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Written for severina2001 and the "Oz Free-For-All" (2010). Her prompt was: Domestic Beecher/Keller AU - Chris gets paroled and has to fit into Toby's life on the outside. A little domestic (ultimately happy) slice of life as they make it work. This story isn't quite what she asked for, but I hope it works anyway.

A Life In Coffee Spoons

by levitatethis

"Baby, I've been here before // I've seen this room and I've walked this floor // You know I used to live alone before I knew you. // And I've seen your flag on the marble arch // And love is not a victory march // It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah." -Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

Toby reaches the phone on the fourth ring. His pleasant surprise at hearing Sister Pete's voice (two months since they last spoke, three years since he last set foot in Oz, ten years since he called the place home) is nearly immediately undone, turned into utter confusion as if some parallel universe has suddenly opened a portal to another world in his kitchen and there's only room for one of the realities to exist.

He hears words like "technicality", "evidence tampering", "good behaviour" (which would be a joke if Toby wasn't well acquainted with how certain people can hide their tracks when needed), "out in two weeks", but they sound muffled--not at all infused with the crisp clearness he used to imagine those same words emphatically spoken with when he allowed himself the leeway to dream about possibilities and hope.

His chest tightens and he drifts his eyes around the empty kitchen. He has lived in this Brownstone for seven years--and God knows it was a battle to convince his mother he needed to at least try to start again on his own two feet. `Baby steps' was the silent refrain which spun around the merry-go-round in his head, and that's exactly what his life has become a series of. Seven years in the Brownstone, the last five of which it became a permanent home for Harry and Holly as well. Home.

Yet in this moment it is strangely foreign to him, as if he's standing in someone else's place, seeing their appliances and taking up space on their stomping ground. Sucking in a deep calming breath, he closes his eyes.


Sister Pete's voice cracks through his reverie of mind churning disorientation. He's fairly sure he manages to utter the word "Oh," then strings together the sentence, "Did he ask you to tell me?" but he hears none of her reply. Instead a series of soundless memories flash though his brain--

Chris above him, staring with undivided intensity into his eyes, never wavering with each powerful thrust ~ Chris grinning manically from across the quad as Supreme Allah is dragged off for Mondo's murder ~ Chris eyeing the chessboard between them with determination ~ Chris drunk on moonshine ~ Chris smiling his electric grin and pulling Toby into a tight hug ~ Chris with a disturbingly friendly arm around Schillinger's shoulders ~ Chris laughing while telling Toby a story about one of his marriages--


His eyes fly open and he sees the phone hung up with his hand tightly gripping it. He has no idea if he said goodbye to Sister Pete or if she's currently in her office sighing in exasperation at the dial tone and the latest installment in the saga of Keller and Beecher.

Toby turns around and finds Holly standing in the entranceway of the kitchen watching him from beneath an inquisitively furrowed brow.

Before he can say anything, she asks, "Is it...Oz? Is it...?"

The protective side of him wants to lie, play ignorant and shrug denial. It's the same part that wants to grab the kids and whisk them far away from this place, not looking back. But he doesn't lie. Not anymore. He may omit the more gruesome details, but Holly has proven to be far more aware and intuitive than most. He knows she's already guessed the truth. A few years ago, after he last visited Chris (and keeping his head above water was the equivalent of being in a pressurized chamber), he and Holly had one of those father-daughter chats, so revelatory that he locked it away for safe-keeping and fond remembrance, to remind himself he wasn't chugging along in this world all on his own.

Young and wise, she confessed she knew when Oz, specifically Chris weighed on his mind because one minute Toby would be present and accounted for and the next he was pulling a Billy Pilgrim and losing time, becoming unstuck, as it were. He suspected she shared this bit of information out of concern for his well being and curiosity about the part of his life she was familiar with only in glimpses and the occasionally shared (and carefully censored) stories.

Both kids know about Chris, if not the colourful version than the flipbook, cliff notes one, but certainly enough to have no doubt Toby loved him and always would in some way. Funnily, in his newfound freedom, Toby realized it was the adults in his social circle (the old and new ones), who couldn't get a handle on how prison had changed him. They understood it only in abstract terms, grimly smiling at him then politely, if awkwardly, changing the subject before walking away and glancing at the lost cause (he had become) for the rest of the night. The kids on the other hand (and maybe it was a generalization, but it held water) seemed to have a better grasp of the idea that nothing is set in stone and change is a way of life.

Toby offers his daughter a muted, closed mouth smile. "It was Sister Pete...Chris is being released."

A look he has never seen before skips across her face, so fast if he had blinked he would have missed it.

He muffles a sigh.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

He should have known better.

Toby's only excuse was that freedom after being denied it for so long was a mind numbing aphrodisiac, which tossed aside normally front and center common sense. Hindsight being twenty-twenty meant little comfort.

During the seven years following Toby's release, he made two things his top priorities--getting his family back on track by filling in the blanks of stolen time and appealing the FBI case against Chris Keller (if not to get him released then to at least get him off Death Row). With the help of his father's law firm (God rest Harrison's soul), Toby was on the fast track to make it all happen. And he accomplished what he set out to do, which in turn led into looking at whether the hefty sentence settled on Chris for the crime which initially landed him in Oz in the first place could be reduced taking into account evidence and circumstances.

Of course, his own stint in prison was a kink in the firm's armor. It was one thing to fight on behalf of a prisoner who was getting screwed by an opportunistic FBI agent with a vendetta, it was another to let a very personal relationship with said prisoner seemingly dictate further involvement. Despite being disbarred, Toby's reputation as a smart, quick thinking lawyer, bought him the opportunity to continue in some capacity. Rather than being one of the faces of the firm, Toby settled in as an invaluable behind-the-scenes wheeler and dealer, doing countless research and gathering a staggering amount of information and evidence, drafting the arguments which would become their irrefutable arsenal.

Though work was a big commitment, the nature of his new role at the firm meant he had more time to spend with his children at home during weeknights and weekends; far more than he ever had when he was married to the job, Genevieve and a bottomless bottle. School plays, sporting competitions, chaperoning dances, family functions, afternoon trips with the kids around the city all became part of this new life; and then there were rainy Sunday afternoons with the three of them piled into his bed with hot chocolate, watching whatever movie the kids could decide on. It was everything he could wish for, and did.

And Chris...he saw Chris once a week and it was nowhere near enough, but it was something, which was better than nothing. Chris was the rush of blood through his body and the jigsaw pieces clicked together in his mind which Toby never found in anyone else and couldn't recreate. He tried, to an extent, with one of Holly's teachers, Marion, but the (unnerving) reality of the experience was that he was no longer the same type of man who Gen once knew intimately. Prison--Chris--had changed him down to the most minute details, revealing previously unknown erogenous zones and deeply buried desires, the ones which would have made him blush before.

Although he and Marion engaged in interesting and perfectly comfortable dinner conversations, the sex was where demons came home to roost. All fairness to her, she tried to be open to what she thought turned him on, yet the closer she got to hitting the nail on the head, the more panicked Toby was at the melding of two very different worlds. Needless to say the relationship didn't work out. Toby didn't give up. A few other women came and went and a pattern presented itself--comfort meant no spark and no spark meant a distracted lack of interest. A kiss then really was just a kiss and sex was no more than a momentary connection.

He should have known better.

Just because Chris asked about life on the outside and encouraged Toby to fuck his way to Kingdom Come, didn't mean it was an invite to do so. Work discussions were over and done with early during their meetings. The rest of their time in the visiting room was a riddling sensory experience, a mix of being thrilled with seeing each other, leaning into each other's space, rumbling low voices across skin, and talking rather frankly in a way where neither held back; unable to go further.

Toby was so delighted with his own happiness he only slightly resisted Chris' prodding for more details about dating and sex on the outside. Chris could be a bright smile and infectious laughter when he chose to be. He cared about Toby's relationship with his kids, there was no question of that, and it was easy for Toby to accept the safety of face value delusions. In knee jerk retrospect, if he were looking to place the blame away from himself, he would say Chris always talked about fucking women and men as if the act came as naturally as breathing. In return he encouraged Toby to loosen up and made him feel safe enough to (bashfully) admit his own predilections.

He should have known better.

It was obvious way after the fact--the way Chris' smile pulled tight into a thin line and he tensed his jaw, not easy and relaxed; the shift of his eyes to the table or around at the other visitors, the flat and slightly strained inflection in his voice. All of it grew more pronounced as the years piled high and the lack of conjugals only made matters worse.

Sex between them had always been a language of trust (sometimes abused) they both came to be well versed in. Chris had been the professional linguist, Toby the learned apprentice. Together they were a lit fuse of dynamite. Chris spoke fluently with touch, and without it he was off balance and cut off at the knees. While Toby played make-believe (ineffectually) on the outside, Chris stewed on the inside. A blowjob here or there (under the stairs in Em City or in the stockroom) with a nice piece of fresh meat ass may have sufficed to stave off the edge (Toby guessed--since Chris never spoke about who he was or wasn't screwing on the inside, but it was Chris so he must have been...), a somewhat public finger fucking and matching hand job with a visiting ex-wife may bring a satisfied sigh to Chris' lips, but none of it was with Toby who erred on the side of caution when he visited and cut short long kisses for fear too much would get Chris sent to the hole.

He should have known better.

Certainly Chris would suspect Toby was back with women only, meaning Chris was relegated to little more than a remnant of a past life Toby couldn't--wouldn't out of loyalty--flush down the drain. A delicate tension grew and Chris joked (or so it seemed at the time, it turned out to be a damn prophetic threat) that the, "sentence reduction is turning into a big fucking headache," and Toby was, "too busy to be making these regular trips when they're really not necessary." Toby shouldn't have shrugged it off.

One day Chris didn't come (refused to) meet him. One missed visiting day turned into two, then three. The funny thing with prison was that for all its emphasis on keeping society protected from the sewer dwellers, it also managed to keep the prisoners safely guarded from society. Toby's frustrations brewed and he channeled it as best he could into Chris' case, but without being able to meet with Chris one-on-one it proved a difficult obstacle to maneuver.

Swallowing the bitter pill of pride meant Toby handed over the reins to the most trusted at the firm and although they kept him apprised of their work, he stepped away from it as much as he could--to give Chris a chance and to spare his own heartbreak. Which was a lot easier said than done. With the last tangible tie to Chris replaced with an abstraction, Toby tripped over his own feet. Keeping it together was a necessity hit home by Harry's growingly weary gaze, drifting from the current obsessed over video game, and Holly's distant hovering, out of sight but burning holes in his back which he felt as soon as a daydream of Chris slipped away.

They were judging him and he wished they weren't right with their hypotheses. For their sakes more than his own, he needed to make use of the strength he still had. Neither child deserved a father who licked his lips at the faint remembrance of alcohol numbing his tongue and burning his throat on the way to passing out of pain's reach. They hadn't asked for a heartbroken shell of a man who only knew love in extremes (from Gen to Chris and back again). They deserved a present father, a caring and loving one. They had fucking earned it beneath aligned stars and planets and the bitch, Karma, nodding from across the room.

And so, in a wink to continuity and stepping stones; the forefathers of foreshadowing, the children who gave him hope to keep going when he was locked away became the impetus to not give up, to not take for granted the incredible second chance they had been given. In tow, Sister Pete became the touchstone to a past he was sure never to forget, but grow from. Angus was a rock of a younger brother who, despite never fully grasping the "Keller equation" (as he so bemusedly coined it), never wavered from having Toby's back. Virginia did her part by not bringing up Chris (or Oz for that matter), and she kept mum when anyone else prompted such a discussion in her presence.

As for non-biologically related friends, Toby counted the few (tested and true) on one hand. It was enough to not be alone, to be understood as himself, all of him, with the most miniscule of defensive disguises in place. It was one thing for them to know the degradation he suffered in prison without dwelling on the stomach turning trivia.

Survival was a fickle state Toby convinced himself he could make straightforward.

He should have known better.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

"I want to meet him."

Toby looks up from the newspaper at Holly who is eating a bowl of fruit and cottage cheese for breakfast and watching him closely. It's been three days since Sister Pete called and though they haven't spoken about it (meaning Toby's thoughts have kept him tossing and turning at night but no one has voiced any concerns about the elephant taking up space in the room) it's been looming.

"Who?" Toby asks dumbly before he can counter her request intelligently.

"Uncle Chris," Harry says nonchalantly, getting up from the table and taking his empty cereal bowl (once he's drunk the last of the milk out of it) to the sink.

Toby's sheer surprise at the reference is only slightly tempered by the likelihood Harry is being his typically sarcastic self (and these days Toby finds reading his son's deadpan humour requires a bullshit translator) and the snort of laughter that comes from Holly. Toby's attention sweeps back to her and the expression on her face--smirk, raised eyebrow--reminds Toby so much of himself it's both heartwarming (everyone can see Harry has Gen's sweetness--beneath mounds of teenage attitude--while Holly is more the discerning thinker, knowing people are made up of indescribably layers, much of which can be unpleasant) and worrisome (Toby's own life has been a magnet for trouble and he hates the idea of Holly learning through heartache that happiness is not guaranteed, and the people who love you can be the same ones who will punish you for taking a chance and opening yourself up).

Toby lowers the paper and sits back in the chair. "Uncle Chris?" It sounds wrong, too cutesy lilting off his tongue, not at all appropriate for the man who completely and unexpectedly changed his life.

Holly glances at Harry and rolls her eyes. The knowing smile Harry shoots her informs Toby he is witnessing an inside joke and can't help but wonder what exactly his kids have discussed regarding his relationship with Chris. He wonders if Chris exists as a strange, unknowable creature preying on the periphery of their lives or if they have conjured up an overly romanticized version based on Toby's love for him.

"Whatever, dad." Harry yawns and heads to his room, leaving Toby to deal with Holly who looks to be settling in for one of those conversations.

Toby takes a contemplative moment to himself. "I don't know if..." It's a good idea? If Chris even wants to see him, let alone meet the family?

Holly licks her spoon clean and tosses it into the bowl with a clang. "I want to meet him," she states more firmly.

The consternation of anxiety churns his stomach. Truth be told, given his history with Chris, the request is not entirely out of left field. However it raises issues he resigned himself never to deal with. His kids have finally asked to be let into the part of his life which was as informative in his becoming the man he is as it was humiliating and disgusting. Meeting Chris, knowing him, will be anything but simple. More questions will be raised, specific ones, ones which cannot be answered with pretty words, but the potentially poisonous weight of a harsh concreteness.

In turn, Chris (if he wishes to see Toby and be part of a shared life) would see Toby's world as a series of overlapping compartments. They both know Chris doesn't like to share, and he sure as hell doesn't like to share Toby. Yet Holly and Harry cannot, will not, be compromised and shifted out of Toby's life. The problems innate to "what if" (which may not even happen) are already causing a headache for Toby.

"I don't know if that's a good idea," Toby says somewhat absentmindedly. "Besides, he made it clear years ago he didn't want to see me anymore and I have to respect those wishes."

"If I remember correctly, it wasn't exactly easy for you," Holly snaps in a tone that isn't bitter, rather annoyed at his attempt to avoid the issue.

"Which doesn't make me want to jump in head first at an unprompted reunion now."

"Right. He's going to be out in a few days and you really expect me to believe you have no desire to see him?"

When Toby says nothing, she adds, "That's what I thought."

He scoots forward on his chair and leans on the table, folding his arms across the surface. "Whether I want to see him or not doesn't make it a good idea."

"I don't know if it's a good idea either, but that's not the point. I deserve to meet him." Surprisingly, Holly doesn't sound like the self-assured (though overly cautious) twenty year old she's become, but the nervous child who smiled at him through her confusion when visiting him in Oz.


"No. You don't get to suddenly change your story and say Chris doesn't matter anymore." She mimics his posture leaning on the table. "When you were...away, when we weren't allowed to see you except on certain days, at certain times, he got a piece of you. You willingly gave him a piece of you. And he still has it."

The statement hangs in the air unchallenged and persuasively permeates his defensive walls, hitting at the most private aspects of who he is, not as far below the surface as he thought.

"I know it wasn't some perfect love affair," she continues. "I'm not nave. I remember the tension, how serious you always looked when I finally got to see you. And I'm pretty familiar with you drifting away, lost in thought. But I also know there was something good between you two--your words, not mine. You gave each other something worth holding onto when there should have been nothing. I..."

She briefly looks away. "I want to put a face to the name. I should get the chance to know who he is."

As her argument rattles his brain and spins his emotions out of order (to the point where he wonders how long she's been considering this particular position), he is struck for the millionth time how much she is his daughter. The pangs of guilt he feels for believing he broke her all those years ago have never dissipated and he has spent a lifetime trying to glue the million pieces she's been broken into back together with shaky hands. Yet seeing her now, a young adult looking at him as if she can see all the good and bad inside, reminds him what she's been through.

As he has been changed so has she. How could she not? Gary's ghost hides in the shadows. Harry never crossed into Oz, only making it as far as the parking lot. Holly is the one who kept coming, who saw him through the shit-filled nightmare and blink-and-you'll-miss-it hope. She survived being a pawn in the sordid war all the adults declared on each other, casualties be damned.

She's weary now, but maybe it's a good thing because she's thinking long and hard about everything. She's open too. It takes a lot to fluster her resolve. No longer is she the little girl who, when Toby first got out, played with him for an hour then instinctively walked away expecting him to leave. Virginia's house, large and imposing, gave Toby plenty of places to steal time for himself while giving Holly the space she needed.

Those days he would catch her spying on him, pondering him from the doorway of the study, not coming close enough to announce her presence. When he walked down the hall to the kitchen he would hear her tiny, soft footsteps padding behind him, stopping when he did, following. It took her ages to work up the nerve to get closer, as if she was afraid doing so too soon would break the fairytale spell and make the illusion disappear all together.

Holly is no longer the thirteen year old who, along with Harry, was bartered between Virginia, Gen's parents, and Toby when Toby wanted the kids to move in with him, into their own place. Back then, while everyone debated living arrangements, she disappeared into the bathroom and came out with a pair of scissors in hand and her once long hair chopped short. Toby recognized the passive aggressive grab for control and a say in her life, after years of having others dictate the rules.

Her terms were simple. She wanted to stay with her dad, and Harry (less inclined to harbor resentment against anyone long term) followed her lead. The short hair became a symbolic statement. She may have allowed it to grow out into something more styled, but she kept it above her shoulders from that point on, typically settling on a shag, a decision which still rankles Virginia's notions of fashionable femininity, but she keeps her backhanded comments to a minimum and Holly no longer takes them personally. It's turned into an eye rolling in-joke for the family.

Holly is more than the eighteen year old who chose to go to NYU and commute to school from home, even though the family could afford to support her moving out. It wasn't an angle they pushed. Toby guessed her reasons for not wanting to move out and let those be hers alone. For his part he loved having the kids around to fill up the house with sounds of life. And that's exactly what they've all done--made a life together.

But there are always obstacles.

Adults know the sky will fall and still manage to get pissed off when it happens. Children hope it won't fall, but when it does, as scared as they are, they eventually pick up a pencil crayon and drew a brand new one.

Broaching the subject of Chris (at her own request, no less) is the equivalent of walking a minefield. It appears deceptively easy, yet strategic, but anything could happen in a quiet admission, a prodded reveal, and a heartfelt share. However, Holly is right with her reading of Chris as being a far more profound part of Toby's life than inconsequential. To pretend the definition of what they were (what Toby continues to carry in his heart) has changed is the real blasphemy.

Yet all Toby can bring himself to say is, "It's been three years. If he wanted to see me--,"

"He'd call? Like you've tried to get in touch with him? Have you even talked to Sister Pete again?"

Toby is taken aback by her sharp tongue. He sees the realization sweep across her face at her about turn of aggressiveness. She snaps her mouth shut. Sitting back, she unfolds her arms and lightly grips the edge of the table, taking a deep breath.

"That's not fair," Toby says. "You know Chris is...complicated. It's never black and white with him and being away from each other for so long..."

"It's granddad's firm that got him off," Holly points out in a calm and controlled manner.

"Which is something I've kept at an arm's length." Toby roughly runs his hands across the top of his head and sits back. "I wish I knew what his getting out meant."

Holly furrows her brow. "I'm sure it's scary. If he doesn't want to see you it means you'll question everything you two had. And if he does want to see you it means he'll be here, in our lives, and you don't know if there's a place for him; if he'll even fit in."

If he'd even share, Toby thinks but keeps the worrisome thought to himself. It's one of the more disturbing factors which had stayed his hand from picking up the phone to at least put out tentative feelers regarding how to proceed. With Chris, giving him an inch nearly guarantees he'll claim a mile. As bad as the ache for him is, and it's grown exponentially in the last few days with the teasing taste of maybe, there are risks involved. They may be much ado about nothing or it may be the tipping point to disaster.

"I bet he's going to want to see you," Holly pilfers the drawn out silence.

"I wouldn't be too certain," Toby replies. Hopeful, maybe, but not certain.

"I would." She glances at her watch and gets up, taking her dirty bowl to the sink.

"Leave them. I'll do it," Toby says to her back regarding the dishes, his tone a hint harsher than he intends.

Holly pauses and turns around, gripping the counter behind her with both hands. "I'm not trying to cause trouble, dad, but let's be honest. Chris has been a part of your life almost as long as Harry has. That's not going to just go away."

She waits for his understanding--placating--nod before leaving the kitchen.

Toby listens to her retreating footsteps.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

Five months since Chris--apparently, allegedly, reportedly--walked out of Oz in the shoes of a free man, five months since Toby's world should have tilted off its axis.

Five months and not a word from anyone except a phone call from Sister Pete, two weeks ago, asking if Chris had contacted him. He hadn't, and since she had been requested not to share any of Chris' new contact information, she kept her mouth shut. Toby could have figured it out anyway, but something about taking that action and what it implied halted any attempt.

The deliberate lack of contact, both ways, leaves him feeling uneasy and restless. He replays the many moments they've shared and looks for clues that would explain away the void threatening to swallow him whole. But there's nothing except subjective interpretations manipulated this way and that based on mood and time of day.

It's Friday night and Toby heads home late from work. On nights like these when the weather is nicer than it should be, he likes to take the subway and then walk the rest of the way, saving the town car for less enticing days. Along the way he picks up Thai food (enough for there to be leftovers that Harry can pick through at three in the morning). It's a welcome night to himself. Harry is spending the weekend with Angus' family and Holly is off to a concert with friends.

Toby plans for a quiet dinner alone in front of the tv, some reading and then lights out. A good night's rest means he can make it to the gym early the next morning and start his weekend off on a self-affirming note. But as he approaches his address, a shadowy figure sitting on his front stoop stutters a pause in his steps and he slows down, peering through the light speckled darkness at who ever is cloaked half in the shadow of the porch light. The desired element of surprise is undermined by the echo of his footsteps on the pavement and in the split second it takes for the person to acknowledge him, Toby's world stops.

The flash of uncertainty which lines Chris' face lasts but a second, then it is quickly replaced with amusement, in an air of controlled superiority--intense, unblinking eyes, lips pulled into a playful smirk--which slaps Toby with a fit of dj vu; recalling being on the receiving end of it many times. Swiftly, in the way that still takes Toby's breath away, Chris is on his feet, staring down at him from the landing. As ever, Chris is imposing, but in this case not unnerving, and Toby returns the steely gaze as he approaches, searching for words which don't sound bland or saccharine.

Chris says nothing. Instead he steps aside while Toby moves closer, bringing them half a foot apart. The sudden closeness of Chris--breathing and touchable--in front of him is almost too much. Toby's brain might not be functioning but his body is already reacting like it always did with this man. A heated flush rises across his skin, his blood is racing, pounding his heart, and he has to fight not to place his hands on Chris' chest.

Time slows to a crawl, a sharp contrast to the undeniable reality of the years which have passed them by, adding a wrinkle here, removing a hair there, but nothing notable. In fact, in the end the changes are negligible. This is the very man who spun a web around Toby's heart and staked a claim on his soul. This is the man who broke him into a million pieces then sacrificed himself for Toby, more than once. And he is the man who "disappeared" for three years and let Toby go, presumably never looking back.

Keep it together. But all Toby wants to do is fold his arms around Chris and kiss him, melting into his body. With as much restraint as Toby can muster, he moves by him and unlocks the front door. Stepping aside he lets Chris in and closes the door behind them. Like in Oz, Chris moves across the floor as if he belongs there, as if it were built with the singular purpose of housing his presence. There's no pause or hesitation, no waiting for a proper invite. Chris saunters into the living room (shrugging off his black leather jacket and tossing it to the sofa, to reveal a fitted long sleeve, thermal, navy shirt and perfectly fitted blue jeans), and begins a commanding charge of the room.

There are a million things Toby wants to say and a hundred questions he means to ask, but the first words in three years uttered between them do not come naturally. He settles for watching Chris seemingly take in his new surroundings, staring closely at the framed family photos that line the fireplace mantle, dragging one hand along the backrest of the sofa, fingering the rounded top of a lamp shade, trailing the spines of a line of books across one row of the bookcase.

Caught up in the unbelievable sight of Chris in his home, Toby is a mix of shock and wonder. Back in Oz, he occasionally allowed himself to dream about a future--a real one--with Chris. On the scale of probabilities, this one was so farfetched as to be ridiculous. As such, Toby let his mind revel in it, imaging living in a home with Chris, strangely domestic. And now--

He shakes his head to clear old cobweb daydreams stuck in the corners of his mind and remembers the food in his hand. Chris appears more taken with the room than anything else, so Toby heads to the kitchen and places the bag of takeout on the table. Walking over to the cupboards, he eyes the plates pensively then picks two up and carries them to the table where he places the stack next to the bag. It's impossible to go further.

Toby hates being out of control. Oz ratcheted up the fear and falling in love with Chris twisted it. At the same time Chris reconstructed everything Toby thought he knew into something unique and unequalled, not to mention frighteningly raw. Allowing the unrestrained and unstoppable into his precisely measured life is a potent combination and Toby has no idea if he is ready to take on such an endeavor again. Especially with Holly and Harry hanging in the balance. What's love got to do with it?

Toby closes his eyes and leans forward, resting his hands, palms flat, on the table. Taking slow, deep breaths, he attempts to calm his thrumming body and focus his mind. Ten years as a free man (three of those truly unbound to a critical past) does not get tossed aside for next to nothing.

The hair on the back of his neck shoots up and he tenses as a warm (familiar) body presses up against his. Besides being mad with himself for showing such bad instincts when someone pushes uninvited into his space, Toby stays still, ever mindful of Chris' chest flush against his back. Toby opens his eyes and waits. A few seconds pass before Chris reaches around and slides his left hand over top of Toby's. At the same time, Chris wraps his right arm around Toby's waist, fitting his hand up under the suit jacket Toby normally tosses aside (after feeling stifled in it all day at the office) when he comes home.

Chris holds Toby closer, if it's even possible, and rubs the tip of his nose against the back of Toby's neck, then softly presses his lips to the flushed skin. It's far more intimate than a kiss and the gesture picks away at the already crumbling resolve Toby built with years of practice.


His name is spoken quietly, with a slight hitch between syllables and every last bit of reason tosses its hands in the air and throws caution to the wind.

Toby decides questions can wait for later.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

Toby's dreams are nonsensical and the interruption of loud voices either from deep within or outside his cerebral dreamscape eventually pulls him to the surface of consciousness and he flutters his eyes open.

Lying naked in bed with the blanket pulled up high he shifts across his stomach and raises his head from the pillow to peek at the clock. A bright red 7:30am burns his eyes and in the moment he groans at being up so early on a Saturday, he also realizes he's alone in bed. Running his hands along the space to his right the cold sheet reveals it's been awhile since another body lay there. His groan takes on another meaning.

Sitting up, he detangles himself from the blanket and swings his feet over the side of the bed. Resting his elbows on his knees, and head in his hands, he muffles a yawn as the events of the night before pay him a return visit.

They hardly made it to the bedroom (despite Toby trying to direct them the right way while Chris refused to relinquish any inch of touch), in a fit of unprecedented desperation; the need to confirm what they once knew without doubt. Their first time in more than ten years was urgent and messy, awkward and absolutely exhilarating.

Where Chris' hands skimmed the surface of everything in the living room, now they dug into Toby's skin, leaving behind a trail of light purple and half moon indentations as they ripped the clothes off of each other. Somewhere in the chaos, Toby was aware enough to fumble for the lube he kept in the back drawer of his nightstand (and a fleeting thought about expiry dates passed before Chris' mouth rendered all distractions inexcusable and cast out), tossing it wherever Chris might be able to reach it at some point.

Chris' lips seared to the touch, tongue and teeth teased of stolen moments in their pod when Chris was tired of letting the rules dictate their every breath. Toby clutched and clawed back, driven by the need to burrow deep inside Chris. He reveled in Chris writhing below his skillful tongue tasting the salty skin of promises best left unsaid. They were a culmination of strong grips, interlocking limbs and hard cocks straining for the build up of release. Intentions were to take in everything of the other and the undertaking was done with purpose, unflinchingly. Not a smile to be found between them, they were on a mission of unbroken concentration to begin righting a universal imbalance.

With no time to waste, as if an hourglass had been flipped and waited in the corner, Chris took the lead; transforming Toby's body into something worthy of being revered, eliciting every known, hidden, and dormant nerve point until there was nothing left for Toby to cling to. By the time they were sucking each other's cocks, groaning around each other's lengths, pushing for more, Toby was so blissed out every care in the world was blown away.

In sync once more (and haphazardly so, but, God, it had been so long), Toby felt his way inside Chris and nearly came when Chris did the same to him, curving a finger just right. The rhythm was steady, but distance making the heart grow fonder meant there was little time to spare and before Toby could settle with thoughts about the musky scent of Chris infiltrating his very being, Chris was moving their bodies once more. Toby found himself on all fours with Chris kneeling behind him, lathering his cock (and it hadn't even occurred to Toby to insist they use a condom) then pushing inside him with one powerful thrust.

Pleasured pain was the only way to describe it as Chris molded his upper body to Toby's and fucked him with a relentless pace. Toby pushed back with everything he had and when Chris wrapped one hand around Toby's cock and pumped it in time to their movements, when Toby dropped his head to the pillow and Chris kissed the curve of his back and they were coming loudly and unapologetically, it was the closest thing to heaven Toby ever felt.

A loose leaf memory from long ago smirked at Toby from the corner. It turned out he'd managed to make an honest man out of Chris after all.

Their next time came a couple of hours later, after much needed (albeit brief) sleep and it unfolded in striking contrast to their earlier fucking session (which in itself was a lesson in uncensored want). Their second time, rather than being rushed and racing against the clock, was drawn out. And it began with a waking Toby wrapped tight in Chris' arms, his head against Chris' chest, leaning up and pressing a kiss to the underside of Chris' jaw.

Toby heard a satisfied murmur and rolled with Chris until he was looking up into those sharp blue eyes. All Chris did was stare at him. The hard lines Toby remembered from before had softened in the slumbering hours and Chris caringly rubbed his faintly stubbled cheek against Toby's. What followed was light, almost ticklish fingertips, as they felt along each other's chests, tracing previously claimed territory, punctuated by soothing kisses to make it all better. It was a game of memory, noting details and filing them away, seeing where their bodies had changed yet still fit together, as if a greater power had a hand in play.

When Chris finally pushed inside Toby it was the slow drive of forever, and Toby arched up, pressing his chest to Chris', trying to hold him in an unforgiving embrace. They languished together with stolen breaths tripping between their lips. Toby wrapped his legs around Chris' hips and caught the same fleeting look of uncertainty he first spotted in front of the house. Using his own strength (and counting on Chris' lack of expectation as leverage), Toby bucked and flipped their positions.

Once on top, Toby not only pushed Chris deeper inside (sending a shuddering moan through them both) but tilted the balance in his favour. His own surprise was the little resistance Chris put up with acquiescing control. Rather, Chris' eyes searched his and Toby placed his hands on either side of Chris' face, drawing him into a kiss as deep as the laws of physics would allow their bodies. It was their testament, their offering. Remembered past lives and accepted present ones. Here. Now. Unforgotten. Unbroken.

The third time (after another rest) was all together different, far more relaxed than Toby would have thought possible years before. Then they were sharp kisses and taunting bites between stifled laughter. They worked their hands up and down each other's hard shafts, panting against expanses of heated sweat-sheened skin. There was no one to stop them. No hack knocking on the plexiglass as a warning, no prying eyes of other inmates looking for their own cheap thrill. There was no threat of forced separation, no hole, no Cedar Junction, no Schillinger fucking with their lives. They were free of all the bullshit which always promised to break them (and had succeeded a handful of times), free to be together; risk a smile and mean it, chance a giggle and drown in it.

They tossed the blankets to the floor, turned on one of the night table lamps and took in the full sight of each other unclothed, unrestricted, hard and aching for the other, with nowhere to hide. Between kisses and writhe-inducing touches--deliberately timed strokes with a firm hand and a thumb sweeping across the top of a straining cock, tongues rolling over and around one, two fingers--bits and pieces of information were shared.

They were not enough to fill in the blanks or answer the deeper questions that rattled Toby's brain, but they were enough to skim the surface and set the stage for later (because there had to be a later). Whispered against his ear, rumbled along the curve of his neck, Toby heard how Chris was working at an auto repair shop run by Bonnie's brother-in-law (a job waiting for him when he got out) and living in a bachelor apartment (though the address was hard to hear or pay attention to when Chris was licking down his stomach).

Chris had seen all his exes and each one had thrown him a "welcome back" party, meaning his first week out was filled with a lot of goddamn fucking. Any jealousy Toby felt in the pit of his stomach was shoved aside when Chris licked and sucked his balls--sending Toby's head spinning as he instinctively grasped for Chris' head and curled his legs over Chris' shoulders. As for why it took him five months to seek out Toby, the answer was unclear. It was the only time Chris appeared hesitant, in want of a distraction to steer them on another topic and Toby would have pushed if Chris hadn't lay himself flat against Toby and worked his hips until Toby had to thrust back, the friction too much, and Chris' tongue in Toby's mouth made him forget all the "why's" and "when's" he normally paid attention to.

In the light of day, alone once more, Toby thinks he should have pushed harder. With few ties, Chris could and would move where he pleases whenever the mood strikes. Toby would be the one staying where he is, his life settled in one place. Which is fine--but the taste of Chris has dug up old desires, addictive ones, which don't necessarily fit in with the life he has made for himself. There is no reason for Chris to bother with sticking around. And he hasn't.

Considering the messy bed, Toby strips it and tosses the blanket and sheets into a pile in the corner. He decides to do the laundry after breakfast and think about what last night meant. He has no regrets for any of it. He would never take back anything with Chris, least of all spending a night with him that made him forget all his concerns and worries. Unfortunately it doesn't make the morning after any easier to face.

After a trip to the bathroom, during which he wipes himself down with an effort he hasn't had to exert in quite awhile and takes his time examining the indelible marks Chris has left on him, he slips on black cotton pajama bottoms and a grey t-shirt, and heads down for breakfast.

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

Toby's halfway down the stairs when he hears Holly talking in the kitchen. It's not until the kitchen is in sight, however, that he realizes she's not alone (and talking back to the news on the radio or television as she normally does). She's sitting at the table, facing his direction, but it's the back of Chris seated across from her that makes Toby slow down a second, his eyes growing wide and his throat tightening as he painfully swallows uncertainty.

The loud voices he wrote off as figments of his dreams suddenly take on another reading.

Approaching the kitchen, he recognizes the stern look on his daughter's face and the very composed way with which she's sitting. She's not giving anything away and won't be led one way or the other, not the way his mind is already turning at the discovery Chris is still here, that he didn't take off without a proper goodbye, but is having breakfast in Toby's kitchen with one of Toby's kids. Toby's body is a spark of burning heat and he's sure a rosy hue stains his cheek. His palms grow sweaty and he wipes them by scrunching up his pants at his thighs.

Another step closer and he sees the very subtle pull of tension in Chris' shoulders (an attention to detail honed out of bids for survival in captivity) and Holly's eyes meet his over top Chris' head.

"Morning, dad," she says with a faint smile and takes a sip of orange juice.

"Morning, Holls, Chris." Toby decides against insulting everyone's intelligence with a redundant, `so I see you've met.' He retrieves a glass from the cupboard and Holly (her attention on Chris) hands him the carton of orange juice. Taking it back to the counter, he pours himself a drink and walks back to the table, gripping the top run of the chair. When no one says anything (and Toby considers the billion things the two of them may have `discussed' prior to his interruption), Toby pulls out the chair and sits down, glancing from Chris (who is on his left) to Holly (who is on Toby's right), observing each other.

The second he puts his glass down, Chris shifts his eyes to meet Toby's gaze. Chris gives him a small smile coupled with a quiet, "Hey," and reaches out to rub Toby's shoulder, eventually dropping it low on his body, ultimately resting his hand on Toby's left thigh. There was a time, under the uninvited scrutiny of judgmental eyes, when Toby would have recoiled from such a display. Today he returns the same shy smile and places his left hand overtop Chris', squeezing gently before looking at Holly expectantly.

"I didn't know you were coming home after the concert. I thought you were staying at Rashida's?"

Holly glances his way and says, "I can see that," with a trace of amusement, but her guarded expression makes it hard to tell if she's joking with him or seriously irritated. "I have to get to work."

She narrows her eyes inquisitively at Chris. "Are you going to be here tonight?"

The question is rather flagrant and pretty no holds barred for Holly. She's obviously not looking to be placated and the look she levels at Chris suggests she's gauging him--his body language, words, tone. Toby's unsure if it's to prove a point she's already made, having met the elusive Chris without the hindrance or help of Toby as the protective measure.

Chris regards her for a few seconds before replying, "Yes." He does not waver. It is an outright challenge to her which says he is not going anywhere so she better get used to it. It's also an answer to a question Toby's not privy to, posed before he showed up. The answer is assured. Toby remembers this side of Chris very well and even though he has no doubt no harm would ever come to his kids, when Holly stands up from the table, Toby does the same, effectively placing himself in her corner, in front of her.

Chris holds Toby's gaze and slowly stands up, saying nothing more as a follow up to his statement. He just stares back at Toby and a flood of implications rushes forth unspoken, yet heard. Yes, there are questions which need to be answered, and they will be in time; something they now have in spades.

For a brief moment Toby forgets Holly is still there until she speaks. "I can stay at Rashida's tonight."

Toby turns to her and doesn't hesitate to say, "That won't be necessary."

Holly quirks up the corner of her mouth in a grateful manner and Toby realizes what he's been missing, long before Chris showed up at their place. Wayward pieces of old conversations with her play instant recall and he sees what's been staring him in the face for years. The child who hugged him but remained distant during scheduled visits--the one who was his shadow when he came home, slipping into dark corners and watching him through the obstructed view of the banister or from behind a hand drawn curtain--the young adult who chose him first.

He had to trust her to believe they were a family again, on her terms. Now she is putting the same faith in him. This isn't so much about Chris as Toby first thought. This is about Holly taking her cue from Toby. Given the precariousness of the situation he finds himself in with Chris, the missteps he's worried to make, Holly is fighting on his behalf, being combative if needed, staring Chris down, yet all the while ready to put the personal first and pay heed to a needed touch of something good.

If he accepts Chris into their lives, she (and Harry by extension) will (carefully) accept his decision and consider his reasons. If he dismisses Chris, she will (grudgingly?) respect his wishes. The choice is in Toby's hands. She's granting him the very courtesy he earned with her. And with one cause of action he's already shown that she and Harry are part of the package deal.

Holly leans up and gives him a kiss on the cheek. Walking around behind him she stops in front of Chris. "It's good to put a face to a name. See you later."

Once she leaves Chris quirks an eyebrow at Toby who purses his lips. He doesn't want her leaving yet, not without some verbal understanding of what is going on. Toby begins to follow her out. Chris stops him by wrapping his right arm across the front of Toby's chest and pulling him close. He nuzzles Toby's neck like a cat, leaving it up to Toby to give Chris' arm a friendly squeeze before pulling away.

Toby knows touch for Chris is the equivalent of breathing. He requires it, depends on it for survival. Right now too much is out of his control and he's trying to bind himself to Toby--or risk getting lost. At the same time he is marking Toby as his territory, coating him with that famous Keller scent. Both their touches say the same thing, though the tone is different. `Yes, we're here together. I'm not going anywhere.'

"Does this mean you plan on sticking around?" Toby risks the weighted question.

Chris shrugs. "I'm supposed to go to work, but I thought I'd call in sick. My body's feeling a bit abused." He stretches his neck and exaggerates a grimace.

Toby scoffs. "You're awfully sure I'm going to reward bad behavior by playing doctor."

"Maybe you'll need to reprimand me, use some of that fancy lawyer jargon you like so much."

"Let's clear the house first then I'll throw some torts and motions at you."

He starts to walk away and Chris calls out, "You know you did right by your kids, Toby."

Toby looks over his shoulder and Chris eyes him contemplatively then turns to the table and starts gathering the dishes.

Toby makes his way to Holly's room and finds her putting on her jacket. He hangs back by the door for a minute then slips inside and closes it behind him. She glances his way.

"He's different than I thought he'd be," she says offhandedly, double checking the contents of her messenger bag.

Toby is unsure how to respond. After all, how does he go about asking his daughter what kind of man she pictured her father with in prison? As to whether `different' is good or not leaves him curious as to what they talked about before he turned up in the kitchen.

She must catch the pensive question in the strong lines of his face because she stops what she's doing. "I never thought you'd fall for just anyone, but actually meeting him? It's like, `oh, okay.' I can see what you're drawn to."

Her emphasis on `you're' brings a small smile to his face as she, in her typical fashion, manages to distinguish at least one difference between them. She gets the attraction that is Chris Keller, but it's not her cup of tea; a fact for which Toby is grateful. Loving Chris has never rendered Toby blind to the inherent trouble which comes with it. He knows he couldn't stand to see her go through what he did if she met and fell for someone similar.


He waits for her to finish. She looks to be reconsidering her words thoughtfully.

"It's okay," he says. "This got sprung on you. Anything you say will stay between us. If you have any doubts--,"

"The way he talks about you, the way he looks at you...he sensed you before I even saw you come into the kitchen...it's..." She smiles at him. "You deserve to have someone feel that way about you."

The heartfelt sentiment tongue ties him. Trepidation for the collision of his two worlds has always nagged at the back of his mind and belabored wonderings to the contrary. A step towards reconciling what once seemed impossible vibes anticipation through him.

Holly slips the bag's strap over her shoulder and walks over to him. "He does make me a bit nervous though," she admits.

"Me too," Toby confesses and grins to alleviate any residual worry she may be holding onto in her willingness to share. "This is new for all of us. Nothing's going to change overnight. We have a lot to figure out--you, me, Harry...Chris."

Taking a deep breath, she says, "Harry's going to hate being the last to know."

"Yeah, well I'm fine with taking this one step at a time."

He walks her to the door while she jokes, "I'd tell you I've got your back, but something tells me Chris likes to be the one watching it."

When Toby gives her a faux look of shock, she wrinkles her nose. "Oh please, you know what I mean."

Heading for the stairs, she mutters (loud enough for him to hear), "Get your head out of the gutter."

********** ********** ********** ********** **********

Back in the kitchen, Toby finds the table cleared, dishes in the sink and Chris sitting on the counter, hands gripping the edge on either side, his head bowed.

"So did I manage to pass her test or live down to expectations?" Chris never lifts his eyes from the floor.

"I don't know yet." Toby shakes his head and wraps his hand around the top of one of the chair's backrests, shifting part of his weight to the left half of his body.

Remaining hunched over, Chris looks up. "Well I did start off pretty low, her dad's bitch and all."

Unable to read his tone, Toby takes it at face value. "Hey, you've never been anyone's bitch." Chris narrows his eyes and Toby, raising his hand in a stop motion, clarifies, "He was a fucking masochist and you did what you had to do to survive."

"Name doesn't change anything."

"Sure it does. It tells the truth. How many people thought I was your prag?"

Chris plays stupid, but can't conceal the twitchy smile which skitters across his lips.

"And was I?"

The smile disappears completely and something darker, more haunting, settles behind his eyes. After a thoughtful pause he answers, "Never."

Toby cautiously closes the space between them, his hands slightly raised at his side. "Neither were you. Being out...believe me, half of being free, of existing again in the world, is no longer letting myself be defined by other's expectations...or low opinions."

"Who the hell has a low opinion of you?" Chris practically growls, wrinkling his forehead questioningly.

"Christ, they all did." Toby remembers the not-so-secretive looks his first year back at the firm, all the specifically worded comments and subtle, dismissive digs. Even his own family struggled to avoid verbal miscues, which made dinner parties their own unique Beecher family nightmare of eggshells and broken glass. "Angus was a lifeline--he was always good at being open about prison, and you--but even he walked the tightrope. And the kids..."

Toby steps directly in front of Chris and lays his hands on Chris' thighs. "Harry was like my do over. He didn't know me, didn't know Oz. I could start from scratch with him. Holly, on the other hand..." He huffs a small laugh. "You know what a struggle that was, because she knew everything. All the pain my life could dish out, she got dragged along into. And any glimpse of happiness, besides you, was her."

"You never told me this when you came to see me."

Toby sighs. "I didn't want to burden you with my problems, ones you couldn't fix even if you tried."

Inching his way between Chris' legs, Toby rubs his hands up and down Chris' thighs. "She doesn't hate you. She's just trying to figure out how it fits together."

Chris regards him for a few seconds then leans away and shrugs. "Well she's not the only one."

Caught off guard by the temperature drop in Chris' voice, Toby pulls back and cocks his head to the side, wondering what set off the unexpected reaction.

"I told myself I wasn't going to see you."

"Chris, even I wondered if this day would ever come--,"

"No." Chris pushes him back and hops off the counter, running a hand across the back of his neck and looks at Toby, halfway to a glare. Raising his voice he says, "I mean I told myself not to see you again."

Toby tries to pay little attention to the growing pit in his stomach, not out of impending doom but of the very intimate admissions only Chris can tell which twist his insides out. "Yes, I remember. Three years ago when your sentence and us being apart seemed like too much...you pushed me away."

"I had to teach myself to not need you," Chris interrupts. "Seeing you when you could maybe make it out there, hearing all about `Beecher the family man,' looking for that perfect other--,"

"But there was only you." Toby quicksteps towards him but Chris moves in the opposite direction.

"I was stuck in there for what was supposed to be the rest of my life." Chris keeps going. "I couldn't do it without you and each time you showed up, the further you slipped away."

Chris finally moves into Toby's space and lowers his voice to a rumble. "It's not right to need someone so much. It's a weakness."

"In there or in general," Toby questions flatly, refusing to back down.

"Generally speaking," Chris states knowingly, fixing Toby with penetrating eyes. "But abso-fucking-lutely in there. And I did it. I've always done it on my own. That's what you do so you don't get taken for everything you've got."

"I guess I was the transgression?"

Chris doesn't bother answering. "When I found out I was actually going to get out, I knew it was the goddamn universe telling me I'd been right and all I had to do was stick to it."

Chris bows his head, resting his lips by Toby's ear. "Problem is, you're in my fucking blood."

Toby turns his head just enough to slightly graze his cheek against Chris'. With a hushed voice, Toby says, "You made me let go. You forced my hand."

"When have I ever forced you to do anything?" Chris rolls back on his heels before explaining himself. "I spent weeks going through the motions and I was pretty good at convincing myself. Then one night I can't sleep so I go out on the fire escape and stare up at the sky, stare at the stars and remember...remember the night in the pod when you told me about how your grandfather used to show you the constellations, and how seeing them, even after he died, made you feel closer to him."

The change is small, but noticeable enough to Toby. Chris' face softens.

"You remembered that?"

Chris gives him a look that says, `you're kidding.'

"There I am, alone on this fire escape in the middle of the night, surrounded by the noise of the other upstanding members of society, when it hits me that you and me, we're actually underneath the same patch of sky. I mean, we talked about it like some never happening dream, but suddenly it was real and...I couldn't pretend anymore."

Toby brings his right hand up to Chris' neck. "Pretend what?"

Chris drops his gaze then flicks it back up. "That I could live without you."

Toby muffles a smile, witholding it until he hears the truth stated clearly. "So last night?"

He needs to know, with absolute certainty, where Chris stands, because a life built on back-and-forth was fine (or at least par for the course) when they were stuck in a tempestuous petri dish. Since then, however, that type of game playing is too mentally exhausting. And Toby's a family man now, again, and not only in a forgettable theoretical way, but as an every single day fact. There's little room for bullshit.

"I didn't wander here by accident," Chris admits.

Toby focuses on the rising heat of Chris' skin beneath his hand and the racing pulse which accompanies deep breaths, causing the distinctive rise and fall of Chris' chest. Toby places his free hand over the spot where an old bullet wound nearly ripped them apart. He wants to kiss Chris so badly his body is rebelling against his mind, inching closer while he tries to resist.

He needs Chris to hear him first, to understand they have both been through hell and back (of their own making, of their own detriment, of their own hearts) and it's brought them right here, together. Again.

"To save your own life," Toby muses, "You gave me mine."

"Sounds selfish," Chris retorts, but Toby does not relinquish taking the lead in their conversation by letting him resort to self-deprecation. With someone else it may be an amusing quirk. With Chris it can be a belittling exercise meant to diminish self-worth.

"Maybe," Toby contemplates out loud. "I was angry and disappointed with you for deciding my future when I was trying so hard to make us still work. But your decision forced me to see I needed to have a life, a real one, while keeping a place for you inside; packed away and protected. And it was hard."

He slides his hand up Chris' chest and cups the other side of his neck. "I like what I have, what I've been allowed to recreate. It's not perfect, but it's mine. There's just one thing that's been missing. One person."

He pauses, letting his words resonate with Chris by not allowing him to brush them off with a shrug or indifference.

"I never forgot you, Chris. It would be impossible to do. And I love you too damn much."

The words are just past his lips when Chris claims his mouth in a blood racing deep kiss. He tastes Chris on his tongue and tightens his fingers around Chris' neck, matching the intensity of a want which has ever abated. Toby feels himself pushed back on his feet until he knocks into the table. In a second, Chris' hands are on his ass, lifting him up to sit on the edge. Curving with Chris' momentum, Toby arcs back as Chris presses into him, the need to breath becoming secondary, and he hooks his legs around Chris' hips.

This go around, when Toby loses time, he's exactly where he wants to be, where he is meant to be.

Chris presses his hands to the table on either side of Toby and releases his lips, resting their foreheads together. They slowly catch their breaths and a happy sigh breaks the silence. Toby smiles and fists Chris' shirt, just below the collar.

"There's no need to rush anything," Toby says and the reality of what it means is a lightning bolt strike through his world. The time they had together before was subject to other peoples whims, rational and questionable rules meant to impose restrictive order also drove them to the brink. The uncertainty of now is thrilling and scary. Whatever happens is up to them.

Pulling back a few inches, Chris says, "Toby, I've spent ten years thinking about fucking you just about any way and any place I could. For three years I've had to rely on memories of your face."

Chris kisses his chin.

"Your body."

He flicks his tongue and grazes his teeth across Toby's jugular.

"Your voice."

Chris rubs his cheek against Toby's and slips his tongue between Toby's lips. Grabbing Toby's hips, Chris thrusts forward at the same time he pulls Toby towards him, half lifting his body off the table. Chris' half hard cock against him shouldn't be a surprise (Chris never met an inconvenient time or place to engage in the more base of human pleasures) but it's a welcome reminder of how Chris responds to him, still. The moan they share is stifled by their lips and Toby wraps his arms around Chris' shoulders.

Against Toby's mouth, Chris says, "I'm done taking my time."

Teasing a kiss, but turning his face away at the last minute, Toby intently looks into Chris' hooded eyes. "Then what are you waiting for?"

Chris lowers him to the floor. Toby loosens his hold, stopping short of letting go.

Smirking, Chris slyly says, "With the bedroom out of the way, I'm thinking which of these rooms to christen next," while running his hands up the small of Toby's back, making sure to get up under the hem of his shirt, skimming ticklish fingers across the skin below.

"We've got all day." Toby takes a small step back.

"We got a whole lot more than that." Chris digs his fingers into Toby's hips and backs him out of the kitchen, towards the living room.

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