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Written for Karen (Tergesen LJ Auction Team).
Betaed by the very supporting and cheering Perrine and Rifka (with courage and talent)
Standing in the shadow
- PART 1-
Toby watches Chris spring out of the car, hears the girls and the boys yelling Chris' name; some of them are young enough to be their kids, supposing they ever had any, of course.
He watches Chris turn to them and wave, just standing there with a smile on his face, outrageously sensual without trying to be in worn jeans, boots, a black sleeveless shirt, his cheeks shadowed with stubble, maybe even looking a little *unclean*, but it works just like it always does; some of the girls are hyperventilating. Chris takes a step closer, walks up to a snivelling boy and ruffles the short bleached blond hair with his fingertips, his gaze intent on the pale crunched face. The slender girl beside him seizes his hands in a gesture of adoration and he waits a moment before pulling away, his mesmerizing smile focused on her.
Motherfucker, I hate when you do that, Toby thinks, gritting his teeth.
Thank God Chris doesn't walk straight into the crowd any more, doesn't mingle with his fans; he's grown more careful since that guy stabbed him two years ago, much to Toby's relief. The sight of a wounded Chris falling to the ground, blood running down his body and soaking his clothes before pooling on the floor... it nearly killed Toby at the time.
Hire a fucking bodyguard, Toby thinks once more but the subject has been broached and discussed and dismissed so many times already that he doesn't even talk about it anymore.
"Who do you think I am, Toby? A fucking fag? Pansies in fucking boys bands need bodyguards. Baby Chasez needs bodyguards, Fairy Timberlake too. *I* don't. The matter's closed."
Finally, Chris turns and glances at the Limo with a gaze that says "What the fuck are you waiting for?"
Startled out of his thoughts, Toby sighs and pulls himself out.
"Why do you want me here? It's not as if you need me. It's going to be like every other interview and you're not half as tired as I am. Why couldn't I stay at the hotel and sleep through the damn thing?"
"Because you're my fuckin' lucky charm, Toby, and I need you by my side."
No one notices Toby; Chris' larger than life presence casts a shadow on everyone else. Well, that suits Toby fine, he's not that crazy about being under the lights, never has been.
And yeah, now Chris is sitting in front of a dozen of journalists in the lounge of this luxury hotel in Boston, sprawled in a comfortable leather chair, smiling this mocking smile that says it's not going to be easy to make him talk about anything he doesn't want to. Not about the bassist's firing after a huge fight that left some ugly scar across his chest and a tiny red mark between his eyebrows, not about the rumours of a liaison with a young anorexic Hollywood actress, not about the way he's going to deal with the fact that he's over 36 and too old to be a sex symbol.
Toby sits a little further back, half hidden by the huge bunches of flowers the fans brought, their heady scent permeating the heated room.
Later Chris will sign autographs for the fans outside, hundreds of them, but in between then and now, Toby can switch to autopilot. If Chris wants to be odious or insulting, there's not much Toby can do to prevent it; just hope that this time Chris won't hit one of these journalists and end up in prison for that. Once was enough, Toby can smile about it now, remembering the warden's anguish at harbouring such a burdensome prisoner.
"But that was all your fault, Toby, you left me and you know how crazy I get when you leave me. It's all your fault if I ended up there."
Yeah. He knows now how crazy Chris can get, not to mention possessive and jealous and mean, striking out at anyone who comes too near, getting drunk and stoned until he passes out. Sleeping with everyone and anyone. Not that it makes much of a change but still...
He even attempted suicide, once, to get Toby back. And of course he got him back, because as much as Toby hates him sometimes, detests the mean selfish provocative son of a bitch, he's also genuinely, passionately, desperately and hopelessly in love with Chris Keller.
Toby remembers that today's the tenth anniversary of their first meeting. Not that Chris will remember, he never does.
But Toby's memories are enough for the two of them.
He'd been back from Harvard for less than two weeks, still glowing from the aftermath of success. Congratulated and hugged and told about the brilliant future that lay in front of him. In just a few months he'd finally be a lawyer, the partner his father needed, the husband Gen deserved, the father of the future kids they'd have together, the new bright member of the Beecher clan. He would attend masses and official receptions and charity dinners and make friends among the best society. He'd live a long respectable life like his father, his grandfather, and his grandfather's father had before him.
Actually the very prospect of such a life was enough to make Toby wish he could drown himself into any potent drug, legal or not.
Most of the time it felt like entering a prison he'd never be able to get out of, the range of opportunities narrowing, doors closing in front of him.
What if this future wasn't the right one? What if in, say, ten years, he realized that he'd gone entirely wrong? He'd felt that while in Harvard sometimes, sitting with friends, or in the heart of a very alcoholised party, haunted by the muted feeling that this wasn't where he should be, wanting so much to be somewhere else.
And what about Gen? He was supposed to marry her as soon as he got the job. They'd been dating for more than a year now and it occurred to him while looking at the half-empty bottle of gin sitting on the night table that his feelings for Gen weren't so much about love but about some sense of security, duty. Marrying Gen was the right thing to do; becoming a lawyer was the right thing to do. Things that brought safety and peace of mind. It didn't matter if he'd dreamt of so many other more exciting things such as... Such as... He'd forgotten. Jesus fucking Christ he'd forgotten about his old dreams; at the time there hadn't been anything more important than those.
Ah fuck, Toby thought, I need a break, just tonight, I do.
He got up, had another shot of gin to buck himself up and crept down the stairs of his parents' house, grabbed his brother's brown leather jacket; leather suited his mood more than his own cashmere Burberry. After a short hesitation he took the keys to his father's car and his own credit card and drove downtown.
On the way he spotted an ad for a concert -some group he'd vaguely heard of; one of Gen's friends, a little sassier than the usual uptown girl, had said something about the singer, some days ago. That would be a nice change and certainly he wouldn't meet anyone he knew there.
He drove to the concert arena and parked his car in a distant street.
The place was loud with music and clouded with smoke, the air heavy with the smell of cigarettes and joints, flashing lights pulsing over the crowd, bodies moving rhythmically with the harsh guitar riffs battling with the singer's deep voice. From the moment he had his wrist tattooed with a blue mark and entered the place, he felt somewhat slightly dazed, the music a physical invasion, something that pulsed inside him, shook him, curiosity pushing him forward closer to the stage where the musicians were standing, playing.
He'd never been in such a place before and he'd never really gotten into this kind of music. Actually he didn't know much about it at all; it took a kind of rebel quality he didn't think he had. In Harvard, he had been regarded as polite, hard working, educated, just the average smart guy... but sometimes he'd had the obscure feeling that he wasn't quite what the others saw. Of course, getting drunk on cheap beer listening to some rock'n'roll group was maybe not the best way to learn anything about himself but at least he could have fun without anyone judging him. After a while he caught himself moving with the music just like the others around him, the bottle swaying in his hands, sweat running down his spine, feeling light-headed and exhilarated.
There was relative quiet when the last jarring rythm of the guitar chords stopped, shrill sound lingering in the room despite the sudden silence, a silence soon filled with yells and screams and calls for encores. The lights turned to a blinding white, focusing on the singer of the band and the crowd. He was standing at the very edge of the stage, near enough that Toby could see the sweat soaked shirt stuck to a muscled torso and the jeans, low on the man's hips -it wasn't hard to guess that he wasn't wearing anything under it; the fabric was much too taut on the singer's firm ass to hide anything, and the front... well, Toby didn't remember seeing a dressed man's sex so precisely outlined. The man was hard, obviously, and Toby had to look away for a second.
"Yeah, well, all right, motherfuckers! We're not particularly glad to be here, ya know, not my favourite town around so if you want us to give you a little extra energy, you'd better give us something back!"
A girl shrieked hysterically and the singer smirked. He had a very seductive way of doing this, and Toby caught himself staring open-mouthed as the guy's eyes slid over him...
"Yeah, something like that, baby."
Toby wasn't sure who he was talking to.
Under the harsh lights, the singer's eyes were the deepest blue, shining and almost electric. His hair was cut very short, his profile strong... and then his smile changed from inviting to... carnivorous.
The devastating gaze stopped on him just a bit longer and Toby found he couldn't look away.
"Listen up everyone. Who am I gonna fuck after the show? Do you want to roll the dice? Longest straw wins? Take turns?! I can take all of you one by one... "
And the audience screamed in unison "Because you're the man" just as the first chords drifted from the guitar and resounded over the roar.
The transition was smooth enough but for a moment Toby had the feeling that it wasn't the song they'd planned to sing next. The band was obviously used to their leader's whims, though, and as he began singing, Toby wished he could have half this man's confidence and charisma, half his sensual swagger, his sexy voice. The way he moved, the slow rotating movement of his hips, the sensual curl of his lips, the half closed eyes that seemed to settle on him just a bit too often were outstanding. The voice was great too. At the end of the song the half-naked teenagers dancing beside him were obviously hot and ready for the man.
Fucking macho stuff always worked with girls, Toby thought. It seemed to make it more unfair still that he was sentenced to spend his foreseeable future with nice cute Gen when this guy would have it all just by snapping his fingers.
The thought made him feel miserable suddenly and he stepped back, making his way to the bar while the music resumed its constant pounding, pumping through his brains like drug.
The band left the spotlight under a round of applause, but the next group wasn't as talented and the crowd began to desert the area around the stage. Toby stood there for a while, beer in hand, looking around, feeling painfully inadequate and lost among a crowd of boys and girls, some his age, some younger, wearing outrageous make-up, tattoos and piercings in the most objectionable places, dressed in leather and lace and soft silk, their hair glossy with gel. In fact Toby felt like he had 'Out of my league' tattoed on his forehead.
No one really seemed to care though and he stared without restraint for a while.
That was until someone seized him from behind, pulling him back against a rock-solid body, startling him.
"Hey," a voice said against his ear, lips brushing against his skin because the music was so loud. "I saw you watching me while I was singing. Tell me, baby, what the fuck were you thinking about?"
Toby turned around and looked at the man who wouldn't release him and found himself looking deep in a dark assessing blue gaze.
"I'm Chris Keller, by the way," the man said and of course, Toby knew *who* he was.
They didn't shake hands; it would've meant that Keller had removed his hands from his hips, something that he visibly didn't envision doing in the near future.
"Toby, then," Keller whispered and just when Toby was about to pull free and find an innocuous topic of conversation, or maybe just run away, out of this place and back to his old life, Keller kissed him. Hard.
Until then Toby had never questionned his sexuality. If asked about it he would've said he loved women, slim, long-legged, short-haired women with small round breasts and firm asses, preferably wearing short skirts and high-heeled shoes, all of it rather ordinary as far as male fantasies were concerned. Maybe just a little too predictable.
Of course, there had been that one time when he was fourteen, but then... He was only a kid and so was the other boy, so it didn't really count. A quick handjob that had left him weak in the knees and feeling... odd.
But now he found himself trapped in this kiss, strong fingers holding him tight, no possible chance of escape while a hot mouth explored his. It wasn't so much the kiss as the hands roaming hungrily all over his back, sliding under his shirt and just past the waistband of his trousers. It was the predatory groan and the fingers tightening on his hips, the hard body pushing him against a wall in a dark corner to kiss him again... God, he had to end this before it got him where he didn't want to be.
Or did he? The idea crawled inside him, fear in its wake.
He pushed Chris away rather hard and saw him stumble back, lips parted, eyes half shut, looking a little dizzy. His laugh wasn't quite steady.
"I'm not gay. I don't do that," Toby said, voice slurred, feeling pathetic and lame suddenly, bracing himself against the wall.
"Yeah," Chris said "You do now, with me."
The second assault was sweeter and deliberately teasing; when Toby tried to break free he realized he was held securely; Chris' breath tasted of alcohol and dope, he had a light touch.
"I'm not gay either," Chris whispered against Toby's mouth "just lonely; just so fucking terribly lonely and I think you are, too."
Fingers clenched in Toby's thick hair and the rest of the kiss was like a desperate cry -later Toby was fairly sure that this kiss, this fraught almost shy embrace was what had won him over.
At the time, the only thing he did was hit Chris Keller as hard as he could, forcing him to let go, and hurt his hand against the hard planes of Chris' face. Chris closed his eyes, something wild crossing his features for a second, then said in a tight controlled whisper "Tell me more about you, Toby. You don't look like the guy I usually get to fuck."
"Who said you were going to fuck me?" Toby snarled, back to reality suddenly, and angry, with himself, with the man, with his life and the tempting glimpse he was given of another life, another choice and something he hadn't ever envisioned.
And didn't want to.
Chris Keller was slick, and a quick study. He beat a hasty retreat, raising his hands in peace.
"Let's just talk, then. I'd like to talk to you. We could have a drink, too. I swear that your... virtue will remain intact."
Toby's ironic snort won him a surprised glance -he glared back but followed nonetheless, out and across a deserted parking lot to find himself in an improbable place. A tour bus, old worn seats turned into beds, blankets and dirty clothes scattered all around, music sheets and guitar strings and... Jesus, he couldn't remember seeing anything *this* messy before. Empty bottles, ashtrays filled with half-smoked cigarettes....
"Take a seat, Toby."
Toby looked around... Every available chair was scattered with junk.
"Just take a fucking seat," Chris said, shrugging, clearing one of the most acceptable seats with the back of his hand. "Sit down."
Toby sat, feeling eerily off-balance, something inside him urging him to get up and leave. Curiosity killed the cat, Toby; don't believe it won't kill you -just look around and tell me what you see, a cautious voice in his head said.
Yeah, it's not like the man's a killer, Toby thought, vaguely amused and drunk on the newness of the experience.
"Now, tell me," Keller said in a very soft tone "I'm good at listening. Tell me all about you."
- PART 2 -
While Toby talked to him - hesitantly at first, then with growing confidence - Chris was assessing his chances. Listening of course, and asking the right questions at the right moments, questions that would prompt further confessions and make Toby putty in his hands when he'd want him to.
*That* was a challenge, he thought; breaking down the defences of this straight uptown hot guy sitting in front of him, in his well tailored clothes and expensive leather jacket, like an innocent lamb in the wolf's lair.
Mmmm, yes, Chris liked what he saw. He liked the wavy blond hair, the clear blue eyes, the upturned nose, the strong hands resting on the table, the lean and yet sturdy body. And that noise Toby made in the course of the conversation, half ironic laugh, half self-deprecating sniff...
Toby... I bet I can have you spread your legs for me in less than two hours.
So between appreciative groans and smart comments, Chris began to catalog everything he'd do to Toby later, when he'd have him lying there naked and would have to slow himself down, stop himself from jumping him right there and then and from shoving his dick - or maybe even his whole hand--inside the hot tight ass hidden under the jeans.
How long had it been, Chris wondered, since he'd slept with someone *real*, not just some love-struck fan who'd let Chris do whatever he wanted because, well, he was *Chris*.
Toby was nothing like that, not a fan, not a fucking journalist, not one of those fuckheads who wanted so badly to play with the band; he didn't want an autograph or a picture or anything and the prospect was worth a few hours of boring conversation -Toby obviously needed to talk. Strange how people always felt like talking to Chris who didn't give a damn about anyone else's life, strange how Chris seemed to be able to coax confidences out of them without asking for them. Strange, and useful, at that.
Except that this time it didn't work out quite as expected.
Because as innocent as Toby looked, he still managed, however unconsciously, to turn the tables on Chris.
"So you'll be a lawyer, huh? Wish I knew one."
Toby looked intrigued and Chris opened up, for the first time speaking his mind about that shark of a manager they had and about the many ways Chris wanted to fuck the bastard over; make him pay for the lousy shows in empty bars, this seedy bus and the money the band never got because there were so many reasons for the motherfucker to pretend the band cost him more than what they really made on the road. Just like whores, he told Toby with raw fury - and Jesus Fucking Christ, who was confessing to whom now?
Toby asked questions, looking very sober suddenly and after a while he said coolly "I think I can make him pay."
"Oh yeah? You think you can?" Chris asked, voice lilting, not quite believing Toby, who smiled back the same challenging grin.
"I think so. From what you told me he's just some greedy moron; it shouldn't be that hard. Maybe the time has come for me to practice what I've learned and see how *good* I really am."
"How good are you supposed to be?"
Toby's smile narrowed, his eyes paled to a translucent blue and even a sudden hiccup couldn't keep the smugness out of his voice.
"Very, very good."
Chris rested a hand on Toby's hand.
"If you do that..."
Toby's eyes were sparkling; he was drunk, Chris thought, but confident enough. Why not, after all?
"We're supposed to meet in Boise just tomorrow night after the gig, why don't you join us?"
"Boise? That's awfully far from here. That would mean..."
Chris saw Toby's resolve waver, saw the doubt in his eyes...
"It's just for one day," Chris said before Toby could speak, "and after that you can fly back here. Wouldn't it be a nice fucking change from your life, Toby? One whole day and night with a rock band? I'm sure you don't even know what kind of music we make. I'm sure you don't even like it."
Indeed, Toby didn't know, didn't like it and said so. Chris laughed wolfishly.
"I thought so. Well, do you know how many people would pay to be in your boots?"
"I think I can guess. Your fans were rather enthusiastic, even though you're not such a top level band; or am I wrong?"
Chris laughed again.
"We will be someday, we're working on it very hard. With a good manager, we could blow everybody away. So," he said and held out his hand, "deal?"
Toby's eyes darted away for a moment, the tip of his tongue, wetting his tight lips, then a sigh...
"Deal. I'll have to call my Dad, tell him I won't be back until Monday."
Chris nodded. From what he heard after that, the call didn't go smoothly; Beecher Sr didn't seem very pleased with his son's idea but in the end Toby just put the phone down and smiled.
Chris couldn't suppress a smile at Toby's genuine naivety. They went back to talking about the next day for a while, then the other musicians came back, smelling of cheap perfume and sex.
"Hey, I just found us a lawyer," Chris said and the four guys laughed, shook Toby's hand, made some bad jokes about lawyers and sharks - Toby forced himself to smile - and left again. One of them, obviously a good friend of Chris' stayed a little longer, and Toby just listened to the two men's review of their gig. Ronnie's eyes drifted over Toby once or twice -just enough to look interested, not enough to make the interest obvious and Toby sat a little closer to Chris.
Just before dawn, Chris took a yawning Toby to the back of the bus and pushed him down into one of the bunks where he fell asleep almost immediately.
Toby woke up to an unknown place, feeling slightly sick. He looked around, took in the dirty bed, two sprawled across the other bunks, coughed at the smell of fags and joints. A bus? What the hell was he doing here? He closed his eyes and tried to think, head pounding, mouth dried... Remembering the events of the previous night, he understood fully what he'd got himself into. Chris saw panic flare in Toby's blue eyes and sprung to his feet.
"It's OK," he said, crouching near the bed and flashing Toby one of his most dazzling smiles "You slept in. We had to leave early and I didn't wake you up."
"Christ; I feel like hell."
Actually Chris thought that Toby looked suitably tousled and sleepy and very fuckable. He handed him a cup of coffee and something to eat they'd bought at a gas station earlier.
"Who undressed me? Was it you?" Toby asked between two bites of his sandwich.
"Yeah. If you have to play lawyer, you'd better look like one. I didn't think you'd like to wake up in crumpled clothes and have to go like that through the whole day."
"Very considerate of you."
"Yeah, I thought so too," Chris said with a wicked smile, "and it was no hardship either. You have a beautiful body."
Toby wasn't quite smiling, wariness lurking. Chris saw him look down inquisitively at the shirt he was wearing -black, with the name of the band on it, too big because it was Chris'.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," Toby said, standing, swaying when the bus stopped abruptly at a red light, catching hold of Chris' helpful hand.
"Eight more hours and we'll be there."
Vern Schillinger was waiting for *his* band in a lonely bar in the suburbs of the city -not exactly the place Chris had hoped for, but then, when did they ever meet anywhere Chris might like?
"Who the fuck is that?" Vern asked in a thick voice, pointing his chin at Toby.
"Vern, meet our lawyer, Mr Beecher."
Vern looked at the outstretched hand and spat down to the floor. He looked surly and mean, bald, with piercing grey eyes. He glared at Toby, looking him up and down, standing very still, his fists resting on his hips, feet widely apart. Only the whip was missing.
"A lawyer? What the fuck are you playing at, Keller?"
Chris was about to answer but Toby stepped forward, any trace of shyness no longer visible, and laid a hand on Chris' arm. Before they'd all walked inside - Toby looking determined, Chris wearing a vaguely threatening smile - Ronnie had said, laughing, "If you can do it, we'll have to make sure to repay you somehow." Toby had answered with a predatory grin and a very serious "I'll send you the bill." Now, sounding brisk, smart and businesslike Toby said "I think you owe them some money. I'd say that you've been pretty much exploiting them and I intend to make it stop."
Schillinger laughed, genuinely amused.
Toby smiled but his look of determination didn't waver, his grin tight and controlled.
In the end, Chris didn't quite understand how Toby did it--the whole process involved a call to Mr Beecher Sr for advice and a very long lecture about the way law considered people like Vern Schillinger--but after the show, the musicians had gotten their money back from a very smug looking Toby and Schillinger was no longer their manager.
That night, Chris had Toby. Not on the bus, though; the others would have been insufferable after their victory over Vern. With his share of the money Chris paid for a room instead, in a hotel near the bar where they'd played. They had vodka -lots of it. Whatever it took, Chris thought.
They shared the alcohol from the same glass, Toby shaking and pale.
"You, Toby, are very good at what you do."
"Stop shaking like that."
"It's the aftershock. It was harder than it looked and for a moment I thought I might lose."
In Toby's mouth the word sounded like an obscenity; Chris smiled in the darkness, staring at Toby's face striped by the light that filtered through the blinds--red, blue, red, blue, from the neon of the restaurant across the street--his hair shining, his eyes very blue now, his lips wet.
"Where did you meet him? Vern, I mean. He's appalling."
Ah, Chris thought; not a question he liked to answer.
"Vern? I spent some time with him, long ago. He had my back, figuratively speaking."
Toby shook his head, looking a little lost but on the whole, Chris thought, things were going fairly well.
Fuck, he wanted to be inside Toby. Controlling his voice, he said "Anyway... You won. And I'm going to repay you for that, Toby. The way I know best."
"I thought music was your strongest point."
"Then, baby, I'm afraid you've been sadly mistaken."
Not yet quite certain that Toby understood and wanted what he was offering, Chris stepped back, giving him some space. Never give your prey the impression you're crowding them, cornering them, bullying them. Let them think they have a choice. Chris took another sip of the alcohol and held out the glass to Toby who emptied it.
"Come on, give it a try, I won't hurt you."
"I've never done this. I've never even fantasized about a guy, why should I do something like that?"
Because you're already hard, Chris thought but didn't say, brushing his hand against the taut fabric of Toby's pants instead.
"See? You want it."
Toby looked away, his face plunged into the shadows for a short while -then looked back up, still uncertain.
"Take it as a dare, Toby. I'll stop if you ask."
"Will you really?"
"Did I give you any reason to believe otherwise?"
Just fucking lie down and spread you legs, you bastard, before I lose it.
He cajoled and coaxed and touched and half-kissed, until the room was hot and dry with desire and finally -FINALLY- Toby was naked on the bed, writhing under his touch, longish hair tousled and lips swollen from too many kisses -soft, pleading, urging kisses, passionate, hungry, ravenous, devouring kisses.
Then Chris was touching the head of Toby's cock, licking it, letting him feel the sharp caress of his teeth up and down the shaft, laving it with saliva, sucking on it, teasing the slit with his raspy tongue, listening to the panting moans, assessing his chances and waiting for just the right moment when he would be able to take what he wanted -what he wanted but only offered willingly, trustingly...
Chris slicked his own cock and Toby's ass with lotion, never stopping the agonizingly sweet blowjob he was giving and when the head of his cock had breached the tight opening, Chris just stopped moving. Toby was fisting the sheets, moaning, his eyes shut tight.
"Look at me, Toby. Tell me what you want. I can stop."
Like hell he could but he knew that the words would make Toby trust him -he thought he heard the answer, "Yes. Go on. Please."
Slow and steady and never rushing to his goal until he was so deep he couldn't believe it, the tight warm sheath of muscles around him threatening to make him come too soon, Toby lying absolutely still under him, absolutely yielding, eyes trusting, palms flat on the sheets -Chris entwined his fingers with Toby's and pushed. Hard. Harder. Deep. Felt Toby's body rise to meet his, then shy away -too late, he'd found it, the little bump he'd been feeling around for blindly and now he could make the thrusts as rough as he wanted, Toby would take it, just to get touched there again... and again... and again.
Yeah, he had him fair and square and all shy and lovely. They cuddled a little afterwards and showered, and then Toby was ready to go to the airport, ready to fly back home.
Except that halfway to the airport, Chris realized that he didn't want Toby to leave yet. He wanted more. The hell if he knew why but he did and the urgency of the need nearly choked him.
He couldn't hold it in, ignore it and let Toby go, not when he'd realized just how much he wanted to keep him. He said in a rushed voice: "why don't you take over Vern's job? We can make money, lots of it, I know we're good. Ronnie's good, I'm good and Frank's not half bad either."
Toby looked at him, a strange expression on his face.
"Just try. Stay with us one more day," Chris said again.
"Why, Chris? What is it that you really want?"
"More of you. And don't worry, I take as good as I give."
Toby touched the driver's shoulder with trembling fingers. "Stop. My friend and I .. have to talk."
They got out of the car in the nice early morning light and stood there on the side of the road, facing each other...
Stay... I can't. My life's elsewhere... Are you talking about that sorry life with your parents and a woman you don't even love?... No matter how sorry it is, it's my life anyway, I can't just run away from it ... I can't believe I'm hearing this; you're a fraud, Toby, and a coward... How dare you...You said you couldn't live this life any longer; take a good look at what I'm offering you!
The argument went on until the taxi driver slammed his fist on the horn.
"One more day."
Toby let out an exasperated sigh but didn't get on the plane after all. They ended up in the room they'd just left instead and fucked again, Toby was a quick study.
That was probably when Chris realized that there was more between them than just fucking; of course, he kept this epiphany to himself.
The day had stretched into two, then three, then more... Toby's calls to his parents growing longer and louder and crisper until someday he'd smashed the phone down.
"Fuck them all! When are we leaving?"
The weeks had turned into months, the months into years... How many years? Chris couldn't remember anymore, he'd have to ask Toby.
He'd gone over what might come up during the interview with Toby: there would be questions about Chris' short devastating liaison with Sarah Mc Duff and the scandal that had followed--the anorexic young actress had left her ageing star of a husband for a rock singer who'd never meant to have more than a few nights of pleasure with her. Sarah's attempted suicide and the magazines letting the dogs loose on Chris were a very sore memory.
"I never promised anything; she imagined everything. I dare her to prove I ever said a single word about any commitment of any sort."
She couldn't but she was the victim and although it had been nearly 9 months now, although she'd gone back to her husband, Chris was still subjected to the same questions on a regular basis.
"It's not like I hurt her or anything," he kept saying "she loved every minute of it."
"Clearly she did. A bit too much."
"Damn the woman."
So, during the interview, when he sees that one journalist rise -he knows her from previous unpleasant experiences- all business like in her brown suit and with her perfect hair and cherry red lips, looking much more like a lawyer than a journalist, Chris glances back to Toby who suddenly straightens, pulled out of the daydream he'd been lost in.
"There has been a rumour lately..."
Bitch. Chris can feel the anger rise inside him.
"A rumour about Ronnie Barlog's death..."
Chris thinks he can feel Toby stiffen behind him and nearly turns to him with a reproachful gaze. See? The mess you put me in? But the brown-haired, tight-lipped bitch is still going on.
"... About the fact that this overdose that killed him might've been a murder."
Some years ago Chris would've risen and walked up to the bitch and slapped her without thinking twice... Instead, he just stares at her for a moment, and then says in a masterfully distraught voice: "I don't want to believe that anyone would spread such a rumour about Ronnie. He was..." His voice breaks. "I'm sorry, I don't see the point of this question. Anything I do leads to more rumours. Every time I go take a pee there's a rumour spreading somewhere. But this one, Mrs McClain, is the most degrading one I've ever heard."
She shakes her head, unconvinced, but shuts up.
Exhaustion washes over Chris suddenly so he gets up, pushing back the armchair, and ends the meeting sooner than he'd planned, escaping back up to his suite. Leaving it to Toby to smooth things over, something he's so good at.
Locked in his room he looks down at the crowd gathered in front of the hotel, all these people waiting for him outside, the expectant gazes looking up at the windows of his room. He rests his forehead against the velvet of the curtains and closes his eyes.
"It's only a rumour, Chris. We don't have to worry about it."
Toby's voice behind him startles him and he nearly shies away from Toby's hand on his shoulder, heart pounding. Clutching at the curtains, he lets out a ragged breath.
"Where does this one come from, Toby? Who spread that rumour?"
"Could be anyone. It's not even a serious rumour. Katherine McClain won't go further than that. There was an enquiry, Chris, and suicide was the logical conclusion. It would take much more than some filthy gossip to reopen the file. And even if they did... They wouldn't be able to prove anything."
Chris turns around to look at Toby. "You sound awfully sure of yourself."
"Have I ever disappointed you?"
Chris raises an eyebrow, cocking his head to the side with a nasty smile. "Sucking Ronnie off in the shower might have, in some ways, disappointed me."
The image forever imprinted in his mind; Toby on his knees, holding Ronnie's hips, hair damp, both naked -the raw rage of betrayal... Chris remembers shoving Toby away and then...
Blood running down the drain, Ronnie's open eyes empty, his own heart racing, blood boiling. He remembers turning to Toby slouched in a corner of the shower, shaking, unable to look away...
Chris remembers pulling him up, slapping him hard.
"Now do your fucking job; clear the mess."
Yeah and it had been a long long time before he could forgive Toby and even touch him. "Love in Fear", the album the group recorded only a few weeks later with a new bass player, bore the unmistakable stamp of Chris' anger. And pain.
Toby shrugs impatiently. "I was talking about professional matters. I'll make sure McClain gets this idea out of her head. I know her from Harvard, I think I know a way..."
"If it involves lying on a bed with her, forget it, Toby."
"I think I can find something a little less obvious, Chris."
Chris knows Toby will. He trusts Toby to make everything good. He trusts him to clear the way, silence McClain and kill the ugly rumour. The very ugly yet very true rumour. He's been trusting Toby on everything for a long time now.
"I'll go to hell, Toby," Chris says, his voice a painful murmur.
"Both of us will, the way things are going."
Chris slips to the floor with a heavy sigh, sitting down on the carpet, looking up at Toby's face.
"Got a fag?"
"You don't smoke, Chris."
"I do now."
So. They sit on the floor side by side, listening to the crowd calling from below, Chris watching the blue ribbons of smoke dancing in the air.
"Eventually you'll have to go down and face them."
"Shut the fuck up, Toby."
He hears Toby's familiar snort and grabs him by the shoulder, pushes him to the floor, pins him there, inhales his familiar scent, threads his fingers through the soft hair...
"There's no hell, Chris."
"You don't know that. I'm sure there's one and I'm already halfway in."
Then he kisses Toby hard and long, a punishing unforgiving kiss because once more it's all his fault, and of course he knows he's overreacting but he can't help it and Toby's letting him do whatever he wants -which will lead to an interesting encounter, he's sure, as soon as he can find the lube in the bag by the bed and make the sneaky faithless bastard know how angry he feels. When he does find the lube, he coats his whole hand and wrist with it and turns his attention back to Toby who's looking at him with widened eyes...
After--when Chris gets up and leaves him to go take a shower and get dressed, make himself ready to walk downstairs and immerse himself in his fans' adoration--Toby lifts his head to glare at him.
"Bastard. I hate that."
"It didn't look like you did from where I was standing. Pretty show you put up. I loved it."
Toby winces and turns around to lie on his back, body naked and flushed, hair tangled and eyes bright in his very pale face.
"Take a nap. You will be fine; I was careful." He's about to walk out but something pulls him back to the bed and he's leaning forward, running his fingers along Toby's jaw.
"Tell me that someday this madness will stop and we'll have a quiet and happy life, Toby."
"You can't live without the music. You can't live without the stage."
"And I certainly can't live without you. So I guess we're in for a little more of this madness after all, uh?" There's relief in Chris' voice.
Chris lets his footsteps carry him away from the room, then, to the voices outside, to the screams which rise even louder when he reaches the doors and pushes through.
Someday maybe I'll get tired of this. Or Toby will get tired of me. Hell knows, but until that day I'm going to make the best of all of this.
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