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Notes and Disclaimer: The characters are owned by others, no profit being made or infringement intended.
This fic is a sequel to another I'm writing, which is the beginning of the relationship. References are made to events in that story, but this can be read as a stand alone. I still have hopes of finishing that boy-meets-boy
fic, but at this point I'm not promising anything.
I'm picturing the boys a little younger here, in their early thirties.
Thanks to Kim.
Dedicated to Patty, for asking.

Force of Nature

by Lisa H

Force of Nature *************

Toby let himself into the apartment, dropping his books and briefcase on the small table just inside the door. He paused a moment, listening, and was met with silence. Assuming Chris was already asleep, he slipped out of his shoes, dropped his coat on the couch and made his way quietly to the kitchen.

Moving through the dark, he opted to flip on the small light beneath one of the cupboards, rather then the bare bulb overhead. There had once been a globe to soften the glare, but it had been broken a few months ago. Their good intentions of a day spent cleaning had gone out the window in favor of a game of dueling broom and mop handles. A zealous overhand charge had brought the globe shattering down, barely missing them.

Toby smiled at the memory and resolved, as he had at least once a week since it had been broken, to get the globe replaced this weekend. His smile faded as he opened the near-empty fridge. There had been eight beers left from the cold case he'd brought home yesterday. He'd gotten up when he heard Chris come home from the bar, and they'd sat and talked and drank a couple each - now there were none.

"Sorry, baby, wanna shot instead?"

Toby's heart slammed a couple beats in response to the unexpected voice behind him. "Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me," he said as he closed the door and turned around. "I thought you were asleep." As his eyes adjusted from the glare of the refrigerator light, he saw Chris sprawled in a chair at the kitchen table in the corner. On the table he could make out the missing beer bottles and a larger one of Jack Daniels.

"Where ya been, sweetie pie?"

Sweetie pie? That was a new one, and the sarcastic tone of voice used was not lost on Toby.

Chris gained his feet and made his way across the dim kitchen to stand, swaying slightly, in front of Toby. He leaned back against the fridge, looking Chris over, trying to think what could have brought this binge on - Chris almost never got drunk by himself.

"What's up?"

"Tell you what." Chris moved closer, and Toby involuntarily turned his face against the onslaught of alcohol fumes. "Why don't you answer my question, then I'll...answer...yours." He accentuated the last few words by jabbing Toby in the chest after each one.

Toby looked down at the hand that was now flat on his chest, holding him firmly in place, quickly going through the events of the past couple days, trying to figure out what could be on Chris' mind. "Okay, Chris, what was the question?"

Chris grinned and cocked his head. "You stallin' for time? Tryin' to get a good story cooked up in that smart-boy head of yours?"

Toby did push his hand away then, anger and frustration flaring through him. He'd had a very long day and, Christ, he'd been looking forward to a couple cold beers and the fact that Chris would be here when he got home - he usually worked such late hours that he almost never beat Toby home. Now he had no beer, and Chris was on some kind of drunken quest for answers to who knew what.

Trying to keep the aggravation out of his voice he said, "I've had a long, hard day and I'm in no mood for guessing games." Jesus, things had been fine, as far as Toby knew. They weren't seeing each other much, now that he'd started school, but when they were together everything had been going great. His growing frustration snapped his good mood completely. "I don't know what all this shit is about, but I'm going to take a shower now."

The dark head nodded. "Sure."

Toby huffed a long, tired breath and started to move away, but was blocked by Chris' arms, which were suddenly braced against the refrigerator on either side of his shoulders.

"Just as soon as you tell me where the fuck you were tonight."

The words were calm, but Toby could feel the waves of tension in the air, and see the anger in the dark eyes boring into his own. Why would Chris doubt where he'd been? He resisted his impulse, which was to push Chris away and tell him to take a flying leap. He knew enough from his own days of over-indulgence that the best way to deal with a belligerent drunk was to keep the situation as calm as possible.

He kept his voice steady and deliberate as he spoke. "I was at the library, just like I am every Friday. Then I stopped at my parents' on the way home to borrow some of my dad's books and ended up visiting a while. I tried calling about an hour ago - didn't you get the message?"

His eyes widened as he watched Chris' face contort and his body visibly shake. "You. Fucking. Liar."

He'd had enough, fuck the handbook for drunken behavior; he reached up and grabbed Chris' wrists, pulling his arms down and pushing them away. Chris offered only a slight resistance, but the dark look on his face didn't change.

"You either tell me what the hell it is that you seem to think I've done, or get the hell off me - I'm fucking out of here!" Toby's head was spinning. He'd left the house this morning with a smile on his face, leaving Chris in the same good mood, courtesy of mutual hand jobs in the shower and the fact that they were going to have an extremely rare weekend off together, starting tonight. It was like he had left Good Chris this morning, only to find Bad Chris had taken his place, and their much-anticipated weekend was turning to shit. He headed for the hall, almost making it to the doorway when he was grabbed from behind and slammed against the wall.

"Ow, fuck, shit!" The dimmer switch dug into his shoulder blade as he hit the wall. The overhead light came on, causing both men to blink against the sudden glare. `Now what the hell?' Toby wondered, not even having time to be pissed as he watched Chris' eyes widen then narrow as he stared at Toby. He couldn't help flinching when Chris reached his hand out and roughly dragged his thumb across Toby's cheek, just in front of his ear.

He stood still and silent, staring at his thumb. Toby ran his own fingers over the spot, mentally cursing as he saw the smear of lipstick on them - fucking great. He knew Chris wouldn't think anything of it if he were sober - in fact, he'd probably just give him good-natured shit about it. But Chris was spoiling for a fight and this was some good ammunition. Toby steeled himself for another outburst, but Chris only made his way back to the table, taking a pull on the whiskey when he reached it.

Toby took a few hesitant steps toward him. "Chris, this isn't what it looks like." Jesus, had he really said that - how much more clich could he get? At least the lipstick hadn't been on his collar. "Debbie gave me a good night kiss, that's all. You've met Debbie, remember?" Shit, he hated the way he sounded, apologetic and overly sincere, as though *he* was in the wrong here. But back to keeping the peace - if he could just get Chris to mellow out tonight, tomorrow would be plenty of time to rip him a new one.

Chris swung his arm in an exaggerated arc over his head. " `s okay, Toby," he said, " I figured this was comin'. I mean, you weren't really cut out to be a fag, right? It was fun while it lasted, got you through the bad time after your divorce...it's cool."

Toby was stunned. What the fuck was he talking about?

"I have absolutely no idea where this is coming from. Put the bottle down and talk to me, `cause I gotta tell you, I'm totally in the dark on this."

He'd been lulled by the shift in Chris' attitude, so it caught him off guard when the whiskey bottle went sailing past his head. Miraculously, it didn't break and lay slowly spinning at the base of the fridge, the amber liquid leaking to the floor.

"Fuck, look what you made me do!" Chris started toward it, but Toby moved in front of him, stopping him with his hands on the taut chest. - He could feel the tension in Chris' body through the thin material of his t-shirt. They stared at each other, and Toby could see a myriad of emotion in the dark, blue eyes. There was pain, confusion, bewilderment, and then they seem to clear, to sharpen with the intensity of the rage that followed. Chris grabbed the front of Toby's sweater and yelled into his face, "Don't tell me you were at the fucking library! I went to the library; I went looking for you to take you something to eat. I was worried about you, and the long hours you were keeping - what kind of dumb fuck does that make me? You weren't there, your fucking car wasn't in the parking lot, you weren't answering your phone, and then you come home with some bitch's lipstick on your cheek! Did you forget to wipe it off your dick, too?"

Toby was nonplussed - he couldn't think of a single thing to say in answer to the accusation. He dimly heard the phone ringing, only coming out of his state of shock when Chris grabbed the phone with a curt "what?" handing it to Toby with a triumphant smile. In the manner of a teasing sibling he said, "It's for you, Tobias, it's a girrrl."

Christ almighty, could things get any worse? It had to be Deb...he was tempted to just hang up, but then she'd be worried. He gave Chris the most threatening look he could manage as he left the kitchen, daring the drunken sot to try and stop him. He stepped into the small bathroom at the end of the hall, pulling the door closed behind him and, on second thought, locking it.


"Toby, it's Debbie. What's going on?"

That was a loaded question. "Uh, Deb, I can't really talk now."

"Oh, okay, I just wanted to let you know you left one of your notebooks in my car. Keith tromped all over it with his big clodhopper boots, but the inside's okay. I didn't think you'd be needing it this weekend but wanted to let you know, just in case."

"Great, okay, thanks, Deb. I'll get it from you on Monday."

The doorknob rattled, causing him to take a step back from the door. Toby could hear Chris swearing loudly under his breath, "Mother fucker better not try to lock me out." Then louder, yelling as he pounded on the door, "Toby, you better fucking open this goddamn door right now!"

Toby turned from the door, cupping his hand around the phone as he answered Deb's worried query as to what was happening. "I'm sorry, I gotta hang up now. I'll see you Monday, okay?"

He set the phone on the sink as he moved toward the door, not sure if he was going to open it or not. He'd never seen Chris like this - Toby had always been the one prone to drunken outbursts. It still amazed him the way Chris had stayed by him in the early days, somehow knowing that things would eventually be good, fucking great, between them. Not that Chris never lost his temper - some of their fights were epic - but this irrationality was making him nervous.

He decided to open the door, afraid Chris would pound a hole through it. He was a second too late - just as he reached for the knob, it flew open. The force of the blow sent Toby staggering backward; the knob hit his hip, and the door itself smashed into his knee and glanced hard off his forehead...he tripped over the trash can and fell, hitting the tub as he went down.

He lay there a minute, stunned, as the full impact of his injuries seeped in. He finally decided he ought to try standing - maybe things would throb less in another position. He looked up to see Chris standing over him, a mix of shock and remorse on his face. And then he was on his knees, touching Toby everywhere.

"Oh, Christ, baby, Jesus Christ, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. Let me help you up, oh fuck, your head, oh Christ."

Toby could hear the sincerity in Chris' voice, but it wasn't enough to pierce the cocoon of pain currently surrounding him. "Just get the fuck off me and leave me alone!" He grimaced at the twinge in his back as he pushed at Chris' arms. "I've had it with you tonight, you suspicious, clueless asshole!" Toby felt a spark of guilt as Chris backed out of the room, his face a twisted mask of anguish, but extinguished it quickly. What the hell did he have to feel guilty about? Chris wasn't the one sprawled out on the bathroom floor.

Using the tub, he pushed himself up. His back seemed to be okay, but his knee didn't feel much like supporting him. He also experienced a massive head rush, like you get after standing too quickly, but this one was accompanied by a sickening pounding.

"Holy shit," he breathed, looking at himself in the mirror. The right side of his forehead was swollen, with a nice crease beginning to purple from where the edge of the door hit it. He carefully slipped out of his jeans to look at his knee - it was swelling and very red. The spot on his hip was going to look nasty - it was already bruising - but he guessed he'd survive. He wondered if there was anything left in the whiskey bottle and limped down the hall, his whole right side protesting.

In the kitchen he bent over with a small groan and grabbed the whiskey. He shook it, was rewarded with a sloshing sound and went to the cabinet for a glass. As he reached for the door, Chris' arms were suddenly around him from behind, the side of his face pressed against Toby's neck. He stiffened against the embrace. "Get off me. Now."

Chris ignored him, holding him tighter instead. "I'm sorry, baby, please don't be mad. I'm so sorry." The words were whispered brokenly and Toby was startled to realize that Chris was on the verge of tears. Fuck. As much as he tried to stop it, he felt a wave of pity for his lover. There had to be more going on than Chris was admitting. He rarely lost his temper without good cause, and this jealousy bullshit wasn't one. Toby pulled from his embrace to turn and cup the stubbled chin, trying to make eye contact.

"Chris, look at me." He continued, even though Chris kept his eyes down. "What the hell were you thinking? I know you're not really jealous, and I also know *you* know I would never do anything to fuck you over...at least I thought you did. What else is going on here?"

Chris looked up for a moment, his eyes shadowed, haunted. He looked back to the ground, shaking his head. "Nothing."

The lie was so obvious, Toby almost punched him in frustration; the memory of all the times Chris had put up with his horrid behavior helped to mollify him. He didn't know what to do, though, if Chris wouldn't tell him what was wrong. He tried lifting Chris' head again, this time with success. God, he looked so tired and sad and... afraid? That unnerved Toby - it gave him a very unsettling feeling to think of Chris being afraid of anything. What could it have been to trigger this kind of behavior?

As Toby desperately tried to figure all this out, Chris said, "I was wrong when I said two wrongs make a right. I'm no good for you, tonight only proves it." He backed away, a look of resolve now on his face. "I'm leaving, Beecher. I need to get away before I fuck anything else up." He left the room, heading down the hall.

Chris' mood shifts were making him dizzy. Toby hobbled to the front door, praying for strength. There was no way he could stop Chris - not in this condition - if he was determined to leave. He could hear him, yelling about his "fucking keys" and then bouncing off the wall as he headed down the hall.

He leaned against the front door, trying hard not to think about how his head wanted to split open, or what his knee was going to look like in the morning. Chris came around the corner, swearing as he hit it with his shoulder. He looked up in surprise at Toby standing there, opening his mouth to speak, but Toby beat him to it.

"You're not leaving."

"The hell I'm not - get the fuck out of my way."

`So much for being contrite,' Toby smirked to himself. To Chris he said, "Make me."

He tensed a little as Chris moved intently toward him, but held his own.

"Toby, I don't wanna hurt you, but -"

"Too late."

Chris winced at that, and to Toby's complete astonishment, he turned and went back down the hall. Toby followed him to their bedroom where he found Chris sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at some point on the wall. With no preamble, he began talking, his words coming out in one long stream, pausing just the once. It made Toby think of pulling a band-aid off - do it in one quick motion before you chicken out. He slid down the wall across from Chris, sitting with his hurt leg stretched out in front of him, and listened.

"When I went into the library to look for you, I heard someone say your name, and when I went over to ask them if they knew where you were I heard them talking and they said you and Deb would be fools to not get together - her boyfriend was a bum and..."

Toby closed his eyes against the silence. He knew what was coming, didn't want to hear it, but prompted Chris to finish nonetheless. "Go on."

"And how the hell would you ever make anything of yourself being with someone like me. And they were sayin' shit like you probably weren't really gay, it was just a phase and even if you were you could do a lot better than someone like me and the sooner you got over it, the better, cuz you really needed to be back at your dad's law firm with someone like Debbie at your side." He mumbled under his breath, "Not some faggot bartender with a record who would only hold you back."

What the hell was going on? Toby felt a simmering rage at whoever had been talking about him, but he was more concerned with Chris' reaction to it - he was always the one telling him to ignore people like this. They'd heard it countless times, most notably from Toby's family, but others had shared a similar opinion. He couldn't understand what had happened to Chris' "fuck `em all" attitude.

Toby looked up at Chris, his anger and disbelief warring inside him. He fought to control the anger as he said, "First of all, anyone you saw at the library obviously knows dick about me, since I've only been in school a few weeks. Second, how many times have we heard this shit? And yet you chose to listen to some narrow-minded strangers and come to the brilliant conclusion that I had Debbie off somewhere, fucking her brains out and planning our future together, regardless of the fact that she's engaged and the even bigger fact that I'm in love with you?"

Chris remained silent, and Toby's anger ebbed, his bewilderment taking over. "Where's this need for reassurance coming from now? You're the one that had to hold my hand and walk me through the beginning of our relationship, tell me to concentrate on us and fuck everyone else. Do I have to throw your words in your face?"

Chris shook his head as he stood, and once again his mood switched in a dramatic 180. "No, forget it." Holding his hand out, he said, "C'mon, let's go to bed. I think I have a few muscle-relaxers around here somewhere for you - I'll look for `em." He was quiet and calm, as though none of the previous half hour had happened. The only sign of anything out of the ordinary was how tired he looked; as tired as Toby felt - he had to be, at least emotionally. He'd gone from jealous to enraged to remorseful and now to considerate in a very short space of time. Something else had happened today to warrant all this, and though it was driving him crazy to know what it was, he'd let Chris drop it for now. They both needed sleep and, hopefully, the clich would hold true - things would look better in the morning.

Toby let Chris pull him up, and they stood quietly together, close but not touching until Toby rubbed his hands over Chris' shoulders a few times; he wasn't quite up to the `everything's okay, I know you didn't mean it' spiel, but he felt the need to reassure Chris in some way.

"I think I'm going to take a bath and soak a little. Why don't you go get me that whiskey?" Chris nodded and headed for the kitchen. Toby yelled after him, "And get some water for yourself!" He grabbed a towel from the small linen closet in the hall on his way to the bathroom. He looked at the door as he entered, noting where the wood was split, guessing they'd have to replace the knob and maybe the frame.

He ran the water as hot as he could possibly stand. He knew he should probably put ice on his knee first to reduce the swelling, but the steamy bath was too inviting. He pulled his sweater and the t- shirt under it over his head in one motion, sucking in a breath as they rubbed against the lump on his head. Chris came in while he was taking his boxers off, and after setting a bottle of water and the whiskey on the sink, he helped Toby get his socks off and offered his arm for support as he eased himself down into the hot water.

"Shit," Toby hissed, "I think I boiled myself."

"Hang on a sec." Chris stepped into the hall and came back with another towel, which he held against the back of the tub. "Lean back."

Toby did, gingerly sinking lower into the tub, his head and shoulders resting against the towel. "Mmmm, feels good, thanks." He closed his eyes, but opened them a few moments later, sensing Chris still standing there, looking down at him. "What?"

Chris knelt beside the tub, and this time Toby managed to keep himself from flinching when he reached out and very softly ran his fingertips across the lump on his forehead. He ran his hand down the side of Toby's face, over his chest, into the water and across his stomach to rest a moment on the darkening bruise on his hip; over his thigh and back out of the water to stop at his swollen knee. Both Toby and Chris had been following the path of his hand, and now both sets of eyes lifted and met, the darker glittering with the hint of tears. "I'm shit, Toby, how can you stand to let me touch you?"

Toby took Chris' hand and brought it to his mouth, gently kissing the wet fingers before he said, "Cut the theatrics, Keller."

Chris' eyes opened wide in surprise, and he stood up quickly, causing himself to grab the edge of the sink as he leaned dizzily for a moment. He stared hard at Toby, his mouth set, eyes dark. "I'm just trying to apologize - Jesus Christ, look at yourself! I fucking *hurt* you, Toby!"

"Look, I'm not going to say it's okay you freaked out and bashed my head in, but I'm not going to let you turn it into some big deal you can use to wallow in guilt over. I don't like you like this, Chris. You know how ugly it was when I had self-hatred down to an art form, it's even worse on you. Did you hear what I said in the bedroom? What you heard those guys say at the library wasn't enough to turn this night into the production it's become. So until you're ready to talk about whatever else is going on, let's drop it and move on." Toby spoke quietly, but forcefully, making sure he didn't sound mad, just wanting to get his point across. "Okay?"

Chris had stood staring at the floor soon after Toby began talking, looking for all the world like a child taken to task. But looks were deceiving, and as he waited for a response, Toby was prepared for anything from recalcitrance to an attempt to drown him; he was immensely relieved at the one he got. Chris looked up with just the ghost of smile, and he was nodding softly. "Okay. You're right, I don't give a shit what those pricks say." His smile faded. "It's just that later, when I got home..." He slumped against the sink, running his hands over his face. "I can't do it tonight, Toby, I'm too fucking tired and I'm drunk and I just -"

"It's okay," Toby assured him, "we have all weekend to ourselves, as long as you drop the guilt trip tonight."

Chris didn't look too sure, but he nodded again. He handed Toby the whiskey and opened his water, drinking down half.

Toby took a healthy drink from his own bottle, welcoming the heat as it spread through his body. He'd managed to get his drinking under control, mostly having just a few beers here and there, but sometimes nothing was more comforting than the slow burn his old friend Jack could provide.

"You drink as much water as you can, Keller, and take some Advil. I think they're on the top shelf."

After taking his Advil, Chris went into the bedroom and found his muscle relaxers for Toby, who washed one down with another shot of whiskey. Chris sat on the toilet, watching. "That's so wrong, you know, drugs and alcohol."

Toby sniffed his disdain at that remark, secretly relieved that Chris felt good enough for sarcasm. He took another drink before sinking even further into the water and closing his eyes. The next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake. "Toby, you gotta get out now," a voice was saying into his ear. He opened his eyes with effort and there was Chris' concerned face, inches from his own. "You fell asleep, babe, you need to get out now. Slide forward and let me help you."

God, he must have slept awhile; the water had cooled considerably and he was feeling decidedly woozy. He slid forward, and Chris was stepping into the tub with one foot, soaking the bottom of his jeans. He wrapped his arms around Toby's chest and pulled him up.

They stepped onto the small green rug and Chris grabbed the towel from the sink. He dried Toby off quickly and steered him to the bedroom. "Chris, you're all wet."


For some reason that elicited a giggle from Toby, who quickly slapped his hand over his mouth. `Oh, man, these drugs are kicking my ass,' he thought distantly. He knew he was supposed to be put out with Chris for his behavior tonight, but at the moment the only thing that was important was Chris being wet. "You ought to change before you get cold," he said.

They stopped at the edge of the bed. "Don't worry about me, just stand here a second while I grab you some shorts."

Toby looked down at himself. "Hey, how come I'm naked and you're not?"

"That's the way I like it...now hang on a sec."

Toby dropped to the bed two seconds after Chris let go of him. He flopped over onto his side, asleep before Chris could dress him.


The next morning it took Toby a few minutes to come fully awake. Images and snatches of conversation drifted through his head. As he stretched, the aches that assaulted his body brought the events of the past night fully into focus. He replayed everything a few times, an edge of disbelief still present - it seemed so surreal. He finally sat up, throwing back the quilt Chris must have covered him with - he couldn't even remember coming to bed.

His head throbbed dully, but nothing he couldn't handle. His knee was none too happy when he stood and put pressure on it, but he was fairly certain it would feel much better once he walked a little, worked some of the kinks and stiffness out of it.

He limped to the bathroom, enjoying a nice, long piss. Those muscle relaxers had really worked wonders; he hadn't woken up once in the night. He noticed the bathroom was clean; his clothes, towels, bottles - everything gone.

The only thing out of place was a dishtowel he found in the sink as went to wash his hands. Picking it up revealed a zip lock plastic bag with water in it. Toby puzzled over it a moment, smiling as he realized what it must be.

He took stock of himself. The bruise on his hip was dark, slightly larger than doorknob size. The knot on his head was more colorful, though smaller than last night. He tried pulling his hair over it, but realized that looked like too much of an obvious effort - he combed it back in the usual style.

Brushing his teeth, the smell of coffee brewing made its way past the mint of his toothpaste...heavenly. He hurried as fast as he could back to the bedroom and slipped on a pair of old, gray sweatpants and long-sleeved tee. Though he thought he would sell his soul at that moment for a cup of coffee, he slowed his step as he limped slightly down the hall, wondering just what kind of mood Chris would be in. He knew he would be feeling bad, and very guilty, but would he be willing to talk about whatever it was he couldn't face last night?

When he got to the kitchen, Chris was standing at the coffee machine with his back to the room, dressed in black jeans and a tight black t-shirt. Toby wondered if it was coincidence that Chris was wearing the outfit he liked him in best.

"How long you been awake?" Toby had noticed the blanket on the couch; Chris had never come to bed.

"Oh, hey, how you feelin'?" Chris spoke over his shoulder, his smile faltering as his look took in the battered forehead. His attention back on the coffee, he said, "I heard you in the bathroom, started another pot going...I already went through one." He handed a large mug to Toby. "I didn't wake you earlier when I showered, did I?"

Toby shook his head, taking the mug gratefully, surveying the room as he sipped at it. All signs of last night were gone in here, also - the table was cleared, the puddle cleaned up. In fact, even the trash had been emptied and as Toby made his way to the table he could tell the floor had been swept and mopped; the tiles were smooth under his bare feet. "I'm feeling pretty good, a little sore. That pill you gave me was great. How long have you been awake?" he repeated.

Chris sat down across from him. "A few hours, I guess."

"A few hours?" Toby looked up in surprise. "I would've thought you'd still be sleeping it off."

"Yeah, well, I wasn't really that drunk." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Though I probably shouldn't admit that - being bombed is the only excuse I have for the way I acted last night." He looked at Toby, guilty eyes set in a weary face. "Your head looks bad - how much does it hurt?"

Toby shook his head - "not much" - and waited; this was a perfect opening to talk about all that had happened last night, but he wasn't going to be the one to bring it up. When Chris remained silent, he remarked, "The kitchen looks nice."

"Thanks." Chris eagerly jumped on the change in conversation. "You hungry? I went shopping this morning - I could make you an omelet or I got some cinnamon rolls from that bakery you like."

"You went shopping? This morning? And showered, and cleaned, and - was that bag in the bathroom an icepack?"

"Oh, yeah, I meant to bring it out."

He started to his feet, but Toby grabbed his wrist. "It can wait." Chris reluctantly settled back down. "You put ice on me while I slept."

Chris nodded. "Just your knee. Could only keep it on a few seconds at a time before you'd start moving around, but maybe it helped."

Toby was touched by all that Chris had done; he knew it was his way of showing how sorry he was. He also looked exhausted, with dark shadows under his red-rimmed eyes. "How much sleep did you get?"

Chris' eyes shot to the side, avoiding Toby's. "I couldn't sleep too good last night." He got up and opened the fridge. "So, you want something?" he asked.

"Really? You should have been as out of it as I was." Toby could feel the tension building in the air. It was like an elephant in the room - they were talking about everything but the obvious.

Chris was at the cupboard now, pulling out two plates and setting a sweet roll on each. "Well, I wasn't." He turned to look pointedly at Toby. "Okay?"

"Okay." Message received, we won't talk about it. Toby watched as Chris set the plates on the table and went back to get the pot of coffee, topping off their cups. He picked at his pastry while Chris ignored his, both men sitting in silence for several minutes.

Finally, Chris took a deep breath, stared into his coffee and said, "I ran into someone I used to know yesterday." Toby waited out the long, subsequent pause. "A girl I used to go with about ten years ago...I don't think I ever told you about her - her name's Kitty."

Toby shook his head. Chris had told him plenty of stories about his past relationships, but that name wasn't familiar.

"I really loved her, as much as I could. We almost got married, but I just couldn't do it. I knew I couldn't give her the life she wanted, the 2.3 kids and white picket fence." There was just the faintest trace of wistfulness in Chris' voice.

"Maybe `cause you prefer men?" Toby asked with a slight smile.

Chris returned the smile, but only briefly. "Well, back then I was straddlin' the fence pretty evenly, but it was the fact that I knew I wasn't cut out for that kind of life. Kitty said it was because I was so young, that I'd settle down one day, and she'd wait for me - I knew better. But when I saw her yesterday, so happy, with her kids and telling me about the new house she and her husband were building, it made me feel bad. Not because of her, I'm really glad she found someone to give her all that. It was, I don't know...a feeling like something was missing...but not for me." He paused again, and Toby could see the effort it took to say what followed. "When I got home I started thinking maybe you'd want that back someday." He couldn't hold Toby's gaze, just flashing a glance here and there at him as he waited for an answer.

Was he serious? Toby's mind raced, trying to think if he'd ever given any indication that he wasn't happy. "What do you mean, Chris? I have everything I want here with you."

Chris didn't appear to be terribly reassured. "This ain't exactly the family ideal, Toby. I'm happy living in an apartment, eating take-out five nights a week, workin' till two in the morning, and the thought of never having kids doesn't really bother me. Don't you ever miss your nice house and home-cooked meals and the possibility of having children someday?"

"Why would I want any of that without you?" Toby asked, still puzzled. "This is why you got smashed last night, because you though I missed Gen's tuna casserole?"

Chris face grew dark. He pushed up from the table, pacing the room. "This isn't a joke, Beecher! You don't know how you're gonna feel in ten years, or five." He stopped at the sink, absently turning the water on and off. "You could leave." He said this last softly, almost as if to himself.

Toby waited a minute before replying, wondering if there were any answer that would appease Chris. Something had pushed his insecurity button, big time, and Toby wasn't sure how to deal with the situation. He almost felt like yelling, bullying Chris out of the mood, but he had the feeling that might backfire. So he just did what felt right - he went to his lover, laying his hand on the broad back and telling him, "The day I moved in with you, I told you it was the scariest thing I'd ever done, and also the best. I stopped being afraid that first night, but I'll never stop believing this was the best thing I've ever done. I'll never leave you."

Chris turned suddenly, almost angrily, seeming about to say something. He stopped short, his expression softening as he rested his forehead gently against Toby's, mindful of his injury. "It would fucking kill me if you did, Toby. I realized yesterday just how much it would hurt, and it scared the shit out of me."

Toby pulled back, looking at Chris' face and he could see the fear resurfacing. "Chris..."

"Just shut up for a minute, and listen, okay? Let me finish the story." Chris took a deep, shuddering breath and moved around Toby, resuming his spot at the table. "I'd already planned to take you something to eat, and after seeing Kitty I couldn't wait to be with you. I got to the library and heard those assholes, couldn't find you - I don't know, I was feeling uneasy, all mixed up - I just really needed to see you. I tried to call -"

"Why didn't you leave a message?" Toby interrupted. "You know I always turn the phone off in the library."

"You weren't at the fucking library, Toby!"

"Yeah, yeah, okay." Toby could see that Chris was struggling to keep himself under control. His leg was beginning to ache, but a little distance seemed the best thing at the moment, so he boosted himself up onto the countertop to relieve the pressure, keeping space between them. "It was fucking perfect timing; Debbie and I went out to get something to eat and I forgot to turn my phone back on. That had to be when you showed up. It was off until a couple hours later when we were done studying. That's when I called and left you that message."

"By that time..." Chris ran his hands over his head, scrubbing at the short hair on the back of his neck. "By that time I'd gone through most of the beer, fallen asleep, and had one bitch of a dream."

"A dream?" It must have been a doozy.

"Yeah...lot of shit to happen over a dream, huh?" His voice dropped. "It just seemed so real."

"You don't have to tell me." Toby's dreams after leaving Gen and his father's firm had caused him to practically live in a bottle, hoping a river of booze could wash them away every night. "What was it?"

Chris got up and carried his plate with the untouched roll to the sink. He stood a moment, absently rubbing at his chest and stomach, a habit he had that drove Toby crazy - he loved how casual Chris was about touching himself - he thought it incredibly sexy and so self- confident. The action was a sharp contrast to the words coming from Chris.

Finally Chris boosted himself up on the other counter, sitting with his hands clasped between his knees, eyes distant with memory. When he began speaking, his voice was low and almost monotone. "You and I were together. I don't know where we were, or what we were doing, but we were both happy. There was a bunch of weird shit that I can't really remember, something to do with the bar, but it was taking my attention away from you. Then when I tried to find you, you were walking off with some woman. I couldn't move to follow you, but I was screaming your name."

He paused, breathing hard through his nose, and when he started talking again his voice was louder, more animated. "I was fucking terrified. I knew you were never coming back, and then there were all kinds of people around me, Kitty, Gen, your parents, Ronnie and some of the guys from the bar - they were all asking me what I expected and I should have known it wouldn't last. I was on my knees, begging you to turn around - I thought if I could just see your face then I could explain everything to you, and you wouldn't leave. But you never turned, and then you were gone."

Toby ran his palms over his thighs, holding himself back from going to Chris, letting him get it all out.

"I think I woke myself up yelling, and I was covered in sweat, and I just knew if I went into our room, all your things would be gone. It was so fucking real, Toby, it hurt, it physically hurt." He still hadn't moved or looked up, but Toby could see how tense his body was, could see the way he was squeezing his clasped hands until his fingertips were white.

When Toby realized he was done talking, he went to him, pulling the clenched hands apart and stepping between the strong legs. He wrapped his arms around him, rubbing his back, making soothing sounds against his neck. "I'm here, honey, I'll never leave. We've been through too much - besides, who else would put up with my shit? You're stuck with me." He hated seeing Chris like this and hoped a little humor would diffuse the situation. He was also trying to cover up his own guilt about his part in Chris' fears. Chris had rescued him from himself, fought for their relationship, was patient beyond reason, and he would be a fool to ever leave. But although he told him he loved him every day, it obviously wasn't enough to make Chris feel secure in what they had.

Chris hadn't relaxed in the embrace, and suddenly he was pushing Toby out of the way as he hopped down from the counter, then grabbing him by the arms. "Don't comfort me! I was a fucking asshole last night, Toby!" His grip was hard, almost painful, his expression tortured as he yelled in Toby's face. "I hated myself for being so scared, and I hated you for making me feel that way! I've never felt like that before, with anyone. Anytime anyone left me, it was almost a relief, `cause I knew the relationship was going to end sooner or later. There were some I really wanted to work, but I just knew they wouldn't. And last night I realized it was because I was meant to be with you! Do you understand? It's you and me, Beecher! I fucking love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone. When I woke up from that dream and thought for that second it was real - that you were gone..." His words were choked off and he let go of Toby with a small push. "Goddammit!"


Toby stood frozen, feeling thrown off balance by this declaration. Never in all his years with Gen had either one of them professed their love to each other so completely, so passionately, so *fiercely*. He knew of course that Chris loved him, but to hear it expressed in this way was overwhelming.

He stayed there out of the way as Chris paced the room and finished the story. "After I woke up, I came in here to call you. I got that message saying you'd be late, and headed straight for the bottle. I had plenty of time for my fucked up imagination to play all kinds of mind games with me by the time you got home." He slumped into a chair, deflated, subdued. "I don't know why I couldn't tell you all this last night - too freaked out by my feelings, I guess."

Toby took a deep breath, pulling himself together before speaking. "I know how you feel, Chris. That's why it was so hard for me to give in and admit how I felt about you; I was scared shitless of my feelings. They were too strong, too much for me to handle." He went to stand behind Chris, laying one hand on his shoulder, stroking the back of his neck with the other. "Believe me that I've accepted them, and I'm here for the long haul."

Chris stood and pushed the chair out of the way to wrap his arms around Toby, pulling him closer, whispering against his hair, "I'm sorry, Toby, I'm sorry, and I love you. I love you, and I know you won't leave me - it's not even about that. Oh, God..." He pulled back to cup Toby's face in his hands. He stared into Toby's eyes, his own brimming with tears, his look so intense Toby almost had to look away. "I fucking love you so much - do you understand?"

Toby nodded. There was so much he wanted to say, so many reassurances he could come up with, but all he said was, "I love you, Chris."

His face was still in Chris' hands, his hands on Chris' waist. They met in a soft, almost chaste kiss. Their lips pressed softly together, and Toby felt such a sense of belonging he had to believe in fate, if only for this one brief moment. It had to be more than coincidence that had led him to Chris' bar the night they'd met.

The kiss grew more urgent; Chris' tongue pushed against Toby's lips at the same time his hands went to his waist. He was moving him gently backward until he was up against the refrigerator, held there tightly just like last night. This time Toby craved the feeling, pulling Chris tighter and tighter against him as their kiss deepened. He could feel the bruise on his hip, but it was nothing compared to the pleasure of being in Chris' arms, and being the recipient of all that he had to give, physically and emotionally.

One of Chris' hands was wrapped in his hair, and the other slipped down between them, pressing firmly against Toby's cock. He moved against the hand until he was fully hard. Chris' mouth left his, moving across his face, kissing his chin, his cheeks, his eyes - ending up on his ear, sending shivers through his body.

He spoke in a voice harsh with need. "Fuck me, Toby, I need to feel you in me."

Fucking Christ. They let go of each other to quickly shed their clothes, and then Chris was on his knees and Toby leaned his head back, his fingers running roughly over Chris' head. He waited for the heat to engulf him, looking down when it didn't happen.

Chris was looking at the bruise on his hip. He ran his fingers lightly over it, looking up at Toby as he slowly brought his mouth there, kissing so softly and tenderly Toby's breath caught in his throat.

Oh, God, he had been so furious last night, disgusted and saddened, and now, less than twelve hours later, it was a distant memory. He couldn't be loved any more perfectly than he was right now, and it was more than enough to make up for all of last night. He knew it may be wrong, but he also knew he would endure any kind of shit they could throw at each other, if moments like this were the end result.

Toby bit his lip as Chris pulled back, their eyes never leaving each other's. Strong hands ran up the back of Toby's legs, over his ass, massaging and squeezing while he licked at Toby's cock, slowly and thoroughly. He arched his neck to cover just the head, sucking gently while his tongue swirled around and over.

Chris' hands kept moving, squeezing and stroking his ass, his fingers edging closer to the center until one finally grazed across his puckered hole, then pushed in. That, combined with the sight of Chris on his knees, his lips wrapped around his cock, sent Toby to the edge. He just managed to push Chris off him before going over.

"Stop, you gotta stop now, Chris." Toby panted. Chris pulled back, got to his feet and went to one of the cupboards. Toby wrapped his hand around his cock, squeezing tightly, needing the pain to drive back the desire.

Chris was back with a small bottle of olive oil. "It's a new kind... virgin," he smirked, as he handed it to Toby.

"Maybe it'll work any...how..." The words trailed off as he watched Chris get to his hands and knees, legs apart, waiting. His hands were trembling as he opened the bottle, dropping the lid in his haste. He poured the slick liquid, coating himself with it. He set the bottle on the counter and dropped to his knees. He immediately lurched to the left. "Fuck!" His right knee was screaming at him, wondering what the hell he thought he was doing.

Chris jumped to his feet and pulled Toby up, anxiously searching his face. "God, Toby, are you okay?"

"Don't, Chris." The guilt was as evident as the concern on the strong features. Toby stared hard into the dark eyes, begging - demanding - silently that he keep it from taking over.

"Don't what, feel bad about hurting you?" He tried to walk away, but Toby held him by the shoulders.

"Look, you didn't mean to hurt me, I know that. I'm not brushing it off, but aren't there more pressing matters we should be concentrating on?" He ran his oily hands over the sculpted chest, moving closer to let his penis slide against Chris', doing what he could to bring him back to the moment - and to ignore the throbbing in his leg.

It didn't take long. "You drive me out of my fucking mind, you know that?" Chris asked, wrapping his arms around Toby, giving his ass a hard squeeze. "The chair?" Toby nodded, returning the squeeze to Chris' nipples before taking his hand.

"That shit is slippery," Chris said, sliding his fingers between Toby's.

"Yeah, why haven't we tried it before? It'd be perfect for tossing a salad."

Chris rolled his eyes. "You're bad."

"Grab the bottle, would ya?"

Chris did, and they walked to the living room. The chair that Chris had suggested was a huge, over-stuffed monstrosity they'd picked up at a flea market. It was practically a small sofa, not quite big enough for them to sit in side by side. They'd spent several interesting hours figuring other positions to make themselves fit.

As soon as Chris set the oil on the coffee table, Toby pulled him close, missing the feel of his body in just the few seconds it took to walk in there. They kissed deeply, clutching hard at each other. Toby couldn't get enough of the way Chris kissed when he was like this, his tongue probing and stoking every inch of his mouth, his teeth pulling and nipping at Toby's lips, his desire making him rough.

They finally parted, gasping for breath, and without a word Chris leaned over the large, rounded arm of the chair, his arms braced on the seat. Toby hurriedly covered his hands with the oil before moving behind him. He nudged at Chris' ankles, spreading his legs further. One hand moved between them, taking turns stroking the smooth skin of his perineum and fondling his tightening sac. His other hand ran over Chris' unbelievably firm ass, his fingers sliding into the cleft, tracing a path up and down.

Chris was making soft sounds in his throat, pushing back, his need obvious, but he remained silent for the moment, letting Toby do what he would.

Toby finally slipped one finger, then another, inside his lover. He became mesmerized watching his fingers slide in and out, disappearing to be scalded in the tight, smooth tunnel. He added another finger and pushed hard, bumping Chris' prostrate. Chris yelled and jerked and pushed back. In a voice gone hoarse, he said, "Toby, I need you to stick your dick in me and fuck me...now."

Toby didn't want to yet - he wanted to draw this out - but he knew he wouldn't last long as it was. He positioned himself and pushed past the ring of muscle, then slowed his progress - Chris was so tight. But Chris had other ideas and reached back to grab one of Toby's hips. "Hard, baby, I need to really feel you...fuck me hard, Toby."

Toby swallowed, and he thought he tried to say something, but whatever it was strangled in his throat. He smoothed his still oily hands over Chris' back and ass, grabbed hold of his hips best he could and pushed in, hard and fast and completely. Chris groaned, and Toby held perfectly still, panting and quivering, willing himself not to come.

"Are you okay?"

"Hurts so good, baby...do it again."

Toby obliged and pulled out all the way, then thrust in again and again. Chris was pushing back to meet him, both men grunting as they worked each other.

"Jesus, Chris, I can't anymore...I gotta -"

"Do it...fuck me hard."

Toby began a swift, punishing rhythm. Chris arched his back, slamming back into Toby, then humping forward against the arm of the chair. "Harder, Toby, I want you to pound my ass!" Toby didn't think it was possible for him to go any harder without damage to both of them, and then a sudden thought made its way through the haze of lust in his brain. Summoning more willpower than he thought he possessed, Toby stopped. He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Chris' back, panting and gasping and trying to ignore his throbbing cock.

"What the hell?" Chris asked breathlessly.

Toby took a couple deep breaths. "This isn't some kind of payback fuck, is it?"

"What?" Chris sounded incredulous.

"You're not trying to get me to hurt you because of what happened last night, are you?"

"Oh, shit," Chris' head dropped. "I can't fucking believe you stopped to ask me that!"

"It wouldn't have done much good to ask you when we were done!"

Chris turned as far as he could to see Toby's face. "I just want to feel you, Toby - now and when we're apart. Get it? I want you to fuck me hard enough that I can feel you the rest of the whole fucking weekend. Good enough?" He shook his head. "Christ, I don't know whether to kiss you or wring your fucking neck!"

Toby felt foolish and flattered and even more turned on than before, if that was possible. "Kiss me." They kissed, awkwardly and passionately. A sudden tightening around his dick caused him to jump. "Shit, you're gonna make me come."

"Your point being?"

He bit Chris' ear. "Hang on, baby."

Toby picked up where he left off, ignoring that his various injuries were making themselves known in his determination to give Chris what he wanted. He slid his hands between them to cup the tight globes of Chris' ass, spreading him wide to allow him to drive in as deeply as possible. He angled his thrusts, smiling with satisfaction every time he heard his lover gasp or call his name.

All too soon he felt the signs of his approaching release. His fingers curled, digging into the flesh on Chris hips. He began moaning as the fire in his nerves raced to his cock.

"Ohhh, oh God, God, Chris..."

"C'mon, fucking do it, Toby. Shoot it in me!"

Toby exploded, his hands gripping Chris' hips for dear life as he slammed into him again and again, feeling like he'd never stop coming. And then he could feel Chris' body tighten, and he was making desperate noises and trying to frantically hump up against the chair. Toby quickly wrapped his arms around him and pulled him upright. He grasped Chris' cock and jacked him hard.

It took only a few seconds, and Chris' whole body was jerking and shaking as he came. "Fucking Christ!"

Chris' orgasm gripped Toby's still pulsing cock, drawing out his own spasms until his whole body trembled. He was pretty sure his legs, or at least the one, wouldn't support him much longer and he hung onto Chris to keep himself from collapsing. He shifted his weight, slipping from Chris' body as he did. "You okay?" he asked, mindful of how sore Chris must be.

"Just fucking incredible," was the shaky reply.

Chris turned and they held each other until the pounding of their hearts began to slow. He moved Toby to sit in the chair and left for a minute, coming back with a bottle of water and a couple damp hand towels. He handed one to Toby, who gingerly wiped himself clean with it. Chris used the other to clean the sticky spots on the floor and the arm of the chair. "We really do need to get this thing Scotch- Guarded, ya know?"

Toby smiled; this was something else they always talked about getting done. "Right, just as soon as we replace the light fixture in the kitchen."

"You gonna be okay?"

Toby looked up at the face full of concern, relieved to see no trace of guilt. "Yeah, I'm okay. Just need to rest my leg a little, and maybe eat something."

He drank the water while Chris brought their shorts. After pulling them on they went to the kitchen where Toby sat at the table drinking coffee and Chris made them both a huge meal of eggs, bacon and waffles. They rarely had anything in the place for dinner, but Chris loved to cook breakfast. They ate in silence, but it was a good, comfortable silence, full of resolution and contentment.

After breakfast they undressed again and went back to bed, lying on their sides, face to face. Toby ran his fingertips over Chris' brow and down his nose, stopping at his mouth where Chris flicked his tongue across them. "That was pretty intense back there."

"You're a great lover, Beecher."

"You taught me everything I know, Keller."

"Except how to turn your brain off. You shouldn't be thinking about anything but making me scream."

Toby opened his mouth to protest, but his words were stopped by Chris' mouth on his. They kissed gently for a few minutes before Chris moved behind him, their bodies curved together.

"Chris, I need to know - " He hesitated, not sure if he wanted to bring the events of the morning up again. "Do I make you happy enough?"

There was a sigh from behind and the arm holding him tightened. "Toby, would we have gone through all that shit if you didn't? I've never seriously considered that you'd ever leave me. It wasn't about that, it was about me dealing with how happy you do make me, how much you mean to me. And coming to grips with the fact that you are the one I'll spend the rest of my life with."

Toby chuckled. "I get it...it was a nervous reaction to having a ball and chain."

Chris slid his hand down to cup Toby through his boxers. "The ball part I can get behind, but I'm definitely not nervous. Just...I don't know...I was overwhelmed, maybe. I mean, if not you, then no one. But it feels good knowing what's in my future. I've never had that before."

Toby smiled. "And I've always known my future, or thought I did. But it never really felt good to me - just routine. Now it's anything but, thanks to you." He lifted Chris' hand and kissed the palm.

"There's something to be said for routine. God, Toby, you should have kicked my ass out last night."

"Are you kidding? That ass comes in pretty handy."

"It wasn't very funny last night," Chris said soberly.

"No, it wasn't, but it's over. Can you let it go?" He kissed Chris' hand again.

"We shouldn't let it go. Next time I act like that, you better kick my butt."

"Agreed, though I'm glad you didn't have that attitude back when I was such an asshole."

Chris hugged him tightly. "I knew you'd be worth it, even if you didn't. And if you remember, I wasn't exactly Mother fuckin' Teresa."

"No, but you sure put up with a lot. Chris, I hope you know how much - "

Chris kissed the back of Toby's head. "Okay, enough of this shit - we're turning into a couple of sentimental queens."

Toby snorted. "You're further from being a queen than anyone I know. Speaking of your ass..."

"Were we?"

"Yes." He reached behind him, softly stroking the anatomy in question. "How's it feeling?"

"Oh, I'll know you've been there for awhile."

"As long as you're happy." He shifted, getting as close to Chris as he could. "Can you believe we have the whole damn weekend ahead of us?"

"Mm-hmm," Chris was sounding sleepy. "And as soon as we wake up, we'll make the best of it."

Toby lay awake for several minutes, listening to Chris sleep. He thought back to how his life had been two years ago. Stressful on some levels, but so organized and *planned*, as he'd said. Nothing in that previous life could have ever prepared him for the roller coaster ride that loving Chris Keller was.

He knew it was selfish, but Toby couldn't help feeling somewhat comforted by the intense, emotional reaction Chris had to the depths of his feelings. Toby had always believed that Chris loved him, it was just hard for him sometimes to understand why. He had asked Chris that question more than once, `why do you love me?' He smiled as he remembered the answer on one occasion - "I wish to Christ I knew, but I just do and you're gonna have to be happy with that."

What happened last night and this morning helped him to more fully accept that the "whys" don't matter. Some things are beyond reasoning, and this thing between him and Chris was one of them. Like a force of nature in it's passion and fury, sometimes uncontainable and unexplainable. For whatever reason, they were together...forever.

Chris stirred behind him, rolling over onto his back. `Great,' Toby thought, `now he'll start snoring.' He moved onto his back also and took Chris' hand in his, drifting into his own dreamless sleep.

-end- 7/02

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