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Unbeta'ed. No money, not mine, all in fun.
Family Reunion 4
It was snowing in Martha's Vineyard, softly and delicately, so that the formal garden was brushed with a perfect layer of frosting for Christmas. Just as if it had been ordered, Victoria Beecher said. And Toby had to agree that the light snowfall had been the final beautiful touch to an exquisite Christmas, a Christmas that was almost perfect, save for one thing. No Chris.
By ten o'clock on Christmas morning Toby was out in the street, hands buried in his jacket pockets, walking, looking at the snow and breathing in the crisp, cold air, ostensibly because he wanted to savor his first Christmas of freedom, but really because he was restless, lonely and missing Chris. Suddenly he wanted to be away from the laughing and talking. Holly and Harry were engrossed in figuring out their new Wii, Mother was talking to Bessie and Gussie was comparing fishing stories with Edward. Guests were expected for lunch and Toby was already having a hard time refusing the alcohol.
Despite the hour no one was out walking. The streets were quiet save for a lone bird singing from a distant tree top and the occasional car hurrying its people to eggnog and cookies. The snow muffled Toby's footfalls. It had taken him nearly a week to succumb to his other great addiction. It had taken him almost until the end of the block. He had brought his phone with him, he told himself, because the kids might want him, but really he knew that he was going to call Chris as soon as he was out of earshot of everyone at Edward and Bessie's.
And he knew that in so doing, he was going to lose, but he no longer cared. In fact, he wanted to lose. He wanted to get it over with. Chris could gloat as much as he liked, all he wanted was to hear his voice again. Well, honestly, he wanted a little more than that, but he'd settle for Chris' voice at this stage. He wondered what the forfeit would be. He had some ideas that he thought Chris would agree to. The thought made him smile and that was when he'd stopped walking, pulled out his phone and called Chris' number.
No answer. It just went to voicemail. A small, familiar stab of anxiety stung Toby's heart. Where was Chris? He had to rationalize it away. It was Christmas morning. Chris had said he'd be going to Elliot's mother-in-law for Christmas. He was probably there now or doing some mysterious twin thing with Elliot. He was fine. Why wouldn't he be? Toby put the phone away in his pocket again.
He had been treating Chris as if he were made of glass since the time with Junior in that warehouse. He knew it irritated the hell out of Chris. In fact it was worse than treating him as if he were made of glass. That had worn off after a couple of months. Now he treated him like a child. At least that's how Chris saw it, Toby knew. They'd fought about it often enough. He was just trying to show he cared, to make up for it all in some way, but he'd called him "honey" one too many times. What had happened in that warehouse had not been Toby's fault, he knew that, but he still felt so goddamned guilty about it.
As often as Chris told him it had been his choice to go to Junior, Toby felt ill with misery, thinking what it had cost him. Some snippets of what had happened had come out during the trial, but knowing Chris as he did, he knew he was not telling the whole truth about what happened in that awful room. He also knew he'd never get Chris to talk about it. He hoped Chris had at least told Elizabeth, his shrink, some of it, but he also knew this wasn't very likely.
He wanted to make Chris feel better, to fix it, but he couldn't. So instead he fretted about Chris constantly. He kept texting him from work to find out if he was OK, calling him if he didn't respond to the texts instantly, emailing him. Sometimes if Chris was being especially recalcitrant about responding, Toby would call Elliot. At first that had worked really well, because Elliot was as worried as hell about Chris and was just waiting for the excuse to go over there and check on how he was doing.
Of course, in the beginning Chris actually wasn't doing so well. He was still having the anxiety attacks and nightmares and had moped around his apartment all day unless Toby or Elliot dragged him out of doors. He'd called Toby a few times at work sounding awful and Toby had had to talk him through it. Once or twice he'd even had to go home to be with him. One particularly bad morning after a horrible night Chris had been so fragile that Toby had been unable to go to work at all and had had to spend the day with him. Elliot and Toby had shared the responsibility of looking after Chris quite well. Their relationship was almost cordial, after Elliot had stopped blaming Toby for what happened to Chris. They relied on each other for information about their common focus and organized their vigils without any friction.
Toby was constantly amazed at how similar Elliot was to Chris and yet how very different. All these months later he still found it disorienting. At least he was better at recognizing who was who now, without having to rely on their tats. Chris was slightly taller and infinitesimally slimmer. Their faces weren't absolutely identical either. And Chris had more scars, especially on his hands now.
Eventually Chris had started getting back into his usual routines and started focusing on his studies again. And Elliot had withdrawn again. Toby got confusing signals from him. He discussed it with Chris, who laughed and told him Elliot was still trying to wrap his head around his brother having a boyfriend. Toby wished he'd finish doing that so that they could get rid of the tension. He privately suspected Elliot was jealous of the time Chris spent with him and that Chris knew it, but for some reason wasn't saying so. Maybe he was protecting Elliot?
Chris's feelings toward Elliot were outwardly hard to determine, but Toby knew Chris well and he knew his casualness and seeming indifference hid something deep and growing. Occasionally Toby would catch it in Chris's deep-blue eyes when he glanced at his brother. It was something he had only ever seen in Chris's eyes when Chris had looked at him. He felt jealous about that too. His only consolation was that Elliot was more jealous. But of course, Elliot was also more closely connected to Chris than Toby was or ever could be.
Elliot's adoration of Chris was out there for everyone to see in everything he said and did, every glance, every gesture. He could barely keep his hands off him. Of course it was fine for a grown man to be constantly touching and hugging his obviously identical twin brother. People even found it heart-warming. Toby would often watch Elliot absent-mindedly squeezing Chris's shoulder while talking in public or greeting him with a hug and he would feel his insides curdle with jealousy. He did not have the same freedom. It had been so much easier with women.
No, in public with Chris - and really that meant anywhere there were other people, including Elliot (especially Elliot, thought Toby darkly) - Toby had to think really hard and monitor all his movements around Chris. No touching or hugging for him. No squeezes. Definitely no kissing. It wasn't fair. Most of the people who knew them now, including people Elliot knew, knew Chris and Toby were partners, but they wouldn't be able to cope with much open display of affection. Toby made up for it at home. So did Chris. He'd collect Toby from work and bring him home with nary a brush of his fingertips. He'd never kissed him again in the office since that one wild day he'd kissed him in front of all Toby's colleagues. To stake his claim, Toby thought in retrospect.
Once in the penthouse's elevator, however, he would grab Toby's face and kiss him all the way up to the apartment with all the intensity that he'd shown in Oz, but less of the desperation. That's how Toby guessed Chris was on the mend. That and the way he'd ask, "Are you stalking me, Beech?" when Toby called him from work.
Eventually Chris had decided that they were going to have a competition: the first person to call or email the other on any given day was the loser and he had to pay a forfeit chosen by the winner. Often the forfeits were sexual, but they could quite as easily involve doing the laundry, returning library books, putting gas in the car or fixing dinner. Toby seldom knew what to expect because he was usually the one paying them.
Sometimes Chris had lost and then Toby had tried to swing the next day's contest in his own favor by making Chris pay the forfeit of having to call him, but Chris hadn't fallen for that. He'd made up for it though...
Toby's rumination was cut short by his mobile phone ringing. It was Chris! At last! He knew Chris would not be able to resist calling him for long after he had been the first to succumb to phoning. Chris never was able to. Toby didn't mind losing to Chris, not with this anyway. Not losing had been agony.
"Hey!" he said happily. "What are you doing?"
It was Elliot.
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