime. Toby was either working late or in McSwaggin's drinking.

"I had to go to a meeting, Gen. You know, the whole 90 meetings in 90 days thing," he snapped back. "I thought you would understand."

"You could have gone to a later one," she said, the irritation still in her voice.

"Look, can I see them or not? Standing here arguing is not really helping anything, is it?"

"Okay, okay. But only for a few minutes." She opened the door wider so Toby could come in.

She turned to call them but Toby covered her mouth. "Let me surprise them," he whispered.

He tiptoed down the hall and stopped at the first doorway. The boys' room. He peaked around the corner and saw Gary lying in bed, reading a book. "Hey, big fella," Toby said quietly.

Gary looked up from his book and a big smile crossed his face. "Daddy!" he yelled and jumped out of bed, running to Toby. Toby scooped him up into a big hug. Little Harry, just 11 months old, watched from his crib, not quite understanding what was going on. Toby sat down awkwardly on the floor, his cast stretched out in front of him.

Just then Toby felt a small creature jump on his back. "Daddy!" Holly squealed, her light blond hair falling over his shoulder and brushing his face.

He pulled around front into a joint hug with Gary. "It's so good to see you guys. I missed you." Gen stopped in the doorway to watch them.

"We missed you too, Daddy. Mommy said you were sick in the hospital," Hanna said.

"Yeah, honey, I was. I was in a car accident." See my cast, he said, knocking on it.

"Why couldn't we come see you?" asked Gary. Toby looked into his son's eyes and touched his soft, blond hair. Except for the hair, he looks so much like Gen, Toby thought.

"Well, uh, after they fixed me up for the accident, I went into a special part of the hospital where I couldn't have visitors."

"Why?" they asked in unison.

"Daddy had another sickness - something he had for a long time - and the hospital helped him get over that."

"Is that why you don't smell funny anymore, Daddy?" Gary asked.

Toby's heart clenched and he had to fight the tears. "Yes, Gary. And I'm going to try hard never to smell that way again," he said, his voice cracking. A flood of guilt washed over him. How could I have done that to my children?

Gary smiled. "I'm glad, Daddy, cause that was a yucky smell," he said and hugged Toby again.

"Hey, guys, let me get up and say hello to Harry. Holly and Gary stepped back and Toby strained to stand up with one leg straight. He walked over to the crib, smiling at Harry. He reached in but before he could touch him, Harry started screaming and looked toward Gen.

Toby withdrew his hands instinctively, not wanting to upset Harry. But his heart was breaking. Gen walked over and picked up Harry.

"Don't worry about it, Toby. He just hasn't seen you in awhile. He just needs to get used to you again."

Toby nodded and again felt tears prickle his eyes. He gently touched Harry's face and then looked at Gary and Holly. "Mom tells me it's bedtime now so I can't stay and visit with you," he started, but they interrupted him with whines and protests.

"Wait, wait. I have a plan. If it's okay with Mom, we can do something together this weekend," he said and looked up at Gen. She nodded.

Gary and Holly jumped up and down. "Yeah!"

He gave them each another hug and kissed Harry on the cheek while he was still in Gen's arms. Gen put them all back in bed while Toby waited in the living room.

"Are you sure it's okay to take them this weekend?"

"Yes, Toby. But just for an afternoon this time, okay?"



Toby took a cab back to Chris' place. When he walked into the empty apartment, he remembered that Chris was working late. Toby felt suddenly alone and bereft. His own child didn't recognize him because of all the time he had wasted on drinking. Gary and Holly had smelled the alcohol on him and he knew that he had somehow, in some way, done something that would affect them the rest of their lives.

He had felt so good after leaving the meeting and now Toby could not remember feeling more sad, angry or guilty in his life. He wanted to scream, to curse God, but mostly he wanted to curse himself. Because everything that had happened to his family, his children, was his fault. He sat down on the couch and wept, wishing he had someone to comfort him; wishing Chris was there.

When Chris arrived home, he found Toby asleep on the couch, still wearing his business suit. He saw a pile of used tissues on the floor. Toby had been crying, he realized and wondered what had happened. Chris leaned over Toby's face and inhaled deeply. Well, at least he didn't drink, Chris thought.

Chris wasn't sure whether to wake Toby or let him sleep. "Hey, Toby," he whispered. Toby stirred slightly but didn't wake. "Toby," Chris said again and touched him on the shoulder.

Toby's eyes fluttered open. He looked up at Chris and then around the room, remembering why he was still there on the couch. "Oh, shit," he said and sat up.

"Hey, Toby, what happened?" Chris asking, sitting down next to him.

Toby felt the sob welling up again and tried hard to keep it down. "Chris, I've screwed everything up."

"Whaddya mean, Tobe? Something happen at the AA meeting? Did you see your kids?"

"The AA meeting was fine. I even got a sponsor. Then I went to Gen's. The kids were in bed but she let me see them. Gary and were so happy to see me but Harry..." he started but stopped. "Harry didn't even know me. When I tried to pick him up, he screamed."

"Oh, Toby, I'm sorry. I don't know nothing about kids but I'm sure that'll pass. You have to be patient," Chris said.

"That wasn't even the worst of it. When Holly and Gary asked where I'd been and I tried to, Gary remembered when I used to come smelling like booze. It about broke my heart, Chris. I realized how much I had hurt my children," he said, his voice close to breaking.

"Hey Toby, let it out, go ahead. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere," Chris whispered and Toby began crying. Chris put his hand around Toby's neck and pulled him into a hug. "It'll be okay, Tobe. It`ll be okay," he said over and over, his words like a soothing balm over Toby's open wounds.

After a few minutes, Toby stopped sobbing and began cleaning up his face. "Toby, you need to focus on the good stuff. You went to the AA meeting and you've been clean, what, four weeks? That is something to be really proud of. And you could have easily been tempted into drinking tonight but you didn't! You should be proud of that too."

Toby gave Chris a small smile. "Yeah, I guess that's true. I really did want a drink tonight."

"See? You can't dwell on all the shit that's over and done. You need to focus on making things better. You can do this."

Toby nodded. "Thanks, Chris. I really needed to hear that," he said and started cleaning up all the tissues. Chris helped.

"I'm going to sleep now. Thanks for listening," Toby said before heading to the bedroom.

"Hey, Toby, I was thinking, maybe you should plan a day with the kids this weekend? Maybe take'em to the zoo or something."

"You must have read my mind. I already asked Gen about that. I'm going to take them on Saturday afternoon. I hadn't decided where to bring them but the zoo is a great idea. Hey, you wanna come with us?"

"Nah, that's okay. You go ahead. Have fun with the kiddies."

"Are you sure, Chris? I really want you to come but only if you want to. I'd like my kids to meet you."

Chris felt his heart constrict with a delicious, unexpected pain.

"You sure, Toby?"

"Yes, Chris. Please come," Toby said. "Besides I need someone to drive," he said, laughing. "I'm sure Gen will let us use the car."

"Okay. I'd like that."

Toby and Chris stopped by Gen's just before 1 p.m. She opened the door and was surprised to see Toby had brought someone along.

"Hi, Gen. This is Chris Keller. He's a friend of mine. He's going to play chauffer today since I can't drive."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Beecher."

"Gen, please. Chris Keller. That name rings a bell. Have we spoken on the phone?"

"Yes, I called your house looking for Toby when he was in rehab."

"Oh yes, I remember. You have a very trustworthy voice," she said, smiling.

Oh my God, Toby thought. Gen is flirting with him! Jesus, does he have that effect on everyone?

"Why thank you, Gen. I hope it's well deserved," he said, giving her a devastating smile, causing Toby's heart to do a flip even though the smile wasn't aimed at him. How does he do that?

Holly and Gary came running up to Toby then, calling out "Daddy," in unison. Toby bent down as best he could with the cast on and gave them both a hug. Gen walked down the hallway to get Harry out of his playpen

"Hey guys, this is my friend, Chris. Chris, this is Holly and this is Gary," he said.

Chris knelt down at the knees and shook both their hands. "It's nice to meet you," he said and smiled again.

Gen walked down the hall with the baby. "And this is Harry," she said, bringing him close to Chris. Remembering what Toby said, Chris refrained from touching Harry but said hello and smiled instead.

"Harry, you are going on a trip with Daddy today," Gen said and Harry looked alarmed. "Gary and Holly will be there, too." When she started to hand him over, Harry began to wail. Toby closed his eyes.

"Maybe we shouldn't..."

"Nonsense, Toby, he did this when he started daycare, too. He will only cry for a minute. Once I'm out of sight, he'll be fine. Here take him."

Toby plucked his son from his wife's arms and held him tight. "I love you, Harry," he whispered into the boy's ear. Chris took the diaper bag Gen held out and gathered the kids to head out to the car. Gary and Holly ran excitedly to the car. They got into their car seats but Chris was clueless about how to buckle them in.

Toby walked slowly with Harry trying to sooth him as they went. Gen watched from the doorway. "Try the pacifier! It's in the front pocket of the diaper bag. The keys are in there too!" She called and closed the door.

Toby buckled Harry in and saw that Holly had the pacifier ready. "Thanks, honey," he said and popped it into Harry's mouth. He took it. Thank God, Toby thought.

"Uh, Toby, I couldn't figure out those buckles there."

"That's okay, Chris, I'll get them." Then they were off.

The five of them spent the afternoon walking all over the zoo with Chris and Toby taking turns pushing Harry's stroller. The kids filled up on popcorn and ice cream, which Toby knew he would pay for later. But he was so enjoying his time with them, he didn't want to deny them anything.

At one point, Gary need to use the restroom but he insisted that Chris bring him. When they met back up with the gang, Gary had a large, plastic dinosaur in his hand.

"Chris, did you get that for him?" Toby asked.

Chris nodded.

"You didn't have to but thanks."

"Hey, how come Gary gets a toy but I don't?" Holly whined.

Chris pulled a bag out from behind his back. He handed it to Holly, who proceeded to squeal with delight when she looked inside. She pulled out a clear backpack decorated with sequins and sparkles.

"Thanks, Uncle Chris," Holly said and gave him a hug.

Toby couldn't be sure but he thought he saw Chris' eyes tear up. Must be my imagination.

After dropping the kids off around 6, they switched the car for Chris' motorcycle and headed home.

"Hey, Chris," Toby said when they got back to the apartment. "You said you'd been married four times but you never mentioned kids. Do you have any?"


"Ever wish you did? You were great with Gary and Holly today. They really liked you."

"None of my marriages lasted long enough for kids. Wouldn't have been too fair for the kids so, no, I guess I don't regret not having'em. Your kids are great, though. Thanks for inviting me along."

"Thanks for coming," Toby said and sat down on the couch.

"I'm going to jump in the shower. I feel a bit dusty and sticky from the kids' ice cream," Chris said, smiling.

Toby nodded and turned the t.v. on, leaning back to relax.

When Chris came out of the shower, Toby was asleep on the couch. He does that a lot, Chris thought. He decided to try and make Toby comfortable without waking him. He lifted Toby's feet up on the sofa and covered him with a blanket. Chris watched him as he slept. He looked so peaceful, like a child.

Chris sat on the edge of the couch and brushed Toby's hair with his fingers. Who was this beautiful man with such a big heart and how was I lucky enough to meet him? Chris cupped Toby's cheek with his hand, feeling the bristles but also the soft part covering the cheekbone. He leaned over and kissed Toby on the forehead, tasting a slightly salty flavor on his lips. His nose took in the warm, comforting scent of Toby, which reminded Chris of the beach.

Toby's closeness, his scent, the taste of him made Chris want more. He trailed light kisses over Toby's cheek, his adorable nose and finally resting on sleeping lips. Chris kissed him softly, flicking his tongue out to taste them. He felt Toby stir and Chris sat up but did not move off the couch.

Toby's eyes fluttered open and he smiled when he saw Chris. Toby still felt a bit groggy from sleep. He had been dreaming of Chris and must have somehow sensed that Chris was close by. Toby's lips tingled and suddenly he wondered if his dream was being played out.

"Did you kiss me?" Toby asked, still comfortably ensconced in his dream world.

"What if I did?"

Toby felt a prickle of fear run up his back. "That doesn't answer the question."

"Then, yeah, I did."

"Are you gay?"

"What difference does that make?"

"Every difference," Toby snapped, sitting up and causing Chris to move off the couch. "I'm not gay. I thought you liked women."

"I do."

"So then...what - you're bisexual?" Toby asked, standing up, facing Chris.

"I don't know what I am, Toby. I just know that I'm attracted to you. And I know you feel the same way about me."

"What?! You're crazy. I'm straight. I'm married."

"So what? I've been married four times. Doesn't have anything to do with you and me."

"There is no you and me."

"Oh but I think there is. It's just unconsummated," he said, stretching out the last word with a seductive murmur.

"Are you trying to play head games with me? Cause they won't work."

"No?" he said, with a cocky grin.

"What do you want from me?"

"I want you to admit you're attracted to me."

"I can't do that because I'm not." Oh Toby, you are such a liar.



"Well then, why don`t we test that? Let me kiss you," he murmured, moving in closer, his voice like erotic fingers on Toby's spine.

Toby backed up instinctively, his broken leg making the movement awkward. "What?! No. No way."

"Why not? Afraid you'll like it?"

"No, of course not!" More than you could ever imagine.

"Well then let's go."

"I can't. I don't feel comfortable." Actually he felt all warm and tingly. Fear and desire were playing out a battle inside of him. I wish Chris would go ahead and make a move already so I can blame it on him.

"I'll do all the work," Chris offered and began closing in. Toby could have slipped out of Chris' reach but he stayed rigid against the wall. Chris' lips touched Toby gently, pressing against the blond man's lips, playing over them like a light feather. Toby emitted a quiet involuntarily sound of pleasure, which spurred Chris to be bolder. He slipped his tongue along the edge of Toby's sweet lips, tasting as he went, sighing.

Toby didn't move. He was in shock at the feelings and sensations racing through him. This can't be happening. It's just supposed to be a fantasy and then I'm supposed to get over these feelings, Toby tried to tell himself.

Chris tested the waters by moving his tongue between Toby's lips and found no resistance there. He swirled his tongue around Toby's warm, wet mouth, exploring the grooves and lines, sliding over the teeth and gums. All the while he continued to suck and taste those delicious lips. He captured Toby's tongue with his own.

Toby was stunned at the desire raging through his mouth, his chest, his cock. He was as hard as he ever remembered.

Chris stopped and stepped back and saw the stunned look on Toby's face. The blond man still had not moved. His eyes were open in horror and his mouth was slack. He started to slide down the wall so he could sit on the floor and get his bearings; his broken leg sticking straight out in its cast.

Chris smiled that cocky smile of his and opened his mouth for an "I told you so," but something in Toby's expression stopped him.

"Hey Tobe, it's okay," he said and bent down at the knees so he was face to face with Toby.

Toby wasn't looking at him, he was looking over Chris' shoulder and his expression hadn't changed. He closed his eyes and covered his face in shame.

"Oh shit. I didn't want you to feel bad." Chris reached out and touched Toby's shoulder to comfort him.

Toby's head jerked up, his face was set in a snarl. "Get your fucking hands off of me," he growled, taking Chris aback. He pulled away from Toby abruptly and ended up sitting on his ass. Toby stood up abruptly, heading for the door.

Chris turned, "Wait, Toby, please." Toby stopped and turned to face Chris. "Don't you ever call me or come near me again," he warned, his voice deadly serious. He walked into Chris's room, grabbed some clothes and then he was gone.

Shit, Chris, you fucked up, he thought as he stood up slowly. How could I have known he would have had that reaction? he thought, having a strange inner conversation with himself. Well, think, numbnuts, the guy's been straight his whole life, screwing women, thinking that's all there is. Then you come along and you get in the guy's head, maybe even in his heart. That's gotta throw anyone off balance; especially someone like Toby, who's used to everything so neat.

But he wanted me, the other voice said. Yeah well, maybe you could have given a little bit of fucking time to get used to the idea!

"Fuck," he said aloud to the empty apartment. "Now what?" he asked and then, "I don't have a fucking clue."

Toby walked for an hour thinking, his emotions in turmoil. He stopped at the Hilton and rented a room for the night and then called Dr. Dryer's emergency number.

Dryer called him back 15 minutes later.

"Toby? What's the emergency?"

"Chris. He, uh, he kissed me."

"And what happened?"

"What do you think happened, doctor?" Toby snapped, his voice getting louder. "I took your advice. I had been fantasizing about Chris and when he kissed me, I responded. I...I...I became aroused," he sobbed, his voice full of shame and self-loathing.

"Toby, this is not the end of the world."

"Oh yes it is. You have no idea."

"Why don't you come to the hospital and we can talk about it?"

"Yes, please," Toby pleaded.

They met a half hour later. It was almost four a.m. Toby was a bit calmer but his eyes were red and his face looked haggard.

"I don't know what to do, doctor."

"Well, what do you want to do?"

"I want this to go away. I want my feelings for Chris to disappear. I want to turn back time," Toby rambled.

"Are you sure that's what you want?"

"No, I'm not sure! But what other choice do I have? Fantasizing about Chris was one thing but I can't actually be in a relationship with him! My God! My parents. My wife. My colleagues. My kids!"

"Toby, I really don't think your wife comes into play here since you two are separated anyway. And kids are often very accepting of their parents as long as they're loved. Your colleagues and parents don't need to know anything about your personal life until you are ready to tell them. I'm thinking maybe the real issue is you and how you perceive yourself."

"You don't understand. Everyone will judge me. They'll hate me."

"Your parents?"

"I'm a WASP, for God's sake! We're not gay, didn't you know?" he yelled. Then, more quietly, "my father will disown me."

"You don't know that. You are projecting. Even if he does at first, he could eventually come around. You can't live your life to make other people happy. If you are miserable, if you deny who you are and what you feel, don't you think that is going to affect the people you love? Is it possible that you started drinking because of this desperate need to make other people happy and not yourself?"

Toby looked at the doctor in surprise, then thought about that for a few minutes. "I don't know, doctor. It's possible. But I can't just change my personality overnight. These are long held beliefs."

"You're right, Toby, it will take time but there really isn't any hurry, is there? How did you leave things with Chris?"

"I got furious with him. I told him to leave me alone."

"But you were really angry with yourself."

Toby hung his head down. "Yes."

"Then you need to apologize to Chris and explain why you did what you did."

"I don't know if I can."

"Then nothing is going to change. And you are going to continue to be unhappy. Do you remember when you told me you thought you might be in love with Chris?"


"Do you still feel that way?"


"Do you think he has similar feelings for you?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Isn't it worth finding out?"

Toby sighed. "I think so. Yes."

"Then you know what you have to do."

Part 5

After Toby left, Chris had gotten rip-roaring drunk. I'm no good, he thought. That's why Toby rejected me. Oh, he knew Toby was aroused. But when Toby got angry and left, Chris knew it was because the lawyer didn't want to take a chance on a piece of scum like Chris Keller. Toby thinks he's too good for me, Chris thought. And how can I blame him? I hate myself more than anyone else ever could. So he drank himself into a stupor until he passed out on the floor.

Chris woke up the next day just after noon. He had a splitting headache and a hangover. He recalled last night's scene with Toby and then he remembered feeling sorry for himself and suddenly he was angry.

Despite all of his faults, the one thing Chris knew he could call on was his sexuality. He knew that no matter what else he failed in, he could manipulate and seduce anyone - gay or straight, married or committed, man or woman, chaste or not. Manipulate and destroy, that was his gift and yet somehow that had failed last night.

What Chris couldn't figure out was why. He knew Toby had been aroused but for some reason Chris had not been able to get him to capitulate. How the fuck did he slip through my fingers? Chris wondered and then he realized that he had let Toby go. When Chris saw that stricken look on Toby's face, Chris had cut the game short. He had let Toby's confusion and pain take him off of his game. I let him go. How could that happen?

He had never let compassion come into play before. When Chris had brought his lovers to their knees, where Toby had been last night, he went in for the kill. But something had stopped him last night. What? he asked himself over and over. And then that voice, that foreign Toby-like voice, told him something he never thought would cross his mind. You care for him more than the others.

"Oh no. No, I don't," Chris said aloud to the empty room. But he knew it was true and he hated himself at that moment for the weakness. He knew that there was only way to deal with this problem.

Toby stopped by Chris' apartment the next day after work. He practiced a hundred times in his head what he was going to say; how he was going to apologize. He knocked on the door, waiting for Chris to open it but no one appeared. Maybe he's at work, Toby thought. He took a cab over to the place Chris worked as a bartender.

When he walked in, he saw Chris behind the bar and felt a sense of relief. Good, we can get this settled tonight.

He walked up to the bar, which had about 5 or 6 patrons, and sat down on a stool. Chris was at the other end, fixing drinks for a waitress to bring to a table.

When Chris finished, he walked over to the cash register. He didn't notice Toby so Toby called out to him.

"Hey, Chris," he said and smiled when Chris looked at him.

Chris didn't appear surprised or pleased to see Toby. He's probably mad about last night. Okay, Toby, deep breath and just go.

"Chris, I came here to apologize for last night. I don't know what got into me. I guess I just wasn't expecting to feel the way I did..." he started but Chris interrupted him.

"It's okay. I accept your apology," he said quietly as he walked over near Toby's stool.

Toby sighed. "You do? Oh, thank God. Cause I was really worried. Do you think maybe I could stop by later after you get out of work so we can talk? Maybe even tomorrow if you want," Toby rambled.

Chris didn't say anything, just looked at Toby; actually glared at him was a more accurate description.


"That's all you're getting. Whatever there was between us - whatever could have been - that's over. I don't want to see you anymore,"

Toby felt like someone had pulled the rug out from underneath him. "What? Chris? I don't understand. I thought you just said..."

"I know what I said, Toby. Forgiving is one thing. Forgetting is another and I am not going to ever forget the way you made me feel last night," he said, his voice low with sparks of anger at the edges. "You made me feel like some kind of would-be rapist last night," he said, spitting out the words. "Like some kind of defiler of innocents. You did that. You did it knowing full well that you wanted me to kiss you."

"I know, Chris, but you have to let me explain why I did it. I was confused. I'd never been in a situation like that before. I..." his voice took on a desperate tone.

"Toby, you don't have anything to say that I want to hear. So please leave or I will personally throw you out myself."

"Chris, please," Toby begged.

"Go," Chris growled in the back of his throat. Toby nodded sadly and walked out of the bar.

Toby stood on the sidewalk outside the bar, bereft and completely lost. My God, how had it come this? He desperately wanted a drink. He walked down the block looking for a pay phone and dialed Stephen's number.

"Hello?" Stephen answered.

"Stephen, it's Toby. I need a drink, Stephen. I don't know if I can stop myself."

"What happened Toby?"

"I had a fight with Chris."


"A...friend. A good friend."

"Toby, have you gotten yourself romantically involved with someone?"

"Jesus, Stephen, I'm pouring my heart out here and you're grilling me!"

"Toby, you know you're not supposed to make any drastic changes in your life when you're just beginning the program! We discussed this! You even agreed to hold off on your divorce for a few months."

"I know that, Stephen, but I met Chris before I went into rehab. I just didn't know I would fall for..." he hesitated but couldn't say it. "...her."

"Well, what happened?"

"H..she told me to hit the road. It's over. And my heart is broken and I want to get lost inside of a drink," Toby moaned.

"Toby, this woman is not worth taking that drink. The relationship never should have started. Where are you?"

"Outside of a bar on Kensington."

"A bar, Toby?"

"That's where Chris works. That's where Chris dumped me."

"Get the hell away from the bar Toby. Walk up to the corner of Winslow and I'll come pick you up."


Toby spent the next week just trying to get through the day without a drink. He attended two meetings a day, which was hard with his work schedule. He usually squeezed one in at noon and then again after work. On Friday, he went to the doctor's and got his cast off. It felt weird to walk without it but there was no pain.

He took the kids again on Saturday and brought them to a playground and then to dinner. Being with them, watching them laugh and play, kept his mind off Chris for a few hours.

But when Toby was alone, he wallowed in despair. He even entertained the notion of trying to reconcile with Gen. She was being so nice to him lately; kept complimenting him on his progress.

After dropping the kids off, he went to a meeting and then straight home. He took a shower and looked at his face in the mirror. He looked at his pitiful expression and suddenly felt sick. What the fuck am I doing? Feeling sorry for myself?

He realized he was falling into the same sickening pattern. Do what everyone else expects of me and then feel sorry for myself. Fuck, no. I am not going to do this. Not again. For once I am going to do what I want.

Toby got dressed and walked over to Chris' apartment and knocked on the door. No answer. Fine, he would wait. He wasn't leaving until Chris heard what he had to say. If Chris still pushed him away after everything Toby said, then he would at least know that he tried. There wouldn't be this empty, aching feeling of failure.

He started to walk down the hall and ran into Joe, the building janitor. Chris had introduced them once.

"Hey, Toby. You still staying with Chris?"

Toby hesitated. "Yeah, Joe. But can you believe it? I left my key at work."

"Oh, I can let you in."

"Thanks, Joe."

Toby went inside and walked around. The place was not as tidy as it usually was and there were lots of empty beer cans in the trash. Toby smiled. Hmm, maybe Chris isn't having such a cheery time of it either, he thought. I'm going to win him back tonight. I swear it. Toby felt more certain than he had in awhile. It's time to take control.

Toby settled into a big, comfy chair and waited in the dark. He didn't want to turn the t.v. on for fear it would alert Chris to his presence.

By the time Chris arrived home at 2 a.m., Toby had fallen asleep. He didn't hear Chris come in and Chris didn't notice Toby sleeping in the chair. Chris walked into his bedroom and started to get ready for bed. He was exhausted. This was his first night home before 6 am in almost a week.

Every night after work, he had gone out partying with some friends from the bar to after hours clubs. He got rip-roaring drunk in the hopes of forgetting about Toby. Tonight, he needed to rest from all the club-hopping. He took off his jeans and t-shirt and let them drop on the floor. He put on a fresh pair of boxers and walked out to the kitchen to get a drink of water. That was when he noticed Toby sitting there, his head leaning back on the chair, his mouth slightly open.

Chris felt a mixture of joy and anger. He noticed that Toby's cast was gone.

"How the fuck did you get in?" he snapped, bringing Toby out of his reverie.

"Huh? What?" Toby mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He looked up and saw Chris standing there, a stern look on his face.

"I said, how the fuck did you get in?" more angry this time.

"Joe let me in. Listen, Chris, I need to talk to you."

"No, Toby. I already told you. There's nothing to talk about. Get out."

Toby stood up, a defiant look in his eyes. "Oh, but I disagree, Keller. And I'm not leaving until I've said what I came to say."

Chris' eyes narrowed in surprise. "I could kick your ass and throw you out myself."

"You can try but I am still not leaving until I finish."

Toby's growing some balls, Chris thought. "Fine. Talk," Chris said but turned his back away from Toby. He couldn't look into those gorgeous blue eyes and stay neutral.

Toby stepped up behind Chris and placed his hands on Chris' shoulder. The muscles were tense. Toby knew this wasn't going to be easy but he wasn't going to back down now. "Chris, I know I made a terrible mistake the other night and for that I am truly sorry. But I'm hoping you'll understand how, terrified...I was. I've never had feelings like this for a...for a man and I've been so confused."

Toby leaned forward and rested his face on Chris' back and wrapped his arms around Chris' waist. Chris did not resist him but stood rigidly still, trying to keep his breathing calm but Toby's touches were weakening his resistance.

"This...whole...thing has been really hard for me to accept," Toby continued. "But I've been talking to a therapist and I'm trying to learn how to live my life for me instead of trying to please everyone else. Chris, I wanna be with you. Please don't give up on me now."

"Well, when you have all it figured out give me a call," Chris said sarcastically, trying to make his tone cold and unforgiving but Toby could hear the waver in his voice.

"Chris, I love you," Toby whispered and pressed his lips to that spot between the dark-haired man`s shoulder blades.

Chris jumped as if on fire and turned around to face Toby. Fuck, he thought. Say anything but that, Toby. "You think you can just come in here, apologize and everything's going to be alright?" he snapped, his voice cracking.

"Yes," Toby said, smiling. He knew Chris was just posturing. Toby could see that Chris' face was flushed and he noticed the beginnings of an erection. He pressed himself against Chris until the taller man was pressed up against the wall. "You want me, Chris," he said, his voice low and sexy. Then he kissed Chris' neck, flicking his tongue over the warm, smooth skin.

Shit, I never expected Toby to be so good at this game, Chris thought, his breath coming in short, heavy gasps. Time to turn the tables. He pushed Toby away from him and held him at arm's length. "Maybe I do, Toby, but I can get sex anywhere I want; with anyone I want."

But Toby surprised him again by reaching out his right hand and running it over Chris' cock through the thin material of his boxers. Chris groaned aloud in shock and pleasure. "But you want me," Toby growled. Chris' arms went slack and Toby was against him again, his lips capturing Chris' in a breath-taking kiss.

Toby's tongue plundered Chris' mouth, running it along his lover's teeth, palate, gums, sending shivers through Chris. Toby captured and overpowered Chris' tongue, sucking and tantalizing; giving no ground. Chris pulled Toby`s head back. "Jesus Christ! Where'd you learn to kiss like that?" Chris asked, panting. Toby smiled. "Guess I've had a little practice." His eyes were glassy with lust.

"Toby, are you sure you want this?" Chris asked, wanting to avoid any morning-after guilt.

Toby placed his hands gently on Chris' naked chest and looked into his eyes. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life," he swore.

Chris told hold of Toby's hand. "Then let's go in the bedroom," he said and led Toby down the hall.

Part 6

Standing by the bed, Chris felt self-conscious for the first time in a long time. His stomach was in knots and he felt unsure of what to do; acting like a virgin teenager. "Toby, I..." he started but Toby pressed his finger to Chris' lips.

"Chris, would you undress me?" Toby whispered, his voice shaky.

"Fuck, Toby, how do you do that?"

"What?" he asked innocently.

"Twist me inside out with just a word or a look."

Toby smiled and leaned toward Chris, kissing him softly, running his tongue over Chris' lips. Chris felt his blood heat up again and he slipped his hands under Toby's shirt, stroking the firm, smooth skin. Moving up, brushing against two aroused nipples, Chris felt Toby gasp into his mouth. Toby raised his arms and Chris lifted the shirt off in one, swift move. Then their lips crashed together again and they came against each other, skin on skin, hands caressing and exploring.

Chris' skin felt like luxurious silk and Toby reveled in their newfound intimacy. Touching this man was not awkward or strange, as he expected. Touching this man he loved was arousing and calming all at the same time, as if everything wrong was suddenly set right. Toby knew with certainty he was in deeper that he'd ever been in his life. Still, he wasn't afraid.

Chris was working on Toby's zipper and then he felt his pants sliding over his ass and then hitting the floor. Chris' strong, gentle hands cupped his bottom and Toby felt a jolt of desire hit him. Quickly, he yanked Chris' boxers down and pressed himself against his lover.

"Christ, Toby. Oh God," Chris moaned. He stepped out of his boxers and pushed Toby on the bed. Toby smiled as Chris straddled his prone body and leaned over to kiss him. Then Chris lowered himself onto Toby until they joined chest to chest, cock to cock, mouth to mouth. Toby wrapped his legs around Chris, thrusting himself against Chris. The friction was maddening, all encompassing and Toby thought he was going to explode.

"Hey, baby, slow down," Chris whispered. Toby looked at him, slightly embarrassed. "Who knew you were going to be such a tiger, eh?" Chris teased him.

"Chris, I...I don't think I've ever been so aroused in my life," Toby said and Chris' heart clenched. Toby looked at him so lovingly with such candor that Chris knew Toby was opening his heart, his very soul. Chris closed his eyes because Toby's beauty was almost too much to bear.


"I'm here," he said, opening his eyes.

"I want to feel you inside me."

"Oh God, Toby. You did it again," Chris said, visibly shaken. "Toby, are you sure? We don't have to go that far the first time."

"How many times are you going to ask me?"

"Okay, but first," Chris said, sliding down Toby's body. "I want to taste you." And then his mouth covered Toby like a deliciously warm wet suit.

"Oh, good God," Toby exclaimed, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes.

Chris' tongue expertly caressed the head, swirling around the rim and teasing the cleft. Toby writhed on the bed, muttering sounds of pleasure. Chris licked a trail down the Toby's cock and inhaled his scent. It was intoxicating like some kind of newly discovered drug and Chris knew he would never be able to get enough of it. He ran his tongue over Toby's balls, taking each one into his mouth, sucking gently. Toby raised his hips off the bed, delirious with lust.

Chris' tongue continued its trail, licking that spot between balls and ass; a spot Chris knew was the most sensitive on his own body. Toby thrashed again and Chris knew Toby was close. Chris took Toby's cock in his mouth again, this time moving up and down the shaft in a rhythmic pattern, building the pressure slowly, then quickening his pace. Toby was moaning Chris' name over and over. His hips were moving and then suddenly he stopped as a vibration moved over him, up his legs and centered right in his groin.

"Fuuuuuuuckkkkkkkk," he breathed as he came and Chris struggled to take it all in. He loved this taste too; knew then that he loved everything about Toby.

"Shit, Toby, that was quite a load. When was the last time you had sex?"

Toby was still panting, trying to catch his breath. "Can't...remember," he spoke in short breaths. ""

"Fuck, that's a long time. So you been saving yourself for me?" he teased.

Toby smirked at him but didn't move. He was drained and wanted to just lie there and enjoy the glow. Chris watched Toby, his breathing slowing a little but he was still flushed and his blue eyes were dilated.

"Jesus, you're fucking sexy when you're aroused."

Toby sat up then and reached over to caress Chris' straining cock. "I could say the same about you. Is it my turn?"

"No, Toby, not tonight," Chris said and Toby looked a bit disappointed. "Tonight, it's all about you, baby. I want to give you pleasure all night long," he whispered. Well, this is a first, Chris thought, surprised at his own selflessness.

Toby's stomach fluttered.

"Turn over, baby," Chris said but then saw the fear in Toby's eyes. "Toby, don't worry, I'm not going to plunge in. I'm going to relax you first."

Toby smiled and turned over cause he trusted Chris. We're lovers now, Toby thought, giddily.

"My God, Toby. You have a beautiful ass," Chris said, running his hands over the smooth, firm globes. Toby blushed but didn't speak. He felt tingles running through him as Chris' hands stroked his back, his ass, his legs. Chris leaned over and planted little kisses on his lover's delicious behind, which was covered with tiny baby fine, blond hairs. His hand snaked between Toby's legs and caressed his balls.

Toby jerked in surprise, raising his ass slightly. "Mmm. What a view," Chris murmured. "Hey, stay like that," he added and reached for a tube of lubricating jelly from his nightstand drawer. Toby was shaking from desire and a little bit of fear as Chris smoothed the liquid on his hands.

Then a flash of pleasure as Chris rubbed the jelly on him and slipped his finger inside. Toby felt himself clench and then relax as Chris worked his magic. Chris moved in deeper and found a spot that Toby never knew he had; one that made him feel like there were rockets going off in his head. He moaned and rested his dizzy head on the bed.

Chris squeezed out some more jelly and coated his cock and looked at Toby. "You ready?"

Toby turned to look at Chris. "Is there any way I can look at you while we do this?" Toby asked so innocently, making Chris love him more, if possible.

"Yeah, baby. Lie on your back."

Toby turned back over and Chris lifted his legs in the air. "I'm going to go slow, so don't be scared," he said tenderly. He pressed up again Toby and pushed his finger inside again. Toby was tightly clenched and Chris massaged him so he could relax. He removed his finger and then pushed the tip of his penis inside.

Chris was flooded with pleasurable sensations as Toby clenched around him. He kept moving until his entire tip was in and then stopped. He looked at Toby who tension was starting to fade. "You okay?"

"Yeah. It pinched a little but I'm okay now."

Chris moved slowly again, inch by inch, stopping if Toby made a painful expression. When he was nearly all the way in, Chris saw Toby smile. "I think you found my G spot," he joked and Chris knew that Toby was really ready.

Chris began to move in and out of Toby slowly, patiently, gauging Toby's reaction. Toby's eyes were closed and he scrunched up his face like he did when he was angry or concentrating on something. It was something Chris had always found endearing. Toby opened his eyes and looked at Chris, his eyes full of love and trust.

"Chris, I'm not a china doll. I'm not going to break."

"Getting a little impatient, are you?" Chris teased him.

Toby jerked his hips forward, pushing Chris deeper inside of him. "Does that answer your question?" Chris could see that Toby's erection was back in full force.

Chris groaned and quickened his pace. Watching Toby lay back and open himself completely excited Chris beyond measure. Toby was panting hard, his body glistening with sweat and trying to move with his lover's thrusts. His head was bent back and his mouth was open. He was utterly surrendering himself. You're mine; only mine, Chris thought possessively. He felt Toby's muscles opening and closing around his cock and knew he couldn't hold on much longer.

Seconds later, a pleasant spasm ripped through Chris and reverberated through his lower body. He could see that Toby felt it cause he opened his eyes wide. "Oh God, Chris. Oh my God," he panted. Chris lay down next to Toby as they both waited for their heart beats to slow down.

Chris placed his hand on Toby's still throbbing erection. "Looks like you have a little problem here. Can I help you fix it?"

"I was thinking maybe we could take a shower, wash all this sweat off and then maybe start again," he suggested, a devilish grin on his face.

Chris opened his eyes wide in surprise. "Man, Toby, you never stop surprising me. It's like there's two people inside you."

"Then I guess you get two for the price of one," Toby joked and leaned over to plant a burning kiss on Chris, his tongue staking its claim. By the time he finished, Chris was breathless. "Ready for that shower now?" Toby asked and got out of bed.

Part 7

Toby slipped into the streaming water, arching slightly and letting it wash over his body. Then he slipped his face in and rubbed it. The warm water felt good on his skin, which was still tingling from his very close encounter with Chris. As he rubbed the soap over his body, he relived their lovemaking in his mind. A moment later, he felt Chris behind him, wrapping his arms around Toby's waist.

Toby leaned back onto Chris' broad chest. "Mmmmm," he murmured contentedly. Then he turned and smiled at his lover, pressing his lips to Chris'. Toby boldly slipped his tongue into Chris' mouth, exploring and teasing. Then he moved his hands over Chris' rock hard ass and pulled his lover against him, gyrating. Toby's cock was still hard and he was feeling more sexual than he could ever remember.

Toby's entire body craved Chris' touch, his mouth, his cock, his ass and every other delicious inch. He was feeling so sensual, so utterly aroused that if Chris wanted to fuck him in the middle of the street, Toby would have let him. As Toby moved against Chris, he could feel his lover's cock waking up.

"Damn, Toby, you're on fucking fire," Chris growled into Toby's mouth.

"Yes," he said with a devilish grin. "And I have you to thank for it."

Toby slid his hands over Chris' wet skin, gliding along the sculpted muscles of his lover's ass, back, stomach and chest. "I feel like I can't get enough of you, Chris." Toby wrapped his arms around Chris' neck and kissed him again. They continued to move against each other as the water sluiced over them like a continuous lubricant, facilitating the friction between their engorged erections.

Toby pulled his mouth away from Chris' for a moment but his lover pulled him back. "I want your mouth on mine when I come," he said heatedly and captured Toby's lips again.

"Hey, Toby," Chris called out as they dressed. It was after 8 p.m. on Sunday and he and Toby had been making love on and off for the last 17 hours, give or take, with a few catnaps in between. They were getting ready to go out and grab a bite. Neither had eaten anything all day; nothing that filled up the belly anyway, Chris thought with a snicker.

"Yeah?" Toby said, walking out of the bathroom, his wet hair slicked back. He was wearing a light blue oxford tucked inside a pair a jeans. He looks like a preppy college kid, Chris thought and smiled.

"Are you okay with...all this?"

Toby smiled at Chris and walked over to him. "Yes, Chris, I'm fine," he said, wrapping his arms around Chris' waist.

"Well, you did do like a 180 turnaround pretty fast, there, Tobe. I was just wondering if you were having second thoughts."

Toby pressed his lips against his lover's, using his tongue to caress Chris` lips, whose body began to respond. "What do you think?" Toby teased him.

"Okay, but we better get out of here before we end up in the hospital," he joked, grabbing Toby's hand and walking him out the door.

But out in public, Toby's entire demeanor had changed. Walking from the parking lot into the restaurant, Toby had become pensive and quiet. They walked side by side, not touching. The sexual animal inside Toby had been caged and Chris wondered again if Toby really understood what they were getting themselves into. Shit, even I'm not too sure, Chris thought.

After they ordered, Toby finally took a moment to look at Chris, his eyes telling Chris that everything was still okay. He might not be ready for public displays of affection, but his feelings for Chris had not changed.

"So, you gonna stay over tonight?" Chris asked as he worked on his appetizer.

Toby looked up at him, not answering right away. "Well, I do have to get up early for work," he said.

Chris nodded and an awkward silence ensued.

After dinner, they walked back to Chris' bike. Chris handed Toby his helmet. "So, I should drop you off at your place?" he asked, his eyes cast down.

"I do need a suit for tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know," Chris said quietly but Toby knew he was disappointed, maybe even hurt.

"Hey, why don't you stay with me? I know it's just a lousy hotel room but all my stuff is there and you can sleep in late if you want."

"Toby, please don't ask unless you really want that," Chris said.

Toby put his hand on Chris' cheek. "I do," he whispered and looked into Chris' eyes. Chris could read the truth there. He smiled and they rode off toward the hotel.

Toby brushed his teeth while Chris laid on the bed in his boxers watching t.v. Toby slid in next to Chris who used the remote to turn the t.v. off. Toby reached up to turn the light off and then rolled over to face Chris.

"Chris..." Toby started but Chris put his finger on Toby's lips. The blond man could see his lover's eyes in the dark of the room.

"Toby, I love you," he whispered raggedly, his voice catching with emotion. Chris kissed his lover gently and held him close. Toby slipped his arm around Chris' shoulder and pulled Chris closer to him.

Toby rested his head on Chris' broad chest. "I love you, too, Chris." A few minutes later, he turned and wiggled until his back was up against Chris, who spooned his lover. Toby had the best sleep in as long as he could remember.

Toby woke up early the next morning and gave Chris a quick kiss before heading out at 7 a.m. He felt a bit guilty about missing his AA meeting yesterday so he wanted to catch one before work. He was surprised to run into Stephen.

"Didn't know you came to this meeting," Toby said when Stephen greeted him.

"Once in awhile," he said. "How are you doing? You're past the crisis?"

Toby couldn't help smiling. "Yes."

"Toby? What's going on?"

"What do you mean? Everything's fine."

"You have this shit-eating grin on your face so I'm thinking something's up."

"I'm just feeling good is all."

"Oh yeah? And why is that?" Stephen asked suspiciously.

"Just feeling happy about being sober. That's all."

Stephen narrowed his eyes and watched Toby. "Something tells me there's more to it but I am glad that you're feeling good."

Toby nodded and they both sat down because the meeting was starting.

"Mr. Beecher, your father on line 2," Bea said over the intercom.

Toby picked up the phone. "Hi, Dad."

"Toby, what's going on? We don't hear from you for weeks and then we find out that you and Gen are splitting up?!"

Toby sighed. "I'm fine, Dad. Thanks for asking."

"I'm sorry, son. It's just that this news has us reeling. What happened?"

"Gen got tired of my drinking."

"Well then just cut back a little then, son."

"Dad, I'm an alcoholic."

"Don't be ridiculous. You are not an alcoholic. So what if you occasionally drink too much? Everyone does that."

"Dad, I was in rehab and I joined AA."

"You did? Are you sure that's wise? What if someone were to find out? Someone from the office?" Well, this bodes well for the revelation of my other big secret, Toby thought.

"Dad, what do you want?"

"I want to see my grandchildren. I asked Gen if we could take them this weekend but she wanted me to check with you since that's when you usually see them. I asked her what she meant by that and she told me you left."

Toby remained stubbornly silent. He was not going to continue to explain himself to his father. He had been doing that his whole life.


"Yeah, Dad?"

"Would you mind if we took the kids this weekend?"

"I guess it's okay. I'll see if Gen will let me have them Friday night and you can come pick them up at...uh...the place I'm staying on Saturday morning. Here let me give you the address."

Chris sauntered through the lobby in snug jeans and a white, long-sleeve t-shirt. He drew appreciative glances from both women and men. He walked up to the desk and asked for Toby Beecher's office.

When Toby saw Chris walk into office, his eyes lit up in surprise and joy. "What are you doing here?" he asked and gave Chris a quick hug.

"I thought maybe we could have lunch together. I don't go to work until 4. Besides, I want to ask you something."


"I'll tell you at lunch."

"So where do you want to eat?" Toby asked as they walked down the street. It was warm and sunny day.

"I dunno. Wherever you..." Chris started and then stopped. Toby turned to see Chris staring at him.

"What?" Toby asked curiously.

"Your hair. It looks...different. It looks red," Chris said, a puzzled look on his face.

Toby laughed. "Yeah, I know. The sun shows off the red highlights."

`I can't believe I never noticed it before," Chris said and then he realized that this was the first time he'd been out in the sun with Toby. That day he'd picked Toby up from rehab, it had been cloudy and he hadn't noticed the red.

"Well, it's not really noticeable inside."

Chris leaned toward Toby, whispering, "I like it." His voice rumbled pleasantly along Toby's nerves.

Toby blushed and smiled.

They ate at a quiet Chinese restaurant a few blocks from Toby's office.

"So, what did you want to ask me?"

Chris took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you want to move back to my place?" he asked, almost shyly and Toby was touched.

Toby smiled. "You mean, until I find my own place?"

"No," he said looking intently into Toby's eyes.

"Then when?"

"Until you don't want to be there anymore."

"That's probably going to be a long time away," Toby said.

"That's settled then," Chris said, matter-of-factly and handed Toby a key.

"I'll see if Gen can help me move my stuff in tonight," Toby said and Chris started to get up. "Hey, I almost forgot. My parents are coming down this weekend to pick up the kids. I told my Dad to pick them at your place so I could have them on Friday night. I hope that's okay."

"You want me to meet your parents?" Chris asked, surprised.

"Of course I do."

"Where are the kids going to sleep? I don't have any extra beds."

"They can bring sleeping bags and sleep on the floor. Gen has a portable crib for Harry."

"What about you? Where're you going to sleep, Toby?"

Toby gave him a devilish grin. "Oh, I don't imagine I'll be sleeping much."

Chris couldn't help smiling.

Gen picked Toby at work that evening around 7 p.m. She had all of his clothes hanging in the back. She had filled a few suitcases with shoes, casual clothes and other personal items he had asked for.

"So you found an apartment?"

"I'm going to be staying with Chris."

"I thought you tried that already and it didn't take."

"Yeah, well, we worked through that. Where're the kids?"

"A neighbor's house."

When they got to Chris' apartment, Gen helped Toby carry in his stuff. He showed her around.

"Toby, this place is kind of small. Where are the kids going to sleep on Friday night?"

"Can you bring their sleeping bags? The rug is pretty soft. They'll be fine."

"Toby, where do you sleep?"

Toby's heart froze in fear. Shit, I hadn't even thought Gen would notice something like that. I should have known better.

"Toby? Is something wrong? Your face went bloodless all of a sudden. Do you need to sit down?"

Toby nodded and Gen guided him over to the sofa. She went to the kitchen and got him a glass of water and a cool cloth for his head. He lay back on the cushions and let her take care of him. "Feeling better?"

"Yeah, Gen, thanks."

"Listen Toby," she said, putting her hand on his arm. "I've been doing a lot of thinking. You've been doing so well in AA and I may have been a bit premature in asking you to leave. I should have waited longer and I'm sorry for that. But, I was wondering, for the kids' sake, if we should try to reconcile."

Toby felt another wave of fear and panic wash over him. He opened his mouth to speak but Gen just kept talking.

"I don't mean you should move back in yet. I guess I mean maybe we could start counseling. You know, start slowly. What do you think?"

"Oh Gen, I can't. I mean, I have thought about it. Even before today but I don't think it's right for us. And I know it's not right for me."

"Why, Toby? Is it because you don't love me anymore?" she asked sadly.

She may as well have just stabbed him in the heart. "Of course not, Gen. You are always going to have a special place in my heart. But I can't say that my feelings for you haven't changed. They have. And that's because of everything we've been through. I just think the damage can't be repaired."

"Gee, Toby, I don't know what to say," Gen said, her voice cracking with emotion. "Part of me is disappointed but another part of me is relieved and I don't even know why."

Toby pulled Gen close to him and hugged her. "You're probably realizing that it's the end of the road for us, Gen. It's time to move on. We'll always be close friends. We have the kids to make sure that happens."

Toby walked Gen out to the car. "Thanks for your help," he said and gave her a hug good-bye.

Gen took Toby's face in her hands. "Be happy, Toby," she said and gently kissed him on the lips before getting in the car. Toby watched her drive away.

Harrison Beecher knocked on the door of Chris' apartment at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, startling Toby and Chris who had finally fallen asleep less than two hours before.

"What the fuck?" Chris mumbled sleepily.

"It's my Dad."

Chris opened his eyes wide. "This early?"

"Yup. I guess I should have been a bit more specific about the time. He always does this." Toby got out of bed and pulled on his jeans.

"Coming, Dad," Toby called loudly so Harrison wouldn't knock again. He heard the kids stirring as he pulled a shirt over his head. He turned and saw Chris dressing. As he opened the door for his father, Chris ducked into the bathroom.

"Toby, what took you so long?"

"Dad, we were sleeping. What are you doing here so early?"

Harrison stepped into the hallway and Toby let the door close behind him.

"The kids are still asleep?"

"Not anymore," Toby said dryly.

"I thought they would be dressed and ready to go."

"No you didn't, Dad. You knew you were getting here too early and you wanted to stand there and reprimand me. Well, it's not going to work this time," Toby said and Harrison looked at him in surprise. "Is Mom in the car? You'd better go get her. The kids have to eat breakfast and get dressed before they go."

Just then Chris came out of the bathroom. "Dad, this is Chris, my roommate."

Harrison shook Chris' hand and looked at Toby sardonically. "Roommates? I didn't realize you were still in college, Toby."

Toby just glared at him but didn't respond. Harrison turned and left the apartment.

An hour later, the children were finally dressed and ready to go but not without a lot of whining about missing their favorite shows. Chris and Mrs. Beecher spent the time chatting in the kitchen. Harrison asked Toby to help him carry the kids' things out to the car. Toby's mom carried Harry.

Toby gave his mom a hug and helped Harrison put the kids in their carseats, which the Beechers kept in the car for just such an occasion.

"Toby," Harrison called to his son before getting into the car. "Who is this Chris Keller you've moved in with? What do you know about him?"

"Dad, don't start this. I am not a child. I can take care of myself."

"Gen said he was a client of yours."

"Not really. I just helped his lawyer with his case. That's how we met."

"It wasn't a civil matter, was it? What did he do?"

"Dad, I'm losing patience here. Can you please trust me enough to let me make my own decisions without questioning everything I do?" Toby asked, irritation in his voice.

"He just doesn't look like our kind of people."

"Our kind?!" Toby said angrily. "If you mean college-educated, uptight WASPs, then no, I guess he isn't."

"Toby, there's no need to take that tone."

"Well, then, Dad, you shouldn't have started it." Toby had a sudden urge to blurt out the truth to his father. He's my lover, Dad. We fuck each other. But he held himself back, knowing that a longer, more painful battle would ensue.

"You never used to talk to me this way," Harrison admonished him, while Toby's mother looked uncomfortable in the front seat.

"Tell you what, Dad. You stop talking to me like I'm still 8 and have some respect for me, then I'll do the same for you."

Harrison looked at his son as he didn't really know him. He wanted to leave things on a positive note. "I'm proud of you for going to AA. I hope that works out."

Toby smiled for the first time since Harrison arrived. "Thanks, Dad," he said and hugged his father.

After he was gone, Toby turned to see Chris watching him from the window. Their eyes locked for a moment and Toby knew Chris had seen the entire exchange with his father. He walked back inside.

"Looked like you stood up to your Dad today."

Toby smiled and sat down next to Chris on the couch. "I guess I did. I never used to do that, you know? I just listened to his shit and nodded along."

Chris nodded. "Well, now what? It's only 8:15 and I'm up for the day. I don't have to work until 4. Wanna go out and do something?"

Toby grinned mischievously. "I've got something in mind," he said, leaning over to unbutton Chris' jeans. "But I'm pretty sure we'd get arrested if we tried to do it outside of this apartment."

"Jesus, Toby, it hasn't even been 3 hours since the last time. Are you insatiable or something?" Chris tried to sound irritated but he couldn't hide his smile.

"I'm making up for lost time," Toby quipped and leaned down to take Chris in his mouth.

Part 8

"Hey Holly, go back a little farther," Chris called out to Toby's daughter. "No, further," he said, gesturing with his hand. When she had found the right spot, he threw the frisbee hard and it sailed across the green lawn of the park and landed near Holly's feet.

"Good try. Now throw it towards Gary," Chris called. He turned to look at Toby, who was setting up a blanket and a picnic basket for them. Harry was tottering around the blanket, curiously touching everything Toby put down. "No, Harry," Toby repeated over and over but Harry wasn't listening. Chris laughed and turned just in time to deflect the frisbee from hitting his face.

He looked at Gary, surprised. "You throw that?" Gary nodded. "Great arm. Hey, Toby, did you see that?"

"Huh? No," Toby said, distractedly. He was still trying to keep Harry from pulling everything apart.

"Gary nearly whacked me in the head with the frisbee. That kid's got a great arm."

"I know. He's a pitcher on the little league baseball team," Toby said and called them all to sit down and eat.

Later, with Holly pushing Harry in the baby swing and Gary climbing on the jungle gym, Toby laid down on the blanket to relax. He was on his back, looking up at the clear, blue sky. Chris was laying next to him, on his side, leaning on his hand.

"It's a great day for the park, Chris. I haven't been to the playground with the kids in...well, I can't remember how long. I missed so much with them," Toby said closing his eyes to enjoy the cool fall breeze.

"Toby, you have no idea how hot you look lying there. I'd like to kiss you right now," Chris said in that low, sexy way that always stirred Toby's blood.

Toby opened his eyes, alarm registering on his face and Chris laughed. "Don't worry, Tobe, I'll control myself," he said and discreetly stroked Toby's arm affectionately.

"Well, what have we got here?" a strange voice harshly interrupted their quiet moment. Toby and Chris looked up to see two teenagers sneering at them. "What are you guys, a couple of fags?"

The red rage filled his eyes like a bursting dam and before Chris could think he was on his feet, moving in on the teens. At first, they smirked at his bold move. But when they saw the murderous intent on his face and the size of his muscles, they turned and ran. Toby caught up with Chris and grabbed him by the arm.

"Hey, Chris, it's okay. They're just punks. Forget them," Toby said quietly. Chris heard Toby's soothing voice, watched the teens running away and felt himself calming down, almost as quickly as he became enraged. By this time, the kids had come running over to see what was up.

"Hey, Daddy, who were those men? Why is Uncle Chris mad?" Gary asked and Toby realized that Harry wasn't with them.

"Where's Harry?!" he snapped harshly.

"He's in the swing, Daddy," Holly said, looking like she might cry.

"I'm sorry, honey, but you can't just leave him. He's still a baby," Toby said and looked over at the swing and saw Harry sitting there giggling, not a care in the world.

"I'll go get him, Daddy," Holly said.

"You can push him some more first. If you want to."

"Can Gary do it? It's my turn to play."

"Sure, honey. Gary, push your brother."

"Aww, Dad."

"Gary," Toby said in a warning voice. He looked back at Chris, who was visibly upset. "Chris? Are you okay?"

Chris screwed his face up in disgust and anger. "Ya know, it's shit like that..." he started but let it trail off.

Toby put his hand on Chris' shoulders, trying to massage the tension there. "Hey, hey. It's alright. You can't worry about idiot kids like that."

"Yeah, well, it's not just idiot kids. It's everybody. Shit, Toby, we weren't even doing anything. What if I had kissed you? People'd be running after us with sticks, burning our house down. It's not right,"

"I know, Chris. I know."

Chris felt the anger strum through him, vibrating along every nerve. This was different than the red-hot rage he felt a moment before. This was more manageable but destructive just the same. "I need to hit something."


"I'll be back," Chris said abruptly and broke off into a run.

"Where're you going?" Toby called after him but Chris didn't answer.

He'd returned 30 minutes later, slightly sweaty and back to his humorous self. Toby was just getting the kids into Gen's car when he ran up to them.

"Chris, where did you go? I was worried."

"I just needed to work off a little steam. Don't worry about it," he said and got in the driver`s seat.

Toby watched Chris, wondering when something like this would happen again. He knew Chris was fighting his demons but Toby wished Chris would open up more, talk about things. He also knew that if he pushed Chris, the walls would come up. Toby had to tread carefully if he wanted things to work with Chris.

A couple of weeks later, Toby decided to visit his parents. It had been awhile since he went to visit them. Usually he just brought the kids and dropped them off or Harrison picked the kids up from Toby. He invited Chris along and then called his dad.

`Hey, Dad, I was thinking of bringing the kids for a visit. I thought I'd stay too since we really haven't had a lot of time to talk and stuff."

"Toby, that's great. We'd love to have you."

"Listen, Dad, I'm bringing Chris with me."

"What? I don't think that's wise, son," Harrison bristled.

"Well, I'm bringing him, so you can either invite him into your home or I'll just enjoy my visit with the kids here."

"Toby, are you blackmailing me?" Harrison asked, astonishment in his voice. Toby remained stubbornly silent.

"Alright, alright but I don't understand this friendship you have with this man. Bringing him along on a family trip? If I didn't know better, I'd swear you wanted us to approve of him like some girlfriend you'd bring home to meet us."

Toby nearly choked and had to stifle an hysterical laugh. "I'll see you on Saturday," he said quickly and hung up.

Chris had to work on Friday night so they left early the next morning. Chris wasn't crazy about driving so early but he did it for Toby. When they arrived, Harrison greeted Chris civilly but there was a chilly undertone in his demeanor. Toby's mother was slightly warmer but she too kept her distance. Fawning over their grandchildren gave them an excuse to ignore Chris without appearing blatantly rude.

Toby put Chris' overnight bag in the guest room, where he and Gen had stayed many times. Toby put his and the kid's stuff in the room set up for the children. There was a set of bunk beds and a crib for Harry. Harrison had pulled a cot out of the attic for Toby to sleep on.

"Hey, Gary and Holly, want to go to the pond to feed the ducks?" Harrison asked and the kids jumped with glee. "Well let's go see what grandma has in the kitchen." He turned to Toby and Chris. "We'll take the kids and you two can get settled in." Toby's mother carried Harry as they all wandered out the back door.

"Well, here we are. Are you comfortable?" Toby asked, worried Chris might be pissed about his father's attitude.

"I'm fine, Toby. Why don't you give me the tour?"

So Toby showed Chris around the small house, which his parents had bought just after Toby and Gen got married. They were tired of taking care of the big house Toby and Angus had grown up in.

"Toby," Chris said, interrupting Toby's tour and reaching up to place his hand on his lover's neck. "Thanks for bringing me along. I know this isn't easy for you. Tell the truth, I'm not all the comfortable being here but I'm glad to know you want me here."

Toby smiled at Chris, who let his hand drop when he heard the back door open. The kids came running in, excited and invigorated, telling Toby about the ducks.

Mrs. Beecher made sandwiches for lunch and then they all took the kids to a small amusement park a few miles away. Harrison brought the camera along and took dozens of pictures of the kids on rides. Toby noticed that every time Chris helped Holly or Harry into a ride or spoke to them, Harrison watched Chris a little more closely; As if he was expecting Chris to hurt them or something.

When they got to the house about 3:30, the kids were exhausted so Toby put them all down for a nap. Gary protested loudly that he was too old for a nap but Toby was firm and eventually Gary fell asleep.

Toby's mother started working on dinner and Chris offered to help.

She looked a bit skeptical. "You know how to cook?"

"Sure. Lived on my own a lot so I kinda had to learn."

Mrs. Beecher had been planning on cooking a roast but after Chris surveyed the contents of the refrigerator, he suggested pasta primavera, which he had developed a nice recipe for. Toby's mother washed and chopped the vegetables and let Chris take over the cooking. When he heard his mother laughing, Toby knew that Chris had won her over with his infinite charm.

By the time dinner was ready, the kids were awake and hungry. Even Harry, who was often a fussy eater, ate most of the food on his plate.

"That was wonderful, Chris," Mrs. Beecher said. "You'll have to write that recipe down for me."

"Be happy to," he said, giving her that captivating smile of his.

She returned the smile and looked down demurely. Toby shook his head, amused. Even his own mother was not immune to the charms of Chris Keller.

After dinner, Harrison asked Toby to join him for a short walk.

"Well, I must admit, I was wrong about your friend," Harrison said. Toby heard the hesitation in his voice and knew how hard it was for his father to admit this. "He is very patient and gentle with the children. That was my main concern, I suppose."

Toby nodded.

"And he certainly has charmed your mother," Harrison added.

Toby laughed. "He has a tendency to do that."

"So it would seem," Harrison remarked. "Son, I'm sorry I questioned your judgment. I hope you'll accept my apology."

"Of course I will, Dad." Toby felt relief wash over him. Another visit or two with Chris and Toby would be ready to tell his parents about their true relationship.

"Tobias, this probably won't surprise you but I want to tell you anyway. The reason I was so distrustful of Christopher is because I had a private investigator look into his background."

"Dad," Toby started, feeling his anger ignite.

"No, please don't get angry. You must have known I would do that. He was in prison, you know."

"Yes, Dad, I know."

"Okay." They ended the conversation there and Toby felt like a truce had been called.

Toby was almost asleep when he heard the door creak open. He opened his eyes and tried to focus them in the dark.


"No," Chris whispered. "Guess again."

"Chris, what are you doing here?"

Chris kneeled down near the cot Toby was lying on. He looked at Toby and smiled. "I missed you," he said and leaned over to kiss Toby lightly on the lips. Toby felt conflicted waves of fear and desire wash over him. What if one of the kid's wake up? What if my father walks in? Toby thought irrationally, even as his body began to respond.

"Chris, please. Not here."

Chris took a hold of Toby's hand and pulled him up. "Let's go to my room," he whispered seductively.

But Toby shook his head. "Chris, my parents are light sleepers. They might hear something."

"Then just come and hold me. I've been aching to touch you all day; to feel your skin; to kiss you," Chris said in a low voice that never failed to resonate right through every nerve in Toby's body.

Toby nodded, knowing that he would not be able to resist Chris if his lover tried to push it beyond just cuddling. After they walked into the guest room, Chris turned and locked the door and walked Toby over to the bed. But Toby shook his head again. "It creaks." Instead, he took two pillows and blanket to put on the floor.

They lay down on the blanket together and Toby quickly melted into Chris' arms; their mouths meeting in a heated kiss. Chris pressed Toby back into the pillows, tasting his mouth and running his hands over Toby's torso. Chris reached the peaked nipples and Toby moaned softly. Seconds later, their t-shirts and boxers were off and they came together, skin on skin.

Somewhere deep inside of Toby a voice kept telling him to stop what he was doing. But his cock had something more urgent to say. It had been more than four weeks since Toby and Chris first made love and Toby found that his desire for Chris had not diminished at all. He loved the taste and feel of Chris' cock; the way it felt when was Chris was inside him stimulating all the right spots. He loved the feel of Chris' masterful mouth on him.

Chris had schooled him in the ways of pleasuring a man and Toby had been a willing and gifted student. Toby knew how to bring Chris to the edge of orgasm with his mouth and his hands; knew how to make Chris beg him to please let him finish. And Toby reveled in Chris' desire for him. It made him feel heady.

The only thing Toby did not know was how it felt to be inside his lover. Chris had never asked and Toby had never tried to initiate it. Toby sensed that Chris might be hesitant but had no idea why. Tonight, Toby decided, he wanted to ask.

Chris felt Toby trembling and stopped kissing him. "Toby? Is something wrong?"

Toby shook his head but didn't speak.

"You're trembling. What's wrong? Are you that worried about your parents coming in?"

"Chris, there's something I want to ask you," he started and Chris just waited. "But I've been afraid."

"What, Toby? You can ask me anything."

Toby cleared his throat and took a deep breath. "Well, um, you've never asked me love to you. I guess I was curious why. Cause if you're worried I'm not ready, then you don't have to be," he said so earnestly, so sweetly that Chris felt his heart constrict.

He sat up and leaned his head on his knees, letting out a lengthy breath.

"Chris? Did I say the wrong thing?" Toby asked, sitting up next to him.

"No, Toby. I guess I knew this was going to come up but I was just hoping it would be later."

"What, Chris? I don't understand."

"Well, you know I went to Lardner when I was 17, right?"

"Yeah. And you fucked other guys, I know," Toby said, still confused.

"No, not at first. There was a guy there. His name was Schillinger. He was a white supremacist. Had a lot of power. He...uh...he raped me, Toby and claimed me as his prag." He saw the stricken look on Toby's face. "It wasn't that bad, really. It wasn't like I'd never been with a guy before. But this Schillinger was a mean motherfucker. Took pleasure in other people's pain. He never gave anything. He only took. He protected me from other guys but he also made me feel like something to be used," Chris stopped and took a deep breath. "Ever since then, I've always been the aggressor. I've never let anyone inside me."

Toby put his arm around Chris' shoulder. "I understand, Chris. And I'm sorry that happened to you."

Chris looked up at his lover and there tears in his eyes. "No, you don't, Toby. You don't understand," he said and put his hands on Toby's face. "Before I met you, I never wanted anyone inside me. I never wanted to be that vulnerable again."

Toby just nodded, not wanting to upset Chris further.

"Toby, what I'm trying to say is, I do want you inside me. I just don't know if I can let it happen."

Toby kissed him then, softly, lovingly. "It's okay, Chris. What we have is enough. Fuck, it's more than enough," he said and pulled Chris back down on the blanket with him.

Part 9

Toby had just finished a deposition when Bea told him his father was on the line. It had been almost a month since he brought Chris for the visit.

"Hey, Dad."

"Tobias, glad I caught you. I was wondering if you could bring the kids up for another visit soon," Harrison said and paused. "Son, if you want to bring Chris, that would be fine. I think your mother has taken a shine to him." Toby could hear the grin in his voice.

"Wow, Dad. This is a surprise. Well, let me talk to Gen and to Chris. I'll let you know."

Toby smiled as he hung up. Hmm, he thought, maybe this would be the right time to tell his parents about his relationship with Chris.

When Toby arrived home that evening, he was surprised to find Chris at home.

"I thought you were working tonight," Toby said as he greeted Chris.

"Yeah, well, they changed the schedule. I work tomorrow instead."

"Well, this actually works out well. I wanted to talk to you," Toby said and couldn't help breaking out into a grin.

"What's going on, Toby?"

"My Dad called me today at work. Wants me to bring the kids up again. And get this, he invited you along," Toby said, still grinning.

"No shit?"

"No shit. I think you charmed them, Chris, which is no surprise to me."

Chris smiled then, too; a smile that reflected confidence in his powers of seduction and charm. He pulled Toby into his arms for a hungry kiss. But Toby pulled away before Chris could really get started.

"Wait, Chris. There's something else I wanted to talk about."

Chris groaned. "Geez, Toby, you always wanna talk. You talk too much," he said, leaning in towards Toby's lips again.

"Really, Chris. This is important."

Chris relented and let go of Toby. "Okay, what is it?"

"I think I'm ready to tell my parents about us; our relationship."

Chris' eyes narrowed, his brows coming together to form one long one. And then, "No."

And then Toby`s mood changed as if a cold wind had suddenly blown through the door. His back went up. "What?! What the fuck does that mean? No?! Are you my father now? Cause I don't even let him tell me what to do anymore."

Chris softened his expression a little. "I'm sorry, Toby. But I don't think it's a good idea. I've only been over there once, for chrissakes. It's great that they are starting to accept me as your friend but - make no mistake - they aren't ready to accept me as your lover."

"I think you're wrong," Toby said stubbornly, folding his arms in front of him like a shield.

"Toby, don't be like this. It's not the right time, believe me."

"Well, guess what, Chris? It's not your decision to make. It's mine. They're my parents and this is my life."

"Yeah?" Chris challenged him, his face becoming hard again. "I thought this was our life; our relationship."

"It is, Chris. But I am not going to let you dictate what I can and cannot do. I did that for too long with my Dad."

"I'm not trying to control you, Toby. But this is a decision we should make together."

"I've already made up my mind. If I don't do it now, I never will."

"What the hell kind of half-assed logic is that? We've only been together for - what - a little over two months? I don't think your parents are any more ready than they were a month ago. We can wait. Toby, we need to talk about this."

"Why? Why do we need to talk about it? Why does this have to be a joint decision? They're my parents? How can it possibly affect you?" Toby asked, his voice growing louder and more angry.

"What?! You're fucking kidding right? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" Chris snarled, his voice low and ominous. "Does it look like I'm walking around wearing purple triangles, Beecher? I have as much at stake in this as you do. It's not like your parents are going to keep it a secret."

"So that's what this is about?! It has nothing to do with my parents being ready or what I want! It's all about your precious reputation! Well, my reputation is on the line here, too, Chris," Toby shouted and got right up in Chris' face.

"I told you `no,' and I meant it," Chris whispered this but his tone sent a shiver up Toby's spine. Still, Toby wouldn't back down.

"Fuck you, Chris. You don't give me orders," he said and turned to leave.

Chris felt the blood rushing to his head; he swiftly crossed the room. Toby could hear him coming but before he could turn, he felt Chris' strong hands come down on his back and shoulders like a sledgehammer. Toby fell to his knees and then flopped onto his back, the wind knocked out of him. What he saw in Chris' eyes just then terrified him. They were blue-black with rage and something...otherworldly. Chris' hands were everywhere, engulfing him in pain and then Toby blacked out.

Chris knelt over Toby, somehow, coming back to himself. He looked down at his lover, amazed and ashamed of what he had done. He remembered the rage taking over and he remembered bringing his hands together to knock Toby down. But after that, his memory was murky. Everything was black and blurry. He looked at his hands. They were covered in blood; Toby's blood. Oh Jesus, what have I done?

He checked for Toby's pulse. Thank God, he thought when he found one. He quickly got up and ran to the phone to call an ambulance. His voice was shaking and he realized that he was crying.

When the ambulance arrived, Chris stood close by wringing his hands while the paramedics got Toby onto the stretcher. Toby hadn't moved or spoken in the last 20 minutes. Chris was scared and he kept asking the paramedics if Toby was going to be alright. When they asked Chris what happened, he couldn't speak. He only repeated, "Is he going to be alright?" over and over like a mantra.

The police arrived as the paramedics were wheeling Toby out.

"Do you know the victim?" asked one of the detectives, who said her name was Russell.

"Yeah, he...uh...he's my roommate," Chris answered slowly, still in a daze over what had happened.

"What happened?" asked the male detective, whose name was Ziegler.

Chris put his head in his hands and began sobbing. "I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," he whispered.

"Did you find him like this?"

But Chris didn't answer. He was crying too hard and he felt like he couldn't breathe.

Russell looked at Ziegler, who shrugged.

"Look, Mr...uh," she looked at her notepad. "Mr. Keller. We know this is difficult but we need you to answer these questions while the answers are still fresh in your head."

Chris nodded as the sobbing subsided. "Okay. Okay."

"Did you find the victim?"

"Uh, yeah, I guess I did."

"Did you see anybody leaving this apartment or the building when you arrived?" Ziegler asked.

"Huh?" Chris asked, realizing that they didn't suspect him. At least not yet. "Uh, no. No, I didn't." He knew he should confess but there would be time for that later. He needed to see how Toby was.

"How did the blood get on your hands?" Russell asked.

Shit! "Well, I, uh, checked Toby for a pulse. I wasn't sure if he was still alive."

Russell nodded and stood up. Ziegler followed. "If you can think of anything else, please give us a call," he said and handed Chris his card. They believe me! Chris thought. Relief flooded through him. I've got to go see Toby, he thought and took off for the hospital.

The first light was blurry when Toby opened his eyes. *Where am I? he wondered and looked around. A hospital? How did I get here? Where's Chris?

Chris. Oh fuck, Chris*, Toby thought and then the attack came flooding back to him. Chris tried to kill me. Jesus, what the hell happened? How could he hurt me after everything that happened between us? Toby felt his heart collapsing in on itself. He felt the tears first and then sob welling up in chest came lose with a thunderous wail.

Toby wept at the pain Chris caused him, for the betrayal and mostly because he lost something that had meant so much to him. Chris' love.

A young nurse walked in the room and found him weeping softly now.

"Mr. Beecher, you're awake. Are you okay? What's wrong?"

But he couldn't answer. All he could do was cry for everything that would never be.

"Mr. Beecher? Are you in any pain? Should I call a doctor?"

He waved her away with his hand and she left the room.

By the time she returned 10 minutes later, Toby had regained his composure.

"How long have I been here?"

"Three days. You had a bad concussion and there was some swelling in your brain. But Your family has been by every evening so I'm sure they'll be by later. And your friend stops by every afternoon and talks to you."

Toby felt a small panic in his throat. "Friend? What friend? What does he look like?"

The nurse blushed. "Well, he's rather handsome, actually. Dark hair, very muscular."

"Chris," he whispered.

"Yes, I do think he said his name was Chris. He stays for hours talking to you. It's very sweet. He obviously cares for you."

Toby snorted. "Lady, he's the one that put me in here."

"Oh my! Really? My goodness. I can hardly believe that. He's been so gentle and he seemed so worried about you," she sputtered. "Next time he tries to come see you, we'll make sure he can't come in."

"No," Toby said, halting her in her tracks. "Let him come. But I want you to do something for me first."

Chris walked by the nurse's station around 1 p.m. Right on time, thought Barbara, the nurse who had told Toby about Chris' visits. He got to Toby's door and looked at him. When he saw Toby awake and sitting up, Chris felt overjoyed. He gave Toby a big smile.

"Toby," he said, sounding relieved, and walked into the room.

"Chris," Toby said, a little too loudly. And before he knew it, Chris was surrounded by police officers who had been hiding and awaiting his arrival.

"Christopher Keller, you are under the arrest for aggravated assault and the attempted murder of Tobias Beecher. You have the right to remain silent," said one of the officers as he put handcuffs on Chris. Chris looked at Toby, confusion on his face. "Toby?" he said, regret and sorrow in his expression, and then they dragged him out.

Toby was stunned by the look on Chris` face. Chris looked as if he was the one who had been betrayed. What could it possibly mean? Did I do the right thing? Then he realized what he was doing and got angry. Jesus, Toby, he admonished himself, he tried to kill you and you're feeling sorry for him? You really are pathetic.

Toby's parents arrived after dinner and were thrilled to see their son awake.

"Oh, Tobias," his mother exclaimed and hugged him tightly. "Why didn't anyone tell us you were awake?"

"Well, they told me you've been coming by every night so I wanted to surprise you," Toby said.

"Is everything okay, son?"

"Yeah, the doctors did some tests after I woke up to see if there might be some long-term damage but everything looks good."

"That's wonderful, Toby," his mother said.

"Yeah," he said nodding. "How are the kids? Do they know?"

"Yes, they know you're in the hospital. We told them you had an accident but that you were getting better. They really wanted to come see you but we didn't want them to see this," Harrison said, looking at the black and blue bruises all over Toby's face, neck and shoulders.

Toby nodded. "Maybe tomorrow would be okay?"

"I`ll talk to Gen," Harrison said. "So, tell us how this happened. Do you remember?"

Toby looked down then, ashamed. "Dad," he started and his voice choked. His father was at his side in a flash and cradled Toby as he did when he was a child. Toby sobbed, "It was Chris. Chris did this."

Toby's mother opened her mouth in shock and covered it with her hand.

"Chris?" his father asked, not sure if he heard Toby correctly. Toby nodded. "I don't understand."

"Neither do I, Dad. Neither do I."

Harrison held Toby quietly, not speaking. A few weeks ago, Harrison might have said, I told you so. But not today. He fooled me too, Toby, Harrison thought.

Toby went home the next day. Gen and the kids came to pick him up. Holly, Gary and Harry were overjoyed to see him. Gen insisted that Toby stay at the house and he acquiesced, not wanting to go back into a hotel again.

This time he was determined to find his own apartment, come hell or high water. He spent that first day home from the hospital scouring the classifieds and playing with the kids. When Gen got home from work, Toby went out to look at some apartments.

"You don't have to worry about that right now, Toby," she told him.

"Thanks, Gen, but I need to do it sooner or later. I really want to get this done," he insisted and left the house.

He looked at three places but didn't like any of them. One was in a bad neighborhood. In the second one, he saw evidence of roaches and the third was too expensive.

He stopped by an AA meeting near work and ran into Luke.

"Hey, haven't seen you in awhile. Man, what happened to your face?"

Toby shrugged. "I just got out of the hospital," he said and saw the pained look on Luke's face. "No, Luke, I didn't fall off the wagon. Not this time anyway. Although this would be a good a time as any. Somebody beat the shit out of me."

"Shit, that sucks man. Why did he beat you up? Was he trying to rob you?"

Only my heart, he thought. "I don't know."

"They catch the guy?"

Toby nodded but felt no satisfaction. He could not get Chris' face off his mind. He kept juxtaposing the gentle lover he knew with the violent man who had hurt him and Toby could make no sense out of it. It was haunting him and he didn't know how to make it stop.

"Well, I'm glad you came. Let's sit down."

The next day at work, nosy co-workers pestered Toby with questions. He was as vague as possible and tried to stay hidden in his office most of the day. He had a lot of paperwork to catch up so it worked out well.

David Saunders, one of the partners, stopped by his office in the afternoon. Toby was startled to see him.

"Mr. Saunders," he said, standing up. "Sit, Toby. This will be quick," he said jovially and then his expression turned serious. "I know you've had recent accidents that you had no control over but you've been out quite a bit. As a result, your billable hours have gone way down and that's not good for the firm," he started.

"Mr. Saunders, I..." Toby interrupted by Saunders halted him.

"It's okay, Toby. I'm not going to fire you. But I am putting you on notice. I'm expecting you to put in some extra hours on the weekends to make up for the shortfall. I hope I can count on you."

"Yes, of course, Mr. Saunders. That's very...fair of you," Toby said, his heart hammering in his chest.

"Good, then we see eye to eye."

"Yes, sir."

And he was gone. Toby sat back down and leaned his head in his hand. He let out a long sigh. He was relieved that he hadn't been fired but worried about pleasing Saunders. If it's not one thing, it's another, he thought and had a sudden, irresistible urge for a drink. He decided to take a late lunch and head over to a meeting.

Toby stayed at work until 9 p.m. and then went to another meeting before heading home. The kids were already in bed.

"The kids missed you today."

"I know, Gen. I'm sorry but Saunders gave me a warning today. I need to work a lot of hours to catch up on all my lost time. I'll be lucky if I have a free weekend in the next few months."

"Oh, Toby, I'm sorry about that. I'll try to explain to the kids."

Toby nodded. "I'm going to bed now," he said and headed into the guest room.

On Saturday, Toby spent the morning apartment hunting and finally found a two-bedroom apartment he liked about 5 miles from the house. After signing the lease, he went to the office for several hours and was able to get home before the kids were in bed.

"Daddy!" Gary greeted him at the door. "I've missed you," he said and Holly came up behind her brother. They both gave Toby a hug and he felt himself choke on the emotion in his heart.

"I missed you guys, too. Hey, let's go in the play room and horse around, what do you say?!"

"Yeah!" they shouted and took off running.

"Please don't get them riled up. Bedtime is only two hours away."

"Gen, this is the only time I have with them. Please don't be laying rules down," he said quietly and Gen nodded. "I found an apartment this morning."

"Oh?" she said, looking disappointed.

"I thought it would be for the best."

"I know but the kids see so little of you as it is. It's nice having you around - when you can get home that it."

"Well, I'm not moving in until the first of the month. That's still two weeks away."

"Well, that's something," she said and he went to join the kids.

Chris was released from jail two weeks after his arrest. He had contacted his ex-wife Bonnie, who had called everyone she knew to scrounge up the $5,000. She was waiting for him when he signed the release papers.

"Bonnie," he greeted her and gave her a hug.

Bonnie always had a soft spot in her heart for Chris no matter how many times he had hurt her. "Chris, how are you?" she asked sadly.

"Ah, you know me. I'm fine."

"What happened?" she asked as they walked to her car.

"Got arrested for beating up some guy."

"Chris, I know you better than that. What's the whole story?"

So he told her about Toby; told her all of it because he never had been too good at hiding things from Bonnie. Eventually, he discovered that no matter what he did to hurt her, she would always forgive him for it. That's why he finally left the second time because he didn't want to keep on hurting her.

Bonnie wasn't surprised to hear about Toby. She knew about Chris' history with men. Knowing that allowed her to keep forgiving Chris. If he keeps coming back to me, she had thought, I must mean something to him. "I'm glad you found someone special, Chris. But I don't understand why you beat him up."

"Neither do I, Bonnie. I just kind of panicked, ya know? The thought of people finding out the truth about me. It was just...too much."

"But I know the truth Chris. You never tried to hit me."

"Yeah, Bonnie, I know. But you never threatened to tell anyone else."

She nodded. "So, what are you going to do now?"

"Damned if I know but I have to find a way to see him; to talk to him."

"I doubt he's going to want to talk to you, Chris."

"You're probably right but I have to find a way," he said as they arrived at his apartment. "Why don't you come in."

He wandered through the apartment and saw that all of Toby's stuff was still there. "This is great! He has to come back sometime to get his stuff. I can talk to him then."

"Don't push him, Chris. You have to give him some time to get past this. If he ever can."

"I know, Bonnie. I'll tread softly. Hey, you wanna stay for lunch? We can order in."

"I can't. I really need to get back to work."

"Okay. Thanks for your help, Bonnie. I'll make sure you get that money back."

She kissed him quickly and was gone. Now I need to go find Joe, Chris thought.

Toby left the AA meeting and took a cab over to Chris' apartment. He knew Chris was working that evening because he had called the bar to check. I should have done this before he got out of jail, Toby thought, but he had been unable to bring himself to go.

As Toby walked through the lobby, Joe greeted him cheerfully and then Toby watched as he dashed off to some seemingly important task. Toby opened the door of the apartment slowly, calling out to see if anyone was home.

There was no answer and he breathed a sigh of relief. Toby looked down at the floor and saw no evidence of the violence that had occurred there just a few short weeks ago. He stepped over the spot where he had lain, bleeding. His breathing became more shallow and he paused to get it under control again.

Toby carried a garment bag with him and went into the bedroom to start packing his suits. Next he hit the drawer Chris had cleaned out for him and began taking out his t-shirts and underwear. He left the garment bag hanging in the closet and went into the bathroom to gather his things.

Just then he heard a key in the lock and his heart began hammering in his chest. What the fuck? It can't be Chris. He's at work! Toby pressed himself up against the bathroom wall, waiting and trying to breathe slowly.

Footsteps echoed through the hallway and stopped at the bedroom door. Then down the hallway to the living room.

"Toby?" a voice whispered and he knew it was Chris. How did he know I was here? Toby wondered and then he remembered Joe. Shit.

Toby stepped out of the bathroom then and moved quickly to grab his garment bag. When he turned to leave, he saw Chris standing in the doorway. He swallowed hard, trying to stave off the fear that threatened to engulf his entire body.

"Toby," Chris said quietly.

"Get out of my way," Toby said firmly, hoping his voice didn't reveal his fear. His body was rigid and tense.

"I wanted to talk to you; to apologize for what happened," Chris started and then paused. "God, I know that sounds lame but if I could just explain what happened."

"I was there, Chris, remember? No explanation required," he said and boldly tried to move past Chris. But Chris' arms were leaning on the doorway and Toby would have had to touch him to get by.

"Aww, Toby, come on. You have to be curious about why it happened. We were going so good," he said but saw that Toby had his eyes glued on the door, plotting his escape.

"Toby, if you're worried that I might hurt ya, don't. I promise," Chris said and he saw Toby relax a little.

"Can't we just talk?"

"No. I don't want to hear anything you have to say," Toby said and ducked under Chris' arm, brushing against his torso and legs as he slipped past.

Chris turned and took hold of Toby's arm. Toby looked at him, alarm on his face.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I told you that. I just don't want you to go away until we talk. Let me just say what I need to say and then you can go. Please," Chris pleaded.

Toby just stood there looking at Chris' hand on his arm; the hand that had left him with bruises all over his face. Toby shook his head and tried to free his arm. He wanted to leave before he started crying.

Chris let go. "I really am sorry, Toby. And I do still love you," he said to Toby's back as he walked out the door.

After he heard the door shut behind him, Toby stood in the hallway shaking. He wasn't sure if it was out of fear or because of Chris' words. A part of Toby wanted to stay and hear what Chris had to say. He was dying to know what was going through Chris' head at the time. But Toby also knew that he was too vulnerable right now to leave himself open to the effects of Chris' charm.

Toby stepped out into the street and hailed a cab.

Part 10

November 1998

"My name is Tobias Beecher and I'm an alcoholic." Toby had been attending daily meetings for three months now and just now felt comfortable enough to speak out. "I've been sober for 90 days," he said and everyone clapped.

He talked about his years of drinking too much and the accident that had almost cost a boy his life. "When I woke up in the hospital, I didn't even know if I had hit that boy. I felt so...helpless, so out of control. When they offered to put me into rehab, I grabbed onto it like a lifeline."

Toby sat down then, swallowing and hoping his heart beat would return to normal. Stephen sat next to him and put his arm on Toby's, smiling his approval.

"It's funny, Stephen. When I'm in a courtroom, I talk in front of people all the time and never break a sweat, but here I feel out of a kid on a first date," Toby said after the meeting was over.

"Yeah, well, in a court room, you know all the answers and you're using your strengths. Here, you're exposing all your weaknesses."

Toby snorted. "Didn't think of it that way."

"So, how's it going with you? All calm on the homefront?"

"Yeah, ya know? I finally found my own place. I just moved in. And I've been working like a dog, trying to catch up on all those lost hours. I miss seeing the kids everyday."

"I thought you were postponing the divorce."

"I am. I am, but Gen and I are definitely through. We're friends at least, which is good for the kids."

"You're not still seeing that woman you mentioned awhile back? Chris?"

Toby shook his head sadly. "No. That's over, too."

"Good. You need to focus on your recovery."

"I guess you were right. Starting that was definitely a mistake."

"That's why we have these guidelines. It helps keep your focus where it belongs."

Toby nodded. "I'm going to head over to the house. It's Friday, so Gen let's the kids stay up a little later."

"Goodnight, Toby."

Toby hailed a cab and got to Gen's by 8:30 p.m. The kids were running around with seemingly boundless energy. Gen looked exhausted.

"Hey," he greeted her.

"Toby," she said, opening the door so he could enter.

"You look tired."

She nodded.

"I can put the kids to bed. Why don't you go have a hot bath or read a book?"

Her face lit up. "Really?" she asked, smiling. It reminded him of when he first fell in love with her. She had been playing frisbee with some friends on the commons near his dorm. Gen had accidentally hit one of her friends with the frisbee and she was giggling hysterically while trying to apologize. Toby stopped to watch. When Gen noticed him, she had blushed and he was lost.

"Yeah, sure. I owe you at least that much."

"Thanks, Toby," she said and scooted out of site before the kids noticed she was gone.

Toby walked into the living room and the kids all greeted him with a hug. They played for an hour and then he put them to bed.

Harry was asleep two minutes after his head hit the pillow. He read "Green Eggs and Ham" to Gary and Holly and then kissed them goodnight.

"Daddy?" Holly asked before he left the room.

"Yeah, honey?"

"Where's Uncle Chris? We haven't seen him a long time."

Toby closed his eyes so they wouldn't see the flush of emotions there. "Oh, sweetie, Chris and I aren't friends anymore. I'm sorry."

"But Daddy, we like Uncle Chris. He was fun," Gary exclaimed.

"I know but Uncle Chris and I had a fight so we're not friends anymore. You won't be seeing him again."

"Daddy, you always tell Gary and me that we need to work things out when we fight."

"Yes, I do. But you are brother and sister. Chris and I are only friends," he said, sighing. Toby and Gen had not told the kids that Chris had been the one to put him in the hospital.

"But shouldn't friends make up too? If they're really friends?" Gary asked.

"Tell you what. I'll think about it. Okay?" At least that would shut down the topic for tonight. They nodded and laid down.

Toby walked by Gen's room and saw her waiting for him. She gestured for him to come in.

"They're all settled in, Gen."

She nodded. "Listen, Toby, I've been meaning to tell you. Chris has been calling here. Everyday," she said, whispering. "He leaves messages on the machine and when I do pick up, he demands to know where you are."

"Jesus," Toby whispered. "I'm sorry about that, Gen. I'll get the number changed."

"No, Toby, I don't want the number changed. I want him to stop calling. Can't you just tell him to stop?"

"Does he ever say anything threatening? Are you scared?"

"No, Toby. He just keeps asking for a number to reach you. He says he can't get you at the office."

"Yeah, I told the receptionist not to put him through. She knows his voice pretty well by now. Look, I'll see what I can do, Gen."


"I'm going to head out."

"Toby, why don't you stay tonight? It's already after 10 and you're gonna be back tomorrow morning to pick up the kids, right?"

"I guess that's not a bad idea."

"I think some of your clothes are still in the closet."

The phone rang at 6 a.m. Toby's eyes flew open and his first thought was something had happened to his Dad or his Mom. He reached for the phone groggily and picked it up, grunting into the caller's ear.

"Gen, it's me. Sorry to wake you." Toby was thunderstruck by the intimacy of the tone. It was a man. Was Gen seeing someone? He sat up as the caller continued. "Look, you know I hate to keep bothering you." Then Toby realized it was Chris. "But I really need to find Toby. Ya gotta help me."

Toby cleared his throat, adrenaline filling his veins. "Listen, you asshole. I want you stop harassing my family. Do you understand me?" Toby said angrily.

"Toby!" Chris greeted him as if nothing were wrong. "Oh man, it's so good to hear your voice."

"Are you even listening to me?" Toby growled. "You have no right to keep calling here. I told you to stop calling before I moved out. And you know I'm not taking your messages at the office. So why won't you just the get the picture?"

"Toby, man, I know how must you feel..."

"No," he shouted suddenly, the vehemence surprising even to himself. "You have no fucking idea how I feel and you never will!" Toby shouted into the receiver. "Leave me alone. Leave my family alone!" He hung up the phone then and realized he was shaking.

Gen came in the room then and saw Toby sitting there on the bed, breathing hard like he'd just run a mile.

"Was that Chris?"

"Yes," he said, his voice shaky.

"Are you okay?"

"I don't know. My heart's beating like a triphammer."

"What did he say?"

"He didn't really have time to say much of anything. It was the sound of his voice. He was...cheerful, like nothing happened. Like we had some kind of piddling lover's spat."

Lover's spat? Gen thought, wondering at Toby's choice of words. But Toby's thoughts were far away and he didn't even realize what he had said. "Toby, you're sweating and your heart's racing."

"I know. I know."

"Maybe you should talk to someone about this."

"Who? What good's it going to do?"

"How about that doctor you saw in rehab?"

Toby shook his head. "This has nothing to do with my drinking or my recovery."

"Well, maybe he can recommend someone."

"What I need is for Chris Keller to leave me alone."

"Yeah, but in the meantime, you need to learn how to deal with it. I think you're still having some kind of aftershock from his attack, Toby. You know, like that condition veterans get?"

"Post traumatic stress disorder? Come on, Gen. It was one beating. I wasn't in the Goddamn war."

"Toby! You never used to swear!"

"I'm sorry."

"Well, maybe it was only one beating but it was by someone you trusted; a friend," She remarked. Oh you don't know the half of it, Gen, Toby thought. "That's gotta be hard for anyone to absorb. I think you should talk to someone.

"I'll think about it." Just then the kids wandered in, their faces still groggy with sleep.

"I guess the day has begun," Toby remarked and got out of bed.

When Toby got to the office on Monday, he opened his briefcase and found a note from Gen. "Don't forget to call Dr. Dryer." He sighed. She was probably right. Toby called and left a message. Then he headed into the conference room for a deposition.

"Mr. Coldwell," Toby was talking to the defendant. "Didn't you fire my client soon after she was promoted?"

Coldwell nodded but didn't speak.

"You need to say it out loud, sir, for the transcriber," Toby said, indicating the woman at the end of the table who was typing into a machine.

"Yes," Coldwell said, a confident smile on his face.

"Then how can you claim she was incompetent?!" Toby asked. They had been in the conference room for over two hours and Toby was getting tired of this smug bastard.

Before Coldwell could answer, the intercom buzzed. "Mr. Beecher. Call on line 3. Dr. Dryer."

"Oh, if you'll excuse for me a minute. I've been waiting for that call." He turned to one of the firm's associates, Mark Price, and asked him to take over. He handed Price his notes and walked out.

Toby went into his office and picked up the phone. "Hello. Dr. Dryer?"

"Hello, Toby. You needed to talk to me?"

"Uh, yeah, doctor. Thanks for calling me back. I don't know if you can still see me as a patient but I really need to talk to someone. Is there any chance I can come in?"

"Well, Toby, I'm not supposed see you at the hospital unless you're a patient here. But I do some volunteer work every other Saturday at the Case Center. And I'm there this week. Can you come by then?"

The Case Center, Toby knew, was located in a low-income area and provided free services to area residents. "Are you sure it's okay for me to go there?"

"Sure, I have some openings in the early morning that are almost never filled. You can just make a generous contribution to the center to alleviate your guilt."

Toby laughed. "I'll do that."

When Toby returned to the conference room, everyone was gone except Price, who was one of Toby`s old drinking buddies. "All finished?"


Toby looked at his watch and saw that it was close to noon. "I think I'll head out and get some lunch. You can tell me how everything went when I get back."

Price nodded. "Hey, Toby, I heard you've been clean three months, man. Congratulations."

"Thanks, Mark."

"Do you ever miss hanging out at McSwaggin's?"

Toby sighed. "More than you could ever know," he said and left the room.

Toby squinted when he walked outside. The sun was bright but the air was chilly. A crisp, fall day. It was his favorite time of the year. As he walked down the street, trying to decide what kind of food he was in the mood for, he felt strange shiver up his back.

Without turning around, Toby glanced to his left and his right. It felt like someone was watching him. He didn't want to look behind himself so he kept walking, more briskly now.

Toby walked in front of a deli where he had eaten before and decided to go in. When he opened the door, he quickly looked behind him but saw no one he recognized and no one looking at him. Jesus, Toby, getting paranoid or what?

He ordered a sandwich, grabbed a local paper and sat down at one of the tables. A few bites later, he noticed a shadow on his newspaper. Toby looked up.

"Keller," he said, his tone irritated. "I thought I told you to leave me alone."

Chris gave him the dazzling Keller smile that never failed to make hearts pound faster but Toby refused to respond. Chris sat down in a chair and moved it closer to Toby's seat.

"You know, this state has laws against stalking," Toby said smugly, not willing to let Chris see his fear.

"Yeah?" Chris inquired casually, still smiling.

"What do you want?"

"To talk to you. To apologize. To have you listen to me."

"I already heard your apology. You'll understand if I'm a little skeptical," Toby bit out.

"That's why I need you to hear me out. I want to tell you about..."

Toby stood up, cutting him off. "You are a piece of work, you know that? I'm the one who was attacked, almost killed and somehow you've managed to turn it all around and make it all about you. Well, I got news for you, Keller. I don't wanna hear your fucking sob story." He picked up what was left of his sandwich and walked out the door.

Toby was still shaking when he got back to the office; a hum of fear vibrating through his entire body. Thank God I was able to hide it from Keller. I hope, he thought.

Toby arrived at the Case Center at 8 a.m. Saturday. Dryer was waiting for him. "Come on in, Toby."

"Thanks for seeing me," Toby said and sat down.

"So what's up?"

Toby sighed, not sure where to begin. "Well, you remember the last time we spoke I had decided to talk to Chris to see if...uh..." he paused and rubbed his hand on his forehead.

"Yes, Toby, I remember."

"Well, we started, you know, seeing each other. And everything was going good - great, actually. I had even brought him to visit my folks. Of course, I didn't tell him that we were...Well, anyway, a week or so later, my Dad called. Asked me to come visit again and said I could bring Chris. I mean, my Dad! He actually liked him. My mom too."

"That's wonderful, Toby."

"Well, I haven't gotten to the punch line yet. So I told Chris what my Dad said and he seemed pleased. Then I told Chris that I thought it was time for me to tell my parents about my relationship with him."

"Wow, Toby," Dr. Dryer said, surprised. "Are you sure it's not too soon?"

Toby sighed. "Chris said the same thing. We argued. I stomped out. Or tried to. Then Chris..." Toby swallowed hard. "He, uh, attacked me."

"Attacked you?"

"Yeah. He beat me unconscious. I was in the hospital for almost a week."

"My God. Do you know what prompted the attack?"

"Well, I pretty much indicated I was going to tell my parents whether he liked it or not."

"No, I mean what triggered his rage? You surely aren't blaming yourself because he attacked you?" Dryer asked.

"Well, I did get pretty pissy with him."

"Don't, Toby. Don't do this. You are not responsible for his rage. No one deserves to be beaten unconscious. You do know that, right?"

"Yeah, I guess I do, but I just can't figure out what happened."

"Have you spoken to Chris since the attack?"

"Not really. He wants to talk to me but I keep refusing to listen. To be honest, Doctor, I'm scared to be alone in a room with him. Every time he's near me, my whole body gets tense. I start to sweat. My heart starts beating faster. It's like I'm...." he paused.

"Reliving the attack all over again?"

Toby sighed. "Yeah."

"Then I'm glad you came to see me. I can help you, Toby. I would also recommend that you speak to Chris again. But don't worry, I'll help you through that. You set the ground rules. If Chris really wants to talk to you, he'll go along. Toby, you need to do this for you."

"Okay, doctor."

Keller sauntered in C.J.'s on Monday and scouted the place out. He hadn't been back since Beecher was in rehab. And he hadn't really worked the place since before he met Toby. He'd been avoiding the place like the plague but something kept pulling him back.

He walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. He sat down on a stool and scoped the room. He spot a young, dark-haired young man across the room. Come on, pretty young thing. Look at me, Keller thought. Just as the young man looked up, a voice interrupted Chris' concentration.

"Chris Keller? What the fuck are you doing here?"

Keller turned to see his old friend, Ronnie Barlog, approaching.

"Ronnie! What's up, man?"

"Shit, haven't seen you around in months. Where you been hiding?"

"Oh, you know, here and there."

"Yeah? No one's heard from you since you got arrested for killing that grocer."

"Yeah, well, I got off and so I'm trying to keep my nose clean."

"You? What are you doing for money?"

"Working as a bartender."

"Chris Keller in a legitimate job. That's gotta be a first."

"Something, huh? But I was just too close to ending up in Oz in July so I'll be happy to stay out of trouble for awhile."

"That's too bad."

"Yeah? Why?"

"Well, I'm into something sweet but can't be telling you about it if you wanna stay clean."

Chris leaned forward. "Tell me."

"I don't think so."

"Oh come on. It's not like you don't know a few of my dirty secrets."

Ronnie laughed. "Oh you mean those pretty college boys who disappeared into thin air earlier this year?"

"Shut the fuck up, Ronnie!"

"Sorry, Chris. You know, they found those guys. The FBI has been sniffing around here, asking questions."

"Whad'ya tell them?" he growled ominously. "Nothing, Chris. Honest. It's not like I have anything to gain. Besides no one knows better than me what happens to people who piss you off."

"Good. You better keep your mouth shut. And keep me posted if that FBI guy comes around again. What's his name?"

"Pierce Taylor."

"Okay. Thanks. You'll call me if he comes back?"

"Yeah, sure."

Chris got up and left then. His hunger for the hunt blotted out by Ronnie's revelation. To his surprise, he realized that he didn't really even want to be there. He wanted to see Toby but he wasn't hopeful that would happen anytime soon.

He arrived home around midnight and was surprised to hear the phone ring when he was unlocking the door. He ran inside and grabbed up the receiver.


"Chris. It's Toby."

Chris wouldn't have been more surprised if it was Publisher's Clearinghouse. "Toby! Wow, I was just thinking of you. I'm so glad you called."

"Chris, just listen, okay? I need to talk to you."

"Yeah, Toby. I can come over now."

"No, not now. I want you to meet me at the Case Center on Thursday night at 7 p.m. We're going to talk in the presence of my therapist, Dr. Dryer."

"Whoa! What? You giving me orders, Toby?"

"If you want to talk to me, that's the only way it's going to happen."

"Well, I can't. I have to work."

"No, you don't. I already called the bar. You're off."

You prick! "Sneaky, Beecher."

"I guess I'll see you Thursday," Toby said and hung up.

Part 11

Toby and Dr. Dryer had been waiting for 15 minutes when Chris waltzed in, unhurried. Toby stood up when he entered.

"Sorry I'm late," Chris announced and sat down.

"Yeah, you sound very sincere," Toby remarked sarcastically.

"Hey, I'm here, aren't I?"

"Don't do me any favors," Toby snarled. "You're the one who wanted to talk to me, remember?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't looking for an audience," he said, lifting his chin toward Dryer.

"Too fuckin' bad," Toby snapped and sat back down.

"Okay, let's not get off on the wrong foot," Dryer said.

Chris sat back in his chair. "You're right. I'm sorry. I just don't feel all the comfortable talking in front of someone else. This should be between Toby and me."

"Well, you should understand that Toby is a little concerned about being alone in a room with you, Mr. Keller."

Chris fidgeted in his chair and looked down at the floor. But he remained silent.

"Who wants to start this?"

"I do," Toby said quickly.

"Okay, Toby. Go ahead."

He took a deep breath and leaned forward, looking at Chris. "When you attacked me, I was totally surprised. I never even guessed it was coming. I mean, I knew you were mad. And I know I was being kind of stubborn. But, Jesus, Chris, I don't understand what the hell happened! I woke up in that hospital room and I...uh...felt...I don`t know. Lost," Toby explained, his tone sad and bewildered. Chris opened his mouth to reply but Toby held up his hand, indicating he had more to say.

"I mean, I trusted you, Chris. And I thought things were going so well between us. I was ready to tell my parents everything! Maybe I was wrong to push it but I don't think that was any reason for you to beat me unconscious!"

"Look, Toby, what I did was wrong. I've been trying to figure out a way to prove to you that I'm truly sorry. And I do still love you."

Toby was shaking his head. "I don't really want to hear that, Chris. I just want to know why you did it."

Chris leaned back in his chair. "I don't think I can do this in front of him," he said, indicating Dr. Dryer.

Toby gave an exasperated sigh but Chris spoke before Toby could. "I'm not trying to be stubborn here but there's something I gotta tell you that I don't think I can say in front of him."

Toby crinkled his forehead in an expression of curiosity. "What?"

Chris looked at the doctor. "Look is there any way you could - I don't know - wait outside the door while I talk to Toby? I promise not to hurt him or threaten him."

Dr. Dryer looked at Toby to see what he thought. "Only if Toby agrees," he said.

"I guess it's okay," Toby said but he still looked a little nervous.

"I'll be right outside. If you need me, you can just call out," Dr. Dryer said.

Toby nodded and Dr. Dryer walked into the lobby and closed the door.

"This better be good, Chris."

Chris sighed and leaned forward. "I'm not sure where to begin," Chris said, looking at the floor. His stomach was twisted into knots and he was seriously considering running for the door. "Shit."

Toby could see Chris was struggling for the right words so he waited.

"Ever since I was about 10 or 11, I knew there was something wrong with me. I didn't really fit in very well," he started and paused for a minute. "The few friends I had were already talking about girls and that was fine. But I was having these feelings for guys that I didn't understand and I had no one to talk about it with. So I tried ignoring these feelings. But that didn't work.

"Then my Dad moved us to a new school and I met this kid named Danny. We used to hang out together. Hell, he even came over to my house after seeing my Dad's drunken, black moods. He was my best friend and I trusted him," Chris continued, swallowing hard. He still would not look at Toby.

"Sometimes when we were hanging out, Danny would touch me, ya know, in a way that guys don't usually touch other guys. He would touch my neck or caress my arm. And I began to think maybe he was like me. So one day, he noticed that I wasn't pushing him away when he touched me. So we started kissing and it was really nice, ya know?

"I don't know how far things would have progressed because my Dad came home and saw us on the couch. He went into a rage like I've never seen. And, believe me, I had seen some bad ones. He threw Danny out of the house and told him never to come back. Then he turned on me. He called me a faggot and every other bad name he could think of. While he beat me, he told me I was evil, immoral and that I was going roast in hell for wanting to fuck other men.

"He made me feel like I was the lowest form of life. I believed him. He beat me until I was black and blue and two of my ribs were broken. He made me swear that I would never try to fuck a man again, which I swore because I was scared to death. I also had to promise never to see Danny again or speak his name."

Chris finally looked up then. Toby's face was horror-stricken and he was at a complete loss for words. "From that point on, whenever I did something to disappoint my father, he would remind me of that day. He'd say that I was never going to amount to anything cause I was a perverted faggot and then he would beat me again. I finally got out when I was 16 but I hated myself, Toby, and I hated the way I felt about men."

"Chris, I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"That's okay. It's still no excuse for what I did. I know that," Chris said, shaking his head. "All my life, I've managed to hide my attraction to men behind marriages, behind prison experiences where it's supposed to be okay.

"Toby, you need to know that with you, for the first time, it was different. I wanted to be with you. I was...happy and I've never had that before."

Toby felt a lump in his throat and he tried to swallow. "Me, too," he choked out.

Chris took hold of Toby's hand and looked into his eyes. "All the guys I've been with? They were all just secret encounters; one night stands. I never saw any of them again. You were the first."

"The first what, Chris?"

"You're the first man - first person, really - that I've loved," Chris whispered, his voice cracking. I cannot believe I'm telling him all this, he thought.

"Oh, Chris," Toby said in a shaky voice and closed his eyes, trying to stop the flood of emotion that was threatening to overtake his reason.

"Toby, can you forgive me?" The naked expression of emotion in Chris' eyes nearly undid Toby.

"Yes, Chris. I forgive you," Toby said and let Chris pull him into a tight embrace. He luxuriated in Chris' warmth, trying to keep his tumultuous feelings in check.

Chris moved to kiss Toby but the blond man held an arm up. "No, Chris. Don't."

"What?" Chris asked, clearly confused.

"I can't," Toby said sadly. "We can't just go back to the way things were."

"Why not? You said you forgive me."

"And I do. But you have some serious problems that need to be addressed before I could trust you not to hurt me again."

"What the fuck does that mean?!" Chris said, raising his voice a little and standing up.

Toby heard the doctor knock on the door. "Is everything alright?"

"Everything's fine, Doc," Toby shouted through the door and then turned to Chris. "Well, this a good example. Your anger, Chris. Your rage. You need to deal with it. Talk to someone."

"I just did. I told you."

"That doesn't solve the problem. I'm not a therapist, Chris."

"Toby, do you have any idea how hard it was for me to tell you all that?"

"Yes, I do, Chris. And it also gives me hope that you know there is a problem," Toby said. "But, I'm not supposed to be starting any new relationships anyway. AA guidelines, you know? I shouldn't have ever let it start up to begin with, but I don't regret that, Chris. I don't. But I have to do what's best for my recovery. Unfortunately, that just can't include you right now."

"And you knew this all along, right? No matter what I said, no matter what I did, you weren't going to take me back?! You just wanted to see me dangling like a Goddamn puppet on a string?! Is that it?" He began to pace like a caged animal.

"No, Chris. I wanted us to talk it out. I honestly wanted to hear what you had to say. And I'm glad I did. I feel a lot better than I did an hour ago."

"Jesus, that's rich! So glad I could make you feel better, Toby," he said sarcastically. "I guess it doesn't matter that I feel worse."

"Chris, of course it matters. But we each need time to get our shit together. I'm certainly not any more equipped to be in a relationship than you are."

"You know what?" Chris said, pressing his face close to Toby`s. "This is bullshit," he said in a low, ominous voice. Toby flinched and stepped back. Chris turned on his heel and opened the door so quickly, a rush of wind hit the doctor, who stood there with his mouth open in surprise.

Chris flew by him. Toby watched him go, wanting to call him; knowing he couldn't.

"I guess that didn't go as well as we hoped," Dryer remarked.

Toby shrugged. "Well, it started pretty good. He told me about his demons and the reasons behind the attack. And I did forgive him."

Dryer raised his eyebrows. "Really? Then why was he so angry?"

"I told him that we couldn't be together right now. I guess he wasn't ready for that."

"Give him time. He'll accept it soon enough."

"Maybe that's what I'm worried about," Toby said.

"Well, his argument must have been very convincing."

Toby chuckled. "Well, that and I miss him."

Dr. Dryer nodded.

Chris was wiping down the bar at work when he looked up and saw Ronnie Barlog walking toward him.


"Ronnie, what the fuck are you doing here?"

"Came to see you working in a legitimate job. I still can't believe it, man. The king of the scams," he said and shook his head.

"What are you drinking?"

"Bud's fine."

Chris reached into the cooler and brought one up, opened it and put it down in front of Ronnie.

"So you sure I can't drag you away from all this glamour? I think you might make a bit more money in my line of work," Ronnie teased him.

"Oh right. You were starting to tell me about that the last time we saw each other. So what is it?"

Ronnie hooked his finger to indicate Chris should get closer. Chris leaned in. "Auto theft ring," Ronnie whispered.

"Sounds pretty risky to me, Barlog. I don't plan on getting arrested any time soon."

"But it's not, Keller. That's the beauty of it. And I'm pulling in two thousand a week."

Keller's eyes lit up at the talk of money. "Two thousand a week?"

"Yeah, all I gotta do is get a few guys I trust to steal the cars. They deliver'em to me. I bring'em to a body shop belongs to a pal of mine. He repaints'em and we sell'em off inside of 24 hours. Nothing to trace."

"Who do you work for?"

"Can't tell you that unless you wanna start working for him."

"I'll think about it," Keller said and looked up when he heard the door open. The expression on his face made Ronnie turn around to see who had come in. Keller's face was a mass of confusion and - could it be - pain?

Ronnie saw a tall fella with blond, curly hair walk up to the bar. Chris` eyes were locked on the guy like he held all the world`s wonders. What the fuck is going on here, Ronnie wondered.

"Chris, I...uh...found this with the stuff I took from your place," Chris said, holding out a shirt to Keller. Chris never took his eyes off Toby's face as he reached out to take what was offered. Toby felt Chris' hand brush his and a thousand tingles ran up his arm. Toby sighed as they stood there staring at each other, separated only by the large piece of wood between them.

Ronnie watched the scene, saw the intense look in Keller's eyes and felt an unexpected spark of jealousy. Who the fuck was that guy and why did Chris look like the world revolved around this pale-ass, skinny, blond fool? Ronnie had never heard Chris talk about this guy, whoever he was. I don't like this, Ronnie thought. I don't like it one bit.

The two of just stood there, staring at each other, not moving, not speaking. Their eyes were locked and neither looked too keen on breaking the contact. Something was definitely going on here. Maybe that's why I haven't seen Chris around much. Must be keeping busy with this fucker.

Chris finally broke the silence with a sigh. "Toby, I'm sorry about blowing up at the doctor's office. I just...I was disappointed, I guess. I thought we could work it all out together."

Toby nodded sadly. "I know," he said. "Look, I gotta go." He turned to leave but when he got to the door, Toby looked back at Chris. "I dropped the charges."

Chris smiled then and Toby felt his heart beat faster. "I know. My lawyer called me. Thanks, Toby. It means a lot."

Toby opened the door and walked out.

"What the fuck was that all about?" Ronnie blurted out the moment the door was closed.

Chris glared at him. "None of your fucking business."

"Oh come on, Chris, you two were eye-fucking each other like no one else was in the room."

Chris glowered at Ronnie again. "Just drop it, Barlog."

"Fuck you, Keller. We've known each other a long time. That guy didn't exactly look like your type."

"How would even know what my type is, Barlog?"

"What the hell crawled up your ass and died?"

"Nothing. I just don't like getting grilled about my personal life; especially by you. I don't wanna talk about Toby so I would appreciate it if you would just drop the subject."

"Fine. I just hope he's not going to get in the way."

"Of what?"

"You and me doing business. You are coming in, aren't you?"

"You let me worry about Toby, okay? You've never been able to mind your own fucking business."

"Fuck you, Keller," he said good naturedly and starting to leave. "Call me and let me know if you want in." Then he was gone.

Christmas Eve, 1998

Toby tiptoed through the house, carrying a few armloads of bags. They crinkled and rattled as he walked and Gen kept telling him to "Shush." The kids had been sleeping for an hour but that didn't guarantee they wouldn't wake up for a glass of water or from a nightmare.

Toby finally reached the living room and began emptying the bags and opening boxes. Gen sat opposite his place on the rug and began opening her own bags.

"Jeez, Gen, you think you got enough gifts here? It's going to take hours to put all this stuff together," Toby complained, but he was smiling. "I would love to see the looks on their faces when they wake up in the morning."

"Why don't you stay over, then?" Gen asked as she opened a Barbie Dream House for Holly.

"I'd love to but I don't think it's a good idea. I've stayed over a few nights this month and they're gonna get used to it."

Gen sighed. "I know. But it's so nice having you here. For them, mainly. But you and I...well, we've been getting along so nicely. Better than we ever did when we were together. I'm so proud of you for staying on the wagon and you've been so great with the kids."

Toby saw how wistful Gen was getting and knew he had to put a stop to it. "Gen, we can't go backwards."

"I know but things are so good, like they were way back in the beginning of our marriage."

"Yeah, I know. But we're friends now, Gen. I don't want to jeopardize that. Besides..." And in the space of a few seconds, with no forethought Toby decided to tell Gen about his relationship with Chris. Gen had become his best friend over the last few months and he wanted to be able to share his feelings with her.

"Besides what?" she prompted him.

"Oh, God, this is hard to say but I want to tell you."

Gen stopped opened boxes and waited for Toby. "Toby, you can tell me anything. Really. Have you met someone else?"

Toby laughed then. "Yeah, I did but probably not what you're thinking."

"What does that mean?"

"I hope you won't get mad for not telling you sooner. I actually was going to say something back in November but then I ended up in the hospital," he started. "Anyway, it was Chris."

Gen watched him, her expression growing more confused as Toby continued. "What are you talking about, Toby?"

"The someone else I met. It was Chris Keller. I fell in love with him," he said, pausing. His heart was throbbing with nervous energy. Oh God, he thought, did I make the right decision?

Gen closed her eyes for a moment as if trying to absorb this new information. When she opened them up, her expression still held confusion. "You fell in love with a man?"

"Yes," he said and let out a deep breath. He didn't realize he had been holding it.

"And what about him?"

Toby nodded.

Gen thought for a minute. "Well, gosh that explains a lot."

Toby smiled. "What do you mean?"

"Well, Chris' persistence in trying to find you when you were in rehab, your moping around after he put you in the hospital, his determination to talk to you. Not to mention that there wasn't a guest room at his apartment."

Toby grinned and flushed red. "Yeah, you noticed that, huh?"

"And I remember you avoided the question."

"You always were way too observant, Gen."

"You're right and I should have guessed but it honestly never even occurred to me," she said. "So did he ever give you a reason for the attack?"

Toby told her about the session with Dr. Dryer, Chris' childhood story and his own forgiveness. "I dropped the charges a couple of days after that."

"I remember that. Your parents were so angry about that. But now it's just another piece that fits the puzzle. How did you explain that to Mom and Dad?"

Toby shrugged. "I didn't. I just told them it was my decision and they needed to mind their own business."

"That must have gone over well," Gen remarked and Toby chuckled. "So what now? You forgave him but you told him you can't be with him. So is it over?"

Toby shook his head. "Not for me. And I don't think it's over for Chris either. I hope it isn't. I miss him so much but I keep reminding myself of the AA guidelines. I really want to stay sober, Gen, and Chris is too much of a distraction.

She nodded. "Sometimes, when I leave the office, I see him across the street, watching me. He smiles but he doesn't approach me. So I know he's respecting my request. I want him to wait but I don't know if that's realistic."

"Well, it sounds like he has own demons to deal with. Do you know if he's getting help?"

"I honestly don't know. I can only hope he is even if we don't get back together," he said and sighed. "He really is a good person, Gen."

"Well, he must be if you love him, Toby."

"Thanks, Gen. I can only hope my parents will feel the same whenever I'm ready to tell them."

Gen chuckled. "I'd like to be a fly on the wall when you do."

"Me, too," he said, laughing. "Better to be observing the whole thing than to have to be in the middle of it. Anyway, thanks for listening, Gen. I can't believe how relieved I feel. You're the first person, except for Dr. Dryer, that I've told."

"I'm glad you trusted me enough, Toby," she said and took his hand. "Are you still seeing Dr. Dryer?"

"Yeah. Although he was going to refer me to someone else. I just don't think I could start over again with someone new, so he's doing me a favor. I meet him after hours every couple of weeks."

Gen nodded. "Well, let's finish with these gifts before one of them wakes up to go the bathroom."

Part 12

Chris opened his mailbox and pulled out a stack of bills and some flyers. Junk mail, as usual, he thought and walked into his apartment. Ronnie followed behind. They walked into the kitchen and Chris threw the mail onto the counter.

Ronnie opened the fridge and grabbed a beer. He sat down at the table and opened it.

"So, Keller, we had a good night, huh?" Ronnie was smiling. He was happy to be hanging with Chris again.

"Yeah, I guess we did." Chris looked around the apartment and sighed. He and Ronnie had been making some good money these last few weeks. Chris should have been thrilled. He was back in his element; doing what he knew best. Making money from nothing. But somehow it just didn't give him the same old jolt.

"Hey, Chris, let's count our money."


Chris sat down and pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. Payment for services rendered. Despite the cash he was pulling in, Chris had kept his bartending job. He wasn't quite sure why. He certainly didn't need it. He and his crew jacked the cars after he got off work. Sometimes they started without him and he would join them. He had four guys working for him.

"I got $600. For one night's work," Ronnie said, beaming. "How about you?"

Chris dropped the cash on the table. "Here, you count it for me." He handed the money to Ronnie and turned his attention to the pile of mail. He began to flip through it. Electric bill, grocery flyer, phone bill. Shit, this is depressing, he thought.

Then his eye caught the corner of a return address - handwritten. That's not a bill. He pulled it out of the pile and his heart began to pound. It was from Toby! He got up, told Ronnie he had to take a leak and went into the bathroom.

Chris stood in the bathroom trying to open the envelope. His hands were shaking. It was a Christmas card. He pulled it out and opened it. There was a handwritten note on the left side.

Chris -

Just wanted you to know that I am thinking of you. I probably shouldn't even be sending this but I wanted to, so I did. I'm staying sober one day at a time. Sometimes I count the days until my anniversary and it seems like so far away. I know I can't ask you to wait for me but I'm going to hope all the same. Gen has been a big help; she's been my best friend lately. I even told her the truth about us. Don't worry. She won't tell anyone. I hope you're doing well in dealing with all the stuff you started to tell me about at the Case Center.

Love, Toby

Oh, Jesus, Chris thought and closed his eyes. Toby told Gen?! And he wanted Chris to wait for him? Chris' head was reeling. He thought for sure that Toby had forgotten him by now. Chris read the note again, feeling a spark of joy, followed quickly by anguish.

And what have I been doing while Toby is getting his shit together? Stealing cars with Ronnie Barlog. He sighed. I gotta fucking put a stop to this.

A loud knock on the bathroom door startled him from his reverie. "What'dya do, Keller? Fall in?"

"Fuck you, Barlog. Can't a man take a shit in peace?" he barked and flushed the toilet. He opened the door to find Ronnie still standing there. "Look, I'm exhausted. I'm going to crash now. I have to go to work at 4."

"Why do keep that job anyway? You don't need it."

"It's a good cover. In case the cops ever get suspicious."

"Yeah, I guess. So I'll see you tonight? At the shop?"

Chris hesitated for a minute. "Uh, yeah. Sure."

As soon as Ronnie was gone, he looked up the phone number for the Case Center and dialed. A woman answered.

"Uh, yeah. I need to make an appointment with Dr. Dryer."

"He's here every other Saturday morning."

"Just morning, huh?"

"Yeah. Next Saturday, he only has one opening - at 8 am. Otherwise you'll have to wait two more weeks."

Chris groaned. "Yeah, okay. I'll take that one."

"8 am this Saturday?"


"Your name, sir?"

"Chris Keller."

"Okay. We'll see you on Saturday."

Oh Christ, this better be worth it, he thought.

Chris walked into the body shop the next morning around 2 am. He saw Ronnie with one of the guys in his crew.

"Keller!" Ronnie said, walking up to him.

"Hey. Where's the boss? I need to talk to him."

"What for?"

"I want out."

"What? Are you nuts?"


"Chris, I don't think he's just going to let you walk."

"We'll see."

Chris walked up to the office door and knocked. A tall, muscular fellow opened it.


"I need to see Morales."

"Wait here." The incredible hulk closed the door and Chris waited for a few minutes. When he opened the door again, he allowed Chris to enter.

"So why aren't you on the street, Keller?" Enrique Morales asked, leaning back in his chair.

"I need to talk to you."

"About what?"

"I want out."


"Yeah. Of the car-jacking business."

Morales laughed quietly and shook his head. "Keller, I thought you were smarter than that."

"Look, I'm willing to hand over all my profits," he pulled some cash out of his pocket. "It's over $10,000," he said, putting it on the table. "And you can trust me to keep my mouth shut."

Morales raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? And why is that?"

"Cause I ain't no snitch. I have a rep going back to Lardner. You can check."

Morales looked intrigued. "Got any references?"

"Yeah. Vern Schillinger. He's in Oz now."

"The head of the AB?"


"What other assurances can you give me?"

Chris swallowed. He only had one more card and he didn't really want to play it. Is it worth it? I have to believe that it is. Otherwise, what's the fucking point? "Barlog has of previous criminal activity. Stuff I've never been prosecuted for. Shit that could put me away for a long fucking time."

Morales considered for a moment and then nodded at Keller. "We'll be keeping an eye on you. Tell your crew to report to Barlog until we replace you."

"Thanks," Chris said and left the room.

Ronnie stopped him on the way out. "What did he say?"

"He's letting me go."

"Really? Are you sure he's not just saying that?"

"I'm sure."

"Chris, I don't understand why you're leaving. We're making some good money."

"It's not about the money."

"What's it about then?" Ronnie asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. "Does this have something to do with that pretty, rich boy that came into the bar a month ago?"

Chris glared at Ronnie. "It's none of your fucking business, Barlog. So drop it."

"Oh, Keller, you can't fool me. What the hell kind of hold does he have over you, anyway?"

Chris grabbed Ronnie by the shirt then and pulled him close. "I'm gonna tell you one more time to drop it."

Ronnie held his arms up in surrender. "Okay, Chris. Okay. I didn't mean to piss you off."

Chris let go of Ronnie and walked out the door.

February 1999

Toby walked out of the Motor Vehicle Department with a smile on his face and his new license in his pocket. Gen and the kids were waiting for him.

"I guess this means you got your license?" Gen asking, smiling.

"How did you guess?" he teased and turned to the kids. "Hey guys, let's go out and celebrate! What do you say we go to Chuck E. Cheese?"

Multiple shouts of "Yeah" and "Can we" followed. They herded the kids into the car and headed off.

"I'd like to go buy a new car today, if that's okay with you," Toby said.

"Sure. We can do that after lunch."

They spent an hour and a half at Chuck E Cheese's and still had to listen moans of protest when it was time to leave. Harry had a temper tantrum and Toby had to carry him out.

"You know, guys, when you pull stuff like this, it doesn't make me want to come back anytime soon," Toby remarked with Harry still sobbing in his arms.

"Sorry, Dad," Gary said.

"Apology accepted but don't let it happen again," Toby said. "Now, who wants to help me pick out a new car?"

"I'll help, Daddy," Holly volunteered.

"Me, too." Gary echoed.

Harry was still pouting when Toby put him in the car seat.

Gen drove them to three different car dealers. Luckily, Harry fell asleep in his car seat before they got to the first one. Toby decided on a black 1999 Lexus and offered to take Gary and Holly for a ride in it.

"I'll bring Gary and Holly back to the house later," Toby told Gen.

Gen nodded and drove off.

"Daddy, this car smells funny," Holly remarked.

"I think it smells sexy," Gary announced. Toby was so surprised he almost slammed on the breaks.

"Gary, where did you hear that?"

"I don't know," he said, shrugging his shoulders.

"The car smells that way because it's new, Holly. Some people like that smell and some don't. It will go away, though. Gary, I think you're a little young to be using words like sexy," Toby said, trying not to smile as he spoke.

"Okay, Daddy," Gary said, looking out the window.

March 1999

Ronnie rubbed his eyes and then looked at his watch. It was going to be dawn soon and they'd have to shut down for the night. Ever since Chris left, things had gone to shit. Ronnie's crew wasn't bringing in as much as they did and Morales was constantly on his ass.

Trouble was all these new cars had fucking anti-theft locks or some damn gadget to lock up the steering wheel. His crew wasted half their time finding a car that could be jacked. He looked up from the car he sat in and saw one of his crew walking back toward him.

"So, Tommy, anything?"

"Not on this block. Let's try the next one."

"We're running out of time."

"I know. Let's go."

Ronnie didn't usually go out with the crew but he had made an exception lately because of the shortfall. Morales gave him no choice. Cocksucker. Tommy got in the car and started driving past the half-million dollar homes. Nobody should be able to live like this, he thought.

I'll bet that blond bitch Chris was eyeing at the bar - Toby, was it - lived in a place like this. Ronnie couldn't quite put his finger on why he had taken such an instant disliking to Toby. Maybe it was the way Chris looked at him.

He had seen Chris with guys before. He knew Chris got his kicks wherever he could find'em. But something told Ronnie that Toby was different and that was probably why it bothered him. Ronnie had always been first. Not that they had ever been lovers. Christ, no. Just friends, but close friends. Brothers even. Through it all; thick and thin and all that shit.

Now, it seemed like this Toby guy was making Chris sees thing differently; even act differently. It was like Chris wanted to get this guy's approval or something. And Ronnie just didn't get it. Chris had never cared what anyone thought - man or woman. What the fuck was so special about Toby?

I don't have time for this shit, he decided. Gotta concentrate on the fucking work.

Toby arrived at the house at 6 am and knocked quietly. Gen opened it a moment later, all dressed and ready to go. She had an early meeting and had asked Toby to come pick up Harry and bring him to a doctor's appointment at 8 am.

"Come on in. The kids are all ready. I'll drop Gary and Holly at before-care and they can take the bus to school. You can stay here until Harry's appointment or take him back to your place if you want."

"Actually, I thought I'd take him to the office for a bit. I have some paperwork to get through and no one will be around."

"You'll have to keep a close eye on him, Toby. He gets into everything."

"I know but how much harm can he do in a law office?" Toby joked.

"You'd be surprised," Gen said seriously. "Come on, Gary, Holly. Time to go!"

They came running out and gave Toby a quick hug before following their mother to the car. "Don't forget the diaper bag!" Gen shouted before the door shut.

Toby went into the living room and got Harry out of his playpen. "You're a little too old for a playpen, aren't you, Harry?" Toby asked.

Harry just looked at him. Gen said Harry had been saying a few words but Toby hadn't heard him speak yet. He was almost 18 months old now.

"Let's get your coat on and head on out," Toby said and went to get Harry's coat. When he turned back around, Harry was nowhere in site.

"Harry?" Toby called and walked through the living room and into the kitchen. He found Harry searching through the lower cupboards where the pots and pans were. I guess Gen was right. He's not only curious, he's quick.

He put Harry's coat and carried him out to the car and locking him into the carseat. Toby turned the car on and started to pull out. Then he realized he had forgotten the diaper bag. "Shit!"

He turned to look at Harry. "Sorry, Harry. I forgot the diaper bag. I'll be right back." He turned the car off and ran back into the house.

Ronnie pulled around the corner and saw a man was getting out of a 1999 black Lexus and head back into his house. "Bingo," he said to Tommy, who started to get out of the car. "No, wait," Ronnie said, stopping him. He realized that it was Toby. Oh this is just too good to be true, Ronnie thought.

"I'll take this one. You drive back to the shop. I'll meet you there."

"Uh, Ronnie, we've never taken a car this late in the morning. That guy could be coming back out any second."

"Hey, who's the fucking crew boss?"

"You are."

"Then shut up and get your ass back to the shop." Tommy nodded and drove off after Ronnie got out of the car.

Ronnie moved quickly to the Lexus and slipped in behind the wheel. He leaned down to hot wire the thing and saw the keys in the ignition. Jesus! The luck! He turned the car on and pulled out.

Toby left the house just in time to see his car, with his child inside, speed away. He shouted something that he later forgot and instinctively ran down the block after the car. He didn't get far before the car disappeared from view and Toby ran out of breath.

Toby walked back to the house and called the police.

Ronnie was smiling as he drove. This'll teach that uptight rich boy to fuck with me, he thought smugly. You take something of mine and I take something of yours.

"Dayee?" a small voice echoed in the car, startling Ronnie and causing him to slam on the breaks. He turned and saw a small child in the back seat.

"Fuck!" Ronnie yelled, startling Harry, who began to cry. "Oh, hey, I'm sorry, kid. I didn't know you were there. Oh shit, now what?"

He kept thinking as he drove, knowing he couldn't go back to the shop with this kid. Ronnie also knew he had to get off the street before a hundred cops surrounded him. Then he thought of Chris. He'll know what to do.

Ronnie parked the car near Chris' apartment and carried the still-crying Harry inside. He knocked and then pounded on the door of Chris' place, waiting for him to answer.

Chris opened the door a couple of minutes later, still groggy from sleep.

"Oh, Chris, thank God. I am so screwed! You gotta help me."

Chris looked at the squalling bundle in Ronnie's arms. The child's face was obscured by a hooded jacket.

"What's going on? Who's kid is this?"

"The kid was in a car I jacked."

"What?! You jacked a car with people in it? Are you nuts?"

"Yeah, I guess so. But I didn't know the kid was in the car when I took it. I saw the guy get out of the car and go back inside his house. I figured it would be safe to take it," Ronnie explained, purposely leaving out Toby's name.

"Did this guy see you take the car?"

"No, I was gone before he came back out. What am I going to do, Chris?"

Chris rubbed his forehead, thinking. "Shit, Ronnie, I don't know. If the cops don't kill you, Morales will."

"You don't think I fucking know that?! I was hoping for some advice."

"Well, you could start by shutting the kid up."

"I've been trying. Nothing works. Here, you wanna try?" Ronnie handed the baby over and Chris saw his face then.

He looked at Harry and then at Ronnie. "Ronnie, where did you take this car from?" he asked calmly, an undertone of anger in his voice. He took Harry in his arms and the child began to calm down.

"Oh, Chris, man, I'm sorry."

"This is Toby's kid. You stole Toby's car?! You kidnapped Toby's kid?"

"I didn't know the kid was in there!"

"But you did know it was Toby's car? Huh? What is this? Some kind of revenge? You're pissed at me for leaving the ring so you steal Toby's car?" Chris growled but kept his voice low and calm so as not to upset Harry again.

"I'm sorry, Chris. I made a mistake."

"Oh, Ronnie, you don't know the half of it because if Morales doesn't kill you, then I'm going to."

Chris picked up the phone and dialed Gen's number.

"Hello?" Toby answered.

"Toby, it's me, Chris."

"Chris, this isn't a good time," Toby said, his voice shaky.

"I know where Harry is."

"What?! Where?"

"He's safe. I'm bringing him back right now."

"Chris? You have Harry? What..." he started but Chris hung up the phone and grabbed his coat.

"Where're you going?"

"To bring Harry back to his father, you asshole. And you are going to stay right here. When I get back, you and I are going to have a long chat."

Chris had to squelch the urge to knock Ronnie flat, knowing it would probably upset Harry. He grabbed the keys from Ronnie and asked where the car was parked.

As he walked to the car, Chris talked to Harry, telling the child he would be home soon. He didn't want Harry to be afraid. After he was safely stowed in the car seat, Chris headed toward the house.

Toby stood there holding the receiver in his hand, a puzzled look on his face.

"Well, who was it?" Gen asked. She had returned to the house soon after Toby called her. Several police officers roamed throughout the house and on the lawn outside. They were installing tracing and recording equipment.

"It was Chris. He said Harry's safe and he's bringing him home."

"What?! Chris has him? Oh, Jesus, Toby, what the hell is going on?"

"Excuse me, Mr. Beecher?" one of the detectives interrupted. "I'm Detective Ziegler. We were unable to get a trace on the call."

"That's okay. He's bringing Harry home. Harry is safe."

Ziegler raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Who is bringing him home?"

"Chris. He's my...uh...friend."

"Chris who?"

"Chris Keller. But I am sure he's not involved in this. I know Chris."

"What did he say?"

"Just that he knew where Harry was, that he was safe and that Chris was bringing him home right away."

"How can you be certain he's not involved?"

"Chris and I have been friends for almost 7 months. I know him. He cares about me. He wouldn't do something like this."

"Wait a minute. Chris Keller, you say? Wasn't he arrested for assault a few months ago?"

"Yes, but the charges were dropped. Listen, it's not him."

"Hold on," Ziegler said and searched his memory. "The victim was a Beecher. Was that you?"

Toby sighed in frustration. This guy was never going to understand. "Yes."

"So he puts you in the hospital and you just drop the charges?"

"I don't have to explain my actions to you. Chris apologized to me and we've put that behind us. He has no motive to take Harry. I'm sure it's all just a misunderstanding."

"Okay, but we're going to have to question him. We won't know the extent of his involvement until we talk to him."

Toby wanted to scream. "He had no involvement. I'm sure of that."

"Well, then, how did he get a hold of the kid?"

"I don't know but I am sure he will explain when he gets here. He certainly wouldn't bring Harry back if he was involved. That wouldn't make any sense!"

"Yeah, well, we'll see."

"Toby, are you that sure about Chris?" Gen asked.

"Yes, Gen. I am."

There was a knock on the door and they all jumped. The police opened it and Toby's parents walked in, worry etched on their faces.

"We got here as soon as we could," Harrison said, embracing his son.

"Everything's okay, Dad. Harry's on his way home."

"Oh thank God! That's wonderful news," Mrs. Beecher exclaimed.

"The police found him already?" Harrison asked.

"No," Ziegler admitted. "He's coming in with a Christopher Keller."

"Chris Keller? Did he have something to do with this?" Harrison asked, alarm in his voice.

Toby gritted his teeth. It was going to be like this all day. "No, Dad. I'm sure of it," Toby said and took a deep breath. "I think Chris may have known the kidnapper."

"What? Who?" Harrison asked.

"I don't know who."

"Then why do you think he knew the kidnapper?" Ziegler asked.

"It's just a hunch. How else could he have found Harry so fast? He hasn't even been gone two hours."

"Unless he's involved."

"He's NOT involved. How many times do I have to repeat myself to you people?" Toby yelled.

"Calm down, Toby," Harrison said. "We don't know anything yet."

"Target's arrived," Ziegler's radio announced. Toby looked at Ziegler and then Gen. He took Gen's hand and walked to the door.

Part 13

Chris exited the car carrying Harry in his arms. Surrounded by dozens of police officers, the toddler clung to his protector, wrapping his tiny arms around Chris' neck.

Luckily none of the officers had their guns up, as ordered by Det. Ziegler so as not to frighten Harry. Ziegler ran up to Chris and asked him to turn over the child.

"I'm placing this baby in Toby's arms," Chris said respectfully but with conviction. "Is that clear?"

The other officers looked at Ziegler, waiting for a sign to move on Chris. But Ziegler shook his head at them.

"As soon as Toby has Harry, I'll surrender. I'm not armed," Chris said, looking into Ziegler's eyes.

"Okay," the detective said and stood aside.

Chris walked toward the house, locking eyes with Toby, expressing determination and, hopefully, trust. Toby's face was a mask of pain and concern; his forehead screwed up into a tight network of lines and veins. He glanced at Harry, saw that he was safe and unhurt, then looked back at Chris, looking for hope that his faith was not misplaced.

Gen stood next to Toby, holding his arm in a tight clench. She was saying a silent prayer that this whole thing would go as hoped. She sensed the Beechers behind her, felt their tension too.

Chris stopped in front of Toby. He looked briefly at Gen and then back at Toby. He pulled Harry's arms off his neck and handed the baby to Toby, never moving his eyes off of Toby's.

"I'm sor..." Chris started to say but Toby, Gen and the Beechers were whisked by inside by officers and guns were drawn on Chris. He raised his hands in surrender. Ziegler walked up to Chris while an officer patted him down.

"Christopher Keller, you are under the arrest for the kidnapping of Harrison Beecher, the second. You have the right to remain silent," he said as an officer cuffed him and led him to a cruiser. "You have the right to an attorney..."


Keller looked up to see Toby standing in the doorframe. "Don't say a word. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Chris nodded and got in the car.

"What the hell are you doing, Toby?" his father asked from behind him.

"Dad, don't."

"Are you actually going to represent that scumbag?"

"Dad, please. You have to trust me. I know what I'm doing."

"Toby, even if he's not part of the kidnapping, he knows who did it."

"I realize that, Dad. And I'm going to find out who it is."

"Don't take this case, Toby. You're not a criminal lawyer."

"Thanks for that reminder, Dad. I just want to talk to him. Then we'll take it from there."

Toby walked into the interrogation room and found Chris sitting at a table.

"Chris," Toby said, relief in his voice. "Are you okay?" he asked and walked closer. He looked down at the chair and realized Chris was handcuffed to it.

"I'm okay. How about you?"

"Jesus! They still have you handcuffed?" Toby said, irate. He walked back to the door and opened it. "Officer, please come in here and uncuff my client," he ordered. The tone in Toby's voice was apparently all the authority the cop needed because he did has he was told. "Thank you. Now go back to your post."

When the door closed again, Chris stood up and walked to Toby embracing him. Toby accepted the embrace; he wanted to melt into it. But he knew the cops might be watching through the two-way mirror so he stepped back.

"Chris, tell me what happened."

Chris smiled sadly. "I wish I could, Toby."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Look, Toby, I knew I had to bring Harry back. I did it for you but I can't tell you anything."

"What? I don't understand. Why?"

"There are bigger things at play than Harry's kidnapping. It was an accident. It wasn't meant to happen. That's all I can tell you."

Toby shook his head. "This doesn't make any sense, Chris. Are you involved in something criminal?"

"I really can't say, Toby."

"Chris! You have to. If you don't explain what happened, the cops are going to think you're guilty."

Chris looked Toby's eyes and touched his hand. "I'm not, Toby. I need you to know that."

"I believe you. But you have to tell me how you found out about Harry; how you got him."

"I can't."

"Chris if you don't tell me what happened, then I can't help you."

"You can't help me anyway, Toby."

"I told everyone out there that you're not responsible for this, Chris. Now how is this going to look?"

"Well, maybe you're too fucking worried about how everything looks, Toby."

"So you're just going to go to jail for these fuckers who took Harry?"

"I'd be going to jail no matter what, Toby. You don't know the whole fucking story. Please don't assume you have all the answers."

"Oh, Okay, then go to jail. Rot there for all I care," he said angrily and started to leave. "I've had it with you. I'm done."

Chris grabbed his arm. "Wait."

"Fuck you, Chris. Let go of my arm."

When Chris didn't, Toby swung his free fist, knocking Chris backwards but the dark man hung on. When he got his footing again, he pushed Toby up against the wall. Chris pressed himself against Toby, their hearts pounding in sync.

"Don't you ever fucking hit me again, Beecher."

"Oh? Why not? It was okay for you to hit me," Toby snarled.

"Toby..." Chris let Toby go and stepped back.

"Chris, If you don't tell me who's responsible for kidnapping my son, then you are just as culpable as they are."

Chris felt a sharp pain in his gut at Toby`s words but he wasn`t going to let it show. "Everything's not as black and white as you think it is, Beech."

"Yeah, well you keep telling yourself that. Meanwhile, Harry's kidnapper is free to repeat the crime."

"That won't happen. The kidnapping was an accident, I told you."

"Then why was my car...wait a minute. This was about the car? Someone wanted to steal my car?"

Chris just looked at him silently.

"What? Some friend of yours stole a car and you're protecting him because he took Harry by accident?"

"That's only part of the story, Beech."

"Then you need to tell me the rest. Even if it's just me. I can't tell anyone else if you don't want me to. I know you know about privilege. I need to know if you want me to go on trusting you."

Chris was silent for a few minutes, thinking. "I don't think you're ready to hear everything I need to tell you."

"I think I can handle it, Chris. I'm not as naive as you think I am."

"Oh, but you are, Beecher. Cause I know what I have to tell you is going to completely change your opinion of me."

Toby looked at, a wary expression on his face. "Come on, Chris. I know you aren't a boy scout. I doubt it could be that bad."

Chris shrugged. "If you say so."

"Let me go see if the room is secure; make sure they're not listening or watching. I'll be right back."

Outside the interrogation room, Toby found Detective Ziegler.

"Is this room secure? My client needs to share some sensitive information. I need to be sure he can't be heard."

"We can move you to another room," Ziegler said. "Mr. Beecher, are you sure you want to be representing this guy?"

"Mind your own business, detective and let me mind mine."

"Whatever. It's your conscience."

Ziegler cuffed Chris again and escorted him to another room down the hall. Toby followed. This room was smaller and had no mirrors. Ziegler took the cuffs off of Chris and left the room.

"Okay, Chris, let's hear it."

Chris took a deep breath.

"Do you remember the last time you came into the bar? To give me my shirt back?"

"Yeah. Soon after we talked at the Case Center."

"Right. Well, there was a guy there. At the other end of the bar. Do you remember him?"

Toby thought for a moment. "Oh, the guy with the really glassy blue eyes?"

"Yeah, that's him. His name is Ronnie Barlog. We've been friends for a long time; since we were kids. Well, he got involved in a car theft ring, I don't know, a few months ago. He asked me to come in it with him. So I agreed," he explained, shrugging.

"So he took Harry?"

"Well, I'm getting to that. So, I worked with him for about a month and then I got that Christmas card from you and I decided to quit. And I called that Dr. Dryer to make an appointment the same day," Chris said and looked down, turning red. "I hadn't done it up to that point and your card made me realize that I was wasting time."

Toby reached out and touched Chris' hand but didn't speak.

"When I told Ronnie I was quitting, he got mad. He knew it had something to do with you. He acted all possessive."

"So that morning, he was in your neighborhood simply by coincidence. He didn't know you lived there. But he saw you get out of the car and go in the house. He didn't know Harry was in the car."

"Well, Chris, you certainly don't owe this jerk any loyalty. And you could probably get immunity if you testified against him."

"I'm not a snitch, Toby, but even if I was I couldn't tell anyone about Ronnie."

"Why not?"

"Because then the whole ring would be exposed and the boss, a guy named Morales, might hold a fatal grudge against me," Chris explained and took a deep breath. "Besides, Barlog knows some shit that, um, could put me away for a long time. A lot longer than a kidnapping charge. And Morales knows Ronnie has this information."

"What information? And how does this Morales know?"

"Cause I told him, Toby. When I bought my way out of the ring. I had to give him something to assure I wouldn't rat him out."

Toby sighed. "Are you going to tell me what Ronnie knows?"

Chris turned away and hung his head down. "You might want to sit down for this."

Toby put his hands on Chris' shoulders. "Chris you can tell me anything."

"Really, Toby. You need to sit."


Chris waited until Toby was sitting in a chair next to him. His head was still turned slightly away.

"You remember that time we went to your parents and I told you about what my Dad did to me?"

"Yes, of course. How could I forget that?"

"Well, even after I left the house, I carried that with me...everywhere."

"Of course. My God, anybody would."

"Toby, I hated myself. I thought there was something horribly wrong with me. I mean, it wasn't only my Dad that drilled it into me. I used to be an alter boy, you know, at church. They had a pretty strong view on...homosexuality," he explained, whispering the last word. "But even though I knew it was wrong, I couldn't stop myself from having sex with men."

Chris could see out of the corner of his eye that Toby was listening and occasionally nodding. He took a deep breath.

"You know I got married a lot and then divorced. And it wasn't that I didn't like women, cause I did. But it just never lasted very long with them."

"When I married Bonnie that second time, I thought that must mean something, ya know? Cause I did love her in my own way. So when I realized it wasn't going to work out, I kinda went into a tailspin. I spent a lot of time getting high and hanging out in gay bars."

The anguish in Chris' voice made Toby want to comfort him so he put a hand on Chris' arm but the dark-haired man shrugged it off.

"I'm not done yet, Toby. This is really hard for me to say," Chris said and let out a ragged sigh.

"Take your time, Chris."

"Jesus, Toby. Don't feel sorry for me," he snapped and looked at Toby, his eyes dark and hard.

Toby sniffed and leaned back, his face expressing both irritation and bewilderment.

"The first time it happened was in January. Bonnie and I had been split for a few months. I was hanging out at this gay bar called C.J.'s and one night I met this guy. He was young, around 20, and he had short, dark hair; built like he spent a lot of time at the gym. I guess somewhere in my subconscious, the guy reminded of myself at that age.

"His name was Mark Caracci, which I didn't found out until later. Anyway, we took a ride on my bike over to Burlington, across the state line. We stopped at another bar he knew about. On the way home, he was running his hands all over me and we were getting pretty hot so we stopped..."

"Chris, I don't really need to hear all the de..."

"Just shut up, Toby. I need to get this out. So we stopped near some woods and we were going at it. He was so damn hot, so eager," Chris said, smiling at the memory. Toby wrinkled his nose in distaste.

"And, I don't know, something happened in my brain, like some kind of pop. I saw him all eager and ready and it made me think of myself back when I was finally out of my father's house; free and ready to do what I wanted. I became enraged and I started to hit him."

Toby flinched.

"Yeah, Toby, just like that night I hit you. Only with Mark, I didn't stop. I beat him senseless. Then I ripped his shirt off his back and used pieces of it to tie him to a tree..."

"Chris, please stop." Toby felt his stomach roil.

"No, Toby. You have to hear this."


"So you'll know why I can never tell the truth about Ronnie Barlog kidnapping Harry."

"Fine," Toby snapped. "Go ahead."

"While this was all happening, I felt like I was somehow outside of my own body, watching everything. I don't know how to describe it any better than that," Chris said, his voice monotonous as if telling about a bad dream. "After I tied him, I hit him some more and then I raped him. And I hit him some more. He came in and out of consciousness. Every time he woke up, I hit him some more. It was like I was beating myself - the younger me that my Dad had taught me how to hate so well. Then I took what was left of his shirt and I choked him to death."

"Jesus, Chris," Toby exclaimed, hissing in a large gulp of air.

"After he was dead, I untied him and buried him in a shallow grave. Then two months later, I brought Byam Lewis to the same place and did it all over again. In May, it was Bryce Tibbits. Soon after, I was arrested for the grocery store robbery and I met you," he finished and looked down at the floor. "Ronnie Barlog knows all of this. I confessed it all to him the night I killed Bryce Tibbits. So now you know why I can't turn Ronnie Barlog in and now you know exactly what kind of person I am."

Toby had to suppress the urge to throw up. He was stunned by everything he had just heard and his mind was reeling. He stood up and paced the room, unable to look at Chris. "Christ," he mumbled a few times.

Toby stopped pacing and looked at Chris. "I just don't understand this. I mean I..." he started and took a deep breath. "How could you? I don't...Chris, how could you do something like that?" he asked, his voice still soft but bewildered.

"Oh, Toby, why you gotta ask that? I don't know why. How can I explain it to you?"

"Well, you better be ready to explain it to someone!" Toby said, raising his voice for the first time. "Ronnie Barlog sure is going to try and explain it!"

Chris stood up, wanting to be on equal footing with Toby. "I know that, Toby," he said, walking towards Toby, who flinched and stepped back. "Christ Toby, I'm not going to hurt you."

Toby searched Chris' eyes. "Chris? Can I ask you a question?"

Chris looked up at him. "Yeah, sure." He was grateful Toby hadn't run from the room screaming.

"Why didn't you kill me?" Toby whispered, fear on his face.

"Christ, Toby!" Chris exclaimed and leaned his head on his hand, shutting his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Chris, but I have to know."

"I don't know, Toby. Something stopped me that night, just like something triggered the rage. Something inside me. I like to think it was because you touched me in a place no one else ever has. That's why I stopped stealing cars. That's why I called Dr. Dryer. I do want to get better, Toby," he whispered, his voice full of anguish and remorse.

Toby nodded and became quiet again. "I'll be back," he said abruptly and left the room. He walked into the men's room and turned on the water, splashing it on his face. He felt like throwing up. He felt like screaming. He felt like running out of the courthouse, never to return.

How could the man he loved, who had shown him some tenderness, do such horrible things to innocent young men? Toby could not wrap his mind around this paradox. Chris had pursued Toby, even when Toby rebuffed him at first. How could a man who hated the part of himself that was attracted to men be so blatant in his attempt to win my affection?

"It doesn't make any sense, dammit," he shouted into the empty bathroom. Toby leaned over the sink and began to cry. Great heaving sobs were ripped from his chest and he felt like he could never stop. This is worse than when I woke up in the hospital, he realized. I don't know if I can get past this. I really don't.

Still, Toby believed he needed to help Chris for bringing Harry home.

He walked back down the hall and entered the meeting room. Chris was waiting there, his eyes on the door. Toby glanced at him for a second and then began pacing around the room, his mind now turning to thoughts of Ronnie Barlog and the hold he had over Chris.

"Toby, whatcha doing?"

"I'm thinking, Chris. Thinking of way out of this."

Chris opened his eyes wide with surprise. "Out of this? You mean you still want to help me after everything I've told you? Don't you think I deserve to go to jail?"

"Deserve? It's not up to me to decide what you deserve, Chris. I'm your lawyer. My job is to come up with the best defense. I think I may need to bring in a criminal lawyer, though," he said and started pacing again. "Plus, I owe you for bringing Harry home."

"Toby, sit down," Chris said, grabbing Toby's hand and pulling him into a chair. "What about you and me? I mean, you probably hate me now, right? You probably hope you never have to see me again after this is over, right?"

Toby looked into his lover`s eyes and sighed. "Chris, I can't really give you a definitive answer on all that just now. I'm still...processing everything you said. If you're wondering if what you told me bothers me, well then, of course. How could it not? But I am not going to judge you, Chris. I know some horrible things have happened to you and I can't even pretend to know how they affected you.

"If you're asking me, does it change the way I feel about you, then the answer is no. Although I gotta tell you it would be a lot easier if it did," Toby said and rubbed his hands together. "But what you did for me and for Harry, that took a lot of courage and I could never thank you enough for that."

Chris felt lighter than he had all day. "Are you saying that we still have a chance? That you still love me?"

"Jesus, Keller," Toby said, chuckling. "It's not like you can just decide one day to erase feelings you have just because you don't want them. Of course, I still love you. That's never been a question; not for me. I just need to figure out if I can deal with all the shit you just threw at me."

Keller couldn't help smiling. Even though the answer wasn't exactly what he hoped for, it was better than what he expected.

"Listen, I need to go someplace and think about this. You let them take you to lock up and keep your mouth shut. Your arraignment is tomorrow and I'll be there. I'm going to confer with Marcus Cowan. He's one of the best criminal lawyers in the state."

"Hey, Toby, don't. I can't afford no fancy lawyer. I still haven't finished paying you back."

"Are you kidding? You saved Harry's life. This one's on me," Toby said, smiling. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Toby, you aren't seriously going to pay for this man's defense?!" Harrison Beecher exclaimed when Toby returned.

"Dad, he's completely innocent of the kidnapping. The man who took Harry was a friend of his. Chris risked everything to bring Harry back."

"Then why won't he testify against him?"

"I told you, Dad, Chris doesn't want to rat out a friend. But I've come up with a rather ingenious plan if I do say so myself," Toby said with a grin.

"For what?"

"Convincing Ronnie to confess to the crime all on his own."

Toby pounded hard on Ronnie Barlog's door that evening. He looked at his watch as he waited for an answer. It was after 7. Ronnie could not have gone out yet this evening.

A few moments later, Ronnie opened the door warily. He looked at Toby, recognition dawning in his eyes.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Toby pushed the door open, surprising the bulkier man. "Oh come on, Ronnie, let's not play games. You know who I am and I know who you are. I also know that you kidnapped my son yesterday."

"I don't know what you're talking about, man."

"Now, now, Ronnie. I really don't like liars. Chris told me everything."

"That rat fuck!"

"Don't worry. It was lawyer-client privilege so I can't repeat any of it."

Ronnie visibly relaxed at this news. "So what are you doing here?"

"I'm going to convince you to confess to the crime, Ronnie," Toby said.

"You're crazy, rich boy. Get the fuck outta here."

"I don't think so, Ronnie. Let's see, what would happen if Chris told police the whole story? Your role in the kidnapping? The whole auto theft ring?" Toby asked, a catty smirk on his face. "I think maybe you'd either end up serving a long time in prison for kidnapping or you'd have to testify about the whole ring, which would probably piss off your boss. Am I right? He might like to see you dead, Ronnie."

Ronnie started to get agitated again, fear spread across his face. "Chris wouldn't."

"He might if I convinced him. See, I don't like seeing an innocent man go to prison."

"Innocent?! He killed three guys! I can tell the D.A. all about that."

"Save your breath, Ronnie. I know all about that. It might save you some jail time but it's not going to save you from your boss. You're still going to have to tell the police about the auto ring and then you'll be dead."

Ronnie exhaled loudly and sat down on his couch feeling defeated.

"So instead of ending up dead, you're going to confess to kidnapping Harry. You're going to say you decided to steal the car on a lark and you didn't know the child was in the car, which is true. You're not to mention the car theft ring so you can keep yourself alive. You're not going to mention Chris Keller's crimes. You also have to explain all of this to your boss so Chris is not in any danger from him. In exchange, I will pay for the cost of your lawyer and I will testify on your behalf. Do we have a deal?"

"How do you know I won't back out on my part of the deal later? Decide to testify against Chris?"

"Then Chris will reveal your role in the car theft ring and you'll be a dead man," Toby said, hoping Ronnie would not figure out that Chris would most likely be dead, too, in such a scenario.

Ronnie thought about it for a minute and sighed. "Okay but I better get reduced time for giving myself up."

"I think Mr. Cowan will be able to help with that. In the meantime, let's go visit Enrique Morales."

Part 14

As Toby drove Ronnie over to the shop, images of Chris beating and raping those boys kept running through his head. Stop it, he told himself. Concentrate on Morales. What the heck am I going to say to him? How am I going to convince him that Chris is going to keep his mouth shut?

In his mind's eye, Toby felt himself choking and gasping with a cord around his throat. He knew it could have been him. He could have been lying in the cold ground if not for some dumb luck.

Toby swerved the car over to the side of the road.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Ronnie barked at him.

But Toby couldn't speak. He mumbled something incoherent and stumbled out of the car and knelt down in the grass. He stomach heaved and the contents came hurtling up at the speed of sound.

Ronnie had stepped out of the car to see what was wrong but stepped back when he saw Toby throwing up. "Eww. Now, that is pretty fucking disgusting."

"Get back in the car, Barlog," Toby snapped. When his stomach calmed, he stood up and sat back in the car, breathing deeply.

"So, I'm guessing Chris' confession is probably getting to you a little bit, huh?"

"Shut the fuck up, Barlog."

"Sorry, man. Just trying to make conversation."

Toby ignored him and reached over to the glove compartment. Inside he found a small bottle of water. He rinsed his mouth and spit outside. Then he took a long drink. He put the bottle back and closed the door.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Toby said and started driving again. He found a piece of gum in his jacket pocket and popped it in his mouth.

"I did the same thing when Chris told me."


"Threw up," Barlog explained.


"Yeah, well, he's had issues with the whole gay thing as long as I can remember. He's had sex with a lot of guys but I'm pretty sure that Mark Caraci was the first one he killed."

"Look, Ronnie, if you're trying to make me feel better, don't. Just keep your mouth shut."

"Sure, I understand," Barlog nodded. "But you should know something. And I can't believe I am saying this. I know Chris really cares for you."

Toby turned to look at Ronnie for a second, curiosity on his face.

"Yeah, I knew it that time I first saw you at the bar. The way he looked at you. I never saw him look at anybody that way. Not even his wives and I was at every one of that fucker's weddings! Cost me a fortune! Anyway, I thought you would want to know that."

"Thanks," said Toby, feeling oddly touched. "You haven't spoken to Morales yet today, have you?"

"No, I was waiting to hear from Chris," Barlog said. "You can pull in there."

Toby nodded and parked the car. He looked at his watch. It was almost 1:30 p.m. "Is he going to be here?"

Barlog shrugged. "I'm not usually here this early."

Toby got out of the car and Ronnie followed suit. They opened the door to the shop. There was no one in site. Ronnie pointed towards the office and they headed in that direction. When they got to the door, it was opened by Morales' bodyguard.

He didn't speak, just waited for them to state their business.

"Deke, we gotta talk to Morales. It's urgent," Ronnie said.

Deke nodded toward Toby.

"It's Tobias Beecher. He's a lawyer."

Deke walked back inside, closing the door. He came back out a minute later and pointed at Ronnie to go inside. Ronnie started to step inside but Toby restrained him.

"Uh uh, pal. I go in with Barlog or we're leaving."

Deke considered the lawyer, who was almost a foot shorter than himself.

"Mr. Morales doesn't take orders."

"Yeah, well, then tell him he can read all about it in the papers," Toby said and turned to leave, his arm still on Ronnie.

"Wait," Deke said and went back inside.

"Jesus, who does this Morales think he is? The fucking king or something?" Toby remarked impatiently.

Deke came back out, leaving the door open for the two of them to enter.

"Come in, gentlemen. My name is Enrique Morales," he said, looking at Toby. He held out his hand.

Toby took it. "Tobias Beecher. I'm an attorney."

"So Deke informs me. What brings you here today?

"There was incident last night involving your, ahem, auto business that Mr. Barlog here would like to explain."

Barlog opened his mouth to explain but Morales held his hand up to stop him. "And what would your business be?" he asked, still looking at Toby.

"When Mr. Barlog finishes, I will explain."

"Go on then."

"Well, Mr. Morales, late last night, I was short on, um, inventory," he said, choosing his words carefully. He didn't want Morales to know yet that Toby knew the whole story about the auto ring. "So my crew and I worked longer than usual and I spotted a car but neglected to notice that there was a child inside."

"What?" Morales asked quietly, leaning forward in his chair.

Ronnie put his head down. "Yes, sir, I know. I fucked up. I panicked. When I discovered the child in the backseat, I went to Chris Keller for help."

"Is this the kidnapping case I heard about on the television?"

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."

"Ronnie, Ronnie, Ronnie. What am I going to do with you?" he asked as if scolding a child. "Tell me the rest."

Toby interrupted. "As it happened, the child who was taken was my son. And Christopher Keller is a friend of mine. When Ronnie took my son over to Chris' apartment, Chris recognized him and brought him home to me. I am very grateful for that and I don't want to see Mr. Keller punished for a crime he didn't commit.

"At the same time, I certainly don't want Mr. Keller to reveal any of your business dealings and put his life at risk," Toby said slowly and carefully. He could see Morales was listening closely. "So I have convinced Mr. Barlog to confess to his crime, omitting his association with you, in exchange for paying for his defense. I will also testify on his behalf."

"I see," Morales said, considering everything he had heard. "Why would you want to help the man who kidnapped your son?"

"Well, I do realize it was a mistake, even though I was terrified for over two hours about Harry's disappearance. And, as I said, Mr. Keller is a close friend and I want to help him for risking his own freedom to bring Harry home."

Morales nodded as if he understood.

"There is also the matter of Mr. Keller's other, um, past criminal activities, which you and Mr. Barlog are privy to. I want to be certain these incidents do not come to light."

"And for that, you are guaranteeing me Keller's silence regarding my operations?"


"I can certainly see how Keller and I could come to a mutual understanding. But how are we to guarantee Barlog's silence in either of these matters?" Morales asked as if Ronnie were not in the room. Ronnie looked from one man to the other as they spoke.

"Well, for my part, the cost of Marcus Cowan as his defense attorney and my own testimony should allow Barlog to receive only probation on the kidnapping charge. I'm certain you can probably come up with your own, ahem, incentives."

Morales smiled. "Yes, indeed, I can," he said, giving Ronnie a sharp look.

"Hey, boss, I value my life. I ain't gonna squeal. I swear," Ronnie said, holding his hands up at chest level as if surrendering.

"As a further gesture of my respect for you, I would like to offer you a cash gift of $100,000," Toby said, hoping he wasn't insulting Morales with either the offer or the amount.

Ronnie whistled at the amount. "Hey, why don't I get any cash?"

"Shut up," Toby and Morales echoed together.

Morales looked at Toby and smiled. "I accept."

"So you guarantee Keller's safety from both you and any member of your organization?'

"I do."

"I'll have the money delivered by this evening."

Morales stood up then. "Nice doing business with you," he said, shaking Toby's hand.

Ronnie followed Toby out to the car. "Now what?"

"I take you to the police station to confess. I already called Marcus Cowan. He'll be meeting us there around 3 p.m."

"So I wait until he gets there before I confess?"


"Hey, Toby, seriously, why didn't you offer me any money?"

"I can't imagine you'll have much use for it in prison."

"But my mother could use it. She's on disability."

"Fine, Ronnie. I'll make sure she gets a monthly allowance while you're in prison. Okay?"

"Thanks, man," Ronnie said, smiling. Never thought I'd be smiling about going to prison, he thought.

Toby waited with Ronnie at the police station until Marcus Cowan arrived. Toby gave Cowan a retainer check and introduced the two men. He detailed what had happened but omitted the meeting with Morales and all discussion pertaining to Chris' crimes.

After leaving Ronnie in Cowan's capable hands, Toby rushed off to the courthouse and filed a motion to dismiss all the charges against Chris. Toby then drove back to the police station and got a copy of the confession from Cowan. Ronnie had been taken into custody.

"Thanks, Marcus."

"Good luck with your friend," Cowan said, as they shook hands.

Chris had to wait until the morning for his release hearing. Toby went to the courthouse before the hearing to tell Chris everything that had transpired the previous day.

"So, you went to see Morales, eh?"

"Yeah, he seemed like a pretty fair guy," Toby said, but didn't tell Chris about the money he paid Morales.

"Toby, I can't thank you enough for everything you've done. I know all this shit has really been hard for you. Dealing with Harry's kidnapping and then listening to me confess to those..."

"Okay, Chris. I don't really want to rehash that now," Toby said, bristling.

"Sorry. I just wanted you to know I appreciate everything you've done."

"I know that Chris. I do," Toby said, but couldn't manage to meet Chris' eyes. His head was still filled with images of those dead boys. He had been unable to sleep very well the night before. He dreamt about Chris attacking him, woke up shaking and was unable to get back to sleep. He felt very edgy today.

Chris sensed Toby's aloofness. "Toby, do you regret what you did?"

Toby snorted and shrugged. "Look, Chris, this hearing should be pretty cut and dried," he said, trying to change the subject.

Chris stood up and walked up to Toby, placing his hands on Toby's arms. "Hey, look at me."

Toby took a deep breath, trying to chase away the fear creeping up his spine. This is Chris, he told himself. He is not going to hurt me. "What?"

"Toby, I think you're having a problem with me that you don't want to talk about."

The blond man shook Chris' hands off and walked across the room. "Jesus, Chris. What do you expect? Yesterday, you told me you tortured and murdered three college kids. What the fuck do you want from me? To fall into your arms with a sigh?" he snapped.

"No, Toby. But I didn't ask you to help me. You volunteered, remember? I was ready to keep my mouth shut and do the time. It was your idea to get me out of this. So don't put this guilt crap on me. I know what I did was wrong. It was horrible, unconscionable and I have to live with that for the rest of my life," Chris said, clearly irritated but keeping his temper in check. "But if you want us to have a relationship - and you indicated to me that you did - then don`t shut me out. Keeping all this shit buried, never talking about it, isn't going to make it go away. It's only going to fester and eat away at you."

Toby laughed derisively. "Oh God. A few weeks in a shrink's office and now you're an expert on mental health?"

"I never said that. Forget it," Chris said, getting angry. "Do what you want. You're going to anyway."

"Oh? And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Just exactly what I said. You never listen to anybody. You get something in your head and you just go full steam ahead without consulting anyone. Like when you insisted on telling your parents about us."

Toby squinted his eyes; his mouth set in a hard line. "Fuck you, Chris. At least I don`t beat on people who disagree me."

Chris sighed and closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Toby. That was the wrong thing to say."

"You're not fucking kidding."

"I just..." Chris started and rubbed his forehead. "I just don't want you to start drifting away from me because you can't deal with what I told you. If you want out, then do it quick and clean. I think your indifference would kill me, Toby," he said, his voice choking.

Toby sat down and closed his eyes. "Chris," he whispered, his voice fraught with exhaustion. "I just don't know what I want right now. I didn't sleep very well last night. I had nightmares that you were trying to kill me."

"Jesus, Toby."

"So, part of me wants to run away and never see again, never think about you. But I can't do that. There's too much between us. I just need time to sort it all out. Can you let me have that?"

Chris touched his shoulder. "Of course, Toby. I just want you to promise me that if you're feeling angry or confused about it, you'll talk to me; yell at me, if you want. I just don't want you to clam up and let all the anger eat away at you; at us."

Toby nodded. "I'll try but it's not going to be easy for me to do that," he said and sighed. "Come on, let's go get you out of jail."

Chris was released after the hearing and Toby volunteered to drop him off at home.

"This is a switch. You giving me a ride," Chris said, smiling.

"Yeah. It feels good to be driving again."

"You wanna come in for a minute?" Chris asked when they arrived at his apartment building.

"Uh, no. I have some work to catch up on," Toby said.

"Hey, am I going to see you?"

Toby sighed and his shoulders sagged in defeat. "Yes. No. I don't know, Chris. I just need..."

"Hey, it's okay. Just call me when you're ready," Chris said, touching Toby's arm.

Toby felt a spark of heat travel through him. He pulled his hand away as if scalded. "Yeah, okay."

"Listen, Toby, thanks for everything you did."

Toby looked into Chris' eyes. "Thanks for bringing Harry back."

Chris nodded and got out of the car.

When Toby got back to the office, Bea handed him two messages - one from Marcus Cowan and one from some guy named Pierce Taylor.

"Bea, who's this Taylor guy?"

"Oh, didn't I write it down? He said he was with the FBI."

"Oh, okay. Thanks," Toby said and walked into his office, wondering why the FBI wanted to talk to him.

He dialed Cowan's office first and asked for Marcus.

"Hello, Toby? Thanks for calling. Listen, Ronnie Barlog has asked to see you."

"Me? Why?"

"Something to do with your friend Keller and an FBI investigation."

"Really? And that's all he told you?"

"Yeah. He insisted he had to talk to you and only you. I advised him against it but he isn't listening."

"Okay. I'll go see him. Where is he?"

"He's still at County lock-up until his sentencing hearing next week."

"Okay. Thanks."

He grabbed his briefcase and walked out the door.

"Listen, Bea. If Taylor calls again, tell him I've been in court all day and that I checked my messages and will try to get back to him later today."

"Okay, boss."

Toby grabbed a quick sandwich on the way to the jail. He arrived at 1:15 p.m.

"So, Barlog, what'd you want to talk about?"

"Oh, thank God. Toby, the FBI came by yesterday after I was arraigned. They wanted to offer me a deal to testify against Chris."

Toby felt his heart stop momentarily and then begin to beat like a triphammer. "Ronnie, what are you talking to me for? You're supposed to be talking to Cowan."

"He doesn't know any of this shit - Chris' murders, the auto theft ring. I don't want to rehash all that shit."

"Well I certainly can't advise you to lie to the FBI but you made a promise that you would keep your mouth shut."

"They said they could guarantee me a three-year sentence for the auto theft. Right now, I'm looking at 10 years, Toby."

"Well, Ronnie, it sounds like a sweet deal. But is it worth the price? You snitch on Chris and Morales is going to think he's next. Then, you're going to have two enemies after you."

Ronnie shook his head. "I know, man. That's why I don't know what to do."

"What kind of information does Taylor have about those murders?"

"Not much. He can place Chris at the bars where the guys were picked up. But there's not physical evidence. Chris was very thorough."

Toby felt his stomach lurch. A cold, calculating murderer. This is who you want to share your life with, Toby? he asked himself.

"It sounds like you'd be his whole case."

"I know. And it's not like Chris deserves to walk on this. He did those murders."

"Well, Ronnie, you have to make this decision on your own because I am not going to tell you what to do. I'm not your lawyer anymore. You'd just better remember that you're going to be doing a lot of running if you snitch," he said and called for the guard.

Back at the office, Toby placed a call to Taylor.

"Mr. Beecher, thank you for calling. I would like to arrange a time for us to meet."

"About what?"

"Christopher Keller."

"What about him?" Toby asked, playing ignorant.

"He's a suspect in a series of murders."

"I'm afraid I can't help you, Mr. Taylor. Christopher Keller is my client. Even if he shared anything with me, I'm bound by attorney-client privilege."

"It's my understanding that you had non-professional relationship with Mr. Keller before you became his attorney."

What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Toby thought angrily. "Look, Taylor, I have nothing to offer you."

"Humor me. Let me meet with you. I'll ask the questions. You can decide whether to share."

Toby was silent for a moment. If he refused, that might make Taylor more suspicious than he already was. "Okay. Come to my office in a hour."

Part 15

"Can we cut to the chase? I've got a lot of work to do," Toby said after Taylor walked into his office.

"Fine with me," Taylor said, sitting. "How long have you know Christopher Keller?"

"Since last July."

"So you met him while he was on trial for the grocer`s murder?"


"Were you his attorney?"

"Look, I'm sure you already know the answer to that, so why are you here?"

"I just want to establish that Keller did not share attorney-client privilege with you."

"Oh, didn't he?" Toby asked, chuckling. "I was working for the PD in charge of his case. I was paid by the PD's office and by Christopher Keller himself."

"Keller paid his bill?"

"Not in full, but yes."

"I see."

"So, are we done?"

"Not quite. I understand you also had a personal relationship with Keller."

Toby stiffened. "Meaning what?"

Taylor looked at Toby, curiosity on his face. "You shared an apartment with him after you split with your wife? You were friends?"

Toby relaxed. "Yes."

"At any time during your personal relationship with Keller, did he mention having met Mark Caraci, Byam Lewis or Bryce Tibbits?"

Toby paused for a moment. "No, he did not."

"Did he ever mention killing any of these young men? Or any others?"

Any others?! "During my personal relationship with Keller? No, he did not," Toby said, speaking very carefully. He didn't want this conversation to come back and bite him in the ass.

"You're certain?"

"Very. I think any mention of murder would probably stick out in my memory," Toby drawled sarcastically.

Taylor opened his briefcase and pulled out a folder. He placed it on Toby's desk and slid out photographs of the dead men. He spread them across the desktop for Toby to see.

All of the men were naked with ligature marks around their necks. Their faces were swollen with black and blue marks. There were shots from various angles; some of the men still tied to trees, on the ground with their eyes open and glassy. There were traces of blood on their faces and near their buttocks. They looked impossibly young. All of them had short, dark hair.

Toby felt his stomach lurch as he glanced at the photos. His vision blurred. He swallowed hard and looked at Taylor, willing his vision to clear.

"Are you certain?" Taylor asked again.

Toby felt a ball of rage hurtle through him. "Get the fuck out of here," he growled at Taylor.

The FBI agent gathered the photos and walked out without another word.

Toby leaned back in his chair after Taylor left. His mind was reeling with images of the dead boys. Damn Taylor! He wanted to wipe away his memory of those photos but he couldn't. Chris had killed those men -- those boys. None of them was old enough to drink, Toby thought.

Toby felt a headache forming at the back of his skull and knew he had to get his mind off of Taylor, the photos, and Chris. He turned on his computer and opened a brief he had been working on. He tried writing some more but his mind kept drifting back to the pictures.

"Damn," he said aloud and stood up, walking out to Bea's desk. "I need to go out for a bit. If anyone needs me, call me on the cell," he told her.

"Okay, Toby," she said, surprising him.

"Toby, is it now?" he smiled, teasing her.

"Well, you told me to call you that!" she said, sounding slightly alarmed.

"I'm just teasing you, Bea. Toby is fine."

Toby got in the car and drove to Chris' apartment. Toby had no idea what he would say but he knew he had to speak to Chris. He saw the bike parked outside, so he knew Chris was home.

He knocked on the door loudly and checked his watch. It was a few minutes after 12. Chris might not be up yet, he thought. Too bad.

Toby banged on the door harder and waited another couple of minutes. Then he heard a loud grunt from inside and the sound of footsteps.

"Who is it?" Chris yelled from what sounded like a distance.

"It's Toby."

Chris opened the door, his face groggy from sleep; his cheeks covered with stubble. He was bare-chested and wearing boxers shorts. Jesus, does he have to look this good in the morning? Toby thought, feeling a spike of warmth run through him.

"Chris, I need to talk to you."

Chris broke into a sleepy smile.

"Can I come in?"

"Yeah, sure," Chris said, moving aside. Toby walked into the living and turned to face Chris.

"Agent Taylor of the FBI called me, Chris."

Chris' smile slid away. "And?"

"And he showed me pictures of the murder scenes, Chris."

Chris flinched and turned his eyes away from Toby. "I'm sorry you had to see those."

"Yeah, well that makes two of us, Keller. They made me sick. I wanted to rip them up right in front of him! If you had been in the room, I swear, I would have thrown something at you!" Toby said, the volume of his voice rising as he spoke. "What you did to those boys sickens me, Keller. And they were just boys."

"I know, Toby," Chris said, still not looking at Toby.

"How could you do that to innocent boys? They never did anything to hurt you! You didn't even know their names, I'll bet!"

Chris glanced at Toby. "Not when I killed them, no. But afterwards, I did. When their names were in the paper."

"Jesus!" Toby yelled, swinging his hands in the air in exasperation.

"Ya know, Keller, the more I learn about this, the more disgusted I become. Just when I think I'm beginning to get some kind of handle on this, some new and foul fact comes to light. How could you think I'd get past this?"

"I didn't, Toby. I was just hoping," Chris whispered.

"Well, I don't think I can do it, Chris. I mean, I know what you did for Harry. I do. But these murders...and those pictures...I just don't know if I can...." Toby rambled incoherently.

"It's okay, Toby. I understand. It was a long shot."

Toby looked at Chris angrily. "So that's it, then? You're just going to give up?"

"Huh? Isn't that why you came here? To tell me to get lost?"

Toby shook his head. "I don't know why I came here," he shouted, pacing across the room. "I came here to tell you that what you did makes me sick! That's what I came here for."

"So you need to yell at me? That's fine. Go ahead. I deserve it. You wanna hit me? Do that, too. I won't stop you," he said, holding his arms out in surrender.

"I don't want to hit you, Chris," Toby said and paused. "Actually, I do want to hit you, but I'm not going to. That's not going to solve anything."

"What do you want from me, Toby?"

"I don't know!" Toby shouted, his voice an anguished wail.

Chris fought the urge to pull Toby into his arms to comfort him.

"Toby?" Chris asked quietly. "If you want to walk away from me, why are you still here?"

And, of course, Chris hit the nail right on the head. Why couldn't he walk away? Toby flopped down in the nearest chair, leaning his head in his hands. He felt a sob well up in his chest but he swallowed it, breathing deeply.

"Yeah, well, I guess that's the problem. Isn't it, Chris?"

Chris sat down opposite Toby on the couch. "Talk to me, Toby."

"I'm terrified Chris. I'm scared that you're going to lose your temper again and kill me. I wonder how I can expose my children to you after what you've done," Toby explained, without malice.

Chris' face folded in a mask of pain.

"I'm even more scared that walking away from you will be more devastating. I'm afraid the police are going to find a way to put you in jail. I guess I don't understand how you could be such a gentle, passionate lover with me and also do what you did to those boys. But you're under my skin and in my heart and I can't imagine never touching you again; never kissing you. I guess I hate myself for that," Toby said, releasing a shaky sigh. "I feel so weak."

Chris reached out and clasped Toby's hand hesitantly. Toby didn't pull away.

"Chris, I really need to talk to someone about this. Someone besides you. I feel like I'm being torn apart," Toby said and looked into Chris' eyes. "I want to talk to Dryer about this. Can I?"

Chris winced but didn't pull away from Toby. Chris saw the trust in Toby's expression and nodded.

Toby stood up then, extracting his hand from Chris'. "I need to get back to work."

"Toby, wait. I need...I...uh..." Chris started, fumbling for the right words. "Can I just hold you for a minute? I've missed you," he whispered.

"Me, too," Toby whispered and wrapped his arms around Chris' neck, pulling him close.

Chris closed his eyes as he felt Toby press against him; enjoyed the feeling of Toby's arms enclosing him. He breathed in Toby's scent and shivered. It's been too long since I've held him this close, Chris thought.

Toby felt a sense of relief as Chris embraced him. It was somehow so right. He relaxed and burrowed into Chris' neck inhaling the smell of his skin and sweat. His arm reflexively stroked his lover's back in a soothing pattern. Despite his comfort, Toby did not want Chris to get the wrong idea, so he pulled back.

Not wanting to break contact, Chris cupped his hand around the back of Toby's head, holding him tenderly.

"Toby, I want you to know something before you go," Chris said and paused, gathering his thoughts. "I've never felt this way before, ya know? I've never...uh...loved anyone before; not like this. I'm certain of it."

Toby swallowed hard and looked into Chris' eyes. Toby was flooded with overwhelming emotion and his were starting to tear. He didn't speak, but conveyed his feelings with his eyes.

"And I've never been loved like this before," Chris continued. "So unconditionally. And sometimes I just can't believe it. But you sticking by me through all this...You're making me start to believe it."

Toby knew he had to leave right now or he wouldn't leave at all. He leaned toward Chris and pressed their lips together all too briefly. Then he pulled back and walked to the door, his legs still shaky. His lips were still tingling from the contact as he got inside his car. He took a deep breath, willing his heartbeat to return to normal.

Toby grabbed some lunch on the way back and arrived in the office around 2 p.m. He greeted Bea, who looked at him strangely. He was still thinking about Chris. Did it show?

"What is it, Bea?"

"Marcus Cowan called."

"Is something wrong?"

"He said to tell you Ronnie Barlog is dead."

"What? How?"

"I don't know. Marcus said you could call him. He's in his office until around 3."

"Thanks, Bea." He walked into his office and sat at his desk. He picked up the phone just as Bea buzzed him.

"Toby? It's Agent Taylor on line 3."

"Thanks, Bea."

He punched the button for line 3. "Yeah?"

"Mr. Beecher, this is Agent Taylor."

"What do you want?"

"Do you know a man named Ronnie Barlog?"

Shit. "Yes, of course. He kidnapped my son."

"He was found murdered this morning."

"Yes, I heard."

"Oh? From who?"

"His attorney. Marcus Cowan."

"The man you were paying to defend Mr. Barlog?"

"Your point?"

"We were talking with Mr. Barlog about testifying against Christopher Keller in the homosexual murders. Keller had good reason to want him dead."

"So why are you talking to me instead of questioning Keller?" Toby snapped.

"I think you had good reason to want him dead as well."

"Me?" Toby asked, laughing. "If that's true, why would I pay for his lawyer? Offer to testify on his behalf?"

"Because you were trying to protect Christopher Keller from the kidnapping charge. I think you still are protecting him - or trying to - from the homosexual murder charges."

"I'm hanging up now. If you want to talk to me again, get a subpoena."

Fuck, Toby thought. Could anything else go wrong?

He dialed Marcus' number.

"Marcus Cowan."

"Hey, Marcus. Tobias Beecher. I got your message."

Marcus sighed. "Yeah. Detective Ziegler came by this morning with the news. He said he's going to have to talk to you and to Christopher, as well."

"Thanks for the heads up. Did the police tell you how or when it happened?"

"Last night, after midnight, they said. He was shot in the back of the head."

Well, that was two points in Chris' favor -- it happened while Chris was working and the MO was definitely not his, Toby thought. Then it dawned on him. Morales. He must have found out Ronnie had spoken to the FBI. Oh God, Chris could be in danger.

"Thanks, Marcus. I've gotta run."

He hung up the phone and immediately dialed Chris.


"Chris, it's Toby. I..."

"Miss me already?" Chris joked.

"Listen, Chris. It's important. Did you work last night?"

"Yeah, but why..."

"Did you ever leave the bar during your shift? To run an errand, go for a walk?"

"No. What's going on?"

"And you worked until when?"


"Okay, okay. They found Ronnie Barlog dead this morning. He was murdered."

"Dead? Jesus."

"So what time did you leave the bar?"

"What? Umm, I guess it was around 3. Why?"

"You might be a suspect."

"What?! Why?"

"Because the FBI had been talking to Ronnie about you; trying to get him to testify against you in the homosexual murders."

Chris was silent for a moment and Toby could sense his anger building. "When did you find this out?"


"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I forgot!"

"You just saw me an hour ago."

"I know that! But other things were on my mind! Like those fucking pictures of dead children!" Toby shouted and immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry, Chris. I'm sorry." He paused but Chris remained silent. "I just wanted to give you a heads up. The police are going to come and ask questions. Just tell them you were working and give them the names of anybody who can back you up. Okay?"

"Fine," he said evenly, but Toby could sense an undercurrent of hostility.

"Oh and you might want to keep your eye out for Morales, just in case. If he killed Ronnie, then he might be keeping an eye on you," Toby said. "Call me later?"

Chris hung up the phone without answering.

Jesus, Toby thought, why can't I just keep my big mouth shut?

Part 16

"Come on, guys! It's time to go!" Toby yelled as he stood in the middle of the living room at the house where he once lived a normal life, so to speak. It was Saturday and Toby was taking the kids for the day. Anything to keep his mind off Chris.

"Toby, what's wrong?" Gen asked.

"Nothing," he said, studiously avoiding her eyes. He picked up Harry's diaper bag. "Holly! Gary! Let's go!" Harry watched him from the playpen.

"Okay, Toby. If you don't want to talk about it, that's fine."

"I'm talking about it, okay? With Dryer."

"I see. So, that's working out well then?" Gen said, deadpan.

"Well, my appointment's not until Wednesday, Gen."

"So, then, you haven't talked about whatever's bothering you."

"Look, I'll be fine until Wednesday. It's not an emergency or anything. Don't worry." Holly and Gary strolled leisurely out into the living room. "Where have you been? I've been calling you for 10 minutes!"

"We were out in the backyard, Daddy."

Toby looked at Gen. "Why didn't you tell me they were in the backyard?"

"You were too busy yelling. I didn't want to interrupt."

"Very funny," he said, annoyed. He looked at the kids. "Okay, get your jackets on."

"Look, Toby, don't take this out on the kids today, okay? If you need to talk, I'll be around."

Toby looked at her and nodded as he put Harry's jacket on. It was a cool spring day and the kids wanted to go to the zoo. They piled into the car and arrived at the zoo 20 minutes later.

As Toby put Harry into his stroller, he realized that he hadn't brought the kids to the zoo since they'd been here with Chris. Maybe this wasn't the wisest choice, he thought. Gary insisted on going into the bat cave first, which upset Holly. She screamed and Toby had to rush them back to the outside. Then she didn't want to leave the elephants, so she and Gary stood there arguing.

"Jesus Christ! Can't you two agree about anything?" Toby yelled, prompting his two eldest children to open their mouths in mock horror.

"Oh, Daddy, you said a bad word!" Holly gasped. Gary nodded. Now they agree, Toby thought, exasperated.

"Un ca kiss. Un ca kiss," Harry muttered as Toby apologized to Gary and Holly for swearing.

"What, Harry?"

"Un ca kiss," he said and pointed towards some trees. Toby looked up and before he could make out what Harry had identified, Holly and Gary went running toward the figure, screaming with delight.

"Uncle Chris!" they shouted and Toby finally saw him. He felt his heart drop to his shoes and then start thumping like a dog's tail. As Chris got closer, with his hands linked with Gary and Holly, Toby saw he was smiling. He wore an old pair of jeans and a black leather jacket to keep warm.

Toby felt weak in the knees suddenly. Damn, he thought, I just saw him three days ago. How does he do this to me every time?

"Hey, Toby."

"Chris," he said. "What brings you here?"

Chris saw the suspicious look in Toby's eyes. "I didn't follow you, if that's what you're thinking. I've been coming here every Saturday for the last few weeks. I just walk around and look at the animals. I used to love doing that when I was a kid. Not that I got to do it very often. Anyway, I like coming here. It helps me think."

Toby nodded. The kids were hopping around Chris, excitedly telling him what they had seen and where they were going next. Even Harry got in on the act, reaching for Chris from his stroller. Chris looked at Toby for permission and then picked Harry up.

"Boy, you guys sure have grown since the last time I saw you."

"We've missed you, Uncle Chris," Holly said, batting her girlish eye lashes at him. Is no one immune to this man's charms? Toby wondered.

"Yeah, well I've missed you guys too."

"Hey, you want go look at the tigers with us?" Gary asked.

Chris looked at Toby before answering. Toby nodded. "Sure."

With that, Chris put Harry back in the stroller and they all walked towards the tiger's den.

"So, Toby, what's going on?"

"You mean, since I saw you -- oh -- three days ago?"

Chris chuckled.

"Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to Dryer yet, if that's what you're wondering."

"Not really."

"You're not seeing him, are you?"

"Naw, he referred me to another guy when he realized who I was; name of Watkins. He's pretty cool."

"How often do you go?"

Chris took a deep breath. "Well, Watkins wanted me to come twice a week when I first started going. I couldn't even argue money cause all the services at Case Center are based on income," he said, shrugging. "So I went. Didn't have much else to do with my free time."

"And now?"

"Well, I go once a week, I guess. But, I'll be honest. Sometimes I don't go. We've been getting into some of that childhood shit and it's harder than I thought it would be, ya know? Dragging up all that shit I thought was buried."

Toby nodded.

"I'm even starting to remember stuff that was long forgotten. I feel pretty wiped out when the session's over."

"Hey, Uncle Chris, look! The tiger is sleeping. Can you make him wake up?" Gary said when they reached the tiger's den.

"Oh, I don't think ya wanna yell at a sleeping tiger."

"Why not?" Holly asked.

"Because," Chris whispered, leaning towards them. The kids got closer to hear him, then he pounced, grabbing them by the shoulders. "He might try to eat you!" They screamed in fear and then started giggling.

Chris tickled them; they screamed and giggled some more. Harry, worried about missing out on the action, climbed out of his carriage and jumped on Chris' back. Toby watched the scene with a smile on his face.

After several minutes of horsing around, the group traveled to see the giraffes, buffalo and camels. Then the kids announced they were hungry. So they stopped at the snack bar for ice cream.

"So, have the police questioned you about Ronnie yet?" Toby asked.

"Yeah, but I was at work with lots of customers to collaborate my alibi. And I stayed after closing for about an hour to have a drink with my boss."

Toby let out a sigh of relief. "That's good."

"I didn't mention the car theft ring or Morales, even though I'm pretty sure he's the one who had Ronnie whacked."

"Yeah, me too. Are you worried Morales might come after you?" Toby asked.

"I went to see him after I spoke to you. Told him what was what. I think he trusts me. I hope he does. I'm still breathing, so I guess so."

Toby let out a breath then, just realizing he had been holding it while Chris answered his question.

"Daddy, can we go on the playground?" Holly asked after they had finished their cones. There were swings and slides right next to the snack bar.

"Sure. Keep a close eye on Harry. Okay?"

"Sure, Dad," Gary said and they were off.

"Toby, I..." Chris started at the same time Toby began speaking. Then they both laughed.

"You go first," Toby said.

"Toby, I miss you. I want to spend time with you. And before you open your mouth to mention how often we've seen each other these past couple of weeks, that's not what I mean. Talking to you in meeting rooms at the courthouse or a five-minute conversation about some damn pictures is not the kind of time I mean."

"Chris, I told you that AA..."

"I know that. And I am not asking you to break that rule..."

"It's not a rule. It's a guideline."

"Toby, will you shut up and listen?" said Chris, exasperated. "I need to see you. Ya know -- hang out, talk, go to the zoo with the kids. We don't have to fuck."



"We're in public here."

Chris chuckled as he watched Toby's face reddening. "My point is -- I need the contact. To share your life with you. To know I'm still important to you. I can wait for the sex," he said, surprised at himself.

"Do you honestly believe we can be in the same room alone together and keep our hands off each other?"

Chris gave him a predatory smile. "Well, I am pretty irresistible."

"Ha! You're pretty sure of yourself!"

Chris just grinned and laid back in the grass, with his hands behind his head, giving Toby a good view of his long, muscular form. Chris' jacket fell open, revealing a form-fitting white, cotton shirt tucked into the well-worn jeans. Toby took a deep breath and pulled his eyes off of Chris reluctantly. He scanned the playground and found the kids, relieved to see Harry was with Holly.


"So, what?"

"Can we try that? Spending time together?"

Before he could answer, Toby and Chris felt raindrops hitting them, lightly at first and then coming down harder. The kids came running and screaming toward them as Toby and Chris scooped them up and started heading toward the car.

"Can Uncle Chris come over?" Holly blurted out as Toby was strapping her in. The rain was coming down hard now and everyone was getting soaked.

Toby hesitated and looked over at Chris, who was buckling Harry in. "Chris?"

He nodded.

"Okay, sure."

The kids yelled in glee. Chris and Toby scrambled into the front seat and shut the doors. Their hair and clothes were dripping wet.

"What about your bike?" Toby asked.

"I put the cover on it and locked it before I went into the zoo. It should be fine."

Toby nodded. "Yeah, I can always bring you back later to get it. After the rain stops."

When they got back to the apartment, Toby and Chris helped the kids get into dry clothes.

"I don't know if I have anything that will fit you, Chris."

"I can probably squeeze into some sweatpants."

Toby searched through his drawers and found a pair. He remembered he had a couple of extra-large t-shirts he'd been given as gifts and never bothered to return. He handed the dry clothes to Chris, who went into the bathroom to change.

Toby slipped on a pair of fresh jeans and a sweatshirt. When Chris came out of the bathroom, Toby took his wet clothes and put them in the dryer along with the kids' stuff. They ordered pizza and the kids horsed around with Chris on the floor of the living room.

"Hey, Uncle Chris, wanna watch a movie with us? We rented Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," Gary asked.

"Oh, that's a great flick. I watched it when I was a kid."

"You did?!" Holly asked. "Wow, it must be an oooold movie."

"Now, listen here, young lady," Chris said, adopting an insulted tone. "I am not old."

"My Dad is old, so you must be too," Gary said, which made Chris laugh out loud.

Toby made some popcorn, while Chris set up the tape in the VCR. Soon they are settled in front of the t.v. The kids were spread out on the rug in front on the t.v., while Chris and Toby sat on the couch, each man hugging an arm with room enough for two more people between them.

Before long, the kids were absorbed in the movie, giggling over Jeremy and Jemima's attempts to get their Dad to save the car. Toby and Chris were doing their best not to look at each other, occasionally stealing glances.

When the movie got a little scary, Harry jumped up and climbed into Chris' lap. Chris smiled and let the little guy snuggle up, whispering soothing words to comfort Harry. Soon the other two were clamoring up on the couch, trying to get close to Chris. Toby shook his head in amusement as he watched the scene.

"I think my children have more fun with you than they do with me."

"Naw, they just missed me," Chris said.

"Me, too," Toby whispered so softly that Chris almost didn't hear it. He felt his heart constrict inside his chest.

After the movie was done, Chris helped Toby put the kids to bed, even reading them a bedtime story. Toby went to get Chris' clothes out of the dryer.

"Here. They're all nice and dry," Toby said, when Chris came out of the kids' room.

"Thanks." Chris went in the bathroom to change again. When Chris opened the door again a few minutes later, Toby could feel his heart pounding like a drum. Now what? he wondered, as he sat on the couch.

Chris walked back into the living room and picked up his still-damp jacket, holding it in his arms. "I left the clothes in the hamper," he said. "I guess I should get going."

Toby stood up and walked toward him. "Yeah, I guess. Let me walk you out."

He followed Chris to the door. Chris put his hand on the knob and started to turn it. "Chris," Toby said and Chris turned to face him. "Thanks for lending a hand with the kids today. It was a big help, really."

"No problem. You know I like your kids, Toby. They're great."

Toby looked down at the floor, his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. He wanted to say something but he didn't know what. "Chris, I..."

"Good night, Toby."

Toby looked up then. "Wait," he said and put his hand on Chris' shoulder. A small but palpable jolt shook him. Chris looked at Toby's hand and then back at his face, wondering where Toby was going to take this.

Toby could smell Chris' wonderful scent and he felt his resolve collapsing. He looked into those gorgeous, midnight-blue eyes and wanted to throw away all the precautions, all his reservations. He leaned towards Chris, moving his other hand up to his lover's neck.

"Toby..." Chris said, in a warning tone, but when Toby's lips met his, he pulled the blond fiercely against him. Their mouths warmed and tasted each other; their tongues gliding together.

Toby wrapped his arms around Chris' neck, pressing himself closer. Chris' arms came around Toby's back. Their bodies were humming like a single, living electrical wire. They were standing still and dancing.

The joining was bittersweet because Chris knew that Toby's guilt and confusion would rear its ugly head again before this was all over. He knew he had to put a stop to this before it went too far and ruined everything; all the progress they had made.

"Toby," he whispered, extracting his lips from Toby's. "We can't. You're not ready."

"Oh but I am, Chris," he said, his eyes alight with passion. He smiled seductively and tried to pull Chris close again, but the dark-haired man pulled back, placing his hands on Toby's shoulders.

"No, Toby. You only think you are," Chris said, swallowing hard. He willed his erection to go away so he could think coherently. He knew he had to do this for Toby; for them both. "I have to go."


Chris let go of Toby and turned the knob. "Yes," he said and closed the door behind him.

Chris walked quickly down the street, trying to find a cab. I hope I did the right thing. I have to believe I did. I have to, he thought as he walked. He knew without question that if he had stayed, Toby would have felt guilty in the morning and he would have found a way to blame Chris for it.

His body was still pleasantly pulsating from his contact with Toby. Jesus, am I crazy, he wondered. We haven't touched like that, kissed like that in months and I walk away? I have to be nuts. He stopped at the corner and pressed his hands to his eyes.

I did the right thing. I did, he told himself. Even if Toby didn't regret it tomorrow, he would regret it sooner or later. He knew Toby. He opened his eyes and saw a cab heading his way. He flagged it and got in. Told the drive to take him to the zoo so he could pick up his bike. Luckily the rain had stopped.

Half an hour later, he parked his bike and walked into a convenience store and bought a bottle of gin. He needed a few drinks before he would get to sleep tonight.

"Daddy, I'm hungry," Holly said, pulling Toby out of sleep. He looked at her sleepily and then glanced at the clock. 7:30 am. He groaned. Then he remembered she was still in the room.

"Okay, baby. Give me a minute, okay?"

She nodded and left the room. Toby closed his eyes and put his arm over his eyes. Then the events of last night came back to him. Chris. Chris and him touching, kissing. Chris stopping it and leaving.

Oh God, what did I do? I almost slept with Chris! Jesus Christ! I haven't even talked to Dryer about all of this, he thought. He jumped out of bed and relieved himself before heading into the kitchen. He wanted to put it all out of his mind.

"Okay, what does everybody want?"

"Pancakes," Holly yelled.

"Yeah!" said Gary. Harry echoed the sentiment from the floor of the living room, where he was playing with a pile of toys.

"Hey, how did Harry get out of bed?"

"I helped him, Daddy," Gary said.

"Next time, come get me."

"I did! You wouldn't wake up!"

"Oh God, I'm sorry. I guess I was up late last night." Tossing and turning, he thought.

After fixing their breakfast and settling Harry into his high chair, Toby's thoughts turned back to last night. The feel of Chris. The smell of Chris. It's like I'm addicted to him or something, he thought.

Despite the pleasant memories, Toby was glad Chris had stopped it from going further. I'm not ready, he thought. Although, he knew, his body would have gladly taken the journey. He also had some idea of what it took for Chris to walk away. He felt an odd sort of calm come over him as he thought about the choice Chris had made in light of Toby's overwhelming willingness to let nature takes its course.

As the kids were scrambling out of their seats and heading back to the television, the phone rang.


"Toby, it's me."

Chris. "Hi."

"How are you this morning?"

"I'm fine."


"Yeah," Toby said, smiling. "Listen, Chris. Thanks."

Then silence for a few moments.

"So I did the right thing?"

"You did the right thing, Chris."

"Okay, then. I'll talk to you later."

"Yeah, you will," Toby said and hung up the phone, a smile still plastered on his face.

Part 17

"Well?" Toby asked

"Well, what, Toby?"

"What should I do?"


"Are you kidding me here?"

"Toby, it's not my job to tell you what to do. I can only help you find direction; make it easier for you see things you might not otherwise see. It's up to you to decide what to do with that."

"Okay, then. Help me see what I'm supposed to do about Chris."

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know! That's why I'm asking you."

"Oh, but I think you do know."

"What?! If I knew, then why would I ask you?"

"Because you want your decision to be validated. You want someone else to tell you it's the right thing to do."

Toby opened his mouth to protest but then stopped to think about it. Haven't I done that with my whole life? Isn't that why I chose law school? Married Genevieve? Had babies?

"That may have been true in the past, but isn't this situation a little different? I mean, he killed three people! Shouldn't I be wary about continuing a relationship with someone who could potentially kill me? With someone who almost succeeded once?"

"Of course you should. I'm not questioning that."

"Then what? I don't understand what you're saying."

"I'm saying that you've already decided what you want to do. You just want someone to tell you it's the right decision."

"But I haven't decided!" Toby protested.

"Haven't you?" Dryer asked. "You invited him into your home, with your children. You must trust him an awfully lot to do that."

"Well, he did bring Harry back."

"I know. And you're grateful for that."

"Wait. What are you saying? That I want to take him back because I'm grateful?"

"No, I didn't say that."

"Then what are you saying?"

Dryer sighed. "Toby, I'm not saying anything. I cannot make your decisions for you. That is all I'm saying. And what's more, you don't really want me to."

"But what if I make the wrong decision?"

"What if you do? What's the worse that could happen?"

Toby laughed sardonically. "I could end up dead."

"Do you really think Chris is going to kill you?"

"No, but he's capable of it."

"And you're not?"

"What? I've never killed anyone, doctor."

"No, but aren't you capable of it? You almost hit that little boy when you were drunk. He could have died, right?"

"Well, yeah, but I wasn't exactly in control at the time. Besides, I'm not drinking anymore."

"The point I was trying to make, Toby, is that we can never be certain of anything. We have to go with our gut and hope everything turns out alright."

"Well, my gut is a little conflicted right now. I mean, my heart wants to be with Chris, no question. But my gut, my instincts, tell me to run."

"Maybe you need to talk with Chris about this some more. Would you like him to come to another session with you? Or perhaps you could join one of his with Dr. Watkins?"

Toby hesitated. "Uh, I don't know. I don't think that's going to help me."

"Why not? It's precisely the issue that's preventing you from moving forward -- Chris' tendency towards violence. You need to talk about it with him. You will have to at some point if you intend to continue your relationship with him."

Toby sat back in his chair, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Okay, doc. I'll think about it."

"Honey, have they found out who killed that nasty man who kidnapped Harry?" Victoria asked.

"No, Mother. Not yet."

"Do you think his murder has something to do with Harry's kidnapping?" she asked, a worried look on her face.

"I don't know, Mother. But I don't think you should worry about it." It was Friday night and Toby had brought the children to his parents' house to spend the night. "Listen, Mom, I have to run."

"Where are you off to?"

Toby smiled. "I have an engagement."

Victoria arched her eyebrows in interest. "Oh, Really? And who is the lucky, young woman?

"No, not like that. It's Chris. He asked me to meet him."

Victoria scrunched her face up in distaste. "Oh dear. I don't like you spending time with that man."

"Mother, don't start."

"Really, Toby, he put you in the hospital. He nearly killed you."

"I've forgiven him for that. You should too. Besides, he saved Harry's life. That was enough for me."

"Well, yes, I know. But there's something about him I don't trust. He's too...charming, or something. Like the snake in the garden of Eden. He lures you in with the charm and then he strikes," she said.

Toby almost burst out laughing. I really can't argue with that description, he thought. "Mother, Chris is trying to change. I want you to give him another chance. He's my friend and that's not going to change anytime soon."

Victoria looked at her son, studying his expression. His face was flushed with defiance. He was protective of Chris, she knew. But there was something more. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. "Alright, dear," she said absently. "Just don't bring him to the house anytime soon."

Toby groaned in frustration but Victoria had already left the room. He followed her into the living room and kissed Gary, Holly and Harry good-bye. "I'll see you guys tomorrow, okay?"

"Bye, Daddy," they echoed.

As Toby drove back toward the city, he felt his stomach knot up in anticipation of seeing Chris. Chris had called him yesterday and asked if they could have dinner together tonight. Just the two of them. It would be like a first date, Chris had said. Just starting over; getting to know each other again.

In light of last week's near tumble into carnal oblivion, Toby was both nervous and excited about spending the evening with Chris. The blonde man was feeling very vulnerable right now and craved Chris' attention, his love. He was pretty sure Chris could charm him into anything.

He glanced at the road signs. The next exit, the sign noted, was for a highway that led to Oswald State Penitentiary. Toby shivered as he read it, thinking Chris could be there right now.

Two hours later, he arrived at La Nozze, a fairly upscale restaurant in the business section of town. When he walked in, he saw no sign of Chris.

"May I help you?" the maitre de asked Toby.

"I'm here to meet a friend..."

"Mr. Keller?"

"Yes," said Toby, surprised. If Chris was already here why didn't Toby see him?

"Right this way," the maitre de said and led Toby through the crowded restaurant. Toby scanned the dining room and saw no sign of Chris. Everyone was wearing dresses and suits. He wondered if Chris would feel uncomfortable. Toby still had on the gray suit he had worn to work that day.

The maitre de entered a door near the kitchen, which led into the private dining rooms. Oh shit, Toby thought, his stomach fluttering. These rooms were used for small business meetings and....romantic dinners for two.

The maitre de swept the privacy curtain aside and allowed Toby to walk in. "Here you are, sir."

"Thank you," he said and the maitre de was gone.

Chris sat at small, semi-circular booth. He stood up when the blond man entered and Toby could see he was wearing a nicely tailored but loose-cut black suit. Casual yet elegant. He also wore a white, silk shirt, which was unbuttoned at the collar.

"Hey," Chris greeted him with a devastating smile and took Toby's hand to lead him to the table. He felt a tingle run up his arm at the contact.

"Chris...." Toby started, not knowing what to say. He was reeling from all the emotions running through him. "You look very nice," he said finally and shivered.

Chris smiled again. "Thanks. So do you," he said. "I guess we should sit down and look at the menu."

Toby slid in next to Chris in the booth. He picked up the menu but was too distracted to really read it. His heart was pounding like he'd just run a mile and Chris wasn't even touching him. Just knowing Chris was this close; realizing that Chris wanted to just be with him put every nerve in Toby's body on full alert.

"Chris, why are we here?"

"I would have thought that was fairly obvious."

Toby chuckled. "Yeah, well, I guess I mean..."

"What are my intentions?" Chris finished for him, his tone teasing.


"Toby, I don't have any ulterior motives," Chris said, leaning toward Toby. "You would think after last Saturday, you would know you can trust me."

"Yeah, well, maybe I don't trust myself," Toby said, half-seriously. He could feel the heat coming off of Chris' body. Toby was fairly humming from the near contact.

"You agreed we needed to spend some time together. You can think of this as a first date. How's that? Nothing indecent happens on a first date, right? Well, not often."

Toby snorted. "Says you. Gen and I slept together on our first date."

Chris gasped in mock horror. "Oh my God, Tobias. And I thought you were a virgin."

"You are just full of humor tonight," Toby said sarcastically.

The waiter came in then with a champagne bucket and what looked like a bottle of bubbly.

"Uh, Chris..."

"Don't worry, Beecher. It's non-alcoholic."

"Oh. Well, I guess you thought of everything."

"I hope so."

The waiter poured the mock champagne and waited for the men to try it.

"It's fine, Jack," Chris said.

"Are you ready to order yet, sir?"

"I think we need a few more minutes." With that, the waiter exited the room.


"Yeah, he was in here before you arrived. That's when I order the...well, this stuff," he said, lifting the glass. "Hey, let's have a toast."

"Okay. To what?"

"To us, Toby."

"Okay. To us," he said and raised his glass and clinked it with Chris'. He took a sip and scrunched his face up. It tasted like white grape soda.

Chris laughed at the expression on Toby's face. "Not quite the same, huh?"

"It's not bad. Just not quite what I was expecting."

Chris leaned over then flicked his tongue across Toby's lips. "Mmmm. Tastes better on you," he said, his voice low and sensual. Toby became light-headed as the blood rushed through his body. He could actually feel his erection forming. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the booth with Chris' mouth on his. Their tongues met and Toby flushed red with warmth and desire. Oh God, Toby thought. I can't do this.

"Chris..." Toby whispered into Chris' mouth.


"What if someone comes back here?"

Chris reluctantly pulled his mouth off Toby's. "Hmm, well, I don't care if you don't," he said, with a trademark Keller grin.

Toby sighed and picked up the menu again. A few deep breaths later and he could see normally again.

Jack came back and took their order. They both chose the filet mignon.

"So does Jack know this romantic dinner?" Toby asked.

Chris shrugged. "He's a smart guy. He's probably figured it out by now," he said, noting Toby's flushed face.

"I feel nervous, Chris. And I don't even know why."

"Well, then why don't you tell me about your day at work," Chris said, his voice soothing and calming Toby.

As soon as Toby launched into a diatribe about the problems at work, his edginess all but disappeared.

"...and then one of the associates misplaced a brief that was due in court and everyone was running around frantically searching for it," Toby babbled for several minutes. Then he realized Chris was not really listening. "Hey, am I boring you?"

"That's okay," Chris said, grinning.

"That was NOT an apology!"

"Sorry. But you are pretty cute when you talk lawyerese. I just don't follow it all."

Toby blushed. "Keller, you are too damn charming for your own good."

"Yeah, well, I haven't heard any complaints so far," he said with a mischievous smile on his face.

Soon they were talking about Toby's kids, Gen and even a little about Chris' childhood, which surprised Toby.

"My shrink suggested I go home and have a little chat with my father."

"Really? Like a confrontation?"

"Well, you're not supposed to accuse the parent. I guess you're just supposed to say stuff like, `this is how I remember things and this is how it affected me.' Shit like that," Chris explained, squirming in his seat.

"Are you going to do it?

"I don't even know where my Dad is. I mean, I could probably find him if I put my mind to it. That is, if he isn't dead from all the drinking."

"If you could find him, would you want to do it?"

"I don't know. It's not required or anything. Just a suggestion. Supposed to help me deal with all that childhood trauma, I guess. Help me move on."

"That'd be great, you know? If you could do it."


"For you. Yeah."

"Well, I guess it can't hurt to try and find him. Then I could decide whether or not to talk to him."

Toby nodded. "What about your Mom?"

"Nah. She's dead."

"Oh. I don't think you told me."

"Yeah, I was young. I don't remember her very well."

"I'm sorry, Chris."

"It's all in the past now," he said, his voice quiet.

Toby lifted Chris' hand off the table and brought it to his lips. "I love you, Chris."

Chris blinked back tears and nodded because he couldn't find his voice just then.

Jack came back in a moment later and served the steaks. Toby and Chris began eating, their thoughts and actions focused on the food for a few minutes.

After dinner, they ordered chocolate mousse and took turns feeding it to each other. Chris smudged a little of the mousse on the corner of his lover's mouth. Toby picked up his napkin.

"No, no, no. Here, let me," Chris said and leaned over, licking the mousse off of Toby's lips, let his tongue linger. Toby moaned and placed his hand on the back of Chris' head, pulling him in for a sweet kiss.

They played this game a few more times until the mousse was gone. Then they held each other, sharing deep, soulful kisses. They didn't break apart until they heard Jack clearing his throat.

Toby sat upright, a full blush spreading across his face.

"Will that be all?"

"Yes, Jack. You can bring the check now," Chris said, smiling at Toby's embarrassment. "You okay, Toby?"

"I can't believe you're not embarrassed. You're the one who didn't want me to tell my parents just a few months ago," Toby said.

"Yeah, well, I'm a new man today," Chris joked.

"So, then, you think we're ready to tell my parents?"

"Maybe. But don't you think we should actually, ya know, be together? After you reach your anniversary at AA?"

"I guess we could wait til then, since technically we're not even supposed to be dating right now."

"Hey, I'm on my best behavior!"

"I know but kissing is certainly the beginning of a romantic relationship, no?"

"What?! Now you're gonna tell me we can't even kiss?"

Toby grinned slyly. "Hell, no," he said and pulled Chris' mouth to his. He felt a delicious warmth spread through him, which was better than all the alcohol buzzes he'd ever had put together.

They walked out of the restaurant side by side, hands brushing against each other. They reached Chris' bike first, where they said good night. Chris touched Toby's neck and bent over to find Toby's lips again. Toby wrapped his arms around Chris' waist and surrendered to the kiss.

It was on the tip of Toby's tongue to bring up the issue he had discussed with Dr. Dryer -- Chris' tendency toward violence. But the evening was going so well, he decided to leave it alone. He walked back to his car with a smile on his face.

Mark Price stopped in Toby's office on Monday morning.

"Hey, Toby, did you hear the news?"

Toby looked up from his computer. "No. What?"

"They found Barlog's murderer."

"How do you know?"

"Just saw it on the news."

Toby stood up. "Really? Who is it?"

"Some guy named Enrique Morales. You know him?"

Toby shook his head. "Uh, no. Did they say what the motive was?" He followed Mark down the hall and into the conference room.

"Well, it turns out Barlog was working for this Morales guy when he stole your car. Apparently, Morales is the head of some car theft ring and he thought Barlog was about to give him up."


Mark shrugged. "No idea." He turned the television to CNN and they waited for the news cycle to get back to the Barlog story.

CNN reported that Morales was turned in by one of his own men that the FBI had contacted. Toby went back to his office and called Chris.


"Chris, it's me. They arrested Morales for killing Barlog."

"No shit."

"Yeah. Turns out one of his own men rolled over on him. The FBI got him to turn. They had apparently been watching Morales for a few weeks. They may have even tried to get Barlog to turn on him. I don't know. But it looks like you're in the clear with him."

"Yeah, unless Morales finds a way to whack this witness. But I'll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks for letting me know."

"Sure," Toby said. "Hey, Chris."


"Thanks for dinner last Friday. It was....very nice."

"My pleasure, baby. We'll have to do it again real soon."

Chris' voice sent a shiver right up Toby's spine, which reverberated long after they said goodbye.

Part 18

The following Friday, Toby drove to his parents house alone. His father and mother had invited him over for dinner. Harrison had told him that he needed Toby's help with a case and that his son should come alone. Toby knew something was up and it wasn't some case. Harrison had that tone in his voice; the one that sounded like he was trying to hide something. Plus, Toby knew that they would never have given up the opportunity to see the grandkids.

He arrived at 7:30 p.m. When Harrison opened the door, he had a smile on his face.

"Toby! Son, come on in."


"I'd like you to meet someone."

What the hell? Toby looked into the living room and saw a young woman standing there, talking to his mother. Then it dawned on him. Oh my God. They're trying to set me up.

"This is Dana Taylor. She works with me."

"It's nice to meet you, Toby," Dana said, walking toward Toby with her hand outstretched.

Toby glared at his father, who was still smiling. "Hello, Dana."

Harrison sat them down in the living room and started talking about a case he and Dana were working on. Harrison made it sound like they needed Toby's input but Toby knew the whole thing was a ploy to get the couple talking. Harrison left the room after five minutes, leaving Toby and Dana alone.

Toby made polite conversation but inside he was boiling. He knew if he ever got a chance to corner one of his parents, he would lay into them hard.

Victoria announced dinner 15 minutes later. While she served, Victoria pointed out several things that Toby and Dana had in common. Toby began to wonder if Victoria had put Harrison up to this matchmaking.

When dinner was over, Victoria stood up to bring dishes into the kitchen. Harrison started to rise as well, but Toby stopped him. "No, Dad. Let me," he said and began collecting dirty dishes before Harrison or Victoria could object.

Toby followed his mother into the kitchen.

"Mother, I know what you and Dad are up to. And I don't like it. Not one bit," he snapped.

"Toby, don't you think you're overreacting a bit? It's just a chance for the two of you to meet. See if you like each other."

"Mother, I'm not supposed to make any major life changes during my first year in recovery! I cannot start a relationship with this woman! Hell, I don't even want to!"

"Well, how was I supposed to know this? You didn't give us the AA rule book."

"It's not a rule. Just a guideline. No major life changes, like divorce or changing jobs, cause they want you to focus on your recovery. I haven't even filed for divorce from Genevieve yet."

"Really? Do you think you'll reconcile?" Victoria seemed alarmed at the thought that she may have derailed a possible reconciliation.

"No! Haven't you been listening? They advise against major life changes."

"Well, I don't know any alcoholics, Toby."

Toby snorted. "Oh, yes you do. They're just not in recovery."


"Well, really, mother."

"Let's change the topic please."

"Fine. That's what you always do. Change the topic when you don't like what's being said."

"I don't like your tone."

"I guess I'll leave then."

"No! You can't! You'll hurt Dana's feelings."

"That's your problem. Not mine. I didn't invite her. And I certainly don't want her to get the wrong impression about me."

"What wrong impression? You may want to see after, you know, the rules say you can date again."

Toby took a deep breath. "Mother, I am not going to continue this conversation because I am way too close to saying something nasty. I am going to say goodbye to Father and Dana and then I am going to leave."

With that, he walked back into the dining room.

"Father, Dana, I need to get going. It's my turn to pick up the kids in the morning," Toby said, walking toward Dana, his hand outstretched. "It was nice meeting you, Dana."

Harrison stood there with his mouth open, speechless.

"Good night, father."

"Uh, Toby, wait."


"Ms. Taylor lives in the city. She drove in with me. I was hoping you could bring her home."

Toby felt a slow burn in the pit of his stomach.

"I would really appreciate it, Toby," Dana said.

Toby cleared his throat. "Sure, Dana. I'm going there anyway."

Toby helped Dana put on her jacket and glared at his father when she wasn't looking.

Victoria came out of the kitchen. She walked with Harrison to the door to say good night to Toby and Dana.

The silence was awkward. Toby had been driving for 15 minutes and hadn't said a word.

"Listen, Toby. I get the feeling that this whole evening was awkward for you. I'm sorry about that. When your father mentioned meeting you, I really had no idea he was thinking...well..."

"That doesn't surprise me, Dana. I'm not blaming you. I'm sorry if I appear rude. I'm just still steaming a bit at what they've done."

"That's alright. I'd feel the same way if my parents had done something similar."

"My father probably neglected to tell you that I'm in AA."

"No, he mentioned that."

"Well, I've only been in the program a little over 8 months. And I haven't even filed for divorce."

"Oh! Well, he didn't tell me that."

"Yeah, I figured. Look, you're a very nice person but I just can't start a relationship right now. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I really didn't expect anything, Toby. Like I said, I had no idea what your father was planning."

Toby felt the tension ease of out his body. He and Dana were able to talk more easily after that. By the time they arrived at her apartment building, Toby was laughing and cracking jokes. He parked the car and walked her to the front door.

"Well, thank you, Toby. Even if things got a little awkward there for awhile, I enjoyed the ride home with you."

"Thanks, Dana. Me, too."

She leaned toward him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You're a very sweet man."

"Goodnight, Dana."

The next morning, Toby slept in, even though he was due to pick up the kids in the morning. The phone rang at 9.

"Toby? What`s going on? The kids are ready and waiting."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I overslept. Give me a half-hour to shower and I'll head over."

As he was heading into the bathroom, he heard a knock at the door. He peeked through the peephole and saw Chris standing there. He opened the door.

"Chris? What are you doing up this early?"

"I thought we were taking the kids to the science museum today," Chris said and pulled Toby into an embrace.

"Yeah. I guess I forget that you were coming with us."

Chris leaned in for a hug. A scent he didn't recognize assailed his nostrils. He leaned back, his hands on Toby's arms.

"Toby?" he said, his tone suddenly tense.


"Did you, by chance, have a date last night?"


"A date, Toby. You know, when two people go out together for an evening of romance."

"No, I didn't. Why would you ask me that?"

"Because you smell like perfume."

"Really? You can still smell it on me?" he said, lifting the collar of his t-shirt and sniffing it.

Chris raised his eyebrows. "So you did have a date?" His voice was strained with barely controlled rage.

"No, Chris, I didn't. But my parents did try to fix me up with a woman who works with my Dad."

"Then how did her perfume get on you?" Chris' face was red now but his voice was neutral. Toby didn't appear to notice Chris' agitation. He was too busy sniffing his arms and shirt.

"I had to drive her home. I walked her to the door and she kissed me on the cheek. I didn't think she had gotten that close."

"Well, she did," Chris said, with a little growl in it.

Toby looked up at Chris' face. "Oh, God. You're jealous, aren't you?"

Chris just glared at him.

Toby moved closer, pressing Chris backwards into the wall. "Jesus, Keller, you're damn sexy when you're jealous," he said, pressing his hands into Chris' waist and kissing his neck.

But Chris pushed him back. "Beecher, you don't really want to play with me on this," he said, his voice still tight. The look in his eyes was primal and Toby felt a jolt of fear run through him.

He stepped back, expressing irritation to cover his alarm. "Christ, Keller. I already told you what happened. Exactly nothing. If you don't want to believe me, that's your business. I have to go shower now." He walked toward the bathroom.

Chris took a deep breath. "Wait. I just...I...I'm sorry, Toby. I didn't mean to get crazy like that," he said and shook his head. "I've never had that kind of a reaction before. I don't know what came over me."

"Me either, Keller. But you scared me for a minute, ya know? I thought you were going to start swinging."

Chris looked horrified. "Oh God, Toby. No, no. I wasn't. I swear. I mean, I did want to hit something but not you. Ya gotta believe me, Toby."

"Yeah, well, you need some more work on controlling that anger," Toby said, walking into the bathroom and shutting the door.

"Shit, shit, shit, shit," Chris muttered to himself as he heard the water running. I gotta stop doing that! Please, Toby, don't carry this around with you all day, he prayed.

Toby came out of the bathroom 10 minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist, and walked into the bedroom, ignoring Chris.

When he was dressed, Toby walked into the living room, facing Chris with a grim look on his face. Here it comes, Chris thought.

"Maybe you'd better not come with us today, Chris."

Chris stood up. "If that's what you want, Beecher."

"I think it's best," he said.

"Fine, then," Chris said and started to head for the door. He stopped and turned. "Listen, Toby, I'm not going to stand here and beg for forgiveness, but I want you to know that it never even crossed my mind to hit you. I was angry, yeah. And I wanted to hit something, but not you. Everybody gets angry. Even you. Everybody loses control. I think I deserve a little bit of credit for keeping mine. A couple of months of therapy does not undo years of abuse and decades of destructive behavior. I'm not perfect but I am trying to get better. You think about that before you start judging me." He opened the door and walked out before Toby had a chance to reply.

Three weeks passed with no word from Chris. Toby tried calling and leaving apologies on his answering machine. But Chris did not return the calls. Toby wanted to give Chris time to cool down and come to him. But after three weeks, his patience was waning.

One evening, after work, Toby stopped by the bar where Chris worked, hoping to find him on the job. He stood outside for a moment, breathing deeply, hoping he could get in and out without that craving hitting him. He peaked in the window and saw Chris serving a customer.

Toby opened the door and walked in. Deja vu hit him as he remembered the last time he had walked into this bar to apologize to Chris. It hadn't worked then. He was hoping it would this time.

Toby walked up to the bar and waited for Chris to spot him. The music was fairly loud so shouting would have been pointless. Chris poured a few drinks and then looked up to see Toby. His expression didn't change as he walked up to Toby.

"What do you want?"

"To apologize. To talk. Can I come over after you finish?"

"I meant to drink."

"Oh, uh, club soda, I guess."

Chris nodded and poured the drink. He set it down and turned away but Toby grabbed his arm.

"Chris, please. Don't ignore me. What can I do?'

"Nothing, Toby."

"If you won't talk to me, I'll just wait until you're done and talk to you then," Toby said stubbornly.

Chris sighed. "Toby, I don't really want to play this game with you."

"What game?! I'm trying to fix it. Why won't you let me?"

"We keep going in circles, Toby, repeating our mistakes. Maybe it's not worth it."

"But you love me!"

"That's not always enough."

"It is, though. Please, Chris. You said you would give me time to figure how to deal with all that....stuff you told me. And now you're going back on your word."

Chris bristled. "That's not true, Toby. I've been pretty patient, I think. You don't seem to want to get past it. You keep throwing it back in my face. I don't want to keep fighting with you about this over and over."

"Wait, I have an idea. Dr. Dryer suggested that I go with you when you see Dr. Watkins. I could talk a bit about my fear. I think I've just been bottling it up. You know I do that sometimes. And maybe, seeing you in a session; talking to Dr. Watkins...maybe that could help me get past all this."

Chris considered it for a moment. "I'll think about it and call you," he said, dismissing Toby and walking back to his customers.

Chris called him a few days later and asked Toby to meet him at the Case Center the following Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. Toby took a late lunch and took a cab to the Case Center. He saw Chris' bike outside.

Chris greeted Toby. He seemed to be past the anger but there was something sad in his voice. Resignation?

Dr. Watkins invited them in a moment later. He looked to be about 50 or so, probably about 10 years older than Dryer, Toby thought. He had salt and pepper hair and a goatee and mustache. He was a large man, both in height and girth.

"So, Toby," Dr. Watkins started. "We'll let Chris start and you can join in wherever you feel appropriate. But please don't interrupt until Chris has finished his thought."


Chris sighed in irritation. "I don't think I want to do this anymore."

"Well, we're here. We might as well go ahead," Watkins said in a soothing tone.

Chris fidgeted for a minute, searching for the words he wanted to say. "Okay. Toby, I know you need time to deal with all the stuff I told you about guys and I think I've been pretty patient. But every time I think we're moving forward, something happens and we end up two steps back. I'm just getting tired of the whole thing. Feels like we're going in circles.

"I've just started to feel good about the way things are going in here," he said, indicating his therapy with Dr. Watkins. "So I wanted to share it with you, ya know. Spend time with you and all that. Then you do something that makes me feel like shit all over again."

"Jesus, Chris. You scared me when you got angry. I can't help how I felt."

"Ya gotta trust me, Toby. Otherwise, what's the point?"

"You should talk. The whole argument would have been avoided if you had just trusted me when I told you there was no date!"

"I know I was wrong about that, but I did smell her perfume."

"And I explained that! If you just believed in me the way you want me to trust you, then you would have accepted that! Why the hell would I be going through all this with you if I wanted to be with somebody else? Use your damn common sense!"

"Toby, do you think you owe Chris a certain amount of trust?" Dr. Watkins asked.

"You didn't see the look in his eyes, doc. He looked like he wanted to hit someone. And I was the only person in the room."

"But he didn't."

"Yeah, I know. But I don't know if he would have or not. He was in a sort of trance. He seemed to snap out of it when I barked at him. What if I hadn't said anything? Would he have pounced? I don't know and that scares me."

"See? I don't think that's it, Toby," Chris interrupted." Everybody gets angry. Everybody gets jealous. You just automatically assumed that I would go off because I had done it before," he said and took a deep but shaky breath. "I've worked very hard to regain your trust, your love. I thought that I was making progress but this just proves that I haven't. You don't want to forgive me. You want this whole thing to fail and you want to blame me for it."

"What?!" Toby yelled. He was totally blindsided by Chris' accusation. "How can you say that?

"How else do you explain your reaction?"

"Oh, I don't know. Fear, maybe?" Toby said sarcastically.

Chris looked at Dr. Watkins. "See? We're not getting anywhere, here."

"Chris, do me a favor and step out of the room. I'd like to talk to Toby alone."

Chris hesitated, then nodded and left the room.

Dr. Watkins looked at Toby. "So, Toby. What would you like to ask me? Chris signed a release form allowing me to discuss his therapy with you."

Toby was taken aback. He hadn't expected this. "I...uh...I don't know. I didn't know he could do that."

"Well, I asked him to."


"Because I thought you might need to talk to me with him out of the room."


"Do you have any questions?"

"Well, um, I'm not sure."

"You seem uncertain about your relationship with Chris."

"Well, yeah! I mean, I just don't know when he's going to lose control. He put me in the hospital once."

"I know. Despite your fear, you don't seem to have given up on him."

"I love him."

"Yes, I can see that you do. What do you want, Toby?"

"Want? I guess I want to know that he's not going to hurt me again."

"There are no guarantees in this world. But I can tell you that Chris has made tremendous progress here. He is holding nothing back. I had to coax him out a little the first few months. He tried to manipulate me and he almost succeeded. But then I reminded him that the only way he was going to get better was to be honest.

"Toby, I believe that if you hadn't forgiven him; given him something to hope for, he probably would have stopped coming."

"Really?" Toby was surprised by this revelation.

"Yes. He has never told me this. It's just a feeling I have," Watkins said. "Toby, there is one more thing you need to know."


"Chris is thinking about turning himself in and confessing to the murders of the three college men."

Toby felt like he`d been struck in the chest with a brick. "No," he said quietly.

"I know it must come as a shock," Watkins said. "But as we delve further into his past and uncover the roots of his behavior, Chris' conscience is coming to the forefront. He wants to atone for his acts."

"God almighty," he said, despair in his voice.

"He was waiting to tell you until he decides what to do. I thought you should know."

Toby's mind was whirling with a thousand thoughts at once and he felt panic rising in his throat.

"Does he know you're telling me this?"

"I think he knows it's a possibility. He gave me permission to discuss any and all aspects of his therapy with you."

Toby stood up. "I need to go talk to him."

"Of course."

Toby hurried off to find Chris.

Part 19

Toby found Chris down the hall near the water fountain.

"Chris, we need to talk."

"Yeah? What about?"

"Let's go somewhere else."


"I don't care as long as it's private and quiet. I don't want to be interrupted."

"How about my place?"

"Okay, I'll drive my car and meet you there."

Half an hour later, they were inside Chris' apartment.


"Ya wanna drink?" Chris asked as he wandered into the kitchen.

"Water would be great."

"Coming right up."

"Listen, Chris, Watkins told me that you're planning to confess to the murders."

Chris sauntered back into the living room with two glasses in his hands. He handed one to Toby. "I'm thinking about it."

"Chris, I hate to sound shallow and selfish, but this is a really bad idea."

"Look, Toby, I know what's gonna happen if I do this, so you don't have to give me a speech about the consequences, okay? I've been thinking about this long and hard. I'm not making a sudden decision."

Toby sighed. He took a sip of his water and put the glass down. "I know that, Chris. I just...I...Can I ask why you feel you need to do this?"

Chris paused and thought about it for a minute. He wanted to find the right words. "I feel like I owe it to the families."

Toby put his hands on his hips and began to pace. "Chris, it's very...uh...noble that you want to do that. But it's not going to change anything. It's not going to bring those boys back. And it's going to mean the end of your freedom...your life, at a time when you are making so much progress toward becoming a better person."

"Fuck noble, Toby. I ain't doing this to be noble," Chris snapped. "Those boys had families who loved them. They want to know who killed their sons and see the killer punished. You know that! You have kids. What if Gary was murdered? Huh? That's what I keep thinking of, Toby. I think of you and your kids. When Harry was kidnapped, I knew you were going through hell. My first - my only - instinct was to get Harry back to you. And it got me thinking about the parents of those boys.

"I think about what my Dad did to me; making me feel like a piece of shit my whole life. He's the one I should've killed. But I didn't. I killed three innocent boys whose only crime was being unlucky enough to find the wrong sex partner. My Dad was a monster, Toby, but I'm worse," he said, his voice catching.

"Chris, you're not a monster," Toby interjected. "If you were, how could I love you so much?"

Chris remained silent, his head hung down.

"Chris, you had a horrible childhood. I'm not saying that's an excuse. But it is a reason. Some people turn their anger inward and others turn it outward. And now, you're at a point where you're getting help. You're learning how to control those demons. It seems to me that confessing is just giving up; like saying, `I have no control so I'll let someone else control them for me.' I know that's not true, Chris. I wouldn't still be here if I thought otherwise."

Chris took a deep breath and sat down. "Don't you see, Beech? It's because I'm getting better that I need to do this. Before I met you, I never had any guilt about killing those boys. Ya know? At least I never dwelled on it. I pushed it inside. I can't do that anymore. You wanted me to deal with my anger. Well, I'm doing that, and these are the side effects," he said, shrugging. "And don't look at me like that. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty."

"I know that, Chris. I'm just...I don't..." he started and sighed. "I'm afraid of losing you. If you confess, then they'll put you in jail and that'll be it. There won't ever be any chance for us. My God, you could get the death penalty or life imprisonment, at the very least. I'd never be able to touch you; to wake up in the morning with you; to share my life with you."

"I know, Toby, and you have no idea how much the thought of that scares me. But I don't see any other way around it. If I don't confess, this is going to be hanging over our heads; over my head. How can I really change if I don't take responsibility for what I've done?"

Toby cried out in frustration and began pacing again. "There's got to be another way."

"I don't think so, Toby."

Toby's brow wrinkled in thought as he walked back and forth in the living room. Several minutes went by and he stopped abruptly, facing Chris. "Wait, what about confessing to a priest? You're Catholic, right?"

Chris nodded.

"Yeah, that would work, right? You could confess -- and I remember reading that confessions made to a priest also have privilege. So you wouldn't have to worry about going to prison."

"That's all true, Toby, but wouldn't that be cheating? The main reason I want to confess is to give the families of those boys a little peace."

Toby sat down and rubbed his hands over his jaw, then rested his chin on his hand. "Maybe you could write an anonymous letter to each of the families and have the priest deliver them! That could work. You could tell them how much you've changed your life; how you're a different man."

"And why would they believe that, Toby? How would that help them? It's just words on paper from the man who killed their sons. Would you believe it?"

Toby sighed and shook his head. "No."

"Okay, then."

"Wait, wait. I'm not done, yet. I am going to think of something, Keller," he said, standing up again. He began pacing anew, his mind suddenly far away.

"Hey, Toby."


"You're damn cute when you're thinking."

Toby looked at Chris then; saw his lover was smiling. "How can you smile at a time like this? We're on the brink of losing everything we've fought so hard to save," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Chris got up then and walked toward Toby, wrapping his arms around the blonde man. "Chris, don't confess," Toby pleaded, tears running down his cheeks. "Please. I know I shouldn't ask. I have no business asking but I'm asking anyway. I'm begging. I love you. I don't think I can stand to lose you again."

The dark-haired man held him quietly for several minutes. When Toby had stopped crying, he lifted his face to look at his lover. "Are you sure about this?"

Chris sighed and pressed his forehead to Toby's. "Yes."

Toby barely made it through the rest of the workday without imploding. He somehow managed to finish his work and head off to an AA meeting. He needed it more than ever tonight cause he had wanted a drink more than he had in a long time.

The desire to sink into self-pity and drink consumed him as he walked to the meeting. He passed by too many bars and even started to enter one before letting go of the door handle.

This can't be happening, he told himself as he arrived at the meeting. He waved at Steve and sat down. These last few months had been like a damn rollercoaster. He was up high one minute and down in the depths the next. The one thing that had kept him going; kept him sober was the hope of a future with Chris. And now that had been taken away.

He needed to talk to Dryer but his appointment wasn't until Wednesday. How could he make it through two more days?

"Hey, Toby, how're you doing?" Steve caught Toby as he was heading out the door after the meeting.


"You look a little stressed out."

"Yeah, well, it happens."

"Do you need to talk?"

"Nah, I'm fine. I'm heading over to another meeting on the west side of town. I won't drink tonight, Steve."

"I'm glad to hear it. Call me if you need to talk."

"Thanks, I will."

Toby spent the next two days working feverishly, trying to keep his mind off alcohol. He worked 14 hours on Tuesday and got caught up on all his case work. Wednesday, he took off at 6 and headed over to meet Dryer.

"I'm going crazy, doctor. I don't know how to stop him."

"You can't stop him, Toby."

"But I have to."


"You're joking, right? If he confesses, he'll end up in jail. Forever. He may even be executed. I can't risk that."

"You can't risk that? I didn't realize you were risking anything, Toby."

"You know what I mean."

"No, I don't. Why don't you explain it to me?"

Toby wrung his hands together. "I need you to help me find a way to talk him out of it."

"It's not your place to talk him out of anything. It sounds like he needs to do this for himself."

Toby sighed and let his head hang down. "I don't know if I can accept that."

"You have to, Toby. Instead of trying to talk him out of it, you should be offering him your support."

Toby rubbed his forehead and sat silent for several minutes. "I know you're right but everything inside me is screaming, `Stop him!' I don't know what to do to. I don't know how to help him. I don't know how to make myself stop trying to convince him that this is wrong."

"Just listen, Toby. It's that simple."

Toby left Dryer's office no more satisfied than when he had arrived. If anything, Dryer just gave him more to think about. He felt like his brain might explode from the damn thinking he'd been doing.

He went to a meeting and then stopped at the gym. He hadn't been in awhile but he needed the outlet. He used a couple cardiovascular machines, working his heartbeat up to a high level, then coming back down. Then he spent about 30 minutes on the weight machines. Concentrating on his workout, he was able to keep his thoughts at bay.

He got home after nine o'clock and felt pretty drained. He ate a light supper and laid down trying to sleep. But his frantic mind superceded his exhaustion, using hidden stores of energy to keep him awake.

Despite his overactive mind, Toby could not think of a way around Chris' plan. He remembered back to his conversation with Chris on Sunday and realized how at peace Chris was with his decision.

Toby sighed. He knew that if Chris was ready to deal with the consequences, then he would be too.

He picked up the phone and dialed Chris' number, hoping he would be home tonight.

Chris picked up on the second ring.


"Hey, it's Toby."

"Toby! It's good to hear your voice."

Toby smiled. "I've been thinking a lot since we talked. And I chatted with Dryer today about it."


"And I'm sorry I was such a jerk. I guess I panicked. I didn't want to lose you. Still don't. But if you think this is the right thing to do, then I am going to accept that," he said and paused. "I love you, Chris, and I want to be there for you. To help you through this."

"Thanks, Toby. I appreciate that. I know this is hard for you."

"Can I just ask you one favor?"

"What's that?"

"Please talk to Cowan first. Let him represent you when you go. Please?"


The following Thursday, Toby met Chris in the lobby of Cowan's office building.

"Thanks for letting me come," Toby said after he greeted Chris with a quick hug.

"I'm glad you're here, Toby."

"Ready to go up?"

Chris nodded. Toby pressed the elevator button and they got on.

"So what can I do for you gentlemen?" Cowan asked when they were all sitting down. Chris took a deep breath. "I wanna confess to the murders."

Cowan looked surprised. "Murders?"

"The three homosexual men."

"Aah. The ones the FBI suspect you of?"


"So, you are guilty?"


"I see," Cowan said and sat quietly for a moment. "May I ask why you want to do this?"

"For the families, mainly. And because it's the right thing to do."

"Well, I can't argue with you there. But you do realize that you don't have to confess. They don't have enough evidence for a case against you."

"Yeah, I know that."

"They're likely to give you a very long sentence."

Toby made a soft, strangling sound but didn't speak.

"I guess I deserve it."

"Right. Well, why don't you tell me the details of the crimes and I'll draft up a confession statement."

Chris did as he was asked. Toby had to give credit to Cowan for keeping a straight face while listening to the gruesome details.

"So who do you want to make this confession to? Do you have anyone in mind?"

"Pierce Taylor, I guess. He's been working the case. Might as well let him close it."

"Alright. When do you want to do this?"

"I dunno. A couple of weeks, I guess. I need some time to get my...uh...affairs in order," he said, remembering the expression from some movie he had seen.

Cowan nodded. "I'll go ahead and schedule an appointment with Taylor. Get a feel for how he stands on this. See what kind of sentence their willing to offer."

"Thanks," he said and stood up.

"Wait," Toby interrupted. "Marcus, I don't know if it's relevant but Chris has been in therapy since January and I think that's a large part of the reason he wants to do this."

"Well, that could be a factor in your sentencing, Chris. Would you be willing to let your therapist testify for you at the sentencing hearing?" Cowan asked.

Chris shrugged. "Sure."

Toby and Chris shook hands with Marcus and headed for the hallway. Chris turned around.

"One more thing, Marcus."


"Is there any chance that I could meet with the families after I make the confession?"

"Hmm, well, that is a rather odd request, but I'll be sure to bring it up with Taylor."


Toby walked with Chris to his bike.

"So, I guess I'll see you later," Chris said after straddling his motorcycle.

Toby smiled reassuringly but inside, he felt like wobbly and weak. There was so much to say and so little time to say it.

Chris lifted his helmet over his head but Toby place his arm on Chris' shoulder before he could finish the job.

"What is it, Toby?"

"Can you come over tonight?"

"I have to work tonight, Toby. How about tomorrow?"

Tomorrow was Friday. "Okay."

"See ya then."

Part 20

Toby spent Friday morning in court, arguing a copyright case. Luckily he was well prepared because he had a hard time concentrating on the case. He did it all by rote and finished his closing argument in record time.

He grabbed a sandwich on the way back to the office and spent the afternoon working on a brief. But his mind kept wandering back to Chris. His emotions were all over the map. One moment he was grief-stricken at the thought of losing Chris. Then he was both giddy and nervous about seeing his lover that night.

He called Chris in the afternoon to confirm their plans for the evening.

"Whaddya wanna do? Go out or stay in?"

"I'd rather stay in. If that's okay."

"Sure. What time ya want me to come over?"

"7 o'clock okay?"

"Sure. Should I bring anything?"

"Just your handsome face and hot body," Toby teased.

"Sounds like you're in a playful mood."

Toby laughed. "I guess I am."

"It's good to hear you laugh again, Toby. It's been awhile."

On the way home from work, Toby stopped at the grocery store to pick up some things for dinner and a couple of surprises for Chris.

Back at the apartment, Toby prepared a salad. Then he made a fresh marinara sauce and jumped in the shower while it simmered on low. He had just slipped on a pair of form-fitting jeans when he heard a knock at the door. He grabbed his watch from the dresser, saw it was just after 6:30 p.m. Too early for Chris.

He walked to the door and looked out the peephole. Chris was standing there.

Toby opened the door, smiling. "Hey! You're early." Chris was wearing a casual white shirt and jeans.

"I hope you don't usually answer the door like this," Chris teased, his eyes roaming appreciatively over Toby's shirtless state.

Toby laughed. "Well, you caught me just getting out of the shower."

"You mean a few minutes earlier and you would have answered the door naked? Damn!"

Toby shook his head and padded back to the bedroom in his bare feet to finish dressing. Chris closed the door and walked into the living room.

"Hey, can you check on my sauce? Give it a stir?" Toby shouted from the bedroom. He pulled a black polo shirt over his head and slipped on some boat shoes.


Toby came out a minute later.

"Smells good," Chris commented, still standing by the stove.

"Thanks. I hope it tastes good, too." Toby turned on the unit under the large pot of water and turned to Chris, embracing him. They shared a loving kiss. Chris' tongue darted along Toby's lip, licking the soft flesh there. "Mmmm. This sure does," Chris murmured, pulling Toby closer.

Toby's stomach turned to jelly at the sound of Chris' low, rumbling voice. He parted his lips and found Chris' tongue, sucking it inside his mouth. Chris groaned as Toby pushed against him. His hands came up, combing through Toby's soft curls. He cradled his lover's head, pressing their mouths closer together.

"Are you sure it's wise for us to be alone together?" Chris asked.

Toby gave him a coy smile and turned to check the pot. "Water's boiling," he announced, slipping out of Chris' arms and dropping a few handfuls of pasta into the pot.

Chris moved behind Toby and encircled his waist while his lover stirred the pasta. He brushed his lips against Toby's neck and ground his erection into Toby's luscious ass. Toby shivered and dropped the wooden stirring spoon. It clattered on the stove and landed near the burner. Toby scooped it up.

"Jesus, Keller, you're gonna start a fire."

"Mmmm. Looks like I already did," he murmured, pressing his palm against his lover's growing hard-on.

Toby groaned and pushed against Chris' hand. Then he lay his head back on his lover's shoulder, sighing. Chris turned and pressed his lips to Toby's. The blond man turned slowly to face Chris, not wanting to break the kiss. They held each other; touching and kissing until the pasta started to boil over, making a hissing sound on the burner.

Toby turned abruptly and stirred the pasta. "Well, it shouldn't be too long now," he said, looking at Chris.

"Anything I can do? Besides getting you all hot and bothered, I mean?" Chris teased.

"Very cute, Keller. Hmm. Well, you can cut the bread. It's in the bag on the table," he said and opened the refrigerator to take out the salad he had prepared earlier. "Here," he said, handing it to Chris.

Chris put the salad on the table and proceeded to cut the bread. A few minutes later, they sat down to eat. Toby watched as Chris put a forkful of pasta into his mouth, licking the bit of sauce off his lip.

"Mmm. It's good."


"Yeah. Don't you think so?"

Toby realized he'd been too busy watching Chris and hadn't tried it yet. He twirled some on his fork and popped it in his mouth. He nodded as he chewed, agreeing with Chris' assessment.

"Where'dya learn to make it?"

"On a cooking show, I think. Gary likes to watch them."

"Gary? Not Holly?"

Toby laughed. "Yup. Maybe he'll be a chef one day."

After dinner, Toby put the dishes in the sink.

"You want any dessert?"

"Whatcha got?"

"It's a surprise."

Chris smiled. "I'm all for surprises."

"Good, cause I have a couple up my sleeve," Toby said, grinning devilishly. "Why don't you watch t.v. and I'll call you when it's ready."

Chris got up and walked into the living room; turning on the t.v. He flipped around until he found an old episode of Starsky and Hutch. As he watched, his remembered he'd seen this one. Hutch was kidnapped by some mobster who hooked him on heroin. He settled back into the couch.

A moment later, he heard a whirring sound. Blender? Beater? What the heck is Beecher making? After the whirring stopped, he heard the water running and the sounds of utensils clattering in the sink. He was so curious, he lost interest in Hutch's withdrawal.

"It's ready," Toby called from the kitchen. "Why don't come over and sit down?" Chris stood up and walked to the table. "Okay, close your eyes."

Chris sat on the chair he had used before and closed his eyes, smiling at Beecher's method. He heard Toby walk toward him and put something on the table. Then he felt Beecher straddle him and he opened his eyes, pleasantly surprised. He encircled Toby's waist.

"Hey! I didn't say you could open them yet."

"Oh, you mean this isn't the surprise?" he asked, smirking. He liked the feel of Toby on his legs; his warm body pressing against Chris. Whatever Toby had been preparing was still out of his sightline so he closed his eyes again.

"Open your mouth."

Chris parted his lips slightly and a moment later, he tasted something cool and creamy on his tongue. He swirled his tongue around, trying to guess what it was, and he found something rough and tangy under the fluffy texture.

"Bite it," Toby teased.

Chris did and puckered his lips at the sharp taste. Strawberries, he realized. And whipped cream. He opened his eyes again. "Very clever, Beecher."

"I thought you'd like that. I whipped the cream myself."

"So that's what I heard."



Toby grabbed another berry, used it to scoop up a large gob of cream and placed it at Chris' lips again. Chris licked all of the cream off the fruit, running his tongue suggestively over the surface; brushing against Toby's fingertips. A warm glow spread up Toby's arms and through his body.

"Mmmm. Tasty. My turn?" He reached behind Toby and plucked one of red berries, dipping it in the cream. He brought it to Toby's mouth and traced the cream along his lover's lips.

"Very funny," Toby said, licking the cream off. Chris' eyes were riveted to Beecher's tongue, which darted out in a long, wide arc to clean the white cream. Chris knew what pleasures that tongue was capable of giving and he shivered at the memories it evoked.

Chris popped the fruit into Toby's mouth and waited for him to finish it. Then he reached for another serving, repeating the same lip-painting motion he had used before.

"Wait," he cautioned, leaning forward and using his own tongue to swipe the thick cream from Toby's lips. He lingered there for a moment, using his tongue to tease and tantalize -- sending a wave of heat right through his lover. Toby opened his mouth to capture Chris' errant tongue, pulling it in; sucking it gently.

The dark man groaned, his body involuntarily bucking up, connecting with Toby's groin. His erection brushed against Toby's hardness and they both gasped at the electric contact.

Chris braced his hands behind his lover's bottom and held him steady while he ground himself against Toby. "Christ, Toby, you're driving me crazy here," Chris whispered frantically.

Toby jumped off him then, leaving Chris stunned. "I'll be right back. Don't go away," the blonde man said and scurried down the hallway into his bedroom.

"What the hell?" Chris said to the empty room, a puzzled look on his face. He stood, adjusting his jeans, which had become uncomfortably tight in the last couple of minutes. What the heck was Toby doing? Was he afraid Chris was going to push him too far, too soon? He paced the living room, breathing deeply and trying to calm down his overactive hormones.

Toby came back down the hall five minutes later, a mischievous grin on his face. He took Chris' hand and began leading him down the hall. When they arrived at the doorway to Toby's room, Chris noticed it was closed.

"Okay, close your eyes."

Chris let out an exasperated sigh. "Not again."

"This will be worth it. Trust me."

"Okay, Toby."

Once his eyes were closed, Toby opened the door and pulled Chris inside, then closed the door again.

"Now," Toby said and Chris opened his eyes to a darkened room glowing with candlelight. There were at least 15 candles of differing colors lit all over the room, which made for an incredibly romantic setting.


"I want this to be a special night, Chris, for both of us."

"But, what about your anniversary? It's too soon."

"We don't have any more time to waste," he said, pulling his lover into a kiss. Their lips met and Toby pressed himself against Chris, his desire evident.

"Are you sure?" Chris asked when they broke the kiss.

Toby reached up to touch Chris' face, looking into his eyes. "Yes."

Chris closed his eyes against the onslaught of emotions that welled up inside him. "Toby, maybe this isn't such a great idea."

"What the hell does that mean?" Toby huffed, stepping back.

"Just that pretty soon I'm going to be...well, gone, and maybe we should just make a clean break of it now," Chris said, not really believing what he said but wanting to offer Toby an out.

Toby sighed and shook his head. "Is this you being noble again? Cause, ya know, I really don't want to hear that right now," Toby said, pausing. He reached up and put his hand on Chris' shoulder, then took a deep breath. "Look, Chris, I know what I'm getting into here. I love you and I want to be with you, no matter what the future holds."

"I could end up in prison for the rest of my life."

"Yeah, you could. I know that. But you're not there yet. You're here now, with me. I want spend every second we can together until you do have to go. And I want to make love with you. I want to have these memories for when you're gone. And I want to come visit you, wherever you are, cause I am not going to stop loving you just because you're in jail. Please don't shut me out, Chris."

Chris let out a strangled sob and pulled Toby into his arms. He buried his face in his lover's neck, kissing and tasting the slightly stubbled skin. Toby's scent made him weak every time he got near it. Toby leaned his head back slightly, luxuriating in the feel of Chris' mouth on him. He moaned his lover's name, wrapping his hands around Chris' back.

Chris slipped his hands under Beecher's shirt, while he continued to nip and taste the skin at Toby's jaw, chin and finally joining their mouths. The blonde man lifted his arms over his head, letting Chris remove his shirt swiftly. Their eyes met, a thousand emotions expressed between them, and then Chris' shirt was gone too.

They came together again; skin touching skin -- arousing and heady. Toby's hands roamed freely, relishing the feel of Chris' smooth, heated skin; the firm muscles over hard bone. Everyplace they touched each other sparked with tiny electrical shocks.

Chris cradled Toby's head as he kissed him, wanting nothing more than to suspend time and stay like this.

"Chris," Toby whispered, pressing kisses over his lover's face and neck. "I want to feel more of you." His hands found the waist of Chris' jean, unbuckling them and slipping them down. Chris kicked them off his feet and then guided Toby to the bed and pulled his jeans off.

After dropping the pants to the floor, Chris turned back to Toby, who lay on the bed, his skin flushed and incandescent in the candlelight. Chris knelt over his lover's prone form, leaning in for a burning kiss. Toby pulled Chris down on top of him, their bodies fully making contact for the first time in six months. Toby gasped at the feel of Chris' erection against him.

The dark man let out a tremulous sigh and began to move against Toby. The months apart, the painful longing and their impending separation were suddenly too much to bear. Chris began to move more frantically as he felt an overwhelming desire to drive away all the unhappiness between them. Their mouths and tongues intertwined, the lovers were soon caught in a vortex of desire, devotion, flight and need.

Toby started to cry even as the first spasms of orgasm spread over his body. He closed his eyes; letting the sob and his climax rip through him. "Oh god, Chris, I love you so much. I don't know how I'm going to let you go."

His own release complete, Chris began kissing away Toby's tears, while trying to keep his own emotions in check. "Sssh, Toby. It's going to be okay." They held each other for a long time, not speaking.

"Toby, was this a mistake? Do you regret it? I don't just mean tonight. I mean the whole thing?"

Toby looked at him with shock and barely disguised anger on his face. "Jesus, Chris, how can you ask that? Of course not. My God! I've never felt so much with anyone else. How could I possibly regret that? Even if I never saw you again after tonight, it would be worth every moment of missing you. I've lived more with you these last 10 months than I ever did in the 33 years before," he said, then paused.

"This is probably going to sound pretty sappy, but you are the love of my life. We're soulmates. I'm certain of it."

His expression was so guileless, so pure that it shook Chris to the core. He let out a ragged sigh and gave Toby a crushing kiss. Desire and love vaulted inside him and he knew he wanted to share something with Toby that he never had with anyone else.

"I want you inside me, Toby."

"What? But you told me that you couldn`t..."

"I know what I told you, but this is different, Toby. You're different from all the others. I belong to you, Toby, and you belong to me. I want you to fuck me. " Toby shivered at the urgency in Chris' voice. He felt his cock harden. Chris reached for a tube of lubrication that Toby had left on the bed and began rubbing it on his lover.

The dark man turned on his belly, then pressed his voluptuous ass toward his lover. Toby was stunned briefly and took a moment to study his lover's beautifully formed backside, which looked luminescent in the flickering light. He rubbed his hands over the firm, rounded flesh and felt Chris shiver.

"Come on, Toby, fuck me," Chris said, his voice sultry.

Toby moved tentatively, positioning his cock at the entrance of Chris' puckered hole. He pressed forward and hit a wall of solid muscle. He heard Chris hiss. A moment later, the muscles relaxed and Toby pushed forward again, moving ever so slowly.

"Beecher, don't be gentle. I want to feel you. I want it to burn. I want to memorize the feel of your hard cock inside me," he said through clenched teeth and slammed back into Toby.

Completely sheathed inside Chris, Toby let out a quivering sigh, totally incredulous of the sensations racking his body. Chris' muscles were clenching and squeezing him, creating a flood of pleasure. Toby wanted to lose himself inside Chris and stay there, feeling the heat and bliss for as long as he could stand it.

He drove himself hard and Chris matched his movements, spurring him to go faster until they were both frenzied and panting. "Oh, God, yes, Toby. I can feel you," Chris said between puffs of breath. "More. Toby. Deeper. Oh CHRIST!" he screamed when Toby rubbed against his prostate. "Fuck! I didn't know that could feel so good."

Toby braced one hand on Chris' hip as he moved and used the other to encircle Chris' engorged erection. Chris startled at the contact, which threw their pace off for a moment. "Shit! Was that the wrong thing to do?"

"Hardly. I just wasn't expecting it, that's all. Was kind of wrapped up in the feel of you inside me."

"Well that can be rectified," Toby said with a devilish grin and began to thrust his hips forward again. If anything, the pause in the action had only increased their craving; their need for each other. It wasn't long before they had regained their rhythm, this time with Toby's hand sliding over Chris' aching cock. Their mutterings grew louder and more incoherent as their pace increased. They crashed together as if their very lives depended on it.

Chris felt the vibrations moving up his legs and he knew by Toby's reaction that he felt it too. Toby slammed into Chris one last time held himself deep inside, waiting for the explosion to overtake him, feeling his cock empty into his lover.

Chris fell forward onto the bed and Toby rolled off of him, but still partially draped over his lover. Toby kissed Chris' back and waited for his breathing to return to normal.

Chris moved onto his back and pulled Toby into his arms. "Toby, that was...incredible."

"Yeah?" Toby asked, beaming. "It didn't dredge up bad memories?"

"Baby, you gave me all new memories," Chris said, smiling and pulled Toby into another kiss.

Part 21

The next time they made love was more leisurely. They took the time to taste each other; to memorize scents and the flavors of each other's skin. They didn't sleep that night, yet met the morning feeling refreshed and fulfilled.

The sun streamed across the bed, warming the sheets. Toby snuggled into Chris, reveling in the feel of his lover's skin. "Mmmm. You feel so good. How is it we went so long without making love?"

Chris chuckled. "You weren't ready, remember?"

Toby smiled. "Must have been crazy," he said and slid his body over Chris, pressing their lips together. His tongue began it's umpteenth exploration of Chris' mouth and he felt his lover stir against him.

"Jesus, Toby, that tongue of yours is a wonder. You could make a straight guy hard."

Toby blushed. "Yeah, well, the only guy I want to make hard is you."

Chris slid his hands over Toby's firm, smooth ass and pressed down, pushing Toby against him. "Mission accomplished," he teased.

Toby could feel the sun on his back as he slid against Chris, increasing the friction and the pleasure. "I feel like I've died and gone to heaven," he murmured as he dipped his head for another kiss.

"Oh? Do they let you fuck in heaven?"

"I'd like to see them try and stop us," Toby said, his voice a near growl.

Later, after their morning shower, Chris stopped Toby when he began rummaging through his drawers for fresh clothes. "Let's just stay naked and make love all day."

"As yummy as that sounds, I'm not quite as uninhibited as you are. Mind if I wore a bathrobe?"

Chris pulled his still-naked lover into his arms. "As long as I get to slip my hand inside anytime I want."

Toby smiled devilishly. "Deal."

Toby put on his robe and they made their way to the kitchen, where Toby made eggs and Chris took care of the toast and juice.

When they sat down to eat, Toby furrowed his brow in concentration trying to figure out how to ask Chris something. It was harder than he had thought.

"Okay, Beecher, spill it. I can see something's on your mind."

"Well, I was thinking I'd like to tell my parents."

"About what?"

"About you and me. That I love you; that you're my lover. But only if you think it's a good idea."

Keller put his fork down and looked at Toby. "I think it's a bad idea, Toby," he said quietly, but rushed on to clarify when he saw Toby's crestfallen face. "Only because I'm going to jail and you're going to have to tell them why. If you really want to tell them about us, you should, but I think they'll make it harder on you. Bad enough you're friends with a killer, but lovers? Do you really think they're just going to accept that?"

Toby sighed. "No, you're right, I know. I just want them to know. I don't want to have to deal with their blundering matchmaking efforts for the next who-knows-how-many years?"

"I think you'd have to deal with that whether you tell them or not."

Toby laughed.

"Just let'em have time to absorb the news about me going to jail. I think they'll have a hard enough time when they find out you're visiting me on a regular basis. You can tell'em the rest later."

Toby stood up and walked over to Chris, straddling his lap and wrapping his arms around Chris' neck. "And I am going to visit you, Chris, even if you have to spend the rest of your life in that damn place. I am going to be there every week, come hell or high water. And I'm going to touch you like this," he said, running his hands down Chris' naked torso, his thumbs stroking the nipples. "And I'm going to kiss you like this," he said leaning in to run his tongue over Chris' lips.

Chris responded to the kiss, while untying the bathrobe Beecher was wearing and moving the material aside. He squeezed Toby's bottom and pulled him forward so their cocks brushed together. He let out a moan and moved his mouth over Toby's. "What else are you going to do, Beecher?" he asked, his voice pulsing with desire.

Toby moved his hands and let the bathrobe slide off his arms and onto the floor. He placed one hand on Chris' growing erection. "I'm going to slip my hand inside your pants and stroke you when the guards aren't looking," he said, his voice breathy. "And I'm going to keep touching you until you come because you belong to me and no one else can touch you like this."

"No one else," Chris echoed, his mouth tasting Toby`s.

Toby let out a soft groan as their tongues intertwined. His blood was singing. "How do you do this to me all the time?"

"Do what?" Chris asked innocently, running his mouth along Toby's chin and licking a trail down his delicious neck.

"Keep me perpetually aroused."

"Oh, but I think it's the other way around. Shall we move this to the bedroom?"

"The way I feel right now, I'd follow you naked to the middle of Times Square and let you have your way with me," Toby said, only half-joking.

Chris laughed out loud as he took Toby's hand and led him down the hallway.

"Chris, I want you to move in here until your sentencing," Toby said after they had made love and Toby was resting his head on Chris' leg.

Chris' face lit up and his heart began to beat faster. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. It makes sense, doesn't it? You'll need to get out of your lease anyway and you'll need a place to keep your stuff while you're...uh...away. Plus, it would mean more time for you and I to be together."

Chris nodded. "I already gave'em my notice at work. Tonight is my last night."

"Really? Then I'll take some time off at work. Hell, I've earned it; all the overtime I've put in these last several months. We can spend everyday in bed like this, making love all day. I want to savor every moment I have left with you," he said

"You're going to spoil me, Beecher."

"That's my plan. That way you'll never be able to forget me."

Chris pulled Toby into his arms. "Hey, that is never going to happen."

Toby wrapped his arm around Chris' waist but didn't say anything.

"You know that, right? Toby?"

"I guess."

"What do you mean, you guess?"

"I don't know. It's just that we don't know how long your sentence is going to be and I can't realistically expect you to go without sex for years."

"Hey, I thought you were going to take care of me in the visitor's room," Chris teased, trying to make light of the subject.

Toby buried his face in Chris' neck. "I don't want you to go," he said, his voice choking.

"I know, Toby. Me either. But we're going to be okay. We just have to take it one day at a time, right? I thought we agreed we weren't going to talk about this now."

"I'm sorry, Chris, but it's on my mind constantly. I can't not think about it."

"I know. I know. Me, too," he said and paused. "Hey, why don't we go over to my place and get all my stuff. I already paid my rent for this month so I'll just give the landlord my notice."

Toby sat up then, his mood buoyed a little. At least this will get my mind off of off Chris going to jail for a little while, he thought. Three trips later, everything Chris valued was at Toby's, including his motorcycle.

"Ya want me to teach you how to ride the bike so you can use it while I'm gone?" Chris asked, as they made sandwiches for lunch.

"Me? On the bike? I don't know," Toby said, looking a bit wary.

"Oh come on! It needs to be run to stay in working condition. You'll love it."

"Well, I guess I can try."

"That's the spirit."

After lunch, Chris took Toby to an old dirt road at the edge of town, where he had learned to ride. That way, if Toby crashed, at least he wouldn't land on the asphalt. The first few times, Chris sat behind Toby guiding him. Then he let Toby take over and soon he was ready for the open road.

They rode a few miles out of town. Chris loved seeing Toby in the driver`s seat. His thighs and crotch pressed up against Toby, giving him tingles. But Chris resisted the urge to touch his lover intimately, not wanting to cause an accident.

"This is fun," Toby shouted into the wind when he finally got the hang of it. They headed back around 3 pm so Chris could get ready for work.

"No matter what time you get back home tonight, you wake me up, okay?"

Chris nodded and kissed him goodbye.

Chris closed the bar a few minutes early and headed home, arriving a few minutes after 2 a.m. He walked into the bathroom, washing his face and brushing his teeth. Then he stripped his clothes off and slipped quietly into the bed with Toby.

The moon shown in through the window and Chris could see that Toby was naked under the covers. He pressed himself against Toby's back and wrapped his arms around his lover. Chris began planting little kisses on Toby's nape, slowly stirring him awake.

Toby stretched and yawned as he slowly woke up. "Mmmm, Chris," he murmured sleepily. "I was just dreaming about you."

"Yeah? Good dreams, I hope."

Toby smiled. "Very good. You me," he said, a sheepish grin on his face.

Chris' eyes lit up. "Hmm. That is a good dream. I'd like to have that one myself. Better yet, we could make that one come true," he said, a devilish grin on his face.

He moved Toby onto his back and slipped down between his lover's legs. He moved his hands under Toby's scrumptious ass and gave it a gentle squeeze. He saw that Toby was already excited even before Chris took him in his mouth.

Toby moaned and closed his eyes, surrendering to the emotion and the pleasure. He wished he could make this night last forever.

Toby woke up tired on Monday and grudgingly got ready for work. He did not want to leave Chris but he needed to get through this day -- if only to ask his boss for a few days off.

When he arrived at work, he headed straight for David Saunder's office and asked his secretary when he had a few minutes free.

"He might be able to see you just before his 11 o'clock meeting," Marcy said.

"Ok. Thanks, Marcy."

He went to his office and worked on some briefs. He checked the clock every 15 minutes. At about 9:30 am, Bea buzzed him and said Gen was on the line.

"Hey, Gen," he said after picking up the phone.

"Toby, are you still taking the kids this Saturday?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Any chance you could keep them the whole weekend? Say from Friday to Sunday night?"

"I guess I could. What's up?"

She hesitated for a moment. "You're going to think it's silly."

"No, I won't. Tell."

"Well, I've been spending a lot of time online lately and have gotten to know this great group of people in a chat room. We're all fans of "Camaraderie," that t.v. show on Sunday nights."

"Okay," he said, not sure where this was going.

"Well, they're all meeting for a fan conference this weekend in New York City and I thought I'd go."

Toby was struck dumb momentarily. Gen on the internet? Gen in a chat room? Gen excited about a t.v. show? He couldn't imagine it. Or maybe he hadn't known her as well as he thought.

"Well, it sounds like fun," he said, not sure of what to say. "And you deserve to get away; have some fun."

"I do, Toby. Thanks for understanding."

"Sure. Listen, Gen, any chance we could meet for lunch sometime this week? I need to talk to you about something."

"Sure. How about today?"

"Yeah, that'll work. Can you come to my office around 12:30?"

"I'll be there."

After getting the okay from Saunders to take the rest of the week off, Beecher finished the brief he'd been working on. Bea buzzed him at noon to let him know Gen had arrived. Good old Gen, he thought, always on time.

"So how are things with Chris?" she asked as they walked toward Le Bistro, a few blocks from Toby's office.

"Well, that's part of what I need to talk to you about."

"Oh? Are you two still together?"

"Yeah. Yeah. We worked through some problems but...well, let's get a table first and I'll go into it."

After ordering, Toby told Gen the whole saga. "Remember a few weeks ago when I was rather short-tempered?"

"Hmm, let's see..." she said, teasing him. "Yeah, I think I can recall that."

Toby took a deep breath. "Jeez, this is harder than I thought."

"Just say it straight out, Toby."

"Chris had just made a confession to me; a rather disturbing confession that I will detail later. Anyway, it took us a few weeks to work through that but we did it. Chris went into therapy -- actually he was already in therapy when he told me -- and I thought things were going to work out okay.

"This confession activities. And, uh, after dealing with some issues in therapy, he decided he needed to take responsibility for his actions. So now he wants to confess his crimes to the police and take the consequences, which is certain to be a prison sentence."

"Oh, Toby," she said, sympathetically.

"Before I tell you what he did, you have to know that I still trust Chris. Implicitly. I trust him not to hurt me again and I trust him with the kids, Gen. You have to know that I would never put our children in any danger."

Gen's expression went from sympathetic to curious to scared. "What the hell did he do, Toby?"

"He killed three young men."

Gen's mouth opened in an `O' but no sound came out.

Toby told Gen about Chris' upbringing; his father's actions; his encounters with the young men without any of the gory details. He also told her about the progress Chris had made in therapy.

"Oh my God, Toby. I don't know what to say."

"I know this is shocking but I thought you should know before you dropped the kids off this weekend. Chris is living with me now -- until the sentencing."

Gen took a deep breath, trying to find her voice. "Toby, this is so...completely surprising. I just don't know what to say."

"I know. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I was kind of working it out in my own mind. But you don't have to worry about the kids, Gen, although I understand if you do. Chris has been making incredible progress in therapy. He's come a long way."

"I need time to think about this, Toby."

"Sure. Just let me know," he said.

"Okay, I'll call you later in the week."

He nodded.

Chris was still sleeping when the phone rang just before noon.

"Yeah?" he said in a groggy voice.

"Christopher? It's Marcus Cowan."

"Oh, yeah. Hi," he said.

"Your phone was disconnected so I thought I'd try here."

"Yeah, sorry I didn't tell you. It was kind of a last-minute development."

"I figured. Listen, I wanted to let you know that I have a meeting set up for you next Monday afternoon. 1 p.m."

"With Pierce?"


"What did you tell'em?"

"Just that I had a client who wanted to make a confession to a series of murders the FBI was investigating. I informed him of your rehabilitation and our hope for a fair sentence."


"And he seemed a bit leery without more information but said he would keep an open mind."

"So what happens next Monday? I make my confession?"


"Do I get taken into custody right away?"

"I would imagine so, but you would probably be able to get bail until the sentencing hearing. That would probably be scheduled a week or two from next Monday."

"Probably get bail? You're not sure?"

"Well, Chris, it depends on the judge and Pierce, of course. I think with your progress, the chances are very good. Dr. Watkins is writing a statement for the judge."

"Okay." His voice sounded calm but his stomach was churning. Oh God, am I making a big mistake here?

"We should meet in my office in the morning so we can go over a few things."

"Okay. What time?"

"How does 11 a.m. sound?"

"I'll be there." Chris hung up the phone and buried his head in the pillow. He had a strong urge to run away. Cold panic hit him and raced up his spine. I can't do this. I can't do this.

He took a couple of deep breaths, willing himself to calm down. I need to go do something, Chris thought, getting up. He decided a workout would do him good. He got dressed and headed out.

Toby couldn't wait for the day to end. He wanted to be with Chris; to savor every moment until Chris had to go. He felt like he was running some kind of race but had a million things to do before he got to the finish line.

He tried calling Chris a few times in the afternoon. At first there was no answer and then the line was busy. By the time he left work at 5 p.m., he was almost frantic with the need to contact Chris; to be connected to him somehow.

On the way home, he tried calling Chris again on his cell phone but the line at home was still busy. Who is he talking to all this time? His mind wandered back to the night before and the delicious way Chris had woken him up. He remembered the feel of Chris' skin against his, the taste of his mouth, the sensation of Chris' mouth on his cock.

He chuckled to himself when he thought how nice it would be to have a virtual reality computer program starring Chris -- just to hold him over until Chris had served his time. By the time he arrived home, Toby was as hard as a rock and slightly irritated at not being able to reach Chris.

He unlocked the door and walked in, dropping his briefcase on the floor and his keys on the hallway table. In the kitchen, he heard Chris on the phone. Jesus, he's still talking? Then he heard Chris end the conversation and hang up the phone.

Toby strode purposefully down the hall; determination on his face. He saw Chris' face appear around the corner. He was smiling, ready to greet Toby's homecoming. Before he could speak, Toby pressed his hands to Chris' chest and pushed him up against the wall.

He devoured Chris' lips; his own frighteningly hungry. Toby felt like he was in the middle of a storm that was impossible to control. Chris fought him, pushed him back. "What's going on, Toby?"

"I don't know, Chris. I...I...I missed you today and I tried to call you but there was no answer. Then it was busy...and I wanted so badly to see you, to talk to you, but you weren't there..." Toby stammered breathlessly, his body still pressed against Chris`. "I need...I need..." but he couldn't finish his sentence.

Chris caressed Toby's face. "I understand, baby, I do." He pulled Toby back in for another greedy kiss. And then Toby was running his hands over Chris' body, pulling and tugging his clothes free.

"I need to feel you, Chris."

"I know, baby."

They moved slowly down the hall, toward the bedroom, stopping briefly to discard items of clothing and to share breathtaking kisses.

"I need to fuck you, Chris."

"Yes," Chris said, huskily; his own body now as feverish as Toby's.

Chris grabbed the lube from the nightstand and got on the bed. "Come here, baby," he said and began coating Toby's cock with it.

"Ohgodohgodohgod," Toby moaned as Chris' hands rubbed the lube along the length of his aching stem. He was fairly incoherent with lust and need and fear. Chris squeezed a dab of the lube onto Toby's fingers and pressed them to the opening of his anus.

Toby seemed to snap out of his reverie then and began moving his fingers over the puckered hole and then slipped inside, thrusting firmly but gently; reaching for that place that gave them both so much pleasure. Now it was Chris' turn to pant and moan in deep, breathy whispers. Toby got harder just watching and hearing Chris' ecstasy.

Toby slipped between Chris' legs and spread them wide. He plunged in; the need to connect with his lover on a physical, spiritual and emotional level, visceral and all consuming. He touched Chris as he moved, giving pleasure as well as receiving. He poured everything he had into Chris at that moment, whispering words of love and devotion from his heart.

"Toby," Chris moaned. He was magnificently lost inside this living animal they had created. Just when Chris thought he would surely die from pleasure, he felt Toby's release pulsing inside of him and he let himself go.

When he opened his eyes a moment later, Chris saw that Toby's eyes were wet with tears. "Hey, Toby, everything's going to be alright," he said, pulling his lover close.

But Toby shook his head. "I feel like I'm losing a piece of myself and I don't know how to deal with that."

"I know, baby, I know."

Part 22

"Who were you talking to for so long?" Toby asked, as they cuddled after making love.

"I called my ex-wives."

"All of them?"

"Yeah. But one at a time. I wanted to tell them about, you know, what's happening. I'm sorry I missed your calls, baby."

"I know you didn't do it on purpose. How could you have known I was having a meltdown? I'm sorry I freaked out like that."

"Yeah, well, you weren't the only one."

"What do you mean?"

"Cowan called today. The meeting with the FBI is set for next Monday."

"Oh God, Chris. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, after I got off the phone, I sort of panicked and needed to get out of here. So I went to the gym and did a hard workout. That's probably why I wasn't here the first time you called. Then when I got back, I called Bonnie. And then Angelique and then Kitty."

"How did they take the news?"

"Not too well. They all want to see me before I go in. I hope that's not going to be a problem."

Toby smiled. "Well, I did want to have you all to myself but I supposed I could spare -- oh -- a couple of hours for them. I got the time off, by the way."

"I think I know how we can keep busy," he said, smiling mischievously and stroking Toby`s arm.

"Oh, and I told Gen about your upcoming confession."

"You did? What did she say?"

"Well, before I told her, she asked me to take the kids for the whole weekend; starting Friday night. She wants to travel to some kind of fan conference or something. Anyway, I figured I'd better tell her since you're living here now. She needed to know."

"Yeah, you're right."

"Well, she was kind of stunned. She said she needed time to think about it. I told her I had complete confidence in you," Toby said, lifting his arm around Chris' shoulder. "And I do."

"I know, baby. It means a lot." He leaned over and kissed Toby, using his tongue to caress and taste his lover.

"Mmmmm," Toby moaned, pulling Chris closer for a deeper kiss. "These next few days are going to be heavenly."

"I'll second that," Chris said, nuzzling at Toby's neck.

"Oh, before I forget -- If Gen says we can still have the kids, I thought we'd take em to the beach, maybe. We can play in the sand and have fun; give you a chance to know...good-bye."

"Sounds like a plan, Toby," Chris said quietly, moving back a bit to look at Toby.

"And we could get back early on Sunday, say around 4. And you could have the ladies come over here for dinner. Kill three birds with one stone, so to speak."

Chris laughed. "You've got this all worked out."

"Well, yeah. That way we can spend the rest of this week in this bed, making love. I'm only letting you out to eat, piss and shower. I think that sounds good."

"It does, baby, it does," Chris said. "But there is one thing I'm going to have to drag you out of bed for."

Toby groaned. "What?"

"Well, Cowan recommended that I pick someone to be in charge of know -- money, property. Not that I have much. Power of attorney, he called it. I want you to do it. Okay?"

"Of course, Chris. I'd be honored."

"Like I said, I don't have much money but there's a couple thousand in the bank. Maybe you could invest it for me while I'm away. And my bike. I want you to have that and use it while I'm gone. Oh, and you could make medical decisions for me, too, if I'm, ya know, incapacitated. Don't let'em hook me up to any machines."

Toby chuckled. "Okay, Chris, whatever you want. Did he recommend a lawyer?"

"No, I told him you could probably have someone at your firm do it. Unless you're uncomfortable with that?"

"No, not at all. I'll have Mark Price do it. I've known him a long time. We used to be drinking buddies. I trust him," Toby said, then laughed, realizing how odd that sounded. Then he drew Chris back into a tight embrace. "Now, where were we?"

Tuesday morning, Toby called Price and set up an appointment for later in the day. After spending a couple of hours signing all the relevant papers, Chris and Toby headed out for dinner. On the way home, Chris dropped Toby off at an AA meeting and went home to make some calls. He let Bonnie, Kitty and Angelique know about Sunday night and they all promised to be there. Then he went back to pick Toby up.

"How'd it go?"

"Oh, ya know, the usual."

Chris smiled.

"Did Gen call?"


By Wednesday afternoon, Toby still hadn't heard from Gen and he was starting to get worried. He decided he was tired of waiting. He picked up the phone and dialed her work number.

"Gen, I know I said I'd wait to hear from you but I'm starting to get worried," he said when he got her on the phone.

"I'm sorry, Toby, but I haven't really made a decision yet."

Toby clenched his eyes shut for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Look, Gen, I can understand your concern and I will bow to your decision. But you need to remember that all this happened before Chris even met the kids; before he brought Harry safely back to us. He has spent a lot of time with the kids and they're really crazy about him. I want them to get a chance to say good-bye."

"I realize all that, Toby. But you have to remember that I didn't know he was a murderer before. I believe you when you say he won't hurt the kids but he has hurt you before and I'm just not that keen on sending my children off with a killer!"


"I'm not saying no. I'm just not sure yet. I'll call you on Friday."

"Friday?! I'll be nuts by Friday."

"Toby, that's the best I can do."

Chris heard the tension in Toby's voice and walked out into the kitchen. Not wanting to intrude on the conversation, he waited until Toby had hung up the phone and then walked up behind his lover and placed his hands on Toby's shoulders.

"Hey, you okay?"

Toby began to relax a little as Chris' hands kneaded his tight muscles. "Yeah, I guess. Gen says she's not sure about this weekend. I'm just a little frustrated."

Chris began to massage the muscles more firmly, getting a groan of satisfaction out of Toby. "She's just being a good mother, Toby. Put yourself in her shoes. Or better yet, imagine that a few months after telling you she had a girlfriend, she informs you that said girlfriend is a reformed killer. Might be a little hard to swallow."

Toby chuckled. "Gen, a lesbian?" he asked, shaking his head and smiling.

"Yeah, well, stranger things have happened. Look at you and me."

Toby turned around to face him then. "I'd rather just look at you. Preferably undressed."

"Speaking of which, whatever happened to that promise of keeping me in bed all week. You've been slacking off, pal."

"Well, then," said Toby, slipping his hands under Chris' shirt and lifting it up. "Let me rectify that."

"It's about time," Chris teased, pulling Toby closer. Their lips met and Chris felt the same powerful pull he always did when he kissed Toby. It never seemed to diminish like it had with his wives and previous lovers. And he knew Toby felt it, too. That's what made it all the more amazing. Toby didn't love him in spite of who he was; he loved Chris because of who he was. The flaws and all; the good and the bad; and everything in between. The realization hit him in the center of chest, making his heart clench and his eyes water.

Toby pulled away when he sensed a change in Chris. He shoulders were shaking and his eyes were red and glistening. "Chris? Is something wrong?"

"No, baby, everything is just right," Chris said and held Toby tight.

Friday came too quickly. Gen called in the afternoon and relented, allowing the children to stay with Toby and Chris for the weekend. She made Toby promise to leave his cell phone on because she would be calling often. She dropped them off at 4 p.m., gave them all hugs and headed off to her fan conference.

Toby and Chris gave the kids some snacks and put them - and their weekend luggage - in the car for a trip to the beach. The drive took three hours and the kids were pretty hungry and cranky by the time they arrived. Toby gave them all a bath while Chris prepared dinner with groceries they had stopped briefly for.

They ate quickly and the kids were too tired to argue about staying up later. Harry fell asleep in the high chair, his head drooping sideways over the tray. "If Gen was here, she'd probably take a picture of this," Toby remarked, as he lifted Harry out the chair and carried him up to the kids' bedroom.

Chris gave Holly and Gary their toothbrushes and then read them a story before tucking them in. Gen called soon after to check on them. Toby let Holly and Gary talk to her for a minute, then he said goodnight.

"Hey, we work well together," Toby said, as they walked back downstairs.

"That we do," Chris said, slipping his arm around Toby's shoulder as they finished their descent and headed into the living room. "I'm going to grab a snack. You want anything?"

"Nah, I'm good," Toby said and parked himself on the couch, turning on the t.v.

Chris came back a few minutes later with a bag of chips and offered some to Toby. "So what's the plan for tomorrow?"

"Well, the kids love to play in the sand, so I thought we'd take down to the beach for a couple of hours in the morning. Then we can come back here for lunch. After they nap, you can talk to them, if you want. Or you can wait until Sunday."

"I guess we'll just play it by ear," Chris said, sidling up closer to Toby. He reached out and rubbed Toby's thigh affectionately. Toby smiled and leaned his head on Chris' shoulder. They sat there like that for awhile, watching some drama that neither one cared a whit about.

Toby placed his hand over Chris'. "This is nice," he said quietly.

"Yeah," Chris agreed, twisting his hand up so he could twine their fingers together. He used his free hand to pull Toby toward him for a tasty kiss. Soon they were lying on the couch, side by side, panting and kissing like two teenagers; the t.v. show forgotten.

"Shall we move this to the bedroom?" Chris asked between kisses.

"Oh God, yes." Toby was feeling completely insatiable when it came to Chris. He couldn't touch his lover enough; couldn't kiss him enough. Being with Chris these last few days was equal parts sorrow and bliss. He couldn't stop thinking about losing Chris, but he reveled in their intense intimacy. It was like trying to desperately hang onto to a dream before you woke up, Toby thought, as they walked up the stairs, hand in hand.

The morning weather was warm and dry. Holly and Gary dragged Chris and Toby out of bed at 7 a.m. Chris groaned when he opened his eyes.

"Toby, you really need to teach your kids to sleep in later," he said.

Toby, used to getting up early with the kids, wasn't anymore equipped to get out of bed just then than Chris. The two lovers had been up to the wee hours, pleasuring each other and sealing their bond.

"Might as well get up now. They won't let us go back to sleep. Besides, we can nap when they do. The beach always wipes them out. They'll all take naps today." Holly and Gary rarely napped these days, except on long car trips.

Toby got Harry out his crib and fixed breakfast for the three of them, then snuck off into the shower. Chris was still in bed. After Toby finished, he went back into the bedroom to try and rouse Chris again.

"Come on, sleepyhead. If I have to be awake, so do you."

"Why? They're not my kids," he teased.

Toby tickled Chris, which made him jump a bit. He wrestled Toby down onto the mattress, pinning him there. He pressed his mouth to Toby's neck, kissing him there. "Mmmm. You smell good."

"Chris, the kids are awake. They could walk in here at any time."

"They know we sleep together," Chris remarked, pressing kisses over Toby's chest.

"Well, sleeping together has an altogether different definition for children," Toby said, squirming under Chris' tantalizing kisses. He made no attempt to get off the bed, however.

"Jesus, you taste good," Chris said, licking Toby's already pert nipple.

"Chris," Toby groaned, letting the pleasant sensations wash over him. "Oh, man."

Chris moved back up to claim his lover's mouth and Toby melted into the kiss. His arm moved around Chris' neck. Chris' hand started to slip under the towel when Toby heard the sound of footsteps. He jumped up quickly and saw Gary's face appear in the doorway.

"Daddy, when are we going to the beach?"

"As soon as you guys finish breakfast and get your bathing suits on."

"Yeah," Gary shouted and ran into his room to change out of his pajamas.

Thirty minutes later, they were driving toward the beach. After parking the car, Toby and Chris helped the kids carry an assortment of beach toys, towels, sunscreen and a cooler with snacks and drinks.

"This feels more like a hike than a trip to the beach," Chris remarked while juggling a bucket, some shovels and something that looked like a small tower with wheels. "What the heck is this thing anyways?" he asked Toby.

"Beats me," Toby replied as he found a spot and started spreading the towels out.

"It's a sand sifter," Holly offered, helpfully.

"A sand sifter? And what exactly does it do?" Chris asked.

"It sifts sand, silly," Holly said and took the colorful toy from him. "See, you put the sand in the top, over the holes. The sand drifts down and hits the wheel, making it turn around and around, then the sand lands back on the bottom," she explained.

Chris looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face. "What's the point of sifting the sand, if it's only going to go right back to the bottom with all the other sand?"

"It's fun to watch the wheel turn," she answered, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Toby smiled at Chris' still-puzzled expression. "I've learned that sometimes it's better not to ask." He laid down on one of the towels and opened a book to read. The kids scattered the toys across the sand and began digging.

Chris laid down next to Toby, letting the sun soak into his skin. He hadn't been out in the sun in awhile with his crazy work schedule. The warmth felt good. He was so relaxed, he almost fell asleep until he felt cold water dripping on his stomach.

He sat up quickly and opened his eyes. He found Harry standing over him, a bucket of water in his hand. The bucket was apparently too heavy for the toddler because he couldn't hold it upright. It was titled and dripping steadily on Chris.

"Unca Kiss. Dig."

Chris took the bucket from him. "You want me to help you dig?"

Harry nodded and toddled back over to where the kids were trying to construct a crude sandcastle. Chris joined them and began shaping the turrets and gables. Before long, they had a good-sized castle, complete with a courtyard and a moat.

Toby looked up from his reading to check on their progress. "Wow, Chris. Where'd you learn to do that?"

Chris rinsed his sandy hands off in a bucket of water and moved over to where Toby was sitting. "I have many hidden talents I'd only be too willing to share with you," he whispered to Toby, a lecherous smile on his face.

Toby laughed. "I just bet you do."

An hour later, the tide began washing parts of their sand castle away. Holly and Gary started complaining loudly. Harry started whining about being hungry, so they decided to head back to the house.

Toby and Chris fed the kids hot dogs and apples for lunch. Toby reminded Chris to cut everything up into small bites for Harry. After lunch, Toby steered the kids upstairs to brush their teeth and then right into bed.

"I'm not tired," Gary protested.

"Then just lie there for an hour and rest. You can't come out until I say it's okay."

Harry was asleep about five minutes after his head hit the pillow and the older kids followed soon after.

Downstairs, Toby and Chris cleaned up the lunch dishes. "This is a good day," Chris remarked, as he dried the dishes Toby washed.

"Yeah. You're really getting the hang of this parenting thing."

"Ya think?"


"I hope I do as well when it's time to tell the kids about going away."

"You'll do fine. We should go rest while they're sleeping. They have a lot of energy when they wake up from a nap."

Toby and Chris snuck in a 20-minute catnap before the kids woke up. It was just long enough to recharge their batteries. The kids were raring to go when they got out of bed and had plenty of ideas of what they wanted to do.

"Let's go to the playground," Gary suggested.

"Shopping!" Holly shouted.

"Beach!" Harry said.

"Hold on. First we need to sit down and talk. Chris needs to tell you something."

They all looked expectantly at Chris. He took a deep breath. "Look, guys, I got something to tell you and it ain't easy. I'm going to be going away for awhile and I won't be able to come over and visit you."

"Where're ya going, Uncle Chris?" Holly asked.

"Uh, well, it's um..." he started but couldn't seem to find the right words.

"You know when you guys do something bad and Mommy and I put you in time out?" Toby said, stepping in for Chris.

Holly and Gary nodded. Harry just kept watching Chris, who was beginning to see where Toby was going with his explanation.

"Well, I did something really bad and I have to go into time out for a long time," Chris said and Toby smiled.

"What'd you do?" Gary asked, his voice full of awe.

"I hurt some people."

"You mean you beat people up?"

Chris nodded, looking down.

"Chuck Jones got a week of detention for doing that! Oh, you must have been in big trouble!"

"More than you know, kid. So when grown-ups go in time-out, they have to go to prison."

Holly covered her mouth with her hand. "Jail?"

"Yeah, honey, jail. I have to be punished."

Holly and Gary looked at him, their mouths hanging open. Harry lost interest in the conversation and began walking around the room, looking for toys.

"When do you have to go?" Gary asked.

"Soon. Tomorrow I have to talk to a man and tell him what I did wrong. Then I have to see a judge who will tell me how long I have to be in jail."

"Will we see you again before you go?" Holly asked.

"I don't know, sweetie, but I hope so."

"Can we come visit you?"

Toby and Chris looked at each other. They hadn't expected this question.

"We'll have to see what Mommy says."

"Will you think of us when you're in jail?" Holly asked.

"Everyday," Chris said, his voice choking up. Holly gave him a hug and Gary followed suit. Harry looked up from a truck he was playing with and jumped up to join the action. He didn't want to be left out.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the playground, the kids reacting well to the news and Gen called once to check on the kids. Holly and Gary seemed to forget about what Chris said for long stretches at a time. Then, one of them would come up with a question, seemingly out of the blue.

Chris was pushing Holly on the swing when she asked, "Do you have to wear chains in jail?"

Chris almost laughed but caught himself. "Uh, no, honey. Not while I'm inside. But sometimes they put them on prisoners to take them from the courthouse to the jail."

Then when he was reading the kids a bedtime story, Gary blurted out, "Do the guards beat you up in jail?"

"Not if you behave, Gary. Although I suppose if I tried to hit one of them, they might try to beat me up."

"You won't try to hit the guards, will you?" Holly asked, her voice full of fear.

"I won't. I promise," he said. Holly breathed a sigh of relief.

The next morning was spent at the beach and the kids wearing themselves out. Holly went up to Holly and whispered something in Toby's ear. She didn't want Chris to hear it, obviously.

"Uh, Chris, the kids and I are going to head back to the house. You can stay here and relax for a bit longer if you want," Toby said and winked so Chris got the message that he was supposed to stay behind.

"That'd be great, Toby. See ya soon, kids."

Chris waited about an hour and headed back to the house. He whistled as he neared the door, so they wouldn't be surprised when he came in. Holly and Gary were giggling madly when Chris walked in the back door, into the kitchen.

Holly walked up to him. "Uncle Chris, we made something for you. You can bring it with you so you won't forget us."

Gary carried what looked like a bunch of seashells glued to paper. Chris took it in his hands and saw that it was a homemade picture frame. Inside the frame was a Polaroid photo of the three children smiling. Chris looked up at Toby, who was grinning proudly.

"It was Holly's idea to make something special with the shells they collected. And Gary remembered we had the Polaroid camera in the trunk of the car. Luckily there was film in it," Toby said.

Chris looked back down at Gary and Holly, who were beaming. Harry had already wandered off in search of something new and interesting. Chris wanted to say "Thank you," but his voice was gone. Instead, he smiled and pulled Holly and Gary into his arms for a hug. "It's beautiful," he whispered, trying to swallow the tears welling up in his eyes.

Toby herded the kids off for a quick bath to wash off all the sand. Then, Chris and Toby loaded them into the car for the drive back. Toby dropped Chris off at the apartment first so he could start working on dinner. The kids were half-asleep in the back, but Chris gave them each a good-bye hug and a kiss. Then Toby headed over to Gen's to drop the kids off.

When Toby returned a half-hour later, he walked in to find Chris and one of his ex-wives presumably laughing over something. The woman was rather large with long, brown hair and a warm smile.

She stood up when she saw Toby walk in. "Oh, you must be Toby!" she said and gave him a big hug as if they'd known each other for years.

"Toby, this is Bonnie," Chris said.

"Hi, Bonnie. It's a pleasure to meet you," he said, after he extracted himself from her hug. "For me, too. Chris has told me so much about you. I've been wanting to meet you for months!"

"For months? Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Chris called me after you two split up. His poor heart was broken," Bonnie said sympathetically, glancing over at Chris. He smiled and shook his head indulgently. He knew there was no stopping her once she got started. She took Toby by the arm and led him over to the couch and began recalling the days after Chris put Toby in the hospital as if it had just been a terrible misunderstanding.

"He went to the hospital everyday to visit you. He felt so badly about what happened. You'd a thought the world was coming to an end he was so sad. I'm so glad the two of you worked it out."

The doorbell rang and Chris got up to get it. Bonnie continued her tale and when Toby looked up again, he saw Chris leading a tall, beautiful, blond woman into the living room. He stood up to greet her.

"Kitty, this is Toby. And you know Bonnie. Toby, this is Kitty." They shook hands and Chris offered everyone a drink before they all sat down again. Chris left the room to get the drinks.

"So, Toby, what do you do for a living?"


"He's a lawyer!" Bonnie interrupted. "Didn't Chris tell you?"

"No, actually. I hadn't spoken to Chris for awhile, until he called last week," she told Bonnie. Then she looked at Toby. "What kind of law do you practice?"

"Litigation. I get to sue a lot of people," he said and laughed nervously. "What about you? What do you do?"

"Well, I used to model - for catalogues and stuff." Toby didn't doubt it for a minute. Kitty was very beautiful. "But I got too old for that. Now I'm a hairdresser. I have my own little shop downtown."

Toby turned to Bonnie, not wanting to leave her out. "And what do you do, Bonnie?"

"Oh! I'm just a housewife now. Just got remarried," she said, showing off her ring hand. "We're expecting our first child next March."

"That's wonderful, Bonnie. Congratulations," Toby said. "Does Chris know?"

"Yes, I told him on the phone."

"Congratulations, Bonnie," Kitty said. Chris returned with the drinks then and sat down next to Toby on arm of the couch.

Angelique arrived about 10 minutes later. She was short, with straight brown hair and was apparently of Asian descent. Angelique was very quiet. She seemed uncomfortable and spent most of the time watching Chris.

Bonnie seemed to sense Angelique's discomfort and suggested that they each tell the story of how they met Chris and fell in love with him. Bonnie suggested Angelique go first.

"Oh, I...No. You start. Really."

"Oh come on, Angelique. We're all friends here. I'm sure Toby would love to hear the story. Wouldn't you, Toby?"

"Actually, yeah. I would."

"Uh well, okay," she said and shifted in her seat. "I was driving to a friend's house and I took a corner too sharply. I ran over the curb and popped the tire. It went flat pretty fast," she said, her voice soft.

"I pulled over and got out of the car, not sure of what to do. I had never changed a tire before. I didn't have a cell phone and there were no pay phones in sight. So I got the tools out I needed for the job and then tried loosening the bolts but they wouldn't budge. The car was pretty old. Just as I was ready to give up and start crying, Chris came along on his motorcycle and pulled over to help me.

"I was a bit wary, of course. A woman can't be too careful. But he was very charming and a perfect gentleman." She smiled at Chris, who returned the affection.

"He talked to me as he changed the tire and somehow I agreed to go out with him before he was done," she said, amazed even as she remembered. "I'd never done anything even remotely that brave before."

"Chris could charm a snake," Kitty said and everybody laughed. Toby was surprised at how laid back Chris was during this whole exchange. He just sat quietly, observing; occasionally smiling. Toby shivered as he got this image of Chris as a ghost observing his own funeral.

"Toby, I want to hear your story," Bonnie said after she finished her tale of meeting Chris.

"It's not that interesting, really." He didn't really feel like discussing it.

"Oh that's not what I heard! Chris told me the whole story!" Bonnie exclaimed.

At first, Toby had found Bonnie a bit loud, but as the evening went on, she grew on him. He began to realize that her enthusiasm was a cover for her insecurities - and that he could relate to all too well.

Just then the over timer went off. Toby stood up. "Saved by the bell," he said and the ladies laughed.

"Oh, we're not letting you off the hook that easily," Kitty teased him. "We'll ring it out of you before dinner is over."

Part 23

Monday was an emotional nightmare for Toby.

He had been up late with Chris after the ex-wives went home. Toby enjoyed the ladies' company but was glad when they finally left. Chris had walked them each to their cars so they could each have a private moment with him. Toby was unable to sleep all night, not wanting to waste a moment of the time he had left with his lover. So he stayed awake, watching Chris sleep. He knew there was no guarantee Chris would ever come back home after tomorrow.

Toby went to the office in the morning half-asleep and somehow managed to get a modicum of work accomplished. He met Chris and Marcus Cowan at Taylor's office at 1 p.m. His stomach, which had been in his throat all morning, was now doing flip-flops.

"Let me lead the meeting, Christopher. When I give you the go ahead, you can tell your story," Cowan said.

Chris nodded and cleared his throat. He was wearing a suit and holding his hands together. He appeared outwardly calm but Toby knew something else was going on under the surface.

"Agent Taylor will see you now," the receptionist said and led them down the hallway into Taylor's office.

The agent stood when they walked in. "Gentlemen," he welcomed them, eyeing Christopher closely. They all sat down. A stenographer came in a moment later and began to prepare.

"Christopher is prepared to make his statement. All we asked, in light of his confession, you will ask the court for some leniency," Cowan began.

"I want to hear what he has to say first," Taylor said, his demeanor cool and distant.

"Will you ask the court to release Chris on bail?"

But Pierce was shaking his head. "Do I look like a fool? For a serial killer?"

"Yes, for a killer who voluntarily came in to confess, despite the fact that you have no evidence against him."

"We'd have gotten him sooner or later."

"You don't know that."

Toby interrupted, "My family is prepared to pay..." but Cowan put his hand on Toby's arm to stop him from speaking.

"Sorry, I won't budge on that."

"Then we'll have to take our chances with the court," Cowan said. "Have you spoken to the families? Will they see Chris?"

"Two of them agreed. The Tibbetses said no."

Cowan nodded. "Has a meeting been scheduled?"

"Yes, for 5 o'clock tomorrow afternoon. Shall we get started?"

Cowan nodded at Chris, who began telling his story. He recalled the details as best he could remember them.

"Why did you kill these men?" Pierce asked when Chris was finished.

"I don't know. I think I was afraid that they would tell people."

"Tell people what?"

"That I slept with them. That I was a fag."

"And that's a horrible thing?"

He nodded and told a brief history of his childhood, describing his father's beatings and humiliations.

"A very touching tale but not really a good enough reason to kill," Taylor remarked.

"No, it's not," Chris said.

"Why did you select these particular men? Byam Lewis, for example?"

"Mutual attraction, I suppose. We met, we flirted, we left together."

"And how did the attraction turn to rage?"

"I honestly don't know. I suppose they reminded me of myself when I was in my 20s. When I had just recently escaped my father's wrath and still hated myself; my...urges."

"After you killed them, you buried them?"

"I don't really remember. I was pretty high." Taylor wrote some notes on a notepad.

"Why are you confessing to these crimes now?"

"Because the families of these young men deserve justice and I deserve to be punished."

Taylor looked up, surprise on his face. He seemed to be searching for some gauge of Chris' honesty.

"I keep thinking you've got some kind of game going here, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is."

"Nope. No game."

"Why now?"

"I've been in therapy for the last six months. Guess you could say, I'm facing down my demons."

"Did you commit any murders after you killed Bryce Tibbets in May?"


"Why did you stop?"

"I was arrested for another crime. Then I met Tobias Beecher in July," he said, indicating Toby. "As our relationship developed, I knew I wanted to change. I stopped going out to bars; stopped picking up men."

"Do you have an intimate relationship with Mr. Beecher?"

Chris looked at Toby and took a hold of his lover's hand. "Yes, I do," he said proudly.

Toby didn't even realize what Pierce had asked until he felt Chris take his hand. His mind had been a whirlwind of thoughts ever since Chris began speaking about his crimes. He smiled at Chris and tried to calm his thoughts down.

"Have you ever attempted to kill Mr. Beecher?"

Chris looked down at his lap. "Yes, I did, but I don't remember it happening."

"What stopped you?"

"Somehow I stopped myself."


"I don't know. I don't remember."

"Are you telling me that after killing three men, this therapy has cured you? All of a sudden you're proud to be gay?" Taylor asked doubtfully.

Chris leaned back in his chair. "No, I'm not cured. But I have gotten better. And I am proud of my relationship with Toby." They looked at each other again, sharing unspoken feelings.

"I'm going to have this statement typed up and you can sign it. After that we'll arrest you and put you in the system. Will you give us a blood sample for a DNA test?"

Chris looked at Cowan who nodded. "Yes."

Pierce stood up. "Good. I'll be back in about 10 minutes," he said and left the room.

"Are you okay?" Toby asked. He realized he was sweating. He was fighting the urge to throw up.

Chris smiled. "Well, other than the butterflies in my stomach, yeah."

"Do you think the court will release him?" Toby asked Cowan.

"Hard to say, Tobias. It could go either way. You need to be prepared for that."

Toby wrung his hands together. "Jesus," he muttered and ran his hands through his hair.

Half an hour later, Chris was ensconced in a holding cell. Toby and Marcus had been able to wait for him through the booking process and the blood drawing. When Chris was ready to go to his cell, they wouldn't allow Toby to come with him; only Marcus. There were two officers on either side of Chris and Toby prayed they could have a moment alone but he knew it wasn't going to happen.

He struggled over what to do. Do I just clap him on the shoulder and leave? Do I look at him meaningfully and hope he understands? Fuck! A split second later, he just decided to go with his instincts. He moved towards Chris and said, "Excuse me," to one of the officers. He wrapped his arm around Chris' shoulders and pulled him into a tight embrace.

"I miss you already," he whispered into Chris' ear.

Chris, who hands were cuffed, burrowed his face into Toby's neck, trying to fight back the emotions that were threatening to spill out. Toby didn't let go until he heard one of the police officers clear his throat. They looked at each other then and Chris leaned forward and pressed his lips to Toby's in a quick but warm kiss.

"I'll see you later," Chris said and smiled, trying to make the best of it. Toby couldn't speak. His heart was in his throat and he thought he might pass out at any second. He somehow forced himself to look in Chris' eyes, to say good-bye, if only temporarily. I have to hang on, he told himself. I have to believe Chris is coming home. I have to.

Toby accompanied Marcus to the clerk's office to find out when Chris' arraignment was scheduled.

"It's on Judge Grayson's docket. Tomorrow morning. 9 am," the clerk said.

"Tomorrow! He can't wait until tomorrow!" Toby yelled.

Cowan shushed him and escorted him into the hallway. "Toby, you have to calm down. It's not going to kill Chris to stay one night in a holding cell. Besides, there is good news."

"What?" asked Toby doubtfully.

"Judge Grayson. Weren't you listening? She tends to be a bit more liberal with bail."

Toby's eyes lit up at Cowan's words. "Really?"

"You've never appeared before Grayson?"

"No, Marcus. I don't work criminal law. Why does everybody keep forgetting that?"

"You're right. I'm sorry. So, I'll see you in the morning?"

Toby nodded and walked out of the courthouse and back to the office. There wasn't much else he could do. If he went home, he would just pace and worry. He was already picturing Chris alone and lonely in the cell, feeling cut off and adrift.

He stayed late that night, calling Gen around 8 p.m. to check on the kids. Gen said they were fine and had only mentioned Chris a couple of times since they returned from the beach weekend, which, incredibly, was only just yesterday. To Toby, it already felt like weeks.

His father called at 9 p.m.

"Haven't heard from you in awhile. Everything alright?" Harrison asked.

"Not really."

"What's wrong, son?"

Toby snorted. "Well, since telling you will only make you gloat, I don't really feel like sharing right now."

"I don't know what you mean, Toby. I would never gloat over anything that was causing you pain."

Toby laughed. "Yes, you would, father. Don't kid yourself. And since this involves Chris, well...."

"Toby, I know I've been hard on Chris but he has proven himself to me by bringing Harry home. I'm not going to judge him."

"Well, I think this news just might change your mind."

"Just tell me, son."

"Chris confessed to the police today. He's going to jail; probably for the rest of his life."

Harrison gasped. "What did he do?"

"Murdered three young men."

"Toby! My God!" Then there was a moment of silence, as Harrison was too stunned to speak. "Toby, he could could have..." he said, sounding horrified.

"You're thinking I could have been one of those victims, right, father? Well, I supposed if I were you, I'd be thinking the same thing. But I honestly believe that Chris never meant to hurt me."

"Then why did he kill those men?"

"You don't know anything about him, Dad! He's my friend and I'm not going to abandoned him when he needs me the most."

"I don't understand why you are so attached to this man."

Because I love him, Toby wanted to say. Instead, he said, "You'll never understand it, father. Chris knows me better than anyone else I've ever met; better than Gen and much better than you or mom ever tried to."

"Don't be cruel, Toby."

"Cruel? I'm not being cruel, father. Just honest."

Harrison took a deep breath. "Where is he now?"

"He's in a holding cell. His arraignment is tomorrow."

"Okay. I supposed he'll be denied bail."

"I certainly hope not. Oh, and, Dad, Chris is living with me now. He has been for a few weeks. And he will continue to do so until his sentencing," Toby said, wanting to hurt his father. "Toby! You can't be serious? If you have no regard for yourself, I certainly hope you won't let the children near him."

Toby laughed derisively. "The kids and I just spent the whole weekend with Chris. When are you ever going to trust my judgment?! I'm an adult. I've been an adult for almost 16 years now. Chris has more patience with my children than I do. And loves them nearly as much as I do. If Gen can trust Chris, why can't you?"

"I don't know where all your anger at me has come from, but I don't want us to become estranged over this. Surely, you can't blame a grandfather for worrying about his grandchildren?"

"I don't want to talk about this anymore. I have work to finish."

"Alright. I'll call you in a few days."

Toby left the office around 10 p.m. and headed straight home. He crawled into bed and fell asleep quickly because he was exhausted.

Toby woke up the next morning with a pounding headache. Christ, I feel like I did when I was drinking, he thought, but without the best part. He swallowed some Tylenol and took a shower and stopped at an early AA meeting before arriving at the court house for Chris' arraignment.

His eyes met Chris' when he walked into the courtroom. He knew Chris had been watching the door, waiting for him. He smiled at his lover and walked down the aisle to sit behind him. They held hands briefly, as Toby greeted Cowan.

Moments later, the clerk called the court to order and Judge Grayson entered. She was younger than Toby expected. Late 30s or early 40s, with long, dark curly hair.

Toby listened anxiously as the charges were read and the judge asked Chris how he was to plead.

"Guilty," he said and Toby felt his stomach fall like a broken elevator.

"We request bail, your honor. Mr. Keller is not a flight risk. He has close ties..."

"We object you're honor," the district attorney said, standing up. Toby saw that Taylor was sitting behind the prosecutor. "This defendant is an admitted serial killer. The murders he committed were brutal and sadistic."

"May I point out, your honor, that Mr. Keller confessed to these crimes of his own free will and that neither the state nor the FBI had any evidence implicating him. In addition, Mr. Keller has not committed any additional murders, despite having been free..."

"He murdered a grocery clerk!" the U.S. attorney shouted.

"Order!" Judge Grayson said, smacking her gavel.

"I apologize, your honor. But Mr. Keller was arrested last July for robbing a grocery store and murdering the grocer."

"The charges were dropped," Cowan pointed out. "And Mr. Keller has been free since that time and has not committed any additional murders."

"Bully for him," Judge Grayson said sarcastically. Toby felt his stomach roiling. Oh shit, she's not going to let him go.

"In addition, he has been in therapy since this past January and has been making tremendous progress. That is the main reason he decided to confess to the crimes. To take responsibility for his actions."

"You'll be presenting this evidence at the sentencing hearing," she asked.

"Yes, your honor."

"Bail is set at $1 million. And, the defendant is required to wear a tracking collar on his ankle. Sentencing is scheduled for two weeks from today," she said, whacked her gavel again and stood up to leave.

Chris turned to look at Cowan. "Well, I guess that's that."

"What do you mean, Chris?"

"I ain't got a million dollars."

"The bond is only $100,000."

"Oh, well then, that should be easy," Chris said mockingly.

"Chris, Toby has already liquidated a portion of his trust fund in preparation for this. We knew the bail was going to be high."

Chris turned to look at Toby, who was sitting there is a sort of daze.

"Toby? You with us?"

Toby shook his head to clear it. "Uh, yeah. I just can't believe she actually gave you bail. I thought for sure she was going to deny it." He looked at into Chris' eyes then. "Chris, you're coming home."

"Thanks to you, baby. Thanks to you."

Chris walked into the small meeting room at the courthouse just before 5 pm. He glanced around the room and saw that he was alone with four of the parents of his victims. He didn't meet their eyes. He cleared his throat and sat down. "I want to thank you for seeing me," he said.

They remained silent and Chris searched his mind for his carefully planned words, but they were scattered and he couldn't collect them.

"Uh...I know this is hard for you I want you to know that I didn't ask you here so I could feel better. My guilt is going to be with me for the rest of my life. That's the way it should be," he said and paused for a minute. "I, uh, wanted to say that I'm truly sorry for taking the lives of your sons. And I'm ready to accept whatever punishment the courts give me. I'm here to answer any questions you might have. Or just to listen to you, if you need that."

He finished speaking but no one else spoke up. Chris glanced across the room to the faces of these men and women, wondering how much they hated him. Their faces were blank, cold, closed off. Several minutes passed and still no one spoke. Chris glanced around the room. "Do any of you want to ask me something?"

Mrs. Lewis, a petit, blond woman, spoke up first. "Why did you do it? Why did you kill our Byam?"

Chris closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "I never planned to kill any of those boys. I know that sounds lame but it's true. Something just...I don't know...something just came over me. I was in some kind of trance -- is the only way I can describe it. At least, I think I was cause I really don't remember much of what happened. That's no excuse, I know. And I am not trying to back out of the responsibility. I'm not. But I want you to know that I didn't go out looking to kill. And I also want you to know that I am getting better. That's probably no comfort to you, but I did stop killing last July and I have been seeing a therapist."

The room got quiet again. Chris looked at the second woman in the room. He sensed she wanted to speak, so he looked at her until their eyes met.

"Why did you pick Mark?" Mrs. Caraci finally asked. Her brown hair was short and straight. She sat with her back straight against the chair.

"I don't know. I guess he reminded me a bit of myself at that age; when I was young and still trying to figure out who I was. I could see that Mark and Byam both felt so comfortable with who they were; with I never felt that way. My dad made me feel horribly ashamed. I hated myself and I punished your sons for what my dad did to me. I am so very sorry for that."

"You sound a little too good to be true," Mr. Caraci remarked. "Can't say I've ever heard of a killer who was so damn contrite." He was a tall, burly man who dwarfed even Chris.

Chris nodded. "I wish there was something I could do to make it up to you."

"You could die," Mr. Lewis said with barely controlled rage.

"Well, I believe that the state will be asking for the death penalty, so you might be getting your wish," Chris said matter-of-factly. His stomach acid churned as he spoke. The thought of going to the electric chair or getting a lethal injection set his nerves on fire.

"Unfortunately, it'll take too long to bring me any satisfaction," Lewis added.

"I hate you!" Mrs. Lewis screamed suddenly. She stood and began walking toward Chris, but her husband took hold of her arm.

Chris looked at her but didn't speak.

"Byam was my only child; my baby. He never hurt anyone," she said, her voice just short of screaming. "When he was little, he was sick all the time with asthma and we thought he would be taken from us so many times. When he finally became an adult and his asthma got better, we thought we didn't have to worry about him anymore. But then you killed him. You wrapped something around his neck and you choked the life out of him. And here you sit all remorseful trying to make us feel sorry for you! Well, you know what? Fuck you!"

"Marissa!" Mr. Lewis admonished her. Her rage, he could understand. The swearing, though -- that was uncharacteristic of her.

"No, David, don't. He needs to hear this," she snapped at her husband, then turned back to Chris. "We came here hoping to get some answers and so far you haven't provided us with any. Instead, you've told us a sob story about your own childhood. Boo hoo. Who the fuck cares? And you've gone on and on about how sorry you are. I don't want to hear your sorrys. I want to know why you killed my son! Everything else is bullshit!" She crossed her arms and sat back down in her seat, staring daggers at her son's killer.

Chris fidgeted for a moment and cleared his throat. "You're right. You're right. Uh...the truth is that I hated myself at the time and I took it out on your sons. I should be dead or maybe my father should be dead, I don`t know. But your sons should be alive and I wish to God there was something I could do to change the facts. But I can't. All I can do is accept my punishment," he said, his voice thick with emotion.

"What do you want from us?" Mr. Caraci asked, his voice raw with unshed tears.

"Absolutely nothing, Mr. Caraci. I'm not asking for your understanding or your forgiveness. I just wanted to give you a chance to yell at me or ask questions, I guess."

"Why? Why would you want to do that?" Mrs. Caraci asked suspiciously. "You kill our children and now you want to bend over backwards to try and help us?"

"Last July, I met someone who changed my life. His name is Tobias Beecher. He helped me when no one else would or could. He essentially saved my life and loved me for who I was -- something I believed no one could ever do. He made me see that my life has value and because of him I decided I wanted to get better. So I started going to a therapist, who helped me deal with all the anger and disappointment in my life. My therapist and Toby also helped me see that I would never be able to complete the journey until I had paid for my sins. That's why I'm here. I don't know if that's enough for you, but it's all that I have to offer."

Silence hung in the room for several minutes after Chris finished speaking. Mrs. Caraci stood first and walked up to Chris. She placed her hand over his and looked into his eyes. She wasn't ready to forgive but she wanted him to know that she appreciated what he had tried to do. Then she walked out of the room. Mr. Caraci followed her silently, only glancing at Chris briefly. The Lewises walked out soon after. Both of them glared at Chris on the way out.

Toby was waiting when Chris came out of the room. He had a big-ass grin on his face as he bounded up to Chris like a puppy. "Hey, how'd it go?"

Chris looked at him sadly. "It was hard; about what I expected."

"Oh, Chris, I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry for me. I'm not the one who lost a child in all this."

They walked down the corridor for a few moments without speaking. "I wish I could think of something to make you feel better."

"Just take me home."

Toby put his arm around Chris' shoulder and pulled him into an embrace. "I love you," he whispered into Chris' ear. "And I'm so glad you're coming home with me tonight."

"Me, too, Toby," Chris said, leaning against Toby's forehead. He felt a small measure of peace standing there, touching this man that he loved. He hung onto it with everything he had.

Chapter 24

I will wait
Even if it takes forever
I will wait
Even if it takes a lifetime
Somehow I feel inside
You never, ever left my side
Let's make it like it was before
Even if it takes a lifetime,
Takes a lifetime
- Nights on Broadway
by the Bee Gees

Mid-June 1999 Tuesday evening

Toby drove them home. Chris was still a little shaky from his meeting with the parents and all he could think about was sitting down and relaxing in front of the television, trying his best to forget about the day. The looks on the faces of those parents was imprinted on his brain.

Toby chatted all the way home and then back at the apartment, he ran around, fussing after Chris -- offering him tea, food and everything in between. It was driving Chris nuts.

"I'm fine, Toby. Just sit," he snapped.

Toby was running on nervous energy. He was ecstatic about having Chris home, but the future loomed. Two weeks would fly by, he knew and Toby didn't want to think about it. At the same time, he couldn't help think about it. It was a damn Catch-22.

"I can't sit, Chris. Please, let me do something for you."

"Okay, fine. You got any soup? Cause I don't think I can eat much more than that."

"Soup? Yeah. Gen was nice enough to send some homemade soup over the last time the kids visited. It's in the freezer. I'll have to thaw it out and cook some noodles but that shouldn't take too long..." he rambled.

"Fine, Toby. Whatever."

Toby disappeared into the kitchen and got to work. Chris was relieved for the break, then felt guilty. In two weeks, I won't be seeing Toby everyday and I'll be wishing for times just like this, he thought. He got up, walked into the kitchen and stood in the doorway.

"Hey, Toby, how are the kids?"

Toby looked up from the stove. "Chris, you don't have to come in here while I'm doing this. You should relax. You earned it."

Chris walked up to Toby and took him in his arms. "I want to be here, Toby. God knows how much more time we're going to have together." He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Toby, who swayed into the kiss and wrapped his arms around Chris.

"I love you, Chris," Toby said, when they broke apart. Toby brushed his fingers over the soft, short hairs at the nape of Chris` neck.

"Me, too, Toby. I'm sorry I've been a little tense since we got home."

"You don't have to apologize to me. You've been through hell today! How could I blame you for that? I'm just glad you're home." He pressed his face into Chris' neck, holding him tightly. He inhaled Chris' scent and began kissing the tender skin there.

Chris leaned his head back and made a small sound of pleasure. Toby's tongue licked a path over the thick stubble and found the hollow there at the base of Chris' throat. He laved and teased it, until Chris was groaning. "Jesus, Toby."

"I think I'll turn this off," Toby said, indicating the food on the stove. Chris nodded, his eyes dark with passion. Toby stirred the sauce one more time after turning it off and then took Chris' hand and led him down the hallway.

They made love slowly, carefully as if afraid they might break each other. Toby savored every taste, every touch, every second; knowing already how horrible it had been to be apart from Chris. If one night was that bad, he didn't know how he could possibly deal with years.

After Chris fell asleep, he went into the bathroom and cried.

Chris woke up abruptly in the night from a bad dream. Toby had been weeping and reaching for him but Chris had not been able to get to him. He could only watch as the men dragged Toby away in some kind of straight jacket.

And while he knew it was just a bad dream, Chris had a feeling that it was going to be almost as bad when the actual moment came. Am I being selfish, expecting Toby to see me through this? Asking him to wait for me, he wondered.

He lay still, hoping he wouldn't wake Toby.

God knew nobody had ever cared for Chris the way Toby did. No one had ever even just showed him the kind of respect and love that Toby had. He treated him like a person, which was more than Chris could say for his entire family. Maybe I'm expecting too much from Toby. Somebody's a little nice to me and I read it like a lifetime obligation? How pathetic is that, he asked himself.

Chris owed Toby more than that -- more than a lifetime of waiting for a killer to get out of jail. And maybe, just maybe, Toby was expecting too much of Chris. All this talk of forever and waiting. How could Chris live up to these fantasies Toby had built up in his mind. Who knew what was going to happen tomorrow, let along 20 years from now?

Chris turned over in bed, staring at the wall, hoping sleep would come. But it never did.

Wednesday Evening

Toby stretched his neck as he approached the apartment door. What a long day it had been. He couldn't wait to see Chris; to burrow himself in his lover's arms. To let the day fall away. He put the key in the lock and opened the door.

"Chris?" he called out but there was no answer. He walked down the hall and into the living room. Chris was sitting there in the dark.

"Chris. What's wrong? Are you okay?"

Chris looked up startled, as if he hadn't heard Toby come in. "What? I'm sorry. I was just thinking."

Toby sat down next to him. "About what?"

"How hard all this is going to be on you."

"Me? I'm not the one going to jail. Don't be feeling bad for me."

"Come on, Toby. You know what I mean."

"No, I don't. So why don't you tell me."

"You waiting for me. I can't ask you to do that."

"You didn't ask. I offered."

"It's not fair to you."

"It's what I want, Chris."

"You shouldn't have to spend the rest of your life alone because I made some stupid mistakes."

"I won't be alone. I'll have you. Just not here," he said, sweeping his arm to indicate the apartment. "But you'll always be here," he added, touching his chest.

"Toby. There's no way we can know what's going to happen from one day to the next, never mind the next 50 or 60 years. You shouldn't be making those kinds of promises."

Toby sighed. "Okay. So, we don't know what's going to happen. And neither one of us has any inkling of how hard it's going to be to try and maintain this relationship. I know there will be days when I will want to give up. And you will, too. Why don't we just take it one day at a time and see what happens?"

"Don't patronize me, Toby."

"I'm not. Why would you say that?"

"Because you say shit like `one day at a time' like it's supposed to be a solution. Like it's supposed to make me feel better. It doesn't."

"What do you want me to say?"

"That you know I'm right and this sucks."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

Toby shrugged. "You're right and it sucks," he said. "And I love you."

Chris pulled Toby to him and held him tightly. "I know."


"What the fuck is all this?" Chris asked, when he got back from the gym the next day. Toby was sitting in the middle of the living room, boxes, Styrofoam, and twist ties scattered around him.

Toby held up the object in his hand. "It's a video camera!"

"What are you going to do with that?"

"Tape you. So I can watch you after you' know."

"You don't have a video camera?"

"No. Well, yeah, I had one but I let Gen have it to tape the kids. So I needed another one."

Chris smiled and sat on the floor next to Toby. "So what do you wanna tape?"

Toby shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I could videotape you getting up in the morning, you riding your bike, you getting in the shower..."

"Me sucking your cock?" Chris suggested lasciviously.

"Chris!" Toby gasped, shocked.

"Oh come on, don't tell me the idea hasn't crossed your mind once or twice today."

"Uh, well..."

"See? Besides, it'd be pretty hot to watch later, huh? Give you something to jerk off to when I'm gone."

"Jesus! Is that all you ever think about?"

"Making love to you? You bet your adorable ass," he said and leaned in to capture Toby's lips for a sweet kiss. Chris' tongue brushed along Toby's lips, making him quiver.

Toby let Chris guide him to the floor and sighed. These next two weeks were going to be heaven and hell combined, he thought.

"Shall we set up that camera?" Chris teased, pressing kisses all over Toby's neck.

"Not now," Toby said, running his hands under Chris' shirt, caressing the soft skin there. "I don't wanna wait for you to fuck me."

Chris let Toby slip the shirt over his head and then swooped back down for a kiss.

A couple of days after Chris came home, he told Toby he wanted to bring the kids ice skating.

"Ice skating? Really? They'd probably like that. They haven't been in a couple years. I'm pretty sure Harry's never been. I guess we'll need to go buy them some skates."

"Buy skates? No, you can rent'em at the rink."

Toby made a face.

"Oh, don't be such a snob."

"I can afford to buy skates, Chris."

"Yeah, and the kids'll wear once or twice before they outgrow'em. Rich people sure know how to waste money."

Toby opened his mouth to protest, to express his indignation, but thought better of it. I don`t want to fight with Chris over skates, for godssake, he thought. "Alright. Alright. You win. We'll rent. But I'm bringing disinfectant spray."

Chris rolled his eyes. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"

They went to rink after school on Friday and it was filled with kids and families. Holly was jumping up and down as if her fondest wish had come true. She loved to ice skate. Gary was pretty excited himself and put his skates on eagerly. Harry just looked kind of confused. Toby was amazed that the rink had skates small enough to fit him.

Chris took Holly and Gary out on the ice first. Toby and Harry sat up in the bleachers and Toby took out the video camera.

"I don't need to hold your hand," Gary said as they stepped on the ice.

"Just once around, Gar. If you're going steady, I'll let go," Chris assured him and Gary conceded.

Holly just looked up at Chris with worshipful eyes and took his hand willingly, even though she needed guidance less than Gary did. Toby chuckled as he watched them through the camera lens. After four times around the rink, Chris stepped off the ice. Holly was disappointed but she continued skating, sailing smoothly past a still-stumbling Gary. He had fallen three times since Chris had let go of him.

"Hey, Toby, want me to take over camera duty?"

"Sure. I think Harry's getting a little itchy here." Chris took the camera, his hand brushing against Toby's and he wished for the 10th time that day that he could pull Toby into his arms and kiss him right there in front of everyone.

Toby smiled at Chris, as if reading his mind. Then he took Harry's hand and led him onto the ice. He needed quite a bit of help, so Toby had to hold both of his hands while they moved along the ice. Harry lost his footing every few seconds and Toby's back was killing him by the time they made it around the rink just once.

"Time for a break, Harry."

"No. Wanna skate."

"I need a rest, buddy. My back hurts."

"I got some great footage of you two, Toby," Chris said when Toby and Harry got back to the bleachers.

"Oh good. I can fondly remember the day my back went out," Toby joked.

"Does it hurt that much?"

"I just need to rest for a minute."

"I can take Harry out. What do you say, little guy?"

"Big guy," Harry insisted.

Chris smiled. "Big guy it is," he said and offered his hand, which Harry took. Toby took the camera out of his other hand.

"Hey, Chris, do you know where Holly and Gary are?" Toby asked, scanning the ice.

"They both stopped for a short rest a few minutes ago. But they're back out there now."

"Oh, yeah, I see them now. Thanks."

They stayed at the rink for almost two hours and they were cold and tired by the time they left. Toby had let Gary use the camera so he could film the four others out on the ice together. Even Holly took a turn with the camera. Toby was curious how the footage would turn out, but he was glad that someone had gotten him and Chris together. That was the whole point of getting the camera, after all.

"Kids are asleep," Chris said, when he came back into the living room. Toby had put them down just 30 minutes earlier.

"Hmm?" Toby asked, his eyes riveted to the t.v. screen. "Oh, good."

Chris sat down next to Toby, putting his arm around the back of the couch. He leaned toward Toby and started planting little kisses on his neck. His hand, which was resting on Toby's thigh, began moving up.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" Toby teased.

"Touching you. Tasting you."

Toby shivered. "You are sooo good for my ego," he said and lay back on the couch, baring his throat.

Marcus Cowan called Toby's office on Monday afternoon.

"Hey, Marcus, what's up?"

"DNA came back. Chris' sperm was found in each of the victims."

Toby winced and covered his face with his hand.


"Yeah, I'm here. Just absorbing."

"This isn't a surprise, right?"

"No, but hearing it makes it that much more real, I guess."

"True enough. Well, I have to run. I'm meeting with Chris' therapist in 20 minutes to prepare him for the sentencing hearing. I just wanted to let you know."

"Thanks, Marcus." Toby hung up the phone and just sat there. God, just when things are starting to seem relatively normal, I have to hear shit like that, he thought. Logically, he knew, he shouldn't even react to the news. Chris had confessed to Toby months ago. It wasn't a surprise.

But somewhere deep inside of him, Toby hoped it was all a nightmare. That Chris wasn't responsible. That the drugs he was on just made him imagine he'd killed those boys. Damn. I guess I've been in serious denial or something. I wonder if they have a program for that? Lovers of Killers Anonymous, or something equally silly. LOKA, he thought and snorted.

"Toby, you okay?" Chris asked about 10 minutes after Toby got home that night.

"Uh, yeah, I'm fine." They were sitting at the table eating some pasta that Chris had cooked.

"Don't seem fine. You haven't eaten two bites and you're mind definitely ain't here."

Toby forced himself to look at Chris. He saw the face of the man he loved -- had been in love with -- for more than a year. He didn't see the killer. He couldn't see the killer in this man. No matter how hard he looked. "I'm sorry. It's just....well, I got a call from Marcus today. The DNA tests came back."

Chris nodded and waited. He could see Toby needed to think it all through.

"It was a match."


"Okay? That's it?"

"What am I supposed to say, Toby? It's not like it's a surprise," he said and studied his lover's face. "Shit, you're not surprised are you?"

Toby shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face. "No, not really. Disappointed, maybe. I don't know. I mean, I knew...I knew how it was going to turn out, but still, there was this tiny part of me that hoped..."

"Hoped what? That I didn't do it? That the test would miraculously have someone else's blood in it?"

"I don't know! Jesus!"

"Toby, I thought we'd gotten through this part of it."

"I know. We have. We have. I just...something about making it real, I guess."

Chris nodded. "What do you wanna do? Do you want me to go and give you some time alone?"

"No!" Toby said quickly and covered Chris' hand with his own.

"Maybe we could go do something together?" Chris suggested.

"Yeah, maybe a movie. Something to take my mind off this."

"Okay. Let's go," he said and grabbed his jacket.

"What should we see?"

"It's up to you, Toby."

"Maybe the new Schwarzenegger movie? Gen would never go to those with me."

"Aww, Tobe, you're such a romantic," Chris teased and put his arm around Toby's shoulder as they headed toward the car.

Sunday Night

"Should we set the video camera up tonight?" Chris asked. "We haven't used it for anything naughty yet." He attached it to the tripod.

Toby smiled from the bed. "Yeah, well that's cause you're usually in too much of a hurry to bother," he teased.

Chris cocked an eyebrow and walked towards Toby. "Me? I'm in too much of a hurry? And you aren't? How many of my shirts have you ripped in the last week?" Chris teased.

Just a few weeks ago, a comment like that would have made Toby blush. Not anymore. He was past that point; past everything except telling and showing Chris just how much he loved him before time ran out. He grabbed Chris' belt buckle and pulled him forward until it almost touched his chin. He looked up at Chris. "Maybe we should add this one to the list?"

Chris smiled devilishly and Toby began unbuckling his belt. Chris reached behind him, his long fingers brushing over the top of the dresser, searching for the camera's remote control. Toby was working on his zipper when Chris finally found it, aimed it at the camera and pressed record.

"Did you just turn the camera on?" Toby asked, after hearing the whirring sound.

Chris smiled innocently.

"I don't think I can do this with a camera on me. I'm not an exhibitionist like you."

Chris put his hands on Toby's shoulders and eased him back onto the bed. "Just close your eyes and before you know it, you won't even remember it's there," Chris said as he kneeled over Toby's prone body and leaned in for a teasing kiss.

Toby leaned up on his elbows. "But Chris..."

"No buts," Chris said, holding his hand against Toby`s chest." We're doing this for you. Believe me, you're going to thank me in a few weeks when all you've got for company is your hand and your imagination."

"How romantic," Toby said drolly.

"Romance? Baby, tonight I'm taking you to heaven."

Toby rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically.

"I saw that. You better rethink that attitude if you hope to have any chance of getting off tonight."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah," Chris said and leaned over to whisper in Toby's ear. "I'm going to bring you to the edge and keep you there until you beg me to let you come."

Toby felt a shudder ripple through him. He had no doubt Chris would make good on his promise and visual images alone set his heart pounding to a staccato beat. He laid back on the bed, spreading his hands out in surrender.

Chris undressed Toby slowly, taking care to caress his lover's skin as he moved. He stroked a hand down Toby's side, making him shiver. Removing his pants, Chris brushed against the warm fullness of Toby's ass and pressed kisses to his chest and stomach. He worked slowly, not wanting to rush this coupling; wanting to imprint the memory on them both.

When he was done, Chris stood up to undress himself. He looked at Toby, who was laid out like some kind of seductive angel. His curly hair disheveled. His skin flushed. His blue eyes half closed and glowing with heat. His cock hard and arched over his stomach. His breath came in short, shallow rasps.

Toby watched intently as Chris shed his own clothes; his eyes flickering over the warm, olive skin. He ached to touch its softness but Chris seemed to be moving in some kind of slow motion. Toby was amazed that after all this time with Chris, he still had such a visceral anticipation of making love with Chris. He didn't remember feeling the same way with Gen a year into their marriage. Hell, he didn't remember ever feeling like this about anyone before Chris.

Chris finished discarding his clothes and knelt on the bed, pressing himself against Toby's heated skin, making them both gasp. Then their lips met hungrily, the passion between them already burning on high. But they wouldn't rush this tonight. They both wanted it to last long into the night.

Chris tasted Toby's lips, running his tongue over them, capturing Toby's top lip in between his. He felt Toby's hands touching the skin on his back, his shoulders; the light caresses stoking the already raging fire inside him. He moved his mouth to Toby's chin, kissing a hot, wet trail along his neck, across the collarbone, sucking at the hollow at base of his throat.

Toby moaned. "Chris," he whispered. "I can feel you everywhere."

Every sense was inundated with Chris. He could feel Chris' pulse under the pads of his fingertips, brushes of the soft skin against his and the press of Chris' erection against his groin. Chris' scent invaded Toby's nose; filling his lungs like some kind of intoxicating drug.

Chris' taste was in his mouth and on his lips. He could hear Chris panting in his ear. He raised his head and looked into Toby's eyes. "I want you, baby. All the time. Only you."

"Yes," Toby whispered and pulled Chris back down for a kiss. He could not stop his hands from roaming over Chris, across his back, down his arms, around his neck. It was like fingering warm silk. Chris groaned and Toby reveled in the fact that Chris enjoyed being touched as much as Toby liked touching him.

Toby maneuvered Chris onto his back and began his own journey across the tantalizing body he held in his arms. "I need to taste you," he said as his lips moved over Chris, licking and kissing his chest, his nipples, his belly. Chris squirmed under the assault, moaning as he moved.

"Toby, please," he begged. And before he could say another word, Toby's mouth was on him, licking at the pre-cum, and Chris' hips rose up off the bed, almost involuntarily. "Tobbbbbbyyy."

Toby moved with him, letting Chris guide him. When he settled back down, Toby slid his mouth over Chris' rigid length, sucking gently; his head bobbing up and down. "Jesus, Toby."

After several minutes, Toby heard Chris' breathing change. Knowing he was close, Toby stopped sucking. He didn't want Chris to come just yet. He licked a trail on the underside of Chris' cock and along his perineum. Chris shivered and spread his legs wider.

Toby's tongue found the puckered hole, laving the clean skin; inhaling Chris' musky scent. He kept one hand on Chris' erection, moving it slowly, and used his free hand to reach for Astroglide on the night stand. He used both hands for a moment to squeeze some out on his finger, which he then slid slowly inside his moaning lover.

"Oh yeah, Toby, come on. Come on," Chris urged.

"I thought I was going to be doing the begging," Toby said, smiling.

"Later," Chris said, his breath shallow.

Toby looked down at his lover, pleased at the flush of desire in his face. "I love you, Chris."

Chris pulled him in for a sloppy, hungry kiss. "Do it," he whispered. And then Toby was inside the tight hole and they were rocking together like nothing existed outside of this coupling. Toby took hold of Chris' cock and began stroking in time with his thrusts, using his free hand to brace himself on the bed. Chris' body was pulling him in, making him believe that all the emptiness to come was worth it for this moment right now.

Soon, Toby felt the familiar vibrations traveling through him, and for a moment he panicked. He had a sudden flash of fear, knowing this was their last night together. Would he ever feel like this again? Would they ever have a chance to be alone together like this? Would he spend the rest of his life alone? Was it worth the price of loving Chris?

And then he heard Chris calling his name in climax; almost singing it. He yelled it with passion and love and total commitment. And Toby knew it was worth it. He'd always known. He just needed Chris to remind him sometimes.

They lay side by side; their skin still damp from a late-night shower. Toby was on his stomach, his head on a pillow, facing toward Chris. Chris was on his back, one hand behind his head.

"So, can I come visit you on the first visiting day?"

"What, you think I'd try to keep you away?"

Toby shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe you need time to get settled. I just don't want to push you, ya know? Make you uncomfortable. I don't know what the etiquette is for these things."

Chris laughed. "Fuck if I know the etiquette for prison visits, but seeing you - anytime - would never make me uncomfortable," he said, reaching over to touch Toby's arm. "I love you, Toby. Not seeing you would make me a lot more uncomfortable. And worried. And probably a bit pissed. Make that a lot pissed."

Toby smiled. "Good. Cause I don't think I can wait. How often can you have visitors?"

"I don't know. It was once a week at Lardner. I guess we'll find out."

"Once a week? That doesn't seem often enough."

"Come on, Toby. You have your family and your work. You don't need to come babysitting me all the time."

"Well, it's not babysitting that I want to do," he said, grinning mischievously.

"Oh yeah? What do you want to do?"

"I want to touch you. Hold you. Kiss you. Tell you how much I miss you. See your face. Watch you smile cause you're happy to see me." He scooched closer to Chris, leaning enough to kiss his lover on the shoulder.

"Sounds like a great plan to me. I'll to do my part."

"Your part?"

"Smiling cause I'm happy to see you. They won't be able to wipe it off my face."

Toby shivered.


"Your smile. It's...I don't know the right word...radiant? Yeah. Radiant. Makes me melt."

"Yeah?" Chris asked, sounding rather surprised, yet pleased.

"Oh yeah. And I'm not the only one."

"Get outta here."

"I kid you not, Mr. Sex God," Toby said, brushing his fingers over Chris' arm. "Your smile could seduce anyone. But you'd better save it for me. The seduction part, anyway."

"That's a promise."


"Can I start now?"

"Start what?"

"Using my smile to seduce you."

"Start?" Toby asked skeptically. "Uh, you haven't stopped since around last July."

"Yeah?" Chris asked, shifting so he lay on his side. He swept one arm over Toby's back.

"Yeah." Chris leaned in for a kiss and ran his hand over Toby's smooth ass.

"Mmmm. That feels nice."

Chris rolled Toby onto his back and kissed him again. He captured Toby's hands and pushed them up over his head. He slid his body along Toby's, making his lover groan in appreciation. He pressed their groins together, increasing the friction. "Jesus fucking Christ," Toby gasped. "I can't even begin to describe how it feels when you touch me like this."

"I think I know," he said, looking into Toby's eyes.

They made love again and again; their last night filled with whispers of love, tender touches and agonizingly promising kisses. Neither of them slept, but lay holding each other after they were spent; waiting for morning to come.

Gen arrived at the apartment Monday morning, as Chris had asked, and saw two duffle bags packed and set by the door.

"Hey, Chris," she greeted him when he opened the door. "Is that all your stuff?"

"Nah. The blue one's mine. The other one is Toby's."

Gen looked at him curiously.

"I want him to stay at the house tonight with you and the kids. I don't want him to be alone. That okay?"

She smiled and touched his cheek. "You take better care of him than I ever did. Where is he, by the way?"

"In the bedroom. He told me to call him when we were ready to leave."

Gen nodded sympathetically. "He's going to be alright, Chris. Really."

"Thanks for coming today, Gen. He's going to need you."

"Come on, Toby!" Chris called out. He grabbed the bags and headed out to Gen's car. Toby appeared a minute later, black circles under his eyes and two days worth of stubble on his chin.

"Toby, you look exhausted," Gen said.

"Didn't really sleep last night."

"I figured." She put her arm around him. "Chris asked me to come to court with you and bring home to the house later. Is that okay with you?"

Toby nodded and walked with Gen out to the car. He slipped in next to Chris, who was in the back. As soon as Toby closed the door, Chris' hand covered his.

They rode silently to the courthouse. After parking the car, Gen got out to give them a minute alone. "I'll be waiting inside," she said.

"Ready, Toby?" Chris asked.

Toby shook his head and smiled. "You're too much. You're the one who's going in there to hear someone pass judgment on your life and you're worried about me. How do you do that?"

Chris shrugged. "Gives me something to do." He gave Toby's hand a tug. "Come on, let's get this over with."

"Wait." Chris took his hand off the door handle and looked at Toby, who reached up and touched his lover's face. He was silent for a moment, studying the lines and curves of Chris' face.

"What are you doing, Toby?"

"Memorizing you." He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Chris' mouth. "I love you," Chris whispered between kisses.

"Me, too."


"No," he said, giving Chris a sad smile.

"Let's go," Chris said, tugging his hand and opening the door.

Toby took deep breaths to calm his out-of-control nerves. He kept glancing at Chris, who tried to give him reassuring smiles whenever he caught Toby`s gaze. Toby started off paying close attention to everything that was said and was especially pleased with Dr. Watkins testimony. He made Chris sound redeemable and for that, Toby was incredibly grateful.

When the parents of the dead boys got on the stand for their turn, Toby found it hard to listen. The testimony of Daniel Tibbets, who had not met with Chris, was especially vitriolic. His wife did not take the stand, but wept from the bench. It was more a keening wail, really, Toby thought and then blocked out everything that was said after that.

Judge Michaels left the courtroom after the testimony was completed and Toby felt like he would scream if he had to sit there and wait another minute to discover Chris` fate. He kept smiling at Chris, trying to offer reassurance, but it felt so fake, even to him. His stomach was felt like it was on a rollercoaster and his hands were sweating. He forced his mind to visit good memories he had shared with Chris. The trip to the zoo with the kids, the romantic dinner at the restaurant, the first time they had made love. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift away from the ugly proceedings in the courtroom and didn't realize how much time had passed, until Gen tugged on his arm.

"Toby, the judge is getting ready to announce the sentence."

"Hmm? What? Oh, yeah. Sorry. I was daydreaming, I guess."


Judge Michaels sat down. He banged his gavel to quiet the courtroom.

"After reviewing the documents and the testimony, I hearby sentence Christopher Keller to life in prison..."

Toby's head swam and the roar of blood filled his ears. This is wrong, all wrong. There must be some mistake. Please let this be a bad dream, he thought irrationally.

And then, just as soon as the blood filled his head, it rushed back out, leaving him weak and light-headed. He leaned forward, reaching for the railing separating him from Chris, but he couldn't see Chris because his vision was blurring. He missed his aim and went down on one knee and then everything went gray for a minute. He felt hands on his face; soft, cool hands, trying to rouse him. Gen's hands.

He opened his eyes and he saw Gen - at least he thought it was Gen - talking to him but he couldn't hear the words and her face was distorted. There were people all around him, standing over him, looking at him. He took a deep breath and the world came back into focus.

"Breathe, Toby. Oh, thank God!" Gen said. "Are you alright?"

She helped Toby sit up on the floor, where he had fallen in a heap. He leaned back on the bench and took a few more deep breaths. "Yeah, I think so." He scanned the crowd around him, looking for Chris' face. People began to disperse and he saw two paramedics approach him.

"Hey, guys, I'm okay. It's not necessary. I'm okay."

Gen moved aside and one of the paramedics, a woman, knelt down near Toby. "We have to take your vitals, sir." She checked his pulse, his blood pressure, his eyesight. Her partner, a red-headed man, gave her the equipment she needed. Then she asked Toby to stand up.

"Any more dizziness?"

"No. I feel fine." Finally, his eyes found Chris and he locked them there. Chris looked concerned and Toby knew that he wanted to be by Toby's side, making sure he was alright. He smiled at Chris, assuring him. He's still worried about me and he's the one who's just given up the rest of his life, Toby thought, amazed and touched at the same time.

After the paramedics finished, he walked over to Chris, who came up close to the railing. Without a second thought, Toby leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Chris, pulling him close. Before anyone could say a word or separate them, Chris tilted Toby's head up slightly and kissed him - maybe their last kiss ever - and Toby felt his heart break in two. It was a warm, loving kiss; almost chaste and full of unspoken emotion.

All too soon, the bailiff was pulling Chris away, but Toby held on gingerly, letting his arm trace it's way down Chris' arm until they were too far apart to touch anymore. "I love you," he mouthed to Chris and his lover nodded. Their eyes stayed locked until Chris was taken out of the courtroom.

Toby sat down hard on the bench after Chris was gone and Gen asked him again if he was alright. He nodded and Marcus came and sit down next to him.

"You were surprised?" Marcus asked.

"I guess I was. I mean, I knew it was going to be bad, but just hearing `life,' I guess it hit me," he stopped and pressed his face into his hands. "I've gotta be strong for Chris, though. I have to be." He looked back up at Jim and Gen, who were giving each other puzzled looks. "I'm going to keep my promise and go visit him every week. I`m not going to let him know how much..." Toby rambled on until Marcus stopped him.



"What exactly did you hear before you started to feel dizzy?"

"What did I hear?" Toby repeated, confused.

"Yes. Did you hear Chris' sentence?"

"Yeah. That's why I got dizzy. The judge said `life' and suddenly I couldn`t breathe."

"So you didn't hear the part about parole?"

Toby's pressed his brows together skeptically. "Parole?"


"No, I didn't hear that. What? Tell me."

"Possible parole in 12 years."

Toby's eyes opened wide in astonishment. "12 years? Really?"

Marcus and Gen both nodded. "I think Dr. Watkins testimony swayed the judge towards some leniency."

"Oh God," he said. He was stunned, and tried not to let the little bit of hope that was building in his chest to grow. He knew 12 years paled to a life sentence, but it was still a long time. Twelve years was twice as long as Holly had been alive. Twelve years of seeing Chris in a prison visiting room. Twelve years of sleeping in an empty bed. Twelve years of worrying about Chris surviving inside the walls of Oz. "Well, that's something. Better than I hoped, really." He tried to sound optimistic, but his voice came out flat and monotone.

"Chris will have to continue his therapy inside of Oswald if he hopes to make that parole. You need to encourage him," Marcus said, looking around at the now-empty courtroom. "They have a therapist there. Sr. Peter Marie Reimondo. I'm told she has a pretty good reputation."

Toby nodded distractedly. "Okay. I will."

"Come on, Toby. Let's go home," Gen said, hooking her arm through his. They said their goodbyes and thanks to Marcus. Then Gen walked him out to the car. Twelve years, he kept repeating in his head. Twelve years. As long as three presidential terms. Jesus, he admonished himself, what are you complaining for? It could have been 20 years. It could have been no parole at all. Why couldn't he just be thankful it was only 12?

Because it's not in my nature, he thought grimly. Fuck it. I can't keep thinking about this. He began planning what he would say to Chris on his first visit to Oz.

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