Search Engine |
Random Story |
first Oz fic, unbeta'd so all mistakes are mine. Credit to RileyC for Gen's surname. Feedback is always appreciated - even years down the road.
A lake. The sun's reflection is shining on the rippled surface. Bright white clouds hover overhead. A man is sitting on a wooden dock, looking out across the water.
He was unaccountably nervous as he approached the blue door of number 37. It all looked the same: wrought iron fence, stone steps, a warm glow from the bell-shaped lamp in the window. The early autumn leaves danced in the wind, swirling about the steps and taunting him with their brilliant reds, oranges, and spotted yellows.
How could time go by so quickly? Chris remembered standing in the same spot, sweat trickling down his neck on a crazy hot night and smiling like a god at his kingdom - despite Toby throwing him out. An echo of that smile resurfaced as he pictured Beecher in a temper, all coiled tension, flushed face, thinned lips and fiery eyes, ready to throw a punch or throw him against a wall and... At the time, he'd been almost too sexy to resist, but Toby had been a little too fragile in his anger. As the perceived cause of all his woes, Chris graciously chose to wait him out and give him time to cool off.
Chris was just as glad to avoid the backlash of their affair. Seduce, overwhelm and conquer, that was his specialty. Family disputes weren't his scene, divorce from Bonnie included. He needed space too, a little distance to figure out why the hell he still found Beecher so compelling.
Delving back into his work had seemed the perfect solution. He'd thought Bonnie's gift had been sentimental bullshit when he'd got out of prison, but gratitude made him take the camera, boredom made him use it, and fascination kept him at it. The discovery that others thought he had talent, that they would pay him for doing nothing more than point and click... it took a while to convince himself he wasn't running another con, that it was legit. Chris Keller, freelance photographer. The irony of it still made him laugh.
Bonnie never understood what it all meant to him. She was proud of him and she tried, but it was more than Chris could put into words. For the first time since he could remember, Chris felt lighter, younger, with real possibilities and choices. Bonnie had opened the door to a new world for him, one that didn't end in guns, cons, or prison. But gratitude wasn't enough for a marriage.
Beecher, though. Chris had been a good boy - mostly, in the important ways at least - and then along came the Beechers. Beecher shouldn't have gotten a second glance. Sure, he was handsome in a way that made parts of him sit up and take notice, but not really Chris' type. He was a man, first of all, and though Chris was a sensual being who didn't deny his attractions, he stayed well away from getting involved with men. He wasn't gay. He didn't need that kind of shit dragging him down. Not in this new life.
Beecher was also the poster boy for the American Dream, complete with wife, two kids, money, class and breeding. An over educated rich boy overloaded with liberal guilt. But something about Toby tempted him, drew him in, demanded his focus, made him clumsy and powerful all at once, not to mention horny and foolish...
Time away from Beecher was just what he needed to get some perspective, maybe even the first step to a long overdue parting of ways.
His client list had grown exponentially in the last two years. Taking photographs for the rich, shallow, and beautiful kept him out of the city more often than not and he took full advantage. Seeing places he'd never thought to go, glorying in his freedom to go anywhere, do anything - well, almost anything. Even living like the upstanding citizen he wasn't, couldn't dampen his hunger to live. There was life to capture, women to explore, new air to be tasted.
But thoughts of Beecher crept up on him, teasing him at the strangest times. Chris pushed them away, lived even harder, but Beecher was sneaky and started invading his dreams. The longer Chris stayed away, the stronger the need to see Toby became. So here Chris was. He gave in to his subconscious with surprisingly little resistance, re-arranged his schedule and returned to the city. It wouldn't hurt to check in on Toby. If things went sour, there were always other options. Beecher wasn't everything, just the most recently interesting thing.
Chris pulled his leather jacket a bit closer and reached for that god-like confidence that charmed open hearts and doors, and rang the bell. The leaves rustled behind him as he strained to hear footsteps. Finally the handle creaked and turned, and there was Toby, dark sweater highlighting wide eyes. Chris stared at him silently, wondering why it was so difficult to breathe.
And suddenly Chris could feel himself smiling again.
Toby gaped at him, disbelief written plainly on his face. Chris leaned toward the heat spilling out from the house and took note of the small differences he could see in this new Toby. The wedding ring was gone. There was a slight tightening around the eyes and his hair was cut shorter than was preferable in Chris' opinion. And he was thinner, but the sweater made it difficult to tell.
Toby stood motionless. Chris stifled the urge to shift his feet and kept his eyes fixed on Toby. Disbelief quickly melted into confusion, followed by a brief flicker of anger and then into something dark and intense that Chris couldn't define.
"Gonna invite me in?"
That seemed to jolt Toby from wherever his mind had taken him. He stood aside and waved him in, adding quietly, "The kids are sleeping upstairs."
Chris silently adjusted his plans for the evening to include this bit of information, and noted that it must've been quite a slumber party from the clutter they'd left in the living room. Toys, books, pencils, papers, crayons, bags; their stuff was everywhere. There were more pictures, the furniture had been moved, one small table was gone. But the colors were the same; the soft light, the shapes, and the atmosphere were the same. It was still the same room where Toby had first kissed him.
"Good thing your bedroom is downstairs then," Chris said.
Toby looked at him, startled, and Chris refused to let him go. He hadn't thought it was possible, but Toby's eyes were even deeper than before. Chris watched the muscles work in Toby's throat as he swallowed, followed his lips as they parted and took a deep breath.
Fuck, but he was an idiot to forget this feeling, this burning want that snapped and crackled like a live wire. Genevieve hadn't needed to catch them in bed. Heat passed back and forth between them, building as he took in all of Toby at that moment: the frown between his eyes, the hint of tongue peeking out to wet his lips, the veins of his forearms where he pushed up his sweater, those hands practical and heavy, the curve of neck meeting broad shoulders, his scent, crisp and spicy, soft blond hair just waiting for him to touch... he was harder than he'd been in months. Aching need overwhelmed him, pulled him forward until he could wrap his arms around Toby, feel him pressed up against him, warm and alive, making the picture real. Daring, considering how he'd left months earlier, but Toby allowed it, his hands resting on Chris' back.
"Toby," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
Toby froze for a moment, then tightened his grip. Fingers were running through his hair, draining Chris of unnecessary thoughts, leaving only the important words.
"I missed you."
They stayed like that, still, silent, absorbing each other, feeling the other breathe. Unpredictable, his Toby. He'd expected yelling, shouting, punches and wild sex, but this... it was different. Quiet. Nice.
Instinct warned him that he was missing something, that he should pay more attention, but he shoved it aside, content to have Toby and leave consequences for tomorrow.
Slowly, Toby pulled back to look at him, searching for something he must have found, because there was that quirky half smile that Chris could never resist kissing. And then it didn't matter how long he'd been gone, or what happened in between. Lips spoke more eloquently without words; pressure, teasing, tasting, tongues dancing passionately as they tried to reinvent kissing and make it theirs. Chris was breathing hard and his nerves were on fire by the time Toby squeezed his shoulders and stepped back.
He watched as Toby walked about the room, turning off lights as he went. Then Toby started toward the bedroom, pulling off his sweater along the way. Chris followed and reached for the T-shirt underneath, reveling in the smooth skin and hard muscle. He only reluctantly let go when Toby brushed the jacket off his shoulders. The jacket hit the floor, and then they were kissing again, harder, biting kisses with teeth and oh god, that tongue... Toby pulled away and Chris' mouth was following before his mind could figure out where or why Toby'd gone.
Toby looked at him, smiling softly, then turned and closed the door on the world outside.
The cold woke him and the empty space next to him pushed him out of bed. It was too early for Toby to be getting ready for work. Chris threw on his boxers, then added a shirt just in case. The smell of coffee pointed him toward the kitchen. Toby was facing away from him, looking out the window. Morning light was just starting to creep into the clouds.
Chris walked up behind him, hands greedy, and kissed his neck. Toby reached for something to his left, and pulled over another cup. Chris thanked him with a coffee flavored kiss. He drank slowly, Toby gazing out the window or watching him. Dawn came slowly, blue became purple, then pink. Shadows drifted away and somewhere an engine started up. Chris set down his empty mug and reached out to stroke Toby's hair. After a kiss to his temple, he returned to the bedroom and finished dressing.
Walking back to the kitchen, he asked, "See you later?"
"I'll be here," Toby said.
Chris smiled, and with one last kiss, put on his jacket and left.
"Good morning, can I help you?"
"Yes, I'm here to see Tobias Beecher," Chris said.
Standing before Toby's office, Chris thought this might be a little sooner than the `later' he'd offered Toby this morning, but last night had inspired him. Office sex always had the potential to be mind-blowingly hot. Now if only he could get past the dragon guarding the door.
"Do you have an appointment?" she asked doubtfully.
The woman couldn't have looked more disapproving if she'd tried. Power suit, perfectly manicured hands, tight French bun, just a hint of make-up. A bit younger than he'd expected, she nevertheless managed to peer over her fashionable glasses in a manner that would make any nun proud.
"Actually, I'm an old friend of his. I just got back into town and thought I'd look him up."
That earned him an even more dubious look, but he kept his expression open and friendly; most people just gave up far too early in the face of scrutiny.
"What was your name again?"
"Christopher Keller," he answered.
He noted the hint of recognition, though it was obvious she couldn't quite place him. Another point in his favor. Now for a bit of truth and sincerity.
"I did talk to him last night, but I was hoping to surprise him. Is there any way you could fit me into his schedule?"
"I'm not sure that will be possible."
It sounded like a no, but she was wavering. She wanted to believe him, and hiding behind the stern face was genuine concern and protectiveness. It was intriguing, this other glimpse into Toby. Time to make it personal.
"What's your name?" he asked gently.
A small hesitation and then, "Allison."
"Beautiful name. It suits you." Another smile. "To be honest, Allison, I'm worried about Toby. He didn't sound well, and I've heard he hasn't been eating properly." He'd seen that for himself last night.
"You know Toby, he won't take care of himself. I just thought surprising him at work would get him away from his worries for a while."
And there it was: the acceptance, belief, and a blushing smile. The formidable dragon disappeared, replaced by a career girl with an obvious crush.
"Mr. Beecher did smile when he came into the office this morning," she said thoughtfully. "Maybe an old friend is just what he needs." She nodded to herself, decision made, and turned briskly to her computer to pull up Toby's appointments for the day.
"What, he doesn't smile?" he teased, curious. "Here I thought he was the epitome of polite manners."
"Oh, he is!" she said, more than a little of her infatuation shining through. "He's an exceptional lawyer and a complete gentleman. It's just that, well, since his wife died..." she sighed. "Here we are, he's going over case notes just now, and I can push back his 1:30 to 2. That should give you just under an hour. It's the best I can do - Mr. Keller? Are you alright?"
"What? Yes, fine, thanks." He made himself look directly at her. "Actually, could you tell me where the restroom is?"
"Sure, just behind you to the left."
"Thanks, I'll be back in a moment."
He walked with careful steps, and it was only when he checked the room and locked the door that he let his lungs have the air they screamed for.
Toby's wife. Dead. Not divorced, not separated, but in the ground, rotting away, dead.
Wind rushed past his ears as all the little details he'd dismissed last night came back to haunt him in the harsh light of day. The grief and loneliness he hadn't been able to identify, the imprint of children everywhere in the house, the hint of desperation when Toby touched him, kissed him...
Chris wanted to run. Run far and fast, feel his feet hitting the pavement, jolting every bone in his body and drowning out the pounding in his blood. One phone call and he could be halfway across the country, maybe even overseas. In his mind, he was already out of the building and starting his car.
But to leave, he'd have to walk past Allison, sitting at her desk, waiting for him to come back and put a smile on her boss' face.
Genevieve. He'd never thought about her all that much, beyond finding her pretty and soft and totally wrong for Toby. He'd talked to her, photographed her, flattered her and slept with her husband. And now she was dead. His mind was swamped with questions he never wanted to ask, never mind hear the answer to.
Toby had been so surprised to see him. Hadn't expected him to ever come back, Chris knew now. And this was why.
Toby knew him better than anyone.
He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the mirror. He breathed with careful precision, in and out. He blocked out everything, feeling only the pressure of air in his chest. Minutes passed without movement or thought. Calm descended and the drive to run lessened, but remained.
Blue eyes, pink sky, coffee kisses. It wasn't like Toby to let things go. He was a thinker and a talker by nature and more stubborn than a pack of mules. Yet this morning had been so easy, peaceful even.
He stood for a long moment, staring at his reflection, before looking away and splashing his face with water. He dried his hands, straightened his clothes and unlocked the door.
Allison smiled when she saw him. "Go ahead in."
He nodded at her, whispered a quick thank you and went through into Toby's office.
"Hey." The instant flash of joy mixed with surprise made Chris wish for his camera.
"Hey," Toby said.
"Allison said I could steal you away for a while." Damn, but that suit looked really good on him. Chris looked curiously at the pile of folders strewn across the desk. "Working on anything important?"
Toby gave him a wry smile. "Not today. Come back next week when I'm defending the working man and screwing over corporate tycoons." Toby came around the desk and sat on the edge, giving him a very satisfying once over. "You've never come to my office before."
"What can I say? I'm full of surprises," Chris said with a blinding smile.
"That you are." Toby's cheeky grin didn't quite match the soft look in his eyes.
"I'm heading out of town later, wanted to drop by, maybe take you out to lunch?" Chris could make this easy and painless, Toby deserved as much.
Toby raised an eyebrow and actually smirked at him. "You want to go out for lunch?"
"Well," he said in complete seriousness, "your 1:30 is now at 2. Would be a shame not to take advantage."
"You've been charming Allison," Toby said, straightening up. He took the last few steps and stopped directly in front of Chris. Placing a hand on his chest, Toby stroked the fabric lightly.
"So, you don't want to have sex in my office then."
The shirt had been soft and silky this morning, but now his skin was itching with the need to take it off. Toby's lips had taken on the barest hint of a pout and Chris suppressed a groan. He needed to end this, not give in to temptation. "Allison is just outside," he said.
"And my kids were upstairs last night. I'm not worried." Toby's hands trailed up and down his front once more, then proceeded to undo the buttons of the shirt, one by one. For some reason, Chris let him.
When Toby spoke next, his voice was low and rough, the words rubbing against Chris like a cat. "Have I said that I love this color on you? Looks better framing your chest than covering it up, though." With that, Toby bent his head and pressed a wet kiss to his collarbone. He kissed, he nibbled, and he sucked. He blew softly on the abused flesh. And then Toby licked him.
Just as he was about to pull that teasing mouth up where Chris wanted it, Toby stepped back and sat on the edge of the desk again. He looked completely unruffled, tie still done up, hair perfectly in place. If it weren't for the sizable bulge at his crotch, Chris would think the last few minutes had never happened.
"Still want to go out for lunch?" Toby said. His eyes sparkled with laughter and lust.
It took Chris a second to remember what he was talking about. "Persuasive argument, counselor."
"What they pay me for." Chris watched, mesmerized, as Toby's hand left the desk and slid across his thigh. Toby spread his legs a bit wider and his hand crept down further, cupping himself through his trousers. He squeezed once, eliciting a small gasp, then left his hand there, thumb lightly stroking along the zipper.
Chris was stunned. Toby was passionate in the bedroom, a hot blooded lover who gave as good as he got, but there was a self-conscious streak in him that always made him shy away from exactly the kind of display he was giving Chris now.
He had no idea what had gotten into Toby, but his cock was giving its whole hearted approval.
"How much do you charge?" Chris licked his lips and smirked as Toby's eyes immediately fixed on his mouth. He moved forward, trapping Toby with his arms on either side of the desk, careful not to touch Beecher, taunting him with body heat.
Toby responded by moving his hand to Chris' exposed chest, trailing downward and now all of Chris' attention was focused on the lips in front of him and the deft fingers unbuttoning and unzipping him. Inches of space disappeared until their faces were so close Chris felt the words breathed into his mouth, "Depends on the case."
Chris bit his lip when that hand took firm hold of his cock, gliding along its length, thumb swiping across the leaking slit on the upstroke. He couldn't think beyond wanting more and moaned when Toby obliged him, stroking him in a slow tantalizing rhythm designed to drive him mad. Barely there kisses were dropped on his cheek, his nose, his chin. Chris wanted to ravage that mouth, but Toby must have read his intent and squeezed his cock hard in warning.
Pulling his thoughts together, Chris whispered, "How much for me?"
He had just enough time to register the wicked gleam in Toby's eyes before he was suddenly spinning, falling backward onto something hard and solid.
"I think having you naked over my desk should suffice."
His pants disappeared and Toby was eyeing him like a starving wolf. Then Toby went straight for his cock, no more teasing, just that sinful tongue licking, tasting and sucking and oh, sweet fucking Jesus, swallowing him and Chris was scrambling for something to hold onto. He needed to be quiet but couldn't remember why and then there were fingers in his mouth, tasting of salt and skin. Toby was playing with his foreskin, tugging on his balls, seemingly intent on reducing him to a bundle of nerves. His mouth was suddenly empty and spit-slick fingers were pushing into his ass, flexing and stretching and Toby's teeth were scraping along veins in sweet pleasure pain that he soothed with more kisses.
Pressure and pain and then Toby's beautiful cock was inside him, filling him up and laying him open and Toby looked so brilliant, flushed and panting, eyes glazed in bliss, tie swaying with the force of his thrusts. Chris wrapped his legs around him, pulling him deeper, "Harder. More."
"Fuck, yes," Toby growled and Chris could only watch and feel every delicious bite, kiss, and bruise as Toby lost control, pulling at him, scratching, grabbing, pounding into his body with a feral intensity that made Chris soar higher than any drug he'd ever tried. His skin burned, muscles coiled tight, hands pulling at Toby's back just as fierce, Chris welcomed the unrelenting onslaught that dared him to let go. The explosion was fast and powerful, making him tense and shudder as he came, barely able to breathe let alone shout. Another thrust, two, and he felt Toby come inside him, hot and wet, before collapsing on top of him.
Gradually, the scratchy feel of clothes on his naked skin broke through the sexual high.
For Chris, coming down was always like that last sip of whiskey or the last five minutes of your favorite movie. Still sweet, but the party was over and soon it was time to leave. Chris didn't always leave, of course, but he was still surprised by how much he really didn't want to move right now. He felt Toby slip out of him and press a kiss to his nipple that sent small aftershocks through him. He levered himself up, Toby following his lead, and Chris stared at the mess they'd made of his shirt.
Toby answered his unspoken question with a sated, "I've got a spare."
His amusement must have shown because Toby huffed and said, "Coffee incident. Always have one in the bottom drawer now."
Chris laughed. Maybe he didn't need to quit Beecher just yet. Sure Toby had more baggage now, but he still kept him on his toes. For sex like that, Chris was willing to make a few allowances. Exceptional lawyer indeed.
"I don't think you'll be needing it just yet."
"No?" Toby stood there, challenge in his eyes and a smile twisting his mouth; tie hanging loose, Chris' come all over his shirt, pants undone and still glistening cock on display. Chris wanted him more than ever.
"We've still got half an hour left," he said and swooped in to claim that persuasive mouth.
A bedroom. A chocolate brown duvet hangs off the bed. Light from the window above hits the rumpled white sheets. Steam is rising from a cup on the nightstand.
A woman. Her eyes are closed, hair obscuring her face and trailing down her blouse. She is standing next to a door, holding a golden necklace in her hand.
A desk. A computer monitor sits center, flanked by pictures of a boy and girl, laughing. Postcards of every color, shape and size are scattered on the wall behind.
Toby watched the colorful lights flicker and tried to muster up the energy to turn them off and unravel the tree. After several moments of sitting on the couch and mentally willing the lights off, he gave it up and snuggled farther into the blanket. Fuck it, they could wait till after New Year's. The kids wouldn't be back until the third anyway.
Pushing aside the irritating desire for a smooth whiskey, his thoughts drifted through the past few days. Gary had been full of energy, bouncing around the house and nearly giving him a heart attack with the decibels he reached. He didn't think Gary had been like this last Christmas, but then he'd only seen him Christmas Day last year. The year before that, well. Gary had always reminded him of Angus in temperament; an attention seeking puppy with loads of energy and a generous friendly disposition. Toby just hoped it was his son's outgoing nature reasserting itself and not signs of emotional trauma. The reports he'd been getting from the school counselor made him cautiously optimistic that Gary was moving past his mother's... death.
Holly, though. His baby girl was far too much like him for his comfort. She became quieter, more withdrawn, and sad. It broke Toby's heart to watch her sitting by herself, and it was all he could do not to smother her with hugs and kisses. The therapist had assured him that Holly did indeed need her quiet time, and with physical and emotional reassurance that she was loved and cared for, they would find a balance between letting her work out her grief and encouraging her to join in the world around her.
Little girls shouldn't need therapists.
Toby sighed and tried to let go. Those thoughts never went anywhere productive. Thinking about Gen's suicide was like a black hole, a ripping, tearing, destructive force of gravity that Toby - Gary and Holly -couldn't afford.
The television was on in the background, muted yelling and cheering of crowds occasionally interrupted with music. Toby thought he could make out the voice of Dick Clark and wondered when they'd let the poor guy retire.
Looking again at the tree, or what was under it, Toby was glad he'd put his foot down over the present issue. The Beechers and the Metcalfs were from the same part of society, where charity was always one step removed and emotional turmoil didn't exist. Even as helpless as Toby sometimes felt, he knew his parents and in-laws were completely unequipped to deal with these strange incarnations of their grandchildren. Imposing a limit on the number of presents the kids received had proven the easiest minefield in dealing with all of them, and that had given him a migraine.
He could still remember the cold nauseating panic at Alexander Metcalf's subtle threat to sue for custody in the wake of his daughter's death. Toby's father had managed to talk him down from that, but it was clear that Harrison Beecher blamed Toby every bit as much as Genevieve had for the disaster he was making of all their lives.
Christmas Eve dinner with Harrison and Victoria had been strained to say the very least. But Christmas and Boxing Day was family time, their little circle of three, and Toby rejoiced in every smile and peel of laughter from his kids. That was worth everything. Shopping amid crazed parents for the perfect gifts, decorating the house, the frustrating hours in the kitchen because he didn't need to hire a cook, thank you very much. All of his nearly invisible efforts to make sure Gen's presence was tangible for Gary and Holly, yet downplay the gaping hole she'd left behind during the holiday season; Toby'd worked himself into the ground to make sure he'd gotten it all just right. There'd been a few bumps, but overall Toby didn't think they'd done too badly.
By the time the Metcalfs had shown up this morning, Toby was regretting the holiday deal he'd made with them. And he was right, the house was depressingly empty. Like him. For the next four days. It was more time alone than he'd had since he'd become a single parent.
And the one thing he really wanted to do with all that free time was impossible.
There'd been a hurried phone call just before Christmas and nothing since. Toby wasn't really expecting anything for a while. Hell, he thought it was damn near miraculous that he got as much of Chris as he did. Shock was pretty much the only way to describe how he felt that night, opening the door and seeing Chris Keller on the other side.
So many feelings tied up with one man. Chris challenged him, excited him, scared him, grounded him, and dared him to be more, feel more than he ever had in his life. He was a force of nature, as clich as it was, but Toby felt swept along in his wake, his appetite for living infectious and addictive. Toby never completely understood what Chris saw in him, had long ago given up trying to figure out what led Chris to pursue him in the first place. When he looked in the mirror, he saw an average guy, sometimes geeky, occasionally cute. Chris was so sexy he had women, and not a few men, throwing themselves at him just by walking into a room. In comparison, Toby felt like a house mouse. When he'd mentioned that, Chris stared at him, and then laughed so hard he fell off the chair and said he couldn't imagine Toby being a meek little mouse about anything.
Toby had to concede he was probably right about that. Always questioning things, thinking, worrying; always wanting more. That was his biggest problem. He'd known Chris was going to walk away when things became too complicated. He was a free spirit given human form, and while Toby alternately cursed and blessed the day they met, he knew he'd never be enough to hold Keller's attention. Even if Chris was willing to sneak around for some very hot sex with a married man, being chained to a widower with two kids in tow was too much of a stretch in Toby's imagination.
So when Keller finally did reappear it had thrown him for a loop. And the really strange part? Chris did stick around, defying Toby's expectations of him, as Toby should've known he would. And more, he made concessions. Chris often called now before showing up out of the blue, making sure he wasn't upsetting any plans with the kids.
Sometimes the calls weren't a prelude to meeting up; he'd phone Toby when he was out of town, for anything from phone sex to getting Toby's opinion on a new client. Keller had even spent two afternoons in the company of his children, all smiles and genuine interest, awkwardly playing with them and shooting Toby hot glances that made him wish for bedtime. Somehow, he and Chris managed to create something resembling a real relationship, proving to Toby that his new take on life was a major step in the right direction.
He shifted a bit more on the couch, stretching his legs out and feeling his eyes begin to droop. The ball in Times Square was still a few hours from dropping, but his body was telling him it was time to head for bed.
As he though back over the last year, Toby admitted, if only to himself, that Genevieve had taught him an important lesson. As much anger, grief, regret and guilt as her actions had caused, she had forced him to take a long hard look at himself. He hadn't much liked what he saw. Yes, he'd given up alcohol to save his marriage. But as difficult as that had been, he'd still become complacent, thinking that was the largest hurdle in his life. He never dealt with the reasons why he drank. Toby had reprioritized, but not examined. Even cheating on his wife - falling in love with man, for fuck's sake! - hadn't done that. But finding Gen in the garage had shattered everything he thought he knew. And like one of Keller's portraits, Toby saw himself, in stark black and white.
He was a greedy, selfish son of a bitch who was too wrapped up in his own melodrama to acknowledge the feelings of others. Toby couldn't blame Gen for leaving him; for dying, for abandoning Gary and Holly, yes. But leaving him had been the only sane thing to do.
Humbled and penitent, Toby vowed to make changes. He would think of himself less and others more. He would accept what he had and be grateful. He would let go of the desire for more.
As part of this new philosophy, he hardly ever called Chris or initiated contact. Toby didn't cling or nag or beg, didn't make demands or push for more. Chris seemed to appreciate it, finding Toby almost as hassle free as his other... interests. He knew he wasn't the only person Keller slept with. Toby was okay with that. As long as he didn't have to see it or hear about it, Toby would accept what Keller could give and enjoy their time together. It didn't bother him. Toby was content. He didn't need more.
Finally succumbing to the hypnotic effect of the lights, Toby closed his eyes. He had a hazy thought of maybe calling Keller tomorrow. Just a short message. In the afternoon, though. It was New Year's Eve, after all. Keller probably had plans.
A muffled noise pulled him from the edge of sleep. He listened for long moments, thinking he should turn off the tv if it was going keep him awake, when he heard the distinct sound of a key in the lock of the front door. Adrenalin got him up and off the couch as his mind raced through possibilities, discarding each one until,
Keller didn't have other plans. He was here, in Toby's house, Christmas lights painting his face with surreal colors. Seconds later an amorous Keller was enthusiastically kissing him hello. Toby felt slightly drunk.
When Chris finally released him, he managed to stammer out, "Uh, hi. Chris. Sorry, wasn't expecting you."
"So I gathered." Chris chuckled and reached down to take the blanket Toby was still holding in a death grip.
Still feeling a bit lightheaded, and not entirely convinced this wasn't a dream, Toby asked, "What are you doing here?"
Chris reached up to stroke his fingers through Toby's hair and said, "Isn't it obvious?" He moved in closer and this time Toby met him, mouth open and wanting, feeling his heart pound. It was a lazy kiss, an intimate caress and an invitation. Toby felt a warm hand at his neck, his own hands resting at Chris' waist. He opened his eyes to find Chris looking back at him.
"Happy New Year, baby," Chris said, pulling him down onto the couch. Toby straddled him, pressing their foreheads together.
"Happy New Year," he replied.
Clothes were removed and kisses exchanged. Their bodies moved together under the flickering lights and when they both finished, exhausted, they retreated to the bedroom to do it all over again. Toby fell asleep surrounded by Chris, more than content.
In the morning, Toby woke up alone.
A desert. Skyscrapers of earth and rock cast shadows on the ground. Dusky green shrubs are squatting among oceans of red orange brown.
A nightclub. Pink, blue, green lights are fighting to light up dancers. Women wearing short skirts, halter tops and beautiful hair are hazy and indistinct, moving out of focus.
A chair. The seat cushion is well worn and gray, the plastic back slightly cracked. It is the last in a long row, backed against a white wall. Florescent light bounces off the floor.
A cliff. A black wave of water is crashing against rock, creating white foam. The night sky is bare and mist washes out the sharp edges below.
It felt a lot like staying out past curfew. He had to keep reminding himself he was a grown man, a lawyer and a father and that going out on a date with a beautiful woman was perfectly normal.
They'd made it through the awkward small talk, the tasty appetizer, the no-alcohol discussion. The entres had arrived, steaming hot and delicious, and conversation became more and more comfortable with every bite. Toby allowed himself to feel some small bit of hope that the evening would turn out well.
"Toby, there you are!"
The food promptly turned to ash in his mouth. Fuck. This was not happening.
"C-Chris? What are you doing here?"
To anyone else, Chris looked his usual charming self, well-dressed and intensely sensual. But his movements were just a bit off, his stride not quite as graceful, limbs too controlled for easy fluidity. His eyes flashed dangerously and Toby knew there was a storm brewing. He thought about running, but didn't trust his feet to go in the right direction.
"I called the house, but your sitter told me you were out. Nice girl, that Leslie. Even told me the name of the restaurant," Chris said.
"How thoughtful of her," he said weakly.
"And who is this gorgeous woman? You don't mind if I join you, do you?"
Toby turned to his dinner companion, momentarily forgotten in the wake of that special Keller smile.
"Uh, Chris Keller... Marion Lange." Marion took Chris' hand, which in turn received a courtly kiss, but Toby could see the shark hiding in those teeth. Marion flushed and Toby choked on air.
"Oh, you're Toby's friend, the photographer?"
Oh, god, this was really not happening. "Actually, we -"
"Please, have a seat," Marion cut in.
"Thank you," Keller said. He pulled out a chair, and focused all his attention on Marion. "So where did you two meet? I'm afraid Toby's never mentioned you."
Marion looked back at Toby, smiling, and gently placed her hand over his. Toby covered his flinch with a strained grin. "Oh, we met at the end of year Summer Fair. The school year, I mean. I teach kindergarten at Holly and Gary's school."
The way Keller said "Really? How sweet," made Toby want to curl into a ball and hide. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion and being completely unable to stop it.
"You do make a cute couple," Chris continued. "Never thought Toby would make such a bold move on a beautiful woman."
Marion laughed and squeezed Toby's hand. "Oh, I asked Toby out. He only just managed to ask me out tonight for a third date. I don't think we'd have gotten anywhere otherwise," she teased.
"Probably not," Keller agreed. "Our Toby is a shy one. But you strike me as an intelligent, confident woman, Ms. Lange. One who knows what she wants."
Marion visibly glowed with the compliment. "Call me Marion, please."
Toby had never realized just how many masks Keller had in his arsenal. This one made him appear a delighted school boy, like Chris had just been handed a gold star for his cheekiness. It made Toby very nervous.
"Marion. Beautiful and fearless. I'm amazed Toby hasn't mentioned you before now." Toby glared daggers at him, but Keller didn't even blink.
"Maybe you can answer a question for me then, Marion. I was having a discussion with a client the other day, about childcare. I know we've just met, but with your background as a teacher, I was wondering if you could give me your opinion."
Oh, this had Very Bad written all over it. "Chris, we were actually just about to finish dinner. Maybe you can ask another time -"
"No, it's all right, Toby. I don't mind answering Mr. Keller."
"Chris." Those eyes and that smile; Toby couldn't fault Marion at all.
"Chris." She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and folded her hands. "I'd be happy to help," she said.
Chris leaned forward, just past the boundary of her personal space. "In your profession you come into contact with lots of children. Help them, care for them, love them. So many kids, so much energy..."
"It's difficult, demanding even, but very rewarding," Marion said softly.
"Mmm. Some times are more difficult than others, I imagine." Chris inclined his head, his eyes warm and understanding. "But there are favorites right? I mean they try to tell you not to get too involved, but you can't really avoid it, can you?"
"Yes, they do tell us that," she sighed. "But it never quite works out that way."
"And there are the ones that need you more, need your attention, your affection because they're not getting it at home."
Marion gave a rueful half smile. "There are days I feel more like a surrogate parent than a teacher."
"Exactly. Children aren't getting what they need from the family, Marion. And my client had some very specific views on why. As an experienced educator, how do you feel about children being raised in a homosexual environment?"
Toby's heart stopped. Logically, he knew he could breathe, that blood was circulating and making the rounds, but Toby was paralyzed. His father had spoken the same words, invoking Gen's name like an ancient goddess who would smite the wicked. All the doubts and insecurities, the voices Toby ignored on a daily basis, were suddenly screaming in his head and tearing at his heart. Keller's expression was openly curious and radiating sincerity, but Toby caught a glimpse of greedy satisfaction as he watched Toby bleed and knew that Keller would want more before he was finished.
Marion's face was pale as she struggled to answer. "I don't - well... That's... Every home is different, of course."
"Marion, please. You don't need to give us the company line," Keller said, voice smooth as honey and ever so gentle. Toby felt his hands curling into fists. "No one here is going to judge you for your opinion. You have a right to think however you like about it. I just wanted your insight into the problem. You don't have to worry; it's just me and Toby here. Honestly, Marion. What do you think?"
He was drawing her in, Toby could see. Damn him, the man knew how to make everyone trust him despite their better instincts. She hesitated, looking from one man to the other.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with... homosexual relationships," she offered. Keller smiled at her, encouraging. Looking down at the table, she took a breath and continued slowly, "However... I have noticed that children with both a mother and a father in their lives are more... balanced. Better able to interact socially with their peers."
Toby bled a little more when Keller asked, "How so?"
Marion's voice was still quiet, but obviously stronger as she explained. "A straight couple is more likely to stay together and create a stable home for a child. Most gay couples are looking to be activists more than parents, which deprive the child of a normal, healthy family experience. I think that children have the best chance to thrive in married, mother-and-father-based families."
Keller's smug, mocking grin said it all for Toby. "Thank you, Marion. That was very... enlightening. Toby, what do you -"
"Chris." Enough was enough.
"May speak to you alone for a moment?" he asked politely.
The eyes that turned to him were full of sharp knives. "Sure."
"Excuse us please, Marion," he said without looking at her. Chris nodded to Marion and followed Toby through the sea of tables to the patio outside.
It was a perfect August evening and the sun was only just beginning to set. Toby walked on past the roped off section, past the couple enjoying forbidden cigarettes. They were three buildings down when Toby finally turned the corner into a not-quite alley. Toby crossed his arms, waiting, while Chris settled back against the brick wall, hands behind him, and crossed his ankles. He met Toby's glare head on in typical Keller fashion, managing to say both 'Fuck you' and `You know you want me' with his body.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Toby hissed.
The shameless bastard just grinned all the more. "Don't know what you mean."
Toby exploded."That! Back there. Hunting me down, winning over Marion, making her believe... Why did you do this? Why would you say those things? What are you even doing here?!"
One second he was staring Chris down, the next he was up against the wall, arm held tight as Chris leaned in close, face blank and eyes shadowed. "Are you fucking her?"
"Wha -? No! What do you care?" Toby tried to push him off, but Chris kept him pinned to the wall with the weight of his body.
"She wants you to. Cool, confident bitch like that, asking you out? She's a slut." Chris' hands moved to his shoulders and massaged gently. "Maybe I should tell her you like to suck cock."
"Are you jealous?" Toby scoffed. "You're pissed because I took a woman out to dinner."
Chris laughed at him. "I did you a favor. Women like that are all the same. No flavor, no passion, looking to change you. You'd be bored in a month."
Toby was not ready to admit that. "You had no right. She is not a slut. She's a nice woman."
"Oh, is that it?" Chris' sly tone raked across Toby's insides. "She fit into your nice and tidy little life? Make Mom and Dad happy with you again?"
A real knife couldn't be more painful. "You're a fucking hypocritical bastard, Keller. At least my family knows enough to hate me. Just how many people know you fuck men? That why you sleep with anything that's got tits and a cunt? Wouldn't want anyone thinking you might like taking it up the ass."
The punch came out of nowhere and his face exploded in pain, but the pressure holding him down was gone and Toby stumbled away. He felt a hand pulling him backward and Toby didn't even think, just lashed out with a fist, and then another. He heard the grunts as his hand connected, heard Chris growl `motherf-', but then Toby was gasping for air as he was tackled and slammed against the brick.
"You're a fucking bitch, Beecher. Here I came all the way to see you and you're out with some high class whore-"
"I'm not at your beck and call, Keller." Dazed, Toby tried to steady his legs and break Keller's hold. "I have a life that doesn't include you!"
Keller sneered. "Since when?"
"Fuck you!" Toby bucked and kneed him in the groin.
Keller staggered back and Toby kicked him in stomach before dropping back and leaning against the wall. He waited, watching Keller and swallowing the blood in his mouth. He could see the rage in every line of that body and readied himself to run if Chris came after him again.
For a long moment there was only the sound of harsh breathing, then slowly other sounds filtered in; cars, birds, faint music, a laugh, a shout. The adrenalin that kept him going faded, leaving him feeling like one giant bruise. Toby tensed as Keller finally straightened, but Chris just looked at him, rubbing at his chest.
"You should run."
Toby eyed him cautiously. "Why? You going to hit me again?"
Chris barked out a laugh. "Don't think so. Forgot you're stronger than you look."
"Sorry," Toby said without a trace of apology.
"Yeah, well." Chris passed a hand over his face and Toby noticed then how exhausted Chris looked without the anger to mask it. "You really should go. Marion's probably wondering where you are."
None of this made any sense. Chris could be a dangerous man, yes, and they certainly knew how to push each other's buttons, but they'd never gone this far in real anger. Toby waited for some sign of what the other man was thinking, but Chris wasn't giving anything away.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said.
Chris wasn't expecting that, if the startled look was any indication.
Toby frowned as another thought crossed his mind. "You didn't say why you came here tonight."
Chris shrugged. "I was looking for you. You weren't home."
"I've been busy before," Toby pointed out. "It's never led you to track me down and sabotage an evening."
"You weren't home," Chris said again, crossing his arms over his chest. Toby wondered at the importance attached to the statement.
"I still had my cell with me," he prodded. "If you called the house -"
Toby blinked. "What?"
"I didn't call. I just went straight to the house. I needed to see you, but when Leslie told me where you were... " his voice broke off. Chris' eyes were fixed on something across the street and he seemed to be holding himself very still.
"Why did you need to see me?" Toby asked. In response, Chris dropped his head and tightened his jaw.
Toby moved forward, no longer worried about flying punches. He laid one hand on Chris' arm and the other at the back of his neck, gently stroking the short brown hair.
Little by little, Toby felt Chris letting go of the tension, breathing in and out until he finally looked up at him. This was a Chris he'd never seen before. His defenses were down, expression open and so vulnerable that Toby could see all the way into a soul deep hurt. His heart clenched and he couldn't resist folding that strong body into his arms. Then Chris was clinging to him like a drowning man and Toby had no intention of letting him go. Finally, Chris opened his mouth and choked out two words: Bonnie. Cancer.
Toby inhaled sharply. Puzzle pieces slid neatly into place in his mind.
His hands were still moving, caressing and soothing, wishing he could do more. He couldn't think of anything to say except, "How long...?"
Chris drew in a shaky breath. "She's already gone, Toby," he whispered. "She didn't even tell me she was sick."
He heard the confusion in Chris' voice, felt him shudder and grip him more tightly.
Toby remembered staring at the family portrait on the wall, before the police, the tears, the shouting and the pain. He remembered sitting alone in his house, numb with shock and completely lost, wondering how he was going to tell Gary and Holly that their mother was dead.
Toby held on and kissed him softly, ignoring his split lip, and said, "I'm here, Chris. I'm here."
A flower. The long purple petals are lying on a white grainy surface. Drops of water cling to and magnify the petals and yellow pollen, glistening in the sun.
A girl. A sweater is wrapped around her waist and blonde hair is tied back with elastic. She is holding a shovel and digging up leafy ground. A smiling boy stands behind her with a bucket of water.
A lake. The sun's reflection is shining on the rippled surface. Bright white clouds hover overhead. A man is sitting on a wooden dock, looking out across the water.
The boxes were stacked neatly by the door, looking harmless and only a little out of place in his studio. Eric had dropped them off and offered to help him sort through it. Chris didn't say no.
In the three weeks since he'd heard the news, Chris had drifted between Toby's house and the studio. Aside from their fight, he didn't recall much of the first few days, only that he'd cried for the time in a long, long while. He'd tried to control himself, but Beecher broke through every damn wall he had and would just not leave him alone until Chris broke down sobbing like a little boy. It made him feel stupid and childish and empty but Toby never said anything. He just touched him, squeezed his hand or rubbed his back of caressed an eyebrow.
Chris didn't even know why Bonnie was affecting him so much. They hadn't really seen each other in almost two years and she'd never mentioned Eric. She hadn't told him a lot of things.
"She could never throw anything away," Eric said. Lifting the cover of another box, he flipped through a stack of something Chris couldn't see, before sliding the box over. "Those are some of yours, the ones she had framed and hung. Should take a look, see if you want any. If not, my sister might like a few."
He was an average guy, Eric. Exactly who Bonnie should have met years ago, before she'd stumbled into one of Chris' cons. A little too much padding, dull straw hair, nice friendly smile; he was the kind of guy who would never cheat because he was perfectly happy with what he had, and loved showering her with all his attention. Chris let him talk, the chatter a soft background noise filled with hints of Bonnie. Eric didn't seem to care that most of the conversation was one-sided.
He took a closer look at the contents, pulling out a stack of portraits and landscapes and setting them on his desk. The frames were inexpensive but classy, the photographs a collection of his earliest attempts on through his professional career. As he went through them, Chris tried in vain to recall where they were taken and when. Bonnie, ever organized in her chaos, had even titled the pictures. There was a rumpled bedroom, an orange brown desert, a home office, an old woman, two giggling teenagers.
Behind him, he could hear Eric moving on to another box, saying something about gardens, attics, and clothes. Chris took a quick look, saw some of his old shirts and a jacket, and went back to studying the pictures. There was a nightclub, a hospital, flowers, a screaming toddler, a skyscraper, leaves on pavement. Chris could see how his skills had improved, when he started to play with lighting, angles, and lenses.
And then he saw it.
It was a black and white. There was a lake, the sun's reflection shining on the rippled surface. Bright white clouds hovered overhead and in the distance was the shore, partially covered with trees. A man was sitting on a wooden dock, his back to the camera, looking out across the lake. He was dressed in a white shirt and jeans and his face was slightly turned, as though he was chasing an invisible wind brushing against his cheek.
Before Gen died, before... everything.
He knew exactly where Bonnie had gotten the picture. When he'd finally cleared out the darkroom after the divorce had come through, he'd left behind a cracked camera, roll of film still inside. At the time, `losing' it had given him a great excuse to keep working for the Beechers.
Chris wasn't sure how he felt about the picture. That was the amazing thing about photography; you really had no idea what that one blink of an eye would turn out to be, could never predict what would be revealed, because you were too busy living, moving into the next moment. It was like stopping time and seeing everything you knew made strange.
There was stillness and quiet and solitude; he knew why Bonnie had titled it `Peace'. But Chris was intimately familiar with the subject, could imagine the faint half grin on his lips and the wistfulness in his eyes. To Chris, it looked more bittersweet than peaceful. It made him want to walk down the wooden planks and sit down next to him. He brushed his fingers over the glass and tried to swallow the sudden lump in his throat.
"Bonnie kept these photos from the time you were married," Eric said. He reached across the desk and handed Chris a pile of 4x6's. "Do you want them? By the way... who's that blond guy with you? Your lawyer, your parole officer?"
Chris let out a laugh at the top photo. The quality was different and not quite in focus, but it was obviously him and Toby. After much pleading and begging, he'd given the camera to Gary, who turned out to be a very demanding director. Chris had pulled out his best serious face, listening intently to instructions and looked directly at the camera. Beecher was very convincing with his stern, no-nonsense lawyer face. But his eyes sparkled with humor and affection as he looked at Chris.
The rest of that afternoon played out in front of him. Gary had dropped the camera and somehow Chris and Toby managed to convince him he wasn't in trouble, that he could stop crying, that everything would be alright. Chris discovered the healing properties of pizza and ice cream. And later, Toby had looked at him with those same eyes and kissed him.
Chris smiled. "He's my lover."
As he walked through the door, Chris heard the sound of children's laughter coming from the kitchen.
"Hello?" he called.
Seconds later, he had two giggling leeches attached to his legs. "Whatever happened to `Hi, Chris'?"
"Hi, Chris," they chorused. Chris eyed them skeptically and carefully extracted himself.
"Want some spaghetti? There's still some left," Holly offered.
"Did you see the accident on the news? A Ferrari got totaled. A red Ferrari. Have you ever driven one?" Gary asked.
"Maybe, no and yes." He was quickly learning how to make them slow down with questions. "Where's your dad?"
"Waiting for these two to come back and clean the kitchen." Toby was standing in the hallway, leaning on one hand against the wall and plainly in no hurry to retrieve his wayward offspring.
Immediate protests were made. "Dad!" "I helped make the sauce!"
"There are two choices: clean dishes or do homework."
Apparently, that was no choice at all. Gary scampered up the stairs, throwing a quick "See ya Chris!" over his shoulder.
"Are you staying tonight?" Holly looked at him with big blue eyes, just like her dad's.
Chris' eyes slid over to Beecher. "Yeah, kiddo."
"Kay. Waffles tomorrow, Dad?"
"We'll see. I'll be up in a bit," Toby said, bending down and kissing her forehead. Chris got another hug and a muffled g'night, and then he and Toby were alone.
Chris drank him in, wondering what it was about Toby and sweaters. Or Toby and shirts. Or just Toby and any clothes at all.
"Hey, you ok?"
Chris met Toby's concerned frown with a smile. "I'm good."
Toby looked at him a moment, assessing the truth of that, then grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the kitchen. "Then I'm drafting you for dish duty."
Chris laughed. "Yes, sir, Mr. Beecher, sir," he said, which earned him a towel in the face.
"You're drying," Toby ordered.
Chris smothered a smile and got to work. Extra touches here, a bump of arms, a little rub there. Toby kept stealing glances at him, but didn't spoil the game, the corners of his mouth twitching suspiciously. By the time Toby got to the messy saucepan, Chris thought it was time to go a little further.
He slid a hand down Toby's back, traveling leisurely up and down along his spine. Chris watched him pause, then continue scrubbing. He stepped closer, both his hands now stroking Toby's sides. He heard a hitch in breathing, but Toby kept right on working. Chris continued his explorations, slipping under the sweater and around to a firm stomach, moving upward to skate across a nipple, which tightened appreciatively. The pan splashed in the water.
"Sorry," Chris said. Toby grunted in response and picked up the pan again.
Chris could feel his ribs expand and contract with every inhale and exhale, sensed each change in breathing as Toby became more affected by his ministrations. Chris closed his eyes for a moment to savor the texture of the skin beneath his fingers. Pressing up against him, he molded his front to Toby's back, pushing Toby into the counter. The pan was floating in the water, abandoned, and Toby's knuckles were white from gripping the counter top. Chris laid a kiss on the back of that neck, nuzzling the golden hairs as he snaked a hand downward to fondle Toby's crotch. God, his cock was so hard and that ass was perfect for rubbing against.
"Chris, kids... awake... " Toby gasped.
"Just have to keep our clothes on, won't we?" Toby let out what might have been a whimper. "'sides, those steps creak, even with little feet."
Toby pushed back, making Chris moan when he flexed his ass against Chris' groin. He squeezed and stroked and rubbed Toby's cock, feeling its heat and weight through the fabric, and listening to every little sound that escaped Toby's control. Touch there for a moan, caress here for a sigh, pinch a nipple for a gasp. Chris felt his breathing speed up when he nibbled on his ear and thrust harder, making them both burn with the friction.
He started up a steady rhythm, accelerating slowly and driving Toby crazy, his hips desperately trying to move despite Chris' fingers digging into muscle. Toby's wet hand covered Chris', urging him to move faster and harder until Chris let go, trusting Toby to direct his hand and pushing forward as Toby pushed back, rocking into that gorgeous ass mindlessly. Toby's head fell back onto his shoulder and Chris pressed his lips against Toby's neck, licking and sucking until Toby came with a strangled groan, clenching his muscles and bringing Chris along for the ride.
When their breathing resumed a more natural pace, Chris picked himself up as Toby turned around to face him. Toby smiled lazily and said, "What am I going to do with you?"
And there it was again, shining in blue eyes. Affection and humor and things Chris hadn't known he was looking for. There was a whole life there; a life that had real people in it who would laugh with him and know him, and grow old with him and love him.
"I don't know, keep me?" Toby looked at him, puzzled by the seriousness in his voice.
Chris took a deep breath and said, "No more Marions."
Toby stilled in his arms, reading his expression, and narrowed his eyes in defiance. "No one but me."
Chris smiled. "I can live with that."
But Toby, being Toby couldn't leave it there. "Why?" he asked quietly.
Chris held Toby a little closer, tasted his lips ever so briefly, and said, "This is home."
Please send feedback to sinewa.