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23 Leroy Street

Author's notes can be found at the end of the story.


A late Friday night in an early September, four months and counting post-Oz. Crappy night for a walk, but that was the last thing on his mind; the air was still warm enough that the rain seemed more of a gift than a curse, and even the weatherman's threat of "a heck of a boomer" couldn't keep him from this thing he had to do -- this ritual, this compulsion, this whatever-you-call-it that allowed him to get through the rest of the week without doing something worse.

From Sunday to Thursday, he belonged to them. After his release, his parents had insisted he stay at the house. They'd given him back his old room, his old office... and five days a week, under close supervision, they gave him his kids. They just wanted to help -- help him make the transition, help him 'ease' into his new life. He'd shrugged and agreed to whatever they said, kept his nose clean, met with his PO -- and every Friday he quietly cleared off his desk, dropped his car into an anonymous lot, and 'eased' himself down to lower Eighth, where he trolled the streets looking for something to fill the aching, gaping holes inside him, the ones his parents knew nothing about.

Six weeks later, still looking, he'd 'eased' himself into a month-by-month lease on a slightly seedy Leroy Street walkup (something else his parents knew nothing about), where the neighbors kept to themselves and only occasionally wondered about the mysterious "T. Beecher" who sometimes holed up in apartment 4C.

Nope, a little rain wouldn't hurt. He'd learned long ago that whatever was seething inside him would not wash away. Besides, Friday was Friday, rain or no -- and if nothing else, he was a man of habit.

Mostly the addictive, destructive kind -- but hey, anything'll do, in a pinch.

Thunder off in the distance meant little to him, he barely noticed it. The threat of a storm had dwindled the foot traffic to only a few brave, transient souls, none of them making any impression on him. He paid little attention to faces; in fact, he paid little attention to anything about them at all until one would stop, make a point of stopping, eyeing him in that obvious way, and even then, he rarely remembered the face.

He leaned back against the front of a corner building, one knee hiked, hands clenching and unclenching inside the pockets of his jacket. Head cocked, staring straight ahead, not looking at anything in particular, just listening to the whoosh of the water in the street as the cars passed by... and then, the roar of a motorcycle, slowing as it approached. The traffic light had turned red, and the bike dipped to one side as its rider dropped a booted foot on the asphalt to steady himself. The bike was loud, even in idle -- Toby felt it as much as he heard it, the vibrations skittering across his already-tremulous nerves.

He glanced at the rider, sizing him up. Long legs, draped across metal and chrome; a requisite leather jacket that had been left open, revealing a white t-shirt stretched taut across a lean, muscled chest. The helmet he wore covered his face, but it was his hands that caught and held Toby's attention... strong and long-fingered, they flexed restlessly on the handlebars, drawing forth deep, sexy growls from the engine beneath him.

The light went green, and Toby smiled slightly as the bike lingered at the corner. He watched with increasing interest as those long fingers lifted the helmet, revealing the guy's features by degrees: strong jaw, lean face, dark eyes glinting with light from the windows above -- and then, as expected, one cool eyebrow, lifted questioningly.

Their eyes met. Sparked. This one was something, all right -- and probably trouble, too. Real trouble, not just some bad-boy wannabe pretending that a leather jacket gave him a dark side, one he could take off whenever he'd gotten his fill. Toby had come across dozens like that -- and fucked most of them ruthlessly, angrily even, sending them home to their safe little lives with bruises that'd be a real bitch to explain -- but this guy was the real thing. Toby knew it, as surely as he knew that it wasn't going to stop him. He was going to get on that bike.

The guy gestured toward the seat behind him. Beecher hesitated only a fraction of a second, which was part of the ritual. Later, afterwards, it would be so much more painful -­ and therefore, so much more satisfying -- knowing he'd had that one moment to choose. With a single, brief nod and his lips pressed into a determined line, he pushed off from the wall and made his way to the corner.

Up close, he discovered those dark eyes were blue and compelling, like midnight, or deep space. The final frontier, he thought wildly, and then laughed at himself. Despite his unease, once the decision was made it never occurred to him to turn back. The danger, the fear, it was all part of it. It was... necessary.

The stranger grinned easily, lounging back in the seat, and Toby just snorted, amused. He knew that technique, the practiced attempt to disarm him and make him feel safe; he used it himself, on occasion. Hey, whatever, man -- you do what you have to. We all do. His lips curved into a small, knowing smile, one that said, 'I'm on to you, but since we both want the same thing, I'm willing to let it slide.'

"So.... where're you headed?"

Toby shrugged carelessly. "You tell me."

Another grin flashed, wider this time. "Hop on."

They passed two lights, then three lights, then four, and Beecher smiled to himself as they raced through the streets. He'd passed on the helmet, preferring the risk, and now he was glad that he had... with the wind whipping his hair and the limitless sky overhead, he could almost imagine that Oz was light years away. He held on to the biker's hips, closing his eyes as the air rushed his face, enjoying the motion, the speed, the freedom of not even knowing where he was going, while anticipation unfurled inside him like a pair of powerful wings.

Five lights, then six. He thought of asking where they were headed, then dismissed it. Who the fuck cared? The escape was the thing, however brief it would turn out to be... escape was itself an addiction, a craving that grew each time he tried to feed it. He leaned forward, wrapping his arms around that lean waist, grinning against the black leather when the biker lifted his shirt and placed Toby's hands directly against his bare skin. Seven lights, eight... and oddly, Toby found himself wishing that they could keep going like this, even as part of him practically screamed to stop somewhere and get on with the rest.

The rain began without fanfare or warning. Toby laughed as it struck him full in the face, but the biker shouted a muffled curse. Toby leaned over his shoulder, pointing off to the right, and they quickly turned in that direction, heading into a narrow alley that cut between two of the storefronts. It led to a couple of small parking lots situated behind the buildings, but at this time of night the lots were deserted, and the alley was empty and dark. They pulled in and cut the engine, and the sudden silence wrenched Toby out of his thoughts as reality reined him back in, dark as the alley itself.

He slid from the bike, raking his fingers through his wet hair, and glanced around. There was no actual roof here, but the tangle of metal above their heads -- fire escapes for the buildings on either side -- kept the worst of the rain at bay. Turning, he watched as the biker removed his helmet, letting his eyes travel over him, taking note of the way the shirt clung to his rain-dampened skin, the way those wet jeans hugged his thighs. His mind conjured an unbidden image of that hard body bent forward over the bike, and he felt the blood rush to his groin.

Looking up, he found the guy watching him, smirking, as if reading his mind. Toby just shrugged, and gave him an unapologetic smile. "Nice bike," he said.

"You ride?"

"I've been known to."

"Tell you what." The guy's voice was fucking amazing, soft and rough at the same time. "You ask nice, I might let you drive."

Toby laughed softly. He took off his damp jacket, tossing it over the seat of the motorcycle, then turned and moved further into the alley, where the rain fell harder but the shadows would hide them from anyone passing by in the street. He took up a familiar position, leaning back against the wall, and stood watching mutely as the other man rose and walked toward him. The guy moved like a cobra; standing there, waiting, Toby felt like he was being stalked, like he was prey. The irony of that made him want to laugh. Hard.

When the biker finally stopped moving, they were so close Toby could feel warm breath on his face.

"Got a name?"

Christ, that voice. Toby imagined it snaking around him, drawing him in. "Sorry, what?"

"Your name." A slow, lazy smile, and then: "As in, what should I call you?"

Oh, right. A name. Yeah, he had plenty of those. Bitcher, sweetpea, prag...

He considered lying, knew it would be smarter -- and safer -- to do so, and then said: "Make it Toby. And I'll call you...?"


"Nice to meet you, Chris."

"Pleasure's all mine." Chris grinned, pressing closer, and then closer still, the heat of his body enfolding them both. He placed one hand on the wall just above Toby's shoulder, tilting his head to one side as his dark eyes traveled slowly over Toby's face. Toby gazed back at him silently, slightly off-guard -- the guy was practically *sniffing* at him, like some feral animal preparing to mate. It was oddly intense, and disturbing.

It was also arousing the hell out of him.

They stood like that for a minute, silently gauging each other. It was Toby who finally moved first, holding Chris's gaze as he pushed the leather jacket from his shoulders, letting it fall to the ground. He went for Chris's fly, but was stopped by a hand twisting into his hair, holding him still.

What the fuck?

He tensed, and his instincts, honed sharply in Oz, went on full alert. Chris was gazing at him with unreadable eyes, and Toby barely had time to guess what he was planning before Chris hauled him forward, kissing him hard on the mouth. Toby jerked back in surprise, but Chris simply went with him, pinning him to the wall, leaving him no room to maneuver away when Chris's tongue parted his lips and plunged inside. The shock, the total unexpectedness of it was enough of a mind-fuck to keep Toby's brain occupied while his body responded in a much more visceral way: his breath caught, his cock hardened, his pulse went erratic.

Jesus, this guy was kissing him - and pretty fucking persuasively, too, practically daring him to respond in kind. His hands came up of their own accord to grasp Chris's waist, and he found himself kissing him back -- pushing his tongue into that warm, hungry mouth, already greedy for more.

Chris smiled against his lips. "I'm going to fuck you," he said.  In that voice.

Toby opened his eyes, a half-smile curving his lips. So confident, so fucking sure of himself, like he had Toby all figured out... Toby could only imagine what the boys in Oz would say about that. They'd probably tell this poor guy to turn tail and run for his fucking life. He stifled a laugh. None of that even mattered. He couldn't care less what this guy was thinking, as long as he got what he wanted from him -- and that, he thought wryly, had been made pretty clear when he'd climbed on the bike.

With his eyes fixed on Chris's, he reached down and took Chris's right hand, dragging it to his own groin. "Tell you what," he whispered, mimicking Chris's soft, sexy drawl. "Ask me nice."

Chris's grin disappeared, his eyes narrowing dangerously. Caught him off-guard, Toby thought, and that felt pretty damn good, though he couldn't say why. He gazed at Chris questioningly, one cool eyebrow raised as he waited for him to say something, do something, and was more than a little surprised when he just -- didn't.

He just stood there. Watching.

Toby found himself holding his breath. It went on for too long. Chris said nothing, did nothing, just stood there staring at him with those cold, assessing blue eyes, staring at him until it went past the point where it made any sense, past the point where it was even a stare anymore. It became something else -- a moment, a strange, surreal moment stretching out until Toby thought maybe it couldn't end, because once it did, they'd have to explain it somehow.

And then it was over. Just like that, as if it had never happened at all. Chris was smiling again, pressing close again, and without another word spoken between them, he flipped Toby's jeans open, plunging his hand inside, and sank to his knees.

It had to be the rain, Toby thought crazily. Something about the way it felt on his skin, little licks of cold fire... fucking Christ. Chris worked him like a pro, sucking at him, tugging on him, gripping his hips hard enough to cause bruises and making these deep, growling sounds in his throat that made Toby writhe even more. It was so good, too good, and he wanted to pull away but he couldn't... he wanted to get closer, but couldn't... he couldn't seem to do anything other than stand there, helpless beneath Chris's mouth.

He groaned in protest when Chris finally pulled away, but before he could react, Chris was back on his feet, trapping him against the wall again. They kissed roughly, as if they were fighting; groping each other in some kind of battle where the winner was whoever got closer, whoever went deeper, whoever got in, and Toby had no idea who was winning, and couldn't care less. He pulled away only to lift his shirt over his head while Chris did the same, and their mouths met again, greedy and wild, as the rain slicked their skin and fell all around them.

"You want more?" Chris whispered into his mouth, and Toby nodded, barely able to breathe. "How much more? C'mon, ask me nice..."

"Fucking all of it," Toby shot back. He yanked at Chris's zipper once more, and this time Chris didn't interfere. "Let's go."

They kissed again, hard, then Chris grabbed his wrist and spun him around, pushing him against the fire escape. Toby grasped the ladder to steady himself, closing his eyes as Chris tugged at his jeans and pushed them down over his hips -- and then he held his breath, waiting.

It didn't take long.

"Oh, man, what the fuck is this?" The burst of laughter seemed incongruous in the dark, silent space.

"It's nothing," Toby said flatly. "Come on."

Chris bent down to study the swastika up close, and Toby heard him whistle softly. "That's fucked up."

"I'm aware. Are we gonna do this, or not?"

A slight pause, that was all -- give the guy points for being unshockable -- and then Chris came full against him again, those strong arms snaking around his waist. "So you want me to fuck you, baby?" he whispered roughly. "You want my dick in your ass?"

Good Christ. Toby's knees almost buckled. "What I want," he muttered, "is for you to shut the fuck up and do it." He paused, briefly, then added, "Think you can handle that -- baby?"

Chris laughed. Toby might have said more, but another sensation was rapidly stealing his breath -- Chris's hands, running the length of his body, kneading the skin made slick by the rain. Toby was sharply aware of the strength of him, of the power contained in those rough, flexing hands -- even more so when Chris seized him by the hips and pulled him tightly against his body. He felt the rigid length of Chris's cock pressing insistently against his flesh, and could barely contain his reaction to it, wanting it more with each moment that passed.

A zipper. A wrapper. The snap of a plastic cap, and then... oh, Christ...Chris's long fingers were inside his body, slick with lube and chilled from the night air. He groaned, unable to stop himself, and heard Chris's breathing quicken behind him.

"Grab that ladder," Chris demanded. "And hold the fuck on."

He wrapped his fingers around the steel rail, grunting when Chris's fingers retreated and his hard body pressed flush against him. He was trapped now, he knew it... he needed it, he was fucking fiending for it, and he spread his legs as wide as his jeans would allow while Chris planted one hand firmly on his back, bending him forward. He drew a long breath, held it until he ached, then expelled it, slowly, as Chris pushed his cock inside.

Above them, the storm broke; Toby barely noticed. The first thrust opened him to a cloudburst of pleasure and pain, rocking him against the cold steel. God, yessss... He tightened his grip on the rail, and the thunder echoed his moans as Chris slowly retreated from him, then pressed forward again. Harder, his mind screamed. It's not fucking *enough*. Chris's fingers dug into his hips and he used them for leverage, bending his legs and pushing back hard on the rail as Chris came deep inside him again.

Yes, yessss... Flesh slapped against flesh while the rain mixed with sweat and sluiced between them. Toby arched back against Chris again and again, practically fucking himself, gritting his teeth as each thrust vibrated through him. He was losing control, perhaps he already had, and he knew it -- he knew it, and couldn't care less, because control wasn't real - only this was real, this was the only fucking thing that made sense... He reached down and grabbed Chris's hand from his hip, dragging it around to his own aching cock, and the breath left his lungs when he felt those strong fingers wrap firmly around him, jerking him off in long, powerful strokes. Lost as he was, he barely noticed when Chris's free hand covered his on the rail, clenching his fingers tightly as they moved faster, thrust harder. He lifted his face to the sky, tasting the rain, and then he was coming, he was coming so hard he forgot momentarily just why the fuck he was even here, feeling only the full-system shock of release -- and beneath it, the beckoning call of a new, unexpected addiction, already taking hold.

Afterwards, he found himself strangely reluctant to move. Usually, he was itching to disappear even before the sweat cooled on his skin, eager to go off alone and lick his self-inflicted wounds, but hell, he couldn't deny it, this guy was good --he'd made Toby forget, for a few, elusive moments at least, how much he would hate himself for all this, later on.

For that alone, Toby thought with a cynical smile, he would almost hate to see Chris go.

Turning around, he zipped up his jeans and leaned back against the ladder, watching silently as Chris reached for his shirt. The tattoo on his arm caught Toby's eye. Intrigued, he leaned forward to get a better look.

A dark, dramatic crucifix, so big it took up half his arm. Toby studied the suffering Christ for a moment, then his eyes flicked back up to meet Chris's. "Friend of yours?" he asked dubiously, and Chris grinned at him.

"Like it?"

"Jesus," Toby muttered, tracing the dark lines with his fingers. "And I thought I had a persecution complex."

Chris shrugged. "Seemed appropriate at the time."

"Appropriate, huh?" Toby regarded him thoughtfully, and then turned his eyes back to the tat. "Still, that had to hurt." He suppressed a shiver, remembering his own.

"Nah. You get used to it."

Their eyes met, held a moment too long, and Toby nodded slowly. "Yeah. I guess you do." He wondered what he would say if Chris asked him about the swastika.

Chris didn't ask, though. He simply tossed Toby his shirt, and said, "Let's go."

"Go?" Toby asked, surprised.

"You need a ride, right?"

"I think you took care of that, thanks."

Chris smiled, a wide, feral one that made promises. "C'mon, Toby," he practically purred. Christ, that voice -- right to the dick, even after all this. This guy was better than booze.

"Where to?"

"You tell me."

Toby gazed at him, considering it. He had nowhere to be until Sunday, nobody to know or care what he did, or with whom. Why the fuck not? One more round, in a bed this time -- maybe even an all-out, around-the-clock bender?  Fuck. His cock was already twitching again, at the thought.

"23 Leroy Street," he said slowly, answering Chris's wicked smile with one of his own. "But this time, I get to drive."



He woke up to a room steeped in shadows, with a throbbing headache and no idea what day it was. He was lying on his stomach, one leg trailing on to the floor, and his back was killing him, really killing him, like his whole fucking spine was on fire. He moved tentatively, dragging his leg back on to the mattress, and then collapsed into the pillow, exhausted. His body felt like lead.

Gradually, he became aware of the light, regular breathing of another human being in the room with him. In the bed with him. He turned his head, painfully, and gazed at the man sprawled beside him.

Ohhh. Right. The biker. What was his name...?

He glanced over at the side table where his alarm clock should have been, and it all came back to him. Everything. Images flashed across his brain, one after the other: a warm, wicked tongue, thrusting hips, a wide grin, flashing white in the darkness. That voice. That body -- above him, beneath him, inside him. The taste of that skin... and the taste of himself, on that skin. Vivid impressions, many of them set off by the bright red flash of the numbers on the clock: 1:02, 3:43, 7:12, 11:34, 2:28.

And that last time: Toby had been fumbling with the side table, trying to get the goddamn drawer open with one hand, and had knocked everything to the floor. The clock, the lamp, even the drawer itself. He remembered laughing. The room had been thrown into darkness and he'd lost his balance, practically rolling onto the floor, and Chris -- ah, that was his name -- Chris had started laughing, too. Toby had bent over to retrieve the lube, and the red LCD had glared one last time-check from the cheap, faded carpet beside the bed. 6:31 p.m.

He peered over the side of the bed. It was now 9:15. Had to be *Saturday* night, which meant . . .

Christ, he thought, rubbing his eyes. They'd spent the whole fucking day in bed. The whole day in bed, fucking.

He was really going to need some time to process that.

Right now, though, he needed to piss, even more than he needed to breathe.

Throwing off the sheets, he sat up -- and winced. The place, a shabby eyesore even under the best of conditions, now looked like a cyclone had blown through it. Clothes were strewn across the room, beer bottles and empty Chinese food cartons littered the carpet, and the bed... good Christ, the bed. Damp, hopelessly tangled sheets, reeking of sex and sweat; two tubes of Glide, one empty, one open and leaking; an empty vial of amyl nitrite peeking out from under the pillow. And the condom wrappers -- he counted six of them. No, wait -- seven.

He rolled to his feet, padding naked toward the bathroom, moaning softly at the pain in his head. After relieving his most urgent need, he swallowed three aspirin dry, washed his hands and face, and flipped on the water in the shower to let it heat up. He grabbed his toothbrush from the cabinet, smothered it in toothpaste, and turned, finally, back toward the bedroom.

The moonlight filtered through a layer of grime on the bare window, casting a sick pallor over the room. He leaned against the doorframe, brushing vigorously, violently, and stared at the stark, indisputable evidence of his double life.

The shower renewed him, as it always did. Hot water any goddamn time he wanted it, with no limit to how long he could stand here, and the smell of real, non-industrial soap rising from the steam, from his skin. Simple things he might never have noticed before, might have gone his whole life without noticing, made precious by the price he'd paid to have them again. It seemed hard to believe he'd once taken all of this for granted; even more so to realize, with a certain degree of resignation and shame, that he'd probably do so again, once enough time had passed.

He was, after all, quite aware of the flaws in his nature.

He'd learned them the hard way, soon after leaving Oz. Filled with rage and the kind of impotent despair that only the truly weak can understand, he'd set out to find someone to do to him what he just couldn't manage to do to himself; brief, angry episodes where he let himself be used and discarded, treated like he meant nothing because he knew he meant nothing, half-hoping, every single time, that this would be the one that would finish him off, put him out of his spineless misery. And walking away each time, in pain but still breathing, disgusted by his own weakness and cursing whatever elusive thing that called itself God for not taking him out, once and for all.

That kind of desperate behavior had ended abruptly, one sticky, sweaty night in August, six weeks out. Up against the monkey bars in James Walker Park, with a guy who looked just a little too familiar, his skin a little too white and his hair a little too sparse and just a little bit too much cruelty in his watery blue eyes. And Toby, feeling suddenly, overwhelmingly nauseous, dodging the slobbering, smothering lips that kept trying to plaster themselves to his mouth, pulled away with an angry snarl. And heard the guy's voice, up close and way too personal: "What's your fucking problem, bitch?"

And Toby had lost it. The night air had vibrated with a harsh, inhuman wail of helpless rage that he knew had to have come from him, because who else would have reason to make a sound like that? His arms flailing uncontrollably as he gave in to the anger, surrendering to it with a kind of orgasmic glee... and Nameless Guy gaping at him, his mouth an 'O' of astonished disbelief, left eye already swelling from one thrashing blow that had managed to hit its mark dead-on. His instinct for survival apparently stronger than Beecher's, the guy had turned and taken off, leaving Toby alone, curled up and keening, with blood on his hands and a roiling, seething mess of unleashed hatred in his heart.

And then, the kicker: one of New York's finest fading into the picture, seemingly out of nowhere. Toby had raised unfocused eyes and seen the uniform, the glint of the badge, the beat-stick... and he froze, instantly cowed, like a meek, misused Pavlovian freak-dog, waiting for the inevitable pain.

(Oh Christ please don't send me back I can't go back I can't go back)


"Not at all, Officer," he'd managed, years of kissing hack-ass paying off in spades. "I just - uh, tripped. But thanks."

And he'd risen, walked away as steadily as he could manage. He'd walked without stopping, without even looking, directly to his apartment where he'd stood under the shower so long the water went cold, so cold his body screamed with it -- and then longer still, until he was numb and felt nothing at all.

That night, he'd made a promise to himself, and he'd kept it ever since. He had no fear of death; in fact, he saw it as the only real solution to the torture he inflicted upon himself, the inevitable end to the infinite loop of anger and fear he'd made out of his life. But there was no way he was going back to Oz. No way in hell.

And so he became more careful, more selective in his self-punishment, choosing only men he felt could overpower him should the need arise, men who seemed more likely to send him to meet his Maker than to press assault charges if things got ugly. He'd learned to look more closely at his tricks, pick up the subtle clues, the unspoken signals. Over time, he'd learned that even in the midst of such obvious self-destruction, there was a surprising amount of pleasure to be found, once one was open to such things. He'd learned to appreciate the firm touch of a man's hand on his skin, the shifting planes and angles of a man's hard body, the smell of a man's sweat. He'd learned to differentiate, at least on a physical level, between the horrific, violent acts that had been perpetrated against him, and the basic gratification that came from opening his body, willingly, to another man; letting the heat and the hardness fill, temporarily, the gaping void that seemed omnipresent within him. And gradually he'd found, much to his own surprise, that doing so eased the whirlwind of anguish in his head, at least for a little while.

Or maybe a little longer, he thought now, smiling to himself as he rinsed the soap from his skin. You hit it just right, you get lucky, you pick a real winner, and you pull off a night like last night. Keep the demons under wraps for an entire day. Alle-fucking-luia. Now if he could just --


A hand on the back of his neck yanked him out of his thoughts. He reacted instantly, purely on prison instinct, swinging around with his arms raised to strike or defend -- and found himself staring directly into the biker's dark blue eyes, his own surprise reflected in their depths.

"Easy," Chris said softly, obviously amused.

Toby stared at him, his heart hammering in his chest. "I didn't hear you come in."

Chris moved closer until they stood nose to nose. "Toby," he whispered. "Do I make you nervous?"

Oh, please. "Actually," Toby whispered back, loudly, "I just don't take it well when someone sneaks up on me." He reached over Chris's shoulder to angle the water stream out of his face, and added, offhandedly, "Just a little habit I picked up in prison." He watched Chris expectantly, waiting for a reaction, feeling a little deflated when he didn't get one.

Chris simply narrowed his eyes, as if trying to decipher whether Toby was telling the truth. "I'll keep that in mind," he said finally, and Toby had the curious sense that he meant it. "Anything else I should know?"

"Nope," Toby said, keeping his voice casual. "I'm clean, I'm relatively sane, and at the moment, I'm unarmed. Oh, and I don't bite... " Lifting his chin, he smiled enigmatically. "...unless I'm provoked."

Chris snaked an arm around Toby's waist, dragging him forward. "That sounds like a challenge."

"Does it?" Toby asked. "You think you're up to it?" But he already knew the answer; he could feel it, hard against his thigh.

"Shit yeah," Chris said, grinning. "But you..." He slapped Toby's ass lightly. "You're looking a little ragged around the edges, there, Toby."

"Fuck you."

"Oh, is it your turn again?"

At that, Toby laughed aloud. "Christ, I think I've lost track."

He had discovered, immediately upon arriving at the apartment late the night before, that Chris was surprisingly flexible in his pursuit of sexual pleasure. "If it feels good, I'm game," he'd whispered seductively at one point, and Toby had shivered, both from the sound of his voice and from the anticipation.

It had felt good. Unbelievably good. Moving over Chris, covering him, taking him fast and quick because it was what he had wanted to do, because he wanted it, and hearing Chris urge him on in that rough, sexy voice, shouting for him to do it, do it, fucking do it...

Fucking Chris had been so amazing, the pleasure it yielded so intense, Toby had done it again.

They'd both fallen asleep, briefly, awakened less than an hour later by the unhappily-married neighbors fighting loudly across the hall. Feeling suddenly ravenous, Toby had stumbled out of bed to fish his cell phone out of his jacket, while Chris headed into the bathroom. After ordering from the Chinese dive down the street, he'd turned to find Chris sprawled back across the bed, watching him, eyes hot and dick already hard. Toby had all but pounced on him, barely getting the condom on before sinking his rigid cock into that tight, perfect ass and shouting unintelligibly as he shuddered and came. Chris had made this fucking incredible sound, a deep, throaty laugh-growl as Toby collapsed atop him, then had effortlessly rolled Toby's dead weight over until he flopped onto his back on the bed.

"Gimme a minute," Toby had muttered, and Chris had laughed again, lifting Toby's feet onto his shoulders and positioning himself between his legs.

"No time like the present, baby."

The sight of Chris kneeling over him, fully erect, his eyes dark and hooded with desire, had made Toby weak. Weaker. "Hold on..."

"Here." Chris had pulled out the little brown vial from under the pillow, twisting it open and holding it beneath Toby's nose. Toby had inhaled sharply, closing his eyes as the quick, heady rush exploded in his head, and then Chris was pushing inside him, grinding against him, tripping the magic gland and sending Toby into a state of babbling incoherence.

It had been a fucking free-for-all, after that. Falling asleep with his body tangled up in Chris's, only to wake an hour or two later, completely recharged, strong hands and a hot, skilled mouth already moving over his skin. Losing all track of time in the tiny, humid room, feeling like a junkie on the ultimate high, a roller coaster of tumbling sensations. Chris was tireless. Relentless. Toby had almost resorted to begging just for a chance to regroup when he was granted a brief respite by a knock at the door, and he'd laughed, helplessly, from the bed as Chris gave the delivery guy the sight of his fucking life. He'd laughed even harder when Chris flung the door wide, wearing nothing but his sexy, suggestive grin, and invited the startled man to come in and join them. The poor guy was barely out of the way before Toby had Chris pinned against the door, slamming it shut with the force of his attack as he grabbed Chris by the hair and pushed his tongue deep into that smirking mouth.

And now, unbelievably, he was aching to go at it again.

Chris smiled slowly, saying nothing as he advanced, pressing Toby against the shower wall. The water from the spray coursed over his back and shoulders, trickling down his chest in a slow, constant stream that made Toby's mouth dry, made him want to drink from him. His long, hard body was so warm, felt so fucking good pressed flush against his own, that for a moment Toby did nothing else, he just stood there, feeling. Finally Chris closed the little space left between them, and Toby met the kiss hungrily, closing his eyes and reaching for Chris like the addict he already was; all grasping hands and greedy lips and thirsting, questing tongue. He pulled at Chris's hips, sealing their bodies together as he sipped the water from Chris's lips, his jaw, the length of his neck, the curve of his shoulder. He bent his head, touching his tongue to the hollow at the base of Chris's throat, smiling against the warm skin when Chris lifted his chin to give him room, smiling even wider when he felt the solid heat of Chris's cock press against his thigh.

And then Chris was stepping away, gripping Toby's shoulder and pushing him down. "Suck me," he whispered hotly.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Toby had desperately wanted to believe that the water could heal him, wash all his sins away. There was no way he could hold onto that particular fantasy, not anymore -­ his sins were right here in the shower with him, all sleek, wet skin and tight muscle, as addictive as dark wine on his tongue. He wondered briefly, as he sank to his knees on the wet tile floor, just when he had finally abandoned his delusions -- and if he should be worried by how quickly, and willingly, he'd tossed them aside.

Gazing up at Chris, feeling his body tighten in anticipation again, he couldn't find it in himself to care.

It was approaching midnight when he finally stepped out of the steamy shower, feeling a little dazed. Chris had left him alone to wash after their last extended round, and the combination of shower, sex, and stifling heat had left him weak and thick-limbed, his whole body trembling, bone melted to liquid beneath his flushed, overheated skin. Moaning softly, he wrapped a towel around his waist and made his way, tentatively, across the tile, half-expecting to simply dissolve into a thick, molten mess right here on the bathroom floor.

He knew this feeling. He had, in fact, been on intimate terms with it many times in his life. A system-wide monster of a hangover, out for his blood -- only this time, the drug of choice hadn't been a drink or a powder, but a dark-haired, single-minded sex machine with a steel rod in his dick.

Ohh, Christ. He just needed the bed. Where the fuck was the bed?

He moved into the bedroom, cool air hitting his system with the impact of a full-body slam. It stiffened his spine, drew a painful hiss from between his teeth, but it also helped clear the fog from his head. He walked around the fallen lamp, carefully avoiding the shattered bulb, and then glanced at the bed, feeling a little sick at the sight of it. Around him, the apartment was silent and dark. Chris must have gone, and that left him feeling slightly relieved (goodbyes were always so fucking awkward) but also a little disappointed, which caught him off-guard.

He didn't like being off-guard.

Beecher was honest enough with himself these days -- after four years of listening to Sister Pete -- to admit that this cycle of his was nothing new. He'd gotten exactly what he wanted last night, and now the established pattern of regret and self-flagellation could begin; he would hate himself, beat himself up over his bad behavior, and then seek forgiveness somehow. Sooner or later, the remorse would begin to confine him, threaten his natural selfishness, and he would go looking again. None of this surprised him anymore.

What did surprise him, right at this moment, was the unfamiliar feeling of premature loss -- as if he wasn't quite ready to hate himself yet. As if maybe he would just skip over the 'regret' part, just this one time, and get back to the 'feeling good' part. And that was a first.

Still, standing there amid the condom wrappers and broken glass, staring at the bed, he already knew last night had been different. Chris had been different. Raw, intense, undeniably dangerous, with a powerful current of hunger in him that a post-Oz, post-traumatic Toby could sense as keenly as a hunted animal senses his fate; it raised his hackles, made his nostrils flare. And of course, Toby thought, smiling wryly, it didn't hurt that Chris had been a fantastic fuck. The 'good' had been good, there was no denying it -- maybe better than it had ever been. Chris had met Toby's compulsive greed stroke for stroke, so to speak... met it, matched it, and surpassed it, every step of the way.

Even a masochistic, self-punishing bitch in a permanent hair shirt would lament letting that slip away.

Sighing, he raked his damp hair off his face with both hands, and closed his eyes. God, he needed a drink. It still hit him that way; not as powerful a craving as it had once been, not an anguished roar in his head, just a constant, hollow ache somewhere deeper inside. After Oz, it had been overwhelmingly tempting to go back to the booze, to slip back into that warm, comfortable dead zone where nothing touched him, nothing reached him, nothing mattered to him. He liked to tell himself that it was concern for Holly and Harry that kept him from giving in to it, but the truth was much simpler -- and much less noble -- than that. It was only the fear of returning to Oz that kept Toby on the wagon. Last night, when Chris had suggested they stop at a liquor store on the way to the apartment, Toby had chosen only a six-pack of bottled water, and he'd managed to keep himself to it all night-- despite how the bitter taste of cheap domestic beer had lingered on Chris's tongue, spicing his breath, making Toby want more. Of the beer, and of Chris.

Right now, though, the water would do.

He flipped on the overhead light as he walked in the kitchen, and nearly jumped out of his skin when a strong forearm wrapped across his throat from behind, drawing him hard against a solid chest. It only took three, heart-stopping seconds for his brain to realize that the man behind him was practically naked, smelling of Toby's own soap; three seconds in which to recognize the unique tattoo, and the long-fingered hands that had caught his attention last night. Only three seconds, and yet he was already ripping at the arm that confined him, kicking to get free.

"Toby," Chris said with a wicked laugh, "You really gotta learn to relax."

The arm loosened, and Toby pulled away, glaring at him. Jesus Christ. He was angry with Chris, angrier with himself. How long would it take before he stopped responding this way? Of all the adjustments he'd been forced to make since leaving Oz, this one was the hardest to conquer. In prison, fear was necessary. It made you strong, kept you alive. Out here, that kind of anxiety was extraneous. Out here, believing everyone you met was concealing a weapon, or wondering if someone had poisoned your food, did not make you wise -- it made you insane. And yet, you couldn't just stop feeling that kind of fear -- at least, not without pharmaceutical help -- and so you lived with it, slept with it, pretended it didn't exist, or else you drowned it in whatever socially acceptable kind of oblivion you were able to find. But it still lived inside you, unrestrained: the distrust, the suspicion, and of course, the fear.

"Stop fucking around," Toby shot back angrily.

Chris laughed again, sauntering over to the table, wearing nothing but a towel slung low on his hips, and dropped himself into one of the cheap kitchen chairs. Only then did Toby notice what Chris held in his left hand: his own, silver-monogrammed wallet, apparently filched from the jacket that hung on the chair.

He found that he wasn't shocked, not even surprised. In fact, his only reaction was no more than a slight double take, quickly suppressed. That he also experienced a rush of rather smug pleasure at the sight of Chris sprawled on the chair, stolen wallet or no, was totally understandable, after last night... but what did surprise him was Chris's response. Instead of concealing the evidence, or offering up some excuse, Chris simply met Toby's questioning look with a shameless smile, obviously undisturbed by the fact that he'd just been caught in flagrante delicto, the evidence still in his hands. And that, Toby thought, was intriguing; in fact, it was exactly how he himself might have reacted, had he still been in Oz.

He brushed past the table and opened the fridge, reaching for a bottle of water and then leaning back against the counter, gazing at Chris. "Make yourself at home," he said dryly.

"Shouldn't carry this much cash around," Chris said pleasantly, flipping through the wallet, inspecting the contents. "Never know who might be lurking around."

"Would you call that a warning, or just friendly advice?"

Chris laughed without looking up. He pulled out a small photo from one of the plastic sleeves, studying it for a moment. "She's not bad."

"Do you mind?" Toby reached over and yanked the picture from Chris's hand. It was a small candid shot, taken during a picnic in Central Park shortly after Toby had been released.

"That your wife?"

"I don't have a wife." And Christ, that still hurt, even now.

"Girlfriend? Sister?"

"What is it you're asking me, Chris? Want to know if I'm free to go steady?"

Chris laughed again, a genuine, honest-to-goodness gut-laugh that made Toby laugh, too. And that felt good. It felt strange, too, being here like this; sitting in this dim, dingy kitchen at midnight, staring at a stranger who'd just tried to rob him and probably would try again, if given the chance; a stranger who, only hours ago, had been grinding his hard, heated body against Toby's, hearing him moan from the pleasure of it, watching his face as he came. Again, it seemed less shocking than it should have been. Toby chalked it up to the odd disorientation he felt after spending a full day in bed, surfacing only once the world was pitch-black and silent. He felt freer than usual, insulated, as if everything outside this room -- including all of the rules -- had been somehow suspended in time.

Chris, however, seemed not to notice. He was flipping through the assortment of papers he'd removed from Toby's wallet, reading them, discarding them, dropping them onto the table. Spread out across the cracked white Formica were business cards, toll receipts, dry cleaning tickets; all generally meaningless remnants of life, yet Toby had the unshakable feeling that Chris was noting each tiny detail, adding all of it up. The kind of thing Toby himself used to do when he'd been trying to build a case against someone.

"Beecher and Sons, Attorneys at Law," Chris read aloud, and then tossed the embossed card at Toby. "Fuck, you're a lawyer?"

"I was." Toby tipped back the bottle and took a long drink. The water did nothing to wash away the bitter taste in his mouth. "I was disbarred."

"Yeah? How come?"

"Does it matter?"

Chris shrugged. "What was it, the prison thing? Bet they didn't like that, one of their own getting sent up."

"You know," Toby said thoughtfully, "I seem to be at a disadvantage here. You've got my whole life in your hands, and I don't know shit about you. Somehow it doesn't seem fair."

Chris's smile was smug. "Who said life was fair?"

"No one I ever knew," Toby admitted. "Still, I have had my dick in your ass..."

"And I had mine in yours."

" I think that entitles me to at least know your name."

"I told you my name."

"How do I know you were telling the truth?" Toby asked him.

"You always this suspicious?"

That made him laugh. "You did try to steal my wallet."

"Nah, I was just checking you out."

Toby didn't know if that made him feel better or worse. "I'm a lawyer," he said with a shrug. "Suspicion is second nature."

"You were a lawyer," Chris reminded him. "Now you're not."

"True enough. So, is Chris your real name?"

"Yup. See, Toby? I'm an open book."

"And do you make a habit of fucking men you don't know?"

"Do you?"

He had a point there. "Let's try again. Do you always spend your Friday nights in a dark alleyway fucking strange men?"

Chris smiled wickedly. "Not always men."

Oh. Ohhh. Toby made a mental note to come back to that one. "So why'd you choose me?"

"Jesus, you are a fucking lawyer. What am I, on trial?"

"Why'd you pick me?" Toby asked again, softly.

Chris met his gaze, and gave him a lazy, suggestive smile. " 'Cause you looked like you needed it."

"Ah. The old pity fuck, huh?"

"Yeah, I'm a regular fucking Samaritan." Chris tossed the wallet aside and leaned back in his chair. "So what about you, Toby?"

"What about me?"

"Do you make a habit of fucking strange guys in dark alleys?" Chris stretched his legs far out in front of him, looking relaxed and completely at ease -- and so good Toby's skin broke a sweat.

"Actually," Toby conceded, "the rain was a new one for me."

There was a pause, magnified by the silence. Chris watched him, eyes hooded, his expression unreadable now. Christ, he had an incredible mouth; Toby gazed at it, unable to help himself. He knew what it tasted like now, knew what it was capable of. He remembered the feel of it, hot-wet-slick-smooth on his skin. He remembered that tongue plunging deep in his own mouth, dipping into his navel, trailing over his cock. It had all just been so fucking good. What the hell were they talking about? Why were they talking at all?

A phone suddenly rang, shrill in Toby's ears. Chris gave him a mock-surprised, questioning look: "Kinda late for a courtesy call. You got a late date?"

Toby ignored that, reaching into his jacket for his cell. He glanced down at the display: it was Angus. If he knew Chris at all -- though he admitted he really didn't -- it would be futile to ask him for privacy.  Fuck it.

He cleared his throat before answering, knowing full well Chris noticed. "Hey. It's Tobias."

"Toby, I'm sorry to bother you this late."

"No problem," Toby told him. "What's up?"

"I just got a call from Mother. She had some bad news."

Cold. He'd gone cold. Oh, Christ, no, not again. Not fucking *again*. He jumped to his feet, began pacing. "What is it? The kids?"

"No, no, the kids are fine," Angus said quickly. "God, I'm sorry, it's nothing like that. They're both fine." Toby felt his lungs expand as he began to breathe again. "Adam Guenzel was just picked up for rape."

"Adam?" God, was it wrong to feel this much relief? "You're kidding me."

"Looks like he did it, too, the little fuck. They're holding him down at County until the hearing on Monday. Mother's in hysterics, of course."

"Of course."

"I told her you were already sleeping, but that we'd all head back to the house first thing in the morning."

"Fine," Toby said. "I'll be there. And, Angus, thanks." Thanks for lying for me. Thanks for covering my ass, figuratively speaking, so this guy beside me could do it literally.

Christ, I'm such a shit.

"Don't thank me, you'll owe me. You want me to pick you up on my way over there?"

Toby glanced at Chris, who was suddenly moving toward him, the towel slipping from his waist. He imagined how Angus would react if he came face to face with this man at seven A.M., rolling out of Toby's rumpled bed wearing only that dangerous smile. He choked on the image. "No, don't. I'll meet you at the house."

"Be there at eight," Angus warned. "Oh - and Toby? Whoever she is, tell her I'm sorry for interrupting. And give her a kiss for me."

"I'll do that," Toby laughed, quickly ending the call. He tossed the phone onto the table just as Chris's warm, naked body pressed him up to the wall, that hungry mouth closing roughly over his.

"You know," Chris whispered into his ear some time later, "you can tell a lot about somebody, just by keepin' your eyes open."

"Oh yeah?" Toby asked drowsily. He was drifting. The human body, he mused, is an amazing invention. There were so many things you could do with it.

They were back on the bed, side by side, though he wasn't exactly sure how they'd pulled that off, considering that only a short while before they'd both been collapsed on the kitchen linoleum. "And what is it you think that you've learned?"

"Oh, a lot."

"Enlighten me," Toby said, stifling a yawn.

"You don't live here."



Toby turned his head to face Chris. "What makes you so sure?"

"Well, to start, there's no fucking food in this place."

Toby laughed. "That doesn't mean I don't live here," he pointed out. "That only means I don't cook."

"No glasses, no plates, nothing in the fridge, not even a fucking bottle of ketchup."


"And the closet," Chris said, angling his head toward the door in the hall. "Empty."

Toby shrugged lightly, playing along. "Maybe I just moved in, and I haven't brought all my stuff over yet."

"Yeah, see, that might've been my first guess - except for the mail."

"What mail?"

"That crap they send to anyone with an address." Chris folded his arms under his head. "Mister Tobias Beecher," he recited, "23 Leroy, apartment 4-C." He turned his head to face Toby and smiled as if he'd just won something. "Some of that stuff on the counter is almost a month old. "

"I see." So he really had been spying. Again Toby wondered if that was better or worse than stealing -- and then silently cursed his years in Oz for making him so fucking jaded he couldn't decide.

"So, you know, that would rule out the theory that you're just house-sitting the place."

"Of course."

"But what clinches it," Chris continued in that same soft, casual voice, "is that." He pointed at the wall. Toby looked up, but it took him a minute to figure out what Chris was referring to. 

"What - that right there? It's just a phone jack."

"Yeah. Where's the phone?"

Toby laughed again. "So what do you glean from all this?"

Beside him, Chris shrugged and closed his eyes. "You're a fake."

"I'm a -- what?"

"Get real, Toby. You're a fucking fraud. I knew it the first time I saw you."


"Fuck, yeah. My guess?" He paused. "My guess is, you're a poor little rich boy, playin' pretend."

Toby felt his smile falter, just a little. "You don't even know me."

"I bet you've got another place," Chris went on, unperturbed. "Maybe some big fancy place uptown where you keep your real clothes, get your real mail. How am I doing so far? Is that right?"

"What it is," Toby said, his voice cold, "is none of your fucking business."

"You come here, you go out on the street, you do your best to fit in out there so you can get what you need without anyone knowing the truth..." Chris turned over in one fluid motion, pressing Toby down against the bed. "Slumming to get off, 'cause don't it make it so much better when you know you shouldn't?" He laughed, deep and dirty. "Now, maybe nobody's figured it out yet. Maybe they have. Or maybe you just keep them guessing, taking the pretty girl next door for a walk in the park to throw everyone off. But you come down here when nobody's looking, right?" He lowered his voice to a sexy whisper, almost crooning: "You can't stop yourself. You just can't help it." He leaned across Toby's chest, pinning him down on the mattress. "What is it you need, baby? What is it you just can't get at home?"

Toby angled his head away. "Get the fuck off me."

"Come on, you can tell me. I'm real good at keeping secrets."

"I don't have any secrets."

Chris was nuzzling him now, rubbing that hard body against him, but Toby held his ground, lying utterly still. "Come on, Toby," Chris purred. "What is it you need so fucking bad that you'd leave all of that behind for this?"

"You seem to think you've got it all figured out," Toby said tightly. "So why don't you tell me?"

Chris touched Toby's mouth, dragging one long, teasing finger over his bottom lip. "You're cute when you're pissed, you know that?"

"Yeah, okay." Toby sat up, pushing the hand away, but Chris's other arm was still locked around his waist, surprisingly strong. "Look, I'm tired," he lied, "and I think maybe it's time for you to go."

Chris smiled dangerously. "Do you?"

"Yeah. I fucking do."

"But what if I said I don't want to go?" Chris asked, eyes half-closed, a tiny smile on his lips. "What would you do? You gonna call the police?"

Toby felt a chill, and ignored it. "I'd say tough shit, and get the fuck out." He met Chris's gaze and smiled sweetly, adding: "But the wallet stays here."

Chris laughed aloud, and suddenly released him. He leaned back on one elbow, smiling harmlessly now; the air of menace was gone as suddenly as it had come, leaving Toby feeling like he stood in the wake of a storm. A wild, unpredictable storm. And Toby had always loved storms.

"I like you, Toby."

"I'm so relieved," Toby said sarcastically. "Jury's still out on you, I'm sorry to say."

"You really want me to go?" Suddenly Chris's hands were back on him, making it good again. Warm lips on his neck, fingers stroking his thigh, a strong hand circling his wrist and lifting it high over his head. And then, palm against palm on the pillow, holding him captive when he would have tried to pull away -- or maybe he wouldn't have. There was such heat; it burned.

"You're a fucking psycho," Toby muttered, already pulling Chris closer with his free hand. Chris was right, he couldn't help himself. The heat was so good; he wanted it, wanted to feel it, to own it, to drown in it, to feel it swallow him up, to feel it swallow up everything he didn't want to feel. Chris gave a low, victorious laugh and slid up, slid over, his teeth clamping onto Toby's lower lip, and Toby just tugged at him, pulling on him until they were again chest to chest, until he felt that already-familiar tongue parting his lips, and then slide forcefully between them.

"You want me to go?" Chris growled between searing, deep-throated kisses. "Tell me, Toby. You want me to go?"

And since Toby himself was no longer sure of the answer, he simply said nothing at all.

He was dreaming again.

Hot. So hot inside the car. Like the air isn’t actually air at all; it’s just pure fluid heat, flowing over him in rolling waves. He dips and bobs in the tide, squinting through his own sweat as he grips the wheel to keep from sliding off into -- into whatever it is that’s out there, beyond what his blurred, narrowed vision can see. His mouth is sour, metallic with nausea, saliva pooling beneath his tongue as he wipes his face on his sleeve and closes his eyes just to offset the vertigo -- and then he lifts his head again, one tiny second too late.

Oh, fuck, oh, holy FUCK.... he slams the brake down to the floor with both feet, tires shrieking as the front wheels instantly lock. The seatbelt sucks the air out of his gut, and straight through the windshield he glimpses bright, childish braids and a pair of terrified eyes just before... before... oh god oh please oh nothing I can do ohh noooo.... a godawful *thud*, just one, and then total silence.

His heart stops. He feels it stop, feels it short out and shut down as the bleeding girl covers his windshield, blankets his vision, encompasses his entire world. Everything narrowed down to this. To her. Sometimes she changes, morphs into Gen, into Gary or Andy or Hank -- take your pick, Tobias, they all seem to say.  There’s so very many to choose from.

And then there’s nothing at all.

But this time it doesn’t end there. This time it continues like a bad movie; fading out, then immediately fading back in. He’s back in Oz -- no, oh no, no -- back in Sister Pete’s office, and Hank Schillinger has just been released. A familiar scene, playing out much the same way it had in real life, at least at first: Toby jumps up, throws open the door and pounces on Vern, howling with all the breath he can tear from his lungs. The desire to kill is so powerful -- he can see that mottled neck under his hands, can imagine skin tearing, bone splintering, life giving way beneath his clawed, greedy fingers.

And then, with a jolt, he’s awake. Isn’t he? He can’t breathe; his heart is clanging inside his chest and is he awake, or still trapped in the dream? His eyes are open but he can’t see a thing, it’s so dark and maybe he’s dead but he’s still so hot -- only now the heat is a thick, solid thing, like a wall of bricks warmed by the sun. His fingers are scrabbling against it, trying to get a hold on it, and something -- some kind of animal, maybe, something is growling at him, but he isn’t afraid anymore, because somewhere off in the distance, somewhere behind that warm, solid wall, someone is telling him he can relax, he’s okay, he’s all right, and God, it feels so good just to lean on that heat, just to rest his head against it and close his eyes and let the darkness take him.

The next time he opened his eyes, he knew for sure he was really awake.

He was also alone.


The week had begun dipped in shit, and was getting progressively worse.

He’d spent Sunday at the house in Carnegie Hill (he refused to think of his parents’ place as his, even if he didn’t have anyplace else to call home at the moment), sifting through what little information they’d managed to get regarding Adam’s arrest. Already, it didn’t look good. Adam and his friend Winthrop had been drinking too much, partying too hard, and Jessica Chilton had paid the price. The son of a bitch had all but confessed to rape and battery when Angus finally spoke with him Monday morning, claiming that “the bitch deserved it” after leading the two of them on all night long. He’d gone on to make a public spectacle of himself at his initial appearance, shouting belligerently at the prosecutor when he heard the list of charges against him. Angus had practically had to gag him with his tie just to keep him from being convicted right then and there.

Meanwhile, Olivia Guenzel was calling the Beechers six times a day, begging them to get her grandson out of jail. For the first time since his own conviction, Toby felt almost grateful that he was unable to take any cases to court.

Poor Angus. Toby had little experience with criminal law himself – other than his own trial, of course -- but he knew this case was a no-win. Adam was going down hard. The prosecutor wasn’t even willing to deal, he was so sure they’d get a conviction. And Adam was about as prepared for hard time as Toby himself had been.

Which meant the boy was fucked. In every possible way.

Toby had spent Tuesday in conferences, dodging the curious, resentful glances his colleagues still sent his way from time to time, then hiding out in his large, corner office, the one that reeked of nepotism and parental guilt. Pushing papers from inbox to outbox, studying case law, drafting briefs, pretending not to notice the way the other attorneys always seemed to pause as they walked by his door, as if he still lived in a cage with glass walls. Tuesday night, he did his weekly automated parole check-in, using numbers on the phone keypad to solemnly swear that yes, he was in town at his registered address; yes, he was attending rehab; yes, he was working, and no, he hadn’t committed any parole violations. Press one for yes, ten consecutive times, then recite his name so the bloodless recorder at the other end of the line could compare his voice with their files. And then, free for another week, to run amok as he chose.

Such was his life.

On Wednesday, he had been forced to face another crisis, this one even closer to home. Holly and Harry were returning to school. He'd been spending as much time as he could with them while they’d been on summer break, doing his best to mend broken seams and restore some sense of balance to their shattered lives. But he knew -- even before his family had descended upon him en masse to tell him so -- that it was not in the kids' best interest to move back in with him yet. It was simply too soon. After all they’d been through, Toby just couldn’t justify tearing them from the life they’d grown comfortable with, their school and the friends they had there – nor could he provide them with the kind of stability his in-laws could offer right now.

Besides, on the rare occasions when he was completely honest with himself, he could admit that he wasn’t in any condition to raise those kids. Not now, not while he was still sifting through the smoldering wreckage that was his own life.

So even before his in-laws had gently approached him, Toby had already decided that at least for now, it would be best for the kids to return to Long Island with them, which meant he would be lucky to see them a couple of nights a week and on Sundays. But the instinct to grab them and run, to just disappear somewhere where parole officers and criminal courts and even well-meaning family members could never find them, was keeping him in a constant, buzzing state of high-level anxiety.

By Thursday afternoon, he had a shrieking bitch of a headache, his jaw ached from clenching his teeth, and he silently swore that if Helen buzzed him one more fucking time he would bust the intercom to pieces with his bare hand.

Stop. Breathe. Relax. Christ, he needed a drink. Not an option.

He checked the calendar on his desk. Katherine was still upstate, working on Cyril’s appeal. No help there.

Something else, then. Something mindless and heartless and maybe even...painful. Just something to make all this shit seem -- a little less shitty. Something like...

No, you do not want to go there, Tobias.

But the thought, once it had found its way in, was difficult to put aside. He’d been specifically not thinking about it for days... about how insane the weekend had been, about Chris’s body spread out in front of him like some kind of personal feast. Merely thinking about it made his dick hard, put all kinds of vivid images in his head.

It was crazy. And, he reminded himself, it was over.


No, cut it out.

Even if he knew where to find him, which he didn’t... Christ, he’d never even learned his last name. Had never even thought to ask for it. So again, not an option. No. Something else.

Pulling on his trench coat, he snapped his laptop shut, grabbed his keys and headed into the outer office. Helen smiled warmly at him as he walked up to her desk. She was pretty and blonde, with a fresh, natural face and a habit of staring at Toby's mouth whenever he spoke. He'd dreamed of her once, and woke up feeling dirty and depraved.

Not that that was a new feeling, but... still.

“Leaving so soon?” she chirped.

“I’m heading down to the gym,” Toby said. “If anything comes up, you can reach me on the cell.”

“Sure thing, boss.” God, she made him feel old. When did he get so old? “You look thin, Mister Beecher. Are you eating right? Getting enough sleep?”

He might have laughed, if it wasn’t so sad. “It’s been a rough couple days.”

She nodded sympathetically. “A workout will do you good.”

Toby tried for a smile, managed only a half-hearted grimace, and hoped she wouldn't take it personally.

He headed down the carpeted hall that led to the elevators, passing rows of identical mahogany desks where secretaries clacked on keyboards and paralegals with pencils shoved behind their ears studied law books and took frenzied notes. At the end of the hallway, he turned the corner -- and stopped, dead in his tracks.

Because really, there was no way he was actually seeing what he was seeing. There was no fucking reason why...

...Chris would actually *be here. In this office. Not ten feet away. Half-leaning across the desk of a dark-haired female intern whose name Toby had never bothered to learn.

And yet, he was. And he was laughing. And flirting. And tipping the flustered girl's chin up, to smile teasingly into her eyes. Dressed in his leather jacket and jeans and heavy black boots, looking almost as good as he had without any clothes on at all. Toby's gaze flicked to the girl. She looked dazed. He felt sorry for her.

He felt a shitload more than that, too. He was actually starting to sweat.

Chris's gaze slipped away from the girl, scanning the room. Toby was torn between the overwhelming desire to run, and the equally intense desire to -- well, "attack" might be a bit strong.

But, fuck. It'd been such a bad week...

And then Chris was looking right at him, head-on. Rising to his feet, making it clear with little more than a smirk and a hitch of an eyebrow that he'd just found what he'd come for. And that was all it took.

Without thinking twice, Toby met that gaze with a smile of his own and turned around, heading back to his office without looking back to see if Chris would follow. Because he already knew.

He met Helen's questioning look with an utterly fake sigh of frustration. "Something came up," he told her, and at least that much was the truth. "A last-minute meeting with a new client. He'll be along soon." He shrugged his coat from his shoulders, loosening the tie at his throat as he headed back into his office. "Send him in, and then hold my calls."

"Nice place."

There were questions a saner person might ask. Things like, how did you find me? And, what the fuck are you doing here? There were questions he might ask himself, too.

But he wasn’t asking.

Instead, he was flipping the lock on the door, drawing the blinds on the windows, leaning back against the wall to watch Chris peel off his jacket and toss it onto a chair. Christ, he looked good. Like -- heat. And distraction. Forgetfulness, maybe. Mind-blowing, addictive sex.

Toby moved closer, had to. He knew he shouldn’t, knew this was not supposed to be happening. It went against the game plan, what little of one that he had, anyway -- the unspoken rule that states, this life is this life, and that one is something entirely different, and never the two should be allowed to meet.

He knew, he fucking knew it made no sense at all. Knew he could never explain to anyone how he had become a foreigner in his own life. In Oz, he’d been stripped of his freedom, confined, and then forced to learn a whole new set of rules. Some, like when to eat, sleep and piss, had come from the system itself; others he’d had to learn on his own, just to stay alive. After his release, he had wanted so badly to pick up where he had left off, to put Prisoner 97B412 behind him for good, but all his attempts had been met with disaster. He didn’t know how to play by the old rules anymore, and there were so many of them. At times, he felt more confined now, on the outside, than he ever had in prison. And at other times, he actually missed being told what to do. Because at least then, he would know.

But now, Chris was here. An irresistible distraction, standing in the Beechers’ Fifth Avenue office on a Thursday afternoon, all but daring Toby to forget about rules for a while. And Toby had been thinking about him, too much. Way too much.

Chris was prowling the room. Touching things, inspecting things; marking his territory, it seemed, and that was -- hot, in some inexplicable way. Toby watched those fingers move across the surface of his desk, over his files, his phone, trailing over the back of his large leather chair. He remembered those fingers. He'd remembered them dozens of times in the past five days. He had fucked his own hand, remembering them.


"That your secretary out there?" Chris asked.

"Mm-hmm." Toby took off his suit jacket, tossing it aside carelessly as he moved toward the desk. Toward Chris.

"She's cute. She like to fool around?"

"Chris, she's like eighteen years old."

A slow grin. "That don't matter."

They were... circling each other. There was no other way to describe it.

Chris gestured at the diplomas displayed on the wall. "Thought you weren't a lawyer anymore."

"Mmm, I'm not. I think they just keep me around for shock value.” He smiled, shrugged. “Or maybe some kind of affirmative action for ex-cons."

Chris glanced at him curiously. “So what the fuck do you do?” 


God, he did not want to talk. He did not want to understand this, did not want to explain anything or listen to Chris make excuses for showing up here. He did not want to think about how completely fucked-up it was, or how the hell he would explain it to himself afterwards.

Right now, he wanted... other things.

Like -- that mouth.

And enough was enough. He moved across the room with a purpose, coming up behind Chris, and finally, Chris turned to face him. His expression was cool, his eyes unreadable. The pale gray shirt he was wearing seemed to be sculpted right on to his skin, but it covered too much.

"Take this off."

Chris smiled, wolfish. "What, you don't even ask why I'm here?"

"I know why you're here. Take it off."

"You do it." His low, sultry voice held a challenge.

Toby stepped closer. They were touching now, finally, and that was good. But there were still layers of clothes in between them. Not good at all. He met Chris's gaze with a challenging smile of his own, lifting the shirt and tugging it over Chris's head. Better. Brushing his hands across that bare skin, feeling muscles jerk lightly beneath his fingers. Mmm, better still.

He closed the distance between them with one arm around Chris’s waist, pressing his lips to that mouth, flicking his tongue against it, groaning a little when Chris slid one hand into his hair and held him there, kissing him back.

And then Toby just -- fell on him, unable to stop himself. Taking him by the hips, pushing him backwards into the chair and then crawling right on top of him. He cut Chris’s amused laugh short with a rough kiss, wanting his hands everywhere at once. It was better than he remembered; hotter. The heat seemed to seep through their clothes, all the layers of them, right into Toby's own skin. He felt desperate to search for its source -- like a fucking explorer, he thought wildly, and it didn't matter that it sounded crazy. It didn't matter at all.

Straddling the seat, he gripped Chris's neck with one hand and popped his fly with the other, digging into those jeans until his fingertips grazed velvet-soft skin. Chris hissed into his mouth, bucking his hips, and oh, that was good. But it wasn’t enough. He reached deeper, burrowing, taking the full length of Chris's cock into his hand, tugging it free of his clothes. Slick-smooth skin over a hot core, and already so hard -- like Chris had been doing some remembering of his own.

Toby kneeled over him, stroking him, his fingers brushing against his own groin as he moved, sharp little shocks that seemed to sizzle across his skin, and then travel deeper. But it still wasn’t enough, he had to have more. He managed to unzip his trousers despite his trembling hands, but cursed silently when he found he couldn’t do much more than that, straddling Chris the way he was.

And he really needed to get his fucking pants off. Right fucking now

Chris was grunting a little, thrusting up into his hand, and that – oh, that was really good. So good that nothing short of a goddamned earthquake was getting Toby off Chris's lap.

Except, maybe, the buzz of the intercom.


He slid clumsily off the chair, banging his hip on the side of the desk as he went, and reached for the button with unsteady fingers. "Yes?"

"Your brother is here, Mister Beecher," Helen's speaker-voice said. "Shall I tell him you're in consultation?"

*Shit.* And: *Ow.*

Chris was laughing, the fuck, sprawled in the chair naked from the waist up, jeans undone, hands folded behind his head -- looking like the kind of 'consultation' that landed grown men in jail.  Or back in jail, as the case may be.

"Yeah, do that," Toby said to Helen, trying really, really hard to sound normal. And failing. "I'll come up when I'm done here. Tell him to give me a half-hour or so."

"Yes, sir, Mister Beecher.”

And now he felt fucking ridiculous. Standing in front of Chris with his pants dangling open, his shirt half-unbuttoned, his tie hanging loose around his neck -- and his brother just outside the office, no doubt wondering about this mysterious client who made Toby shut blinds and lock doors.

Jesus Christ. Can't a guy get laid in his own office?

Chris looked amused. "Maybe you ought to let him come in."

"Why? You want to fuck him, too?"

That earned him a smirk. "Bad day, baby?"

"I've had better.”

“I told you,” Chris said softly. “You gotta learn to relax.”

“You know, if he uses his key, I'm so fucked --"

Chris moved quickly, like a snake attacking. Up on his feet, pressing Toby back against the desk. "Then you’re fucked either way, aren’t you, Beecher?"

Oh. God. He felt skewered, speared by that hot stare.


That was all he got out before he was being pushed down across the top of the desk. Barely enough time to kick off his shoes before Chris was tugging at his pants, pushing his legs apart, leaning over him. On him. His mouth on Toby’s mouth, kissing him so hard it was almost painful, grinding his hips in a teasing, rhythmic motion that made Toby arch up blindly, seeking contact.

It was just like the dream -- bare skin and muscle and a wall of thick, solid heat. And Jesus, Chris was so hard -- hard everywhere, and all at once, and yeah, it was good to let go, just a little, to have the choice taken out of his hands.  He chose not to think about why.

Chris's mouth traveled over his jaw, flicking at his ear. "Touch me."

He obeyed without thinking, without even needing to. Heard Chris make a deep, satisfied sound, and pumped him in his fist just to hear it again.

"Ahh, Toby, yeah --"

Yeah. Christ, his own cock was so hard it was pulsing between them, and if he jerked his hips, just a little... ohhh. He clenched his hand, heard Chris suck in his breath, and fuck yes, it was good, really good, to know he could make Chris go a little crazy too – especially since Toby was this close to coming without Chris having touched him at all.

"You got something?" Chris asked him, impatiently.

"Middle drawer." Toby watched as Chris leaned over, found what he was looking for, and then stood up again. "But what if I'd said no?"

Chris shrugged, ripping the foil with his teeth. "I'd improvise."

Ohh. “Maybe next time...”

Chris stood over him, rolling on the condom, swaying a little. Squirting the lube on his hand, and then stroking himself. Toby raised himself up on his elbows to watch, and Chris smirked at him again. "Been thinking about me, baby?"

You bet your ass I have. Now come on, let’s fuck.

Oh, God, it's official, Toby thought silently. I'm a slut. And I don’t even care.

And he didn’t, not with Chris coming at him like the front of a storm, pushing him back down onto the desk and dragging his ass to the edge. Warm fingers brushed over his chest, his stomach, trailing down to stroke the damp tip of his cock, feathering over his skin so lightly he thought he might be imagining it, as desperate as he was. He gritted his teeth. Chris was hovering inches above him, just close enough to feel the heat of him and nothing else.

"Chris." It came out like a snarl. "Do it, for chrissake."

A pause, and then a low whisper, directly into Toby’s ear: “You giving me an order?”

And then a breathless rush of motion as Toby was suddenly hauled up, spun around, flung face-down back on top of the desk, all before his muddled brain could even make sense of what Chris had said. His chin hit the desk as Chris caught his arms and trapped them behind his back, and he gasped, open-mouthed, when Chris slapped him -- a single, rapid-fire sting to the sensitive, tattooed skin of his ass, hard enough to make his body jerk forward in surprise.

“Shit! Chris -- ”

That voice in his ear again. Hushed, dangerous: “Because, see, you don’t get to give me orders.”

He wasn’t afraid. Not really -- fear was everywhere now, in everything, and besides, there was nothing Chris could do to him that would be worse than the hell-spawned nightmares he’d already lived through. But this -- this was nothing like that. Okay, fuck, maybe it was, but God, it felt good... a tingling heat that spread over his flushed skin, making him aware of nerve endings he’d never known he had.

He felt something soft and cool slipping around his wrists – oh, man, his tie -- the tug of a knot, and then Chris’s warm, half-naked body, lying flush against his back.

“Chris – “ He couldn’t help moaning. Chris’s hands were on his hips, holding him still. He couldn’t move, not at all, and Chris was pressing against him now, probing him. Pushing into him --

He closed his eyes. “Oh, God...”

“Is this what you want, Toby?” Chris asked roughly. “Like this?”

Toby moaned again. So hard, and so HOT, and so -- inside him now, so deep inside he must be buried right up to his balls. Sliding in and out in one long, continuous heat-stroke that rocked Toby back and forth across the top of the desk, those hands like a hot-iron vise on his hips, bruising him. His cock pulsed and throbbed and Christ, he just needed to get to it somehow, knew he could come right away if he did -- but he couldn't reach, couldn't touch, couldn't do a single thing except hang there, right on that fucking edge. Forced to wait, and to take, but only what Chris decided to give him. And Chris wasn't touching him anywhere else.

"Chris--"  Faster now, helpless, fucking the air as if that could ease the ache of his hard-on somehow, though he already knew it was useless. He pressed his forehead to the cool desktop, coming down hard on his chest each time Chris rammed into him, the edge of the desk like a dull knife to his abdomen as Chris moved faster, thrusting into him mercilessly. Files scattered and something crashed down to the floor and Toby almost laughed because it was so fucking out of control, and oh, god, yeah, oh, fuck, yeah, that was just how he wanted it, just like that, and he was going to go out of his fucking mind any minute if he didn’t – if he couldn’t –

He groaned again, loudly, begging and not even caring: "Fuck, Chris, just -- please -- "

Chris released his hips. Strong arms snaked around his waist, he felt Chris’s teeth on the back of his neck, and -- ohh, God, *finally* -- that warm hand, reaching for him. Taking him. Tightening, pulling, squeezing, and Toby jerked forward like a bronco rider, thrusting desperately into that warm, sweat-slick hand, clenching his muscles around Chris’s cock at the same time, just to feel the burn. And it was so good, so fucking good, it was crazy how good it was – it was --

"Yeah, come on -- fuck, Toby, you’re so --"

--- it was like being rewarded and punished, all at the same time. And that was so close to being exactly what Toby had been looking for all along, so close to finally being enough, that he came, in a shuddering rush, right into Chris’s hand, biting down on his own lip just to keep from shouting out loud as his body twitched and quivered.

He barely registered Chris’s orgasm, seconds later. He just lay there, panting against the glossy desktop, moaning softly, shaking in reaction.

Holy shit.

Finally, Chris sagged against him. "Fuck..."

They were trembling, both of them; sealed together by sweat. The room seemed so quiet all of a sudden, Toby had to wonder how loud they'd actually been.

"Chris-- "

He didn’t even know what he wanted to say. Something meaningless, maybe, just to cut the tension, to take some of the intensity away. But nothing came, nothing but a small, strangled noise that sounded suspiciously like a plea. He had no idea what he was asking for.

Closing his eyes, he heard Chris curse again, softly; felt the tie being removed from his wrists. And even before Chris moved off him, even before he opened his eyes again, he knew he’d be making some drastic revisions to the game plan. Some amendments, so to speak. Because he was already trying to figure out when they could do this again.


The buzz in his brain was receding, and reality was an ugly, ugly thing.

Reality was Toby sprawled across his desk, face-down in his own drool, his heated skin rapidly cooling. Reality was papers strewn everywhere, coffee all over the Landerman brief, the sickening splat of a used condom being dropped into the wastepaper basket. Reality was suddenly feeling so cold even while his ass burned, his hip throbbed, and his stomach felt bruised by the edge of the desk.

And reality was somewhere behind him -- in the form of a half-naked man with Toby's come on his hand.

"Hey, Beecher." Chris leaned over him from behind, whispering into his ear. "I hope you've been tipping your cleaning lady."

"Christ." Toby laughed ruefully, and rubbed at his eyes with one hand.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, stifling a groan at the sight of the splattered rug, and bent down to retrieve his pants. Keeping his back to Chris, he zipped up, buttoned his wrinkled shirt; keeping busy, stalling for time. Fucking up, he admitted silently, was one thing; he was an old hand at that, after all. But dealing with it?  Not such a pro. He searched the room for something safe to latch onto, something to ease the trembling in his hands, and his gaze fell on the handful of photos displayed in expensive frames on the bookshelf against the wall.

He felt the bile rise in his throat. Tasted it. Disgust and self-loathing and --

"Toby. Turn around."

Common sense warring with other, more primitive instincts, he turned -- and felt his mouth go dry. Chris was -- Christ, he was licking his fingers, sucking on them, that intense gaze fixed on Toby, unwavering. And Toby watched, gaping, frozen in place, fascinated in spite of himself as those long fingers disappeared into that mouth and then slowly, slowly, surfaced again. Chris's tongue darted out to sweep over his lips -- once, twice -- before he grinned wetly at Toby and dropped his hand to his side.

"This is fucking crazy," Toby muttered, just moments before that wet mouth covered his. A slick, salty kiss that tasted like both of them, and not surprisingly, common sense took the fall.

Because really, Toby mused as he pulled Chris closer, regrets and good intentions had nothing on this.

It was like drinking, in a way; falling into a kiss he knew he shouldn't want, feeling that same mix of euphoric lust and resentment he used to feel staring into a shot glass, knowing he shouldn't say yes and yet couldn't say no. And maybe it was a lingering high from the weekend they'd spent, or the memory of the storm that had exploded around them, awakening some primitive response in his body and brain... or maybe it was even simpler than that. Just something about this particular guy, this guy who kissed rough and fucked hard and carried a dark, tortured god on his arm and somehow made Toby feel like he'd been -- liberated in some inexplicable way, set free to do anything he wanted, consequences be damned.

And God, he thought wildly, he did want this. This stamp of possession, this claiming of turf, this back-and-forth battle to see who would come out on top in the end, knowing all the while that there was just as much pleasure to be gained whichever way it wound up.

By the time the kiss ended, Toby was gripping Chris's waist, his lungs aching for air.  "Jesus," he breathed.

No stranger to addiction, Toby couldn't help but recognize the signs. Only the substances changed; alcohol, heroin, even the sleeping pills he sometimes took to kill the dreams. Depressants, all of them, making him feel even worse, when what he'd really been trying to do was feel nothing. And this, this was hardly different, just another kind of high; the opposite kind, like pure speed in his bloodstream. Like cocaine, maybe, though so far he'd managed to avoid falling down that particular rabbit hole... or maybe something even more fucked up than that, like the PCP O'Reily had given him once, the magic dust that had sent him into a tailspin of temporary insanity.

In any case, he knew the routine. The blinding glory of the binge, followed by the deep bellyache of regret and that unique self-hatred that came from proving to himself, yet again, just how weak he truly was.

And it had already begun.

Chris's mouth drifted down to his neck, tonguing the skin there, and Toby sighed raggedly. "You know we can't do this again."

A soft chuckle. "Is that right?"

"No -- I mean, not here."

"Aww, what's the matter, Beecher?" Chris sounded amused. "Scared you'll get docked for fucking on company time?" His voice was a whisper now, murmured against Toby's ear. "Or maybe you're scared they'll all know how much you wanted it. How you begged me to do it to you..."

Toby shivered. "Yeah, something like that."

But it wasn't fear. Fear was a familiar companion, one he'd grown used to. This... this was way out of his league. Underneath every word that Chris spoke, every moment they spent together, Toby could feel the faint rumblings of something he didn't quite understand, propelling them on.

That thought made him so uneasy, he pushed Chris away. "I really do have to go."

"So go." But Chris only pressed closer, brushing Toby's mouth with his own.

Like it was some kind of a game, Toby thought, only he had no idea how to play. Or how to win. And if his reaction to Chris made little sense, Chris's to him was a complete mystery; Toby had been too busy salivating to really consider why Chris had shown up here. The sex, yeah, the sex was incredible -- but Toby had no doubt that sex with Chris was incredible no matter who was on the... other end, so to speak. And he knew damn well, with just the little evidence he'd managed to gather so far, that Chris didn't need to visit the office of Beecher and Sons to get himself off.

He gave up trying to get loose for the moment, and craned his head back to gaze at Chris curiously. "Why did you come here?"

Chris merely cocked an eyebrow and smirked, as if that alone was an answer. 

Toby supposed it was.

He tried again, though.  "What I mean is -- why here? Why me?"

Something flashed briefly across Chris's face, a fleeting expression that Toby didn't have time to decipher before it was gone again, replaced by that cool, practiced smile. "You know you wanted it," Chris said. "Don't even try to tell me you didn't."

Toby snorted. "So this was all for me?"

In a smooth, sudden motion, Chris grasped Toby by the back of the neck, pulling him close.  "You fascinate me, Beecher. You know that? You got a nice life, a couple of sweet-looking kids... what the fuck is a guy like you doing out cruising the streets?"

The expression was back, Toby realized, and it was fierce and possessive and far too intense. He pushed at Chris's arm, and found it surprisingly strong. Unmovable, even. "Look, I said I have to go."

" 'Cause if it was just about fucking," Chris went on, as if Toby hadn't spoken, "there's gotta be a nice piece of ass or two in the country club, right? Maybe a waiter who'll suck you off in the bathroom at Tavern on the Green..."

"Shut the fuck up," Toby said tightly.

"But no, not this guy." Chris gave a short laugh. "Not Tobias-fucking-Beecher. He shells out a few hundred bucks every month for a lousy walkup downtown, don't even bother to furnish the place, and then splits himself in half trying to keep one life from crashing into the other. And I just gotta wonder, Toby..." He paused, and their eyes locked. "What the fuck is a guy like that looking for?"

"Why should you care?"

"That..." Chris pointed one finger at Toby, the cool smile slowly returning. " a good fucking question."

"So what's the answer?"

Chris didn't reply.

They stared at each other in silence. Toby didn't move, barely blinked. He could hear the clock on the wall, the faint, inexorable rhythm that measured the seconds as they flew by, and he wondered -- for what seemed like the hundredth time since the night he'd met Chris -- just what the fuck he was doing. They were in his office, for Christ's sake; there were dozens of people right outside that door. There was Katherine, due back any time; there was Toby's father in his office just up the stairs. Fuck, there were pictures of his kids in here. All-too-innocent eyes, silently watching as Daddy got tossed on the desk and took it up the ass from a stranger with warm hands and dangerous eyes.

Oh, God. This was more than a binge. This was a fucking overdose. And he knew he was going to pay.

The sudden buzz of the intercom caught him off-guard, startling them both. The harsh sound seemed magnified in the silent room, defusing the tension that had been rapidly building between them.

"Look, Chris," he began -- but he had no idea what he wanted to say.

Chris released him abruptly. "Better not keep the pretty lady waiting."

Toby sighed, slowly, as the buzzer sounded again. He reached for the intercom and pressed the button. Yes, he told Helen, everything was fine. Just fine. Be there in two.

He reached for his jacket and tie, and set about putting himself back together again. Straightened his clothes, slipped on his shoes, swept a hand over his hair. Behind him, he heard Chris shrugging on his leather jacket, preparing to leave.

Once again, reality was calling. Closing in. Tightening, like invisible chains.

Tobias Beecher, this is your fucking life.

They walked out of the office together, in silence. Toby watched Chris surreptitiously, amazed at how he managed to look so composed. He was a little envious, actually; especially since he was sure that everyone who saw them would suspect --

What? That he'd just been thoroughly and completely fucked, right on top of his desk? In the middle of the day? By someone he barely knew?

It was hard not to laugh aloud at himself, but he made the effort. Bad enough they all thought he was crazy, without providing cold proof.

As they entered the outer office, Toby saw Angus waiting for him, and he took a deep breath.  Best defense, and all that.  "Hey," he said to Angus. "Something wrong?"

Angus shook his head. "I figured I'd save you the trip upstairs."  He turned to Chris, smiling politely. "Hello."

It was one of those moments, Toby realized in a sudden, jarring flash of clarity, from which nightmares and horror movies are born. Parallel universes, never meant to collide... He could only wonder, with a kind of sick fascination, what the repercussions would be.

"Chris," he said, his voice tight, "this is my brother, Angus. He handles criminal cases for the firm. Angus, this is Chris --" He stopped short.

"Keller," Chris supplied easily.

"You're a friend of Toby's?" Angus asked.

"You could say -- "

"We met recently," Toby interrupted, sending Chris a warning look. "In the gym."

"Right. The gym." Chris grinned, and slung a friendly arm around Toby's neck. "I'm teaching Toby here to wrestle." The look he sent Angus was lecherous.

Oh, Jesus Christ.

"Wrestling?" Angus turned to Toby, surprised. "Really?"

"And he was just leaving," Toby muttered, shrugging Chris's arm off and pushing him toward the hallway. "Take care, Chris."

He knew he was a coward -- that particular lesson had not been wasted on him in Oz -- but right now, he couldn't care less. All he wanted, more than anything else, was for this little scene to be over. Just, done. To somehow fast-forward right through it, so he could retreat into his safe little life and pretend that all this had never happened at all. But he well knew, things were never that fucking simple.

Chris turned to him, and smiled slowly. Intimately. "I'll see you, Toby," he said, and walked away without once looking back.

Toby stood there, watching him go, and found himself wondering if Chris's words were meant as a promise or a threat.

"So I didn't know you'd taken up wrestling."

Toby glanced at Angus sharply, then forced himself to relax. Innocent curiosity and nothing more, he thought, and shrugged without replying.

"Look, Toby." Angus shifted uncomfortably. "If you ever want to talk -- you know, about what went on in there..."

Toby shook his head. "I'm fine."

"I just want you to know --"

"Don't.  I'm fine."

"Just let me say this, okay?" Angus cleared his throat, but held Toby's gaze steadily. "I know Mother and Dad want to push everything under the carpet, pretend none of it ever happened. But I've put a lot of guys into prison, and I've met with hundreds more who've done time. I know what goes on in there, Toby." He paused, and his voice softened. "I know that you aren't the same person you were when you went in. It can be hard, adjusting to the outside. It takes time."

"I know."

"I just want you to know that I'm here for you, okay? You're my brother. If you need me, I'm here."

Toby watched him for a moment. It would be easy, he admitted, to resent Angus now. The real fair-haired boy; the one who hadn't fucked up his life. But Toby knew full well the kind of expectations that went along with that role, the weight of that responsibility; hell, he himself hadn't been able to handle it. Not sober, at least. For the first time, he found himself wondering what life had been like for Angus during Toby's five years in Oz -- and realized it couldn't have been easy.  Prison came in many forms.

Finally, he nodded.  "Thank you," he said softly, and meant it. "I appreciate that. Really. But honestly, Angus, I'm fine. Now, tell me what's going on with Adam Guenzel."

They spent the afternoon discussing the strategy for Adam's defense. At nearly eight Toby stood and stretched his legs, gently refusing Angus's offer of a home-cooked meal at his place by claiming that he had some files he planned to bring home, work he needed to do. Angus watched him closely, but didn't argue. They rode together on the elevator, then Toby waved him goodbye and headed toward his own office.

Grabbing up a pen and a Post-it from Helen's desk, he quickly scribbled her a brief note, asking her to send a dozen roses to Katherine first thing in the morning.  Red ones, he thought.  The color of his guilt.

He spent the rest of the evening doing self-prescribed penance, scrubbing his office until it shone -- as if by doing so, he could somehow clean up the mess he had made of his life.



He was good, so good, for nearly two weeks. During that time he made an attempt to put unacceptable thoughts in their place, to let himself be assimilated back into his real life. He went to work every day, called the kids every night, spent quality time with his parents. He went to bed early. Twice he had dinner with Angus, even joining him and his wife at a charity benefit and braving the censorious stares of people who'd once welcomed him into their homes, people who now knew he'd spent the last five years in Oz and undoubtedly kept their imaginations working overtime with thoughts of what he'd been forced to endure. At the office, he submerged himself in his work, attacking pending cases with a zeal that, though forced, left him with little time to dwell on the aching dissatisfaction that continued to plague him.

But no matter how busy he stayed, no matter how exhausted he was when he climbed into bed, he still felt the weight of his life like thick chains, shackling him. Strangling him.

And he still had no idea what the fuck to do about it.

There were no more impromptu office parties. He heard nothing from Chris, and part of him was relieved; living two lives was difficult enough without having to face them both down in the same fucking room. But knowing how crazy the whole thing had been, how unwise it would be to risk something like it again, didn't keep Toby from tensing whenever the phone rang, or practically jumping up out of his chair every time he heard Helen talking with someone outside his office door. One afternoon, walking over to court, he'd heard the rumble of a motorcycle behind him and his cock had actually twitched in response.

Just looking around his office inevitably reminded him of that day -- the desk, the chair, even the blinds on the windows - and of the way being with Chris had made him feel.

Unrestrained. Unrestricted.


And there it was. However ill-advised it had been, Toby knew he'd felt more free in those few reckless hours with Chris than he had in all the months he'd been out of prison. Though he felt forced to walk on eggshells around everyone else, guarding his secrets carefully, Toby had the distinct feeling that nothing he'd done could shock or surprise Chris. Hell, it was more than that: even on that first night, with the wind in his hair and the sky overhead and Chris's hard body under his hands, Toby had felt encouraged to expose the man he'd become, the man Oz had made him. And in doing so, he'd found a kind of release he hadn't thought was still within reach.

More disgusted with himself than ever, he drove out to Long Island and spent a weekend with the kids, where, distracted by Holly's soccer game and Harry's model cars, he managed to keep the demons at bay for a while, sublimating his guilt and confusion with ice cream and trips to the toy store. Being around his kids, their innocence, their pristine blondness, those gentle expressions so much like Gen's, he felt his heart ease. It gave him the only sense of peace he'd managed to find on this side of the prison walls.

The visit had gone so well that he'd felt inspired to tackle the thorny issue of living arrangements one more time. Sitting down with his in-laws in their living room after tucking the kids into bed, feeling stronger and more effective than he had in months, he asked them to consider the possibility of the kids returning with him to the city. His words were met with a stony silence from one side of the couch, and a horrified gasp from the other.

The kids were doing so well, they told him. Why on earth would they disrupt everything now? There were words they didn't say, too, harsher words that Toby heard just as clearly: that he'd failed as a father, just as he'd failed in every other aspect of his life. The kids were better off where they were.

And since he couldn't argue with any of it, he'd had no choice but to agree.

Driving back to the city on Sunday night, he thought about calling Sister Pete. He'd been tempted to do it a dozen times since his release, had even dialed the phone, but in the end he always came up with a list of reasons not to. Not the least of which was the daunting idea of trying to explain -- yet again -- just how miserable he was, and why. Of all the people in Toby's life, Pete was the most likely to understand the battles he fought every day, the utter irreconcilability of the man he once was with the man he was now... but still, Toby hadn't been able to bring himself to contact her, knowing he would disappoint her once again, however well she might hide it from him.

But desperate times called for desperate measures, he reminded himself. Before he could talk himself out of it, he reached for his cell phone -- just as it rang in his hand.

"Tobias?"  It was Katherine.  "Toby, I'm coming home!"

"You seem preoccupied," she said.

Toby waved away the hovering waiter, and shook his head. "I'm just tired."

They'd made a date for dinner the following Saturday night, and the restaurant she'd chosen was like hundreds of others he'd been to: elegant, discreet, filled with people who wore sophistication as comfortably as perfume. Surrounded by soft, murmured voices and the faint tinkling of china, Toby felt conspicuous, out of place, like everyone in the room was watching him, and knew the secrets he kept.

"Angus told me you've been working out...?"

"Yeah, I guess." She was watching him, waiting for him to elaborate, and he racked his brain to come up with something plausible. "Just something to keep me busy, you know? Keep my brain occupied."

Katherine took his hand across the table, held it in hers. "How are the nightmares?"

"Same old story. Don't worry about me, Katherine. I'm fine."

It was obvious that she didn't believe him, and Toby sighed, knowing she wouldn't let it go.

"I've been talking to your mother," she told him. "Toby, she's worried about you."

"Really? Why?"

"She said you haven't been yourself lately."

"Myself." Toby laughed. "Who the hell is that?"

"You know what I mean."

"Do I?" He released her hand and sat back in his chair, looking at her. Really looking at her. The tailored clothes, the expensive jewelry, those soft, feminine hands... that aura of ultra-professional efficiency, balanced by a warm, engaging smile that had captivated him after five years of living among hardened men. There was a time, back when the possibility of parole had dangled before him like a golden carrot, when Katherine had seemed to embody everything he had so desperately wanted, everything he'd once had and lost.

Now, watching her, Toby felt something turn sour inside him.

"Toby," she said gently. "I know you're having a difficult time. But you have people around you who are trying to understand, and who want to help you if they can."

"Well, they can't," Toby said, his voice flat. "You can't."

He wasn't angry with her. It wasn't her fault that he looked at her and saw the man he once was, the easy life he used to lead. Some things just were what they were, and would never change. "Look. Maybe I'm not myself. Maybe I'll never be myself again. But I have to deal with that, Katherine. I'm sorry if everyone else has to deal with it, too, but that's just the way it is."

"I'm not trying to upset you, Toby."

"I know."

She sighed. "Why don't we get out of here? We've both had a long day."

Toby was already half out of his chair. "That's a good idea."

In the taxi, she sat too close. Her perfume was cloying. When she turned to press a kiss against his mouth, her lips were moist, slightly sticky. He couldn't quite disguise the grimace, or hide the way his body tightened and leaned away.

"Toby, are you all right?"


"Tobias..." There was a reason Katherine had become a lawyer. Smart, observant and quick as a whip, she knew instinctively when he was lying. 

He tried for an air of weariness instead.  "I'm fine, really. I'm just beat. Would you mind if we called it a night?"

He couldn't blame her for how he felt, wouldn't, though it might have been easier. The life he'd led in Oz, the experiences that he could never put into words, all that would always be there in between them, no matter how hard they both tried to pretend it wasn't. While his body had responded quickly to being set free, his mind was not so easily conquered.

"Do you want company?" she was asking him. "I could give you a massage, loosen up some of this tension..."

An image flashed in his brain, crystal-clear and in full living color: Chris, naked. Lying full-length across the bed, his cock hard even in sleep. Toby nearly groaned.

"Not tonight," he said, a little too quickly. "But I'll take a rain check. Okay?"

"If you're sure...?"

"I'm sure." He forced a thin smile. "I'll make it up to you, I promise."

"I'll hold you to that."  She smiled back at him and snuggled against his arm.

Repressing a shudder, Toby turned toward the window and watched the city rush by.

He dropped her off at her apartment, leaving her with a perfunctory kiss and a promise to call the following day. After she got out, he gave the driver Angus's address, hoping his brother would let him crash without asking questions Toby had no answers for. As the cab pulled away from the curb, he leaned back against the seat with a sigh, loosening his tie, feeling the weight of his ongoing battles in every fucking breath that he took.

Christ, he was tired. Tired of struggling, tired of fighting; tired of trying to explain the unexplainable to people who really just wanted to hear him say that he was doing okay. That he was adjusting.

He wasn't adjusting. Deep down, he knew it. Instead of getting easier, each day on the outside of Oz was as difficult as the last, as difficult as any on the inside had been. And the more the people around him tried to understand, the more alienated he felt.

He turned, gazing out the window of the cab. Then, without ever making the conscious decision to do so, he found himself asking the driver to stop.


It was a fucking insane thing to do.

Knowing that wasn't enough to make Toby turn back, though. After all, he knew exactly what he would be returning to, and anything had to be better than that.

Clearing his mind of everything but the potential prize -- a night of escape and forgetfulness -- he began his search at the same corner where he and Chris had first met. The first three places he tried turned up nothing at all, aside from a few blatant offers from men who didn't care that he was looking for somebody else. Toby ignored the gropes and the glances, leaving each bar without a second thought once he was sure Chris wasn't around.

At the fourth place he tried, a leather bar on 8th Avenue, he struck gold.

The bartender eyed him suspiciously. "You a cop?"

Toby choked on his coffee. "Jesus, no. Do I look like one?"

"Not far off. And you wouldn't be the first to come 'round here, asking questions about Keller."

Really. Toby filed that one away. "Well, I'm not a cop."

"Then why should I tell you anything?"

Toby pulled out his wallet and placed a $50 bill on the bar. "I can't think of any reason. Can you?"

Thick fingers slipped the bill off the bar and pocketed it. The bartender eyed Toby again, and then shrugged. "Chris comes in here a couple times a month. Usually shoots pool in the back for a while, takes off when he sees something he likes. But this ain't his usual hunting ground, if you know what I mean."

"But you know where I can find him."

The bartender squinted at Toby. "Why'd you want him, again?"

"None of your fucking business." Toby's smile was cold.

The bartender's gaze wandered over him, assessing, and finally he relented. "My best guess? Try the back room at The Cock. That's where Chris usually is this time of night."

"And how do I know you're not full of shit?"

The guy leaned over the bar and smiled, a sleazy twist of his lips. "Tell you what, sweet thing," he purred. "You go over there and scope things out. If Killer Keller ain't there, you just come on back here and get your fifty." He licked his lips. "And I'll make you forget all about Chris."

The Cock was dark, loud and jammed. Rock music blared from a jukebox on one wall, while throngs of men in various states of drunkenness and undress crowded around the bar, eyeing each other hungrily. It was, Toby realized, the polar opposite of the restaurant he'd been in with Katherine earlier -- and exactly the kind of place he'd expect to find Chris.

He made his way into the back room, dodging greedy, grasping hands from all directions, and looked around slowly. The place was no different than any of the others he'd come across: dank, dark, filled with desperate-looking men who kneeled on the filthy floor or leaned back against the cement wall, hardly talking, barely noticing each other at all. Toby made one full rotation around the room, purposely avoiding eye contact, before ducking into an empty corner, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes.

"Hi."  The soft voice seemed to fade in out of nowhere.

Startled, Toby opened his eyes again. It wasn't Chris. He wasn't anyone at all -- but he was dark-eyed and hungry-looking and he was staring at Toby intensely, as if Toby was something he wanted. As if Toby was still something someone might actually want, even now.

Something inside him broke a little, and he admitted defeat.

This was what he'd come to. He'd left behind a perfectly willing, Beecher-family-approved woman to go off on a wild goose chase, one that made even his Crazy-Beecher antics in Oz look tame. Searching for one elusive cocksucker in a city of millions, all for the sole purpose of getting himself fucked up the ass by a guy who was well-known enough to have bartenders keeping his schedule for him -- and was called "Killer Keller," to boot. 

And who, incidentally, wasn't even here.

Silently, Toby gazed at the guy in front of him. Another nameless guy in a long string of many, a guy who knew nothing about the man Toby had been, and wouldn't have cared if he did. A guy who meant nothing to him just as he himself had meant nothing, who could be used just as he himself had been used. Toby gazed at him, and he knew he would stay. He would stay here in this dark, secret place where nobody knew or cared who he was, and he would get what he'd come for.

"Hi," he replied.

That would be the extent of their conversation, Toby knew. Nothing about this was anything but cheap and crude and pathetic, the repeat performance of dozens of other encounters, but the guy on his knees had warm hands and an eager mouth and he'd waited for Toby's permission -- and that was the thing that got him every time, that moment of choice, of knowing the decision was his. That he made the decision he made, that he continued to make it again and again, was something he wouldn't let himself think about.

Closing his eyes, he tuned out everything else. He felt his pants loosen, felt the brush of cool air on his thighs, and through it all, he said nothing. He simply leaned back and let Nameless Guy do his work, releasing a tormented sigh as the guy's mouth surrounded his cock.

Not Chris. Not even a decent second. But when the lights went out a moment later, surrounded by darkness and a chorus of deep moans and sighs, Toby squeezed his eyes shut and let himself pretend.

"Don't stop," he said, hoarsely.

And then, without warning, he felt the rush of cool wind once again, and found himself arching into thin, empty air. 

A warm cheek pressed against his, and a low, unmistakable voice purred in his ear: "I hear you've been looking for me."

"Chris."  There was no mistaking that voice, or the familiar heat of the body that was suddenly pressing against him. Toby felt his pulse skid to a halt, then begin to race crazily. "Where'd you hear that?"

"Word gets around." 

Toby opened his eyes. Christ, he looked good: dressed all in black, from the now-familiar leather jacket all the way down to his thick heavy boots, he seemed to hover over Toby like a shadow in the dark haze of the room. Toby stared at him, wordless now, and the silence made him all the more aware of certain things -- like his own cock, still wet and erect and pressing insistently between them. And the fact that just a moment ago he'd been thrusting that cock into the mouth of another man.

A man, Toby realized belatedly, who seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

Fumbling to straighten his pants, he asked: "What did you--"

"Shhh."  Chris leaned forward and reached one hand up, rubbing lightly at the skin of Toby's neck, just above the collar.  "You've been a busy boy tonight, Tobias." He held up his finger. It was streaked with pink.  "Did you fuck her first?"

Toby struggled to think straight.  "Actually, no. I sent her home, and then I came here."

"To find me."  It wasn't even remotely a question. "Been missing me, baby? That's sweet."

Toby felt the sudden, inexplicable urge to laugh. Chris was here -- and the night, which had started out as another long trip to hell, was suddenly infused with anticipation, and possibilities. "Don't flatter yourself," he said, already reaching to pull Chris close. "I come here all the time."

Chris grinned. He took a step back from Toby and turned to the guy standing next to them, a big, bulky, bald guy who was leaning back against the wall, busy getting his cock sucked. Chris smacked the big guy's bicep to get his attention, and then pointed to Toby. "Hey. Pumpkin. You ever seen this guy before?"

The bald guy turned his head slowly, gazing at Toby through eyes glazed over with lust. He shook his head, and then leaned back against the wall once again, closing his eyes.

Chris turned back to Toby, one eyebrow raised.

"Must be his first time," Toby said, a smile tugging at his lips.

"Nah. Guy's here every night." Chris smiled back, wolfish. "Trust me."

"Hmm. Maybe it's the clothes, then. I left my leather vest and motorcycle cap at home..."


"Besides, it is pretty dark back here. Ahh, fuck..." Toby's voice trailed off as Chris worked one hand in between them, low. Their eyes met and held, and Chris smiled at him as he took Toby's cock in one hand, giving it one hard stroke before neatly tucking it back into his pants and zipping him up. 

"Not that dark, baby," Chris murmured, pressing close. "And I'd remember you."

The kiss was as dark as the room and Toby fell into it without looking back, reaching for Chris with both hands. Thrusting his hips forward, seeking contact, unable to stop himself.

"What were you after, Tobias?" Chris asked, his voice rough.  "Another anonymous fuck? Or did you want to watch? Maybe I should go find that baby-faced cunt who just had his fucking mouth all over your dick..." His hands tightened painfully on Toby's arms, briefly, before he seemed to catch himself. 


"No, what?"

"No, I don't -- " Toby moaned as Chris palmed his cock through his pants, pressing him back against the wall. "I don't want to watch. And I don't want to share you." 

He felt Chris smile against his neck. "No? Then tell me, what do you want?"

"Can we -- " Another moan as Chris squeezed him.  "Jesus. Can we just get out of here?"

"What'd you have in mind?"

"Chris," Toby groaned, loudly now. "Come on.  My apartment. Right now. Can we just - please?"

Chris released him abruptly and pulled back, grinning. "I told you before, Toby.  All you have to do is ask nice."

In the cab, Toby took one look at him -- sprawled across the seat, eyes half-closed, mouth curved in a lazy smile - and quickly moved over him, covering him, one hand already reaching between Chris's legs. And fell back, just as forcefully, when Chris shoved him away.  Hard.


"Not here."

Stunned, Toby rubbed his arm where Chris had pushed him. "Why the fuck not?"

Chris's gaze raked over him. "You waited this long, didn't you, Beech?" His hooded expression gave nothing away, but the sharp, unmistakable edge of anger in his voice left Toby wordless with surprise, his indignation deflating under that steady, laser-focused regard.

Through the darkness of the cab, they studied each other in silence. The lights from the street passed over Chris in a steady, continuous rhythm, illuminating him briefly before tossing him back into the shadows of the car.

Finally, Toby said, guardedly: "You are fucking with me."

A pause -- and then Chris was smiling again. That slow, self-satisfied smile, the one that made Toby itch to get his hands on him.

"All in good time, baby."

The ride, which normally took less than ten minutes, seemed to last an entire lifetime. By the time the car stopped in front of his building, Toby had already tossed a ten-dollar bill at the driver and was dragging Chris out the door by the wrist, determined to get them up to the fourth floor as quickly as possible. To get Chris into his apartment, and out of his fucking clothes.

On the stairs, he tugged Chris even harder. "Move your ass, Keller."

Chris laughed, but a moment later, as they turned onto the second floor landing, Toby found himself being shoved back against the wall, Chris's hard body pressed against him, holding him there.

His lips inches from Toby's, Chris murmured: "You took your sweet time, Toby. I was startin' to think I'd overestimated you."

"You might have told me where to find you," Toby shot back, "and saved me a lot of trouble."

Chris kissed him, hard, before pulling away. "You're a smart guy, Toby. I knew you'd figure it out."

They took the rest of the stairs two at a time, and by the time they got to the apartment, Toby was breathless. He unlocked the door with trembling fingers, then half-turned to watch Chris walk into the room -- a fantasy he'd entertained hundreds of times over the past two weeks, and one he knew he would return to, after Chris was gone.

But none of that mattered right now. Chris was here.

And he was prowling again. Only this time he did it without even moving -- glancing around, studying things, as if memorizing the details. Toby leaned against the doorway and watched him, his cock straining inside his pants, his hands itching to be on Chris's skin.

Finally, Chris turned to face him, so close their noses touched.

"What've you been up to, Tobias?" His breath was a warm caress against Toby's lips.

"Up to?" Toby laughed. Small talk and pleasantries were not on his fucking agenda, not now. He leaned forward, intent on stopping Chris's words with his mouth, but Chris cut him short with one hand to the throat, pushing him back against the open door and pressing hard against him.

"Chris--" The doorknob dug into the small of his back. Arching his hips, he discovered Chris was as hard as he was. "God, I've been thinking about this."

"Tell me," Chris demanded. "About what?" 

"About this. About you. About being here --"

"With me."

Jesus. "Yes."  Toby tried to draw him closer, but Chris grabbed his arm, holding it still.

"Who else?"

"Who else what?"

"Who else has been here, Toby?"

Toby stared at him. Chris's words had been spoken softly, but that fierce, possessive expression was back, and Toby knew it must mirror his own. And he wanted Chris too much to play games.

He gave him the truth.  "No one else. Not since you."

"Good boy."

Chris rewarded him with a rough kiss, and Toby groaned as they finally -- *finally* -- made contact, that hard body pressing against the length of his own. Spark to a flame, he thought wildly, and Chris seemed to feel it too, catching him around the waist and pulling him hard up against him. Toby took advantage of the forward motion and pushed Chris up against the opposite wall, kissing him back with a violent hunger of his own.

If the day in his office had been a lesson in discipline, this time was a deliberate study in tossing discipline aside. Toby pinned Chris to the wall with his hips, sliding his hands underneath Chris's shirt, seeking bare flesh.

"Chris," he hissed, desperate. "I can't --  I need -"

"Do it, Toby." Chris's voice was hoarse, too, which only fueled Toby's desire. "Do it.  Right now."

He fucked Chris right there against the wall, with the door wide open and Chris's rough voice urging him on. Bent nearly double over that hard, naked body, and knowing he'd return the favor in spades before the night was out, Toby felt his shackles loosen and splinter apart, and shouted aloud with the freedom of it.



If he'd still been a church-going man -- if he'd ever been a church-going man -- Toby might have thought there was something sacrilegious about waking up this way on a Sunday morning. Laughing softly to himself, he could only imagine what Said would say, if he knew.

Before he even opened his eyes, he knew Chris was right there. Felt the heat of him, picked up the cheap-beer tang on his breath, combined (maybe permanently now, at least in Toby's brain) with the cloying scent of semen. He opened one eye suspiciously, then closed it again when he found his instincts were right: Chris was leaning over him, way too close, way too intent.

"Something wrong?"

"You always dream like that, Beech?"

Toby groaned inwardly, thinking it was far too early, both in the morning and also in their acquaintance, for them to be having this conversation. Keeping his eyes closed, he decided to play dumb. "I don't know what you're talking about."

He opened his eyes gingerly, wincing at the brightness of the tiny room and the way the sun seemed to call attention to its tawdriness. Little by little, the morning came in to focus in all its ugly detail: grimy white walls, the unsteady hum of an old refrigerator, dust dancing in the streams of early-morning light.

And Chris, looming above him, naked as far as Toby's eyes could see -- looking every bit as good as he had last night.

"Must have been some dream." Chris bent his head to lick Toby's neck. "You're sweating."

"Yeah, well, don't take it personally." Yawning, Toby rolled onto his stomach. The mattress shifted, creaking noisily, and then Chris was moving too, stretching out alongside him, his cock nudging Toby's hip.

"Christ," Toby groaned. "Don't you ever get tired?"

Warm lips pressed against his back, and he knew Chris was smirking again, though he couldn't see. Arching back to encourage Chris's exploring tongue, he heard Chris chuckle softly behind him.

"You've got a great ass, Toby." He slapped it lightly, as if to illustrate his point. "You know that?"

"Maybe if you're channeling Adolf Hitler."

"Well, yeah." Chris traced the tattoo lightly with his fingers. "Where the fuck did you get this thing, anyway?"

Toby stretched lazily, turning to face Chris and resting his head on his arms. "Why?" he asked. "Does it offend you?"

"Shit, no. You just aren't the type."

He sounded so genuinely unimpressed, Toby had to laugh. "I see. And you know this about me -- how?"

"I know a lot of things, Toby."

"I bet."  Their eyes met, and Chris's slow, lazy smile made Toby's pulse stutter. "Let's just say I wasn't in my right mind at the time."

"Still, I'd like to see the son of a bitch who let you walk out of his shop with this ugly fuckin' thing on your ass."

"I got it in Oz."

He hadn't meant to say it. He had no idea why he had. But now it was out there, somewhere in the air around them, and Toby found himself holding his breath, torn between waiting for Chris's reaction and hoping he would just ignore it and move on.

"Oz," Chris repeated. "As in, Oswald State Pen?"


"You did your time in Oz." Chris looked skeptical.

Toby nodded. "Five years." And, God, he really did not want to play True Confessions, not now. Maybe not ever.

"You're serious. When'd you get out?"

"Five months ago."

Chris's expression changed, so subtly Toby might have missed it if he hadn't been watching him closely. As it was, he could almost see that mind working: gears shifting, cogs slipping into place, rearranging those unreliable first impressions, making room for this new information.

Finally, Chris gave him a thoughtful look. "Well, well," he said softly. He ran one hand slowly across Toby's ass, lingering over the crude lines that branded the skin, and Toby couldn't hide the shiver, didn't even bother to try. "How about that, Toby. You and me, we might have mutual friends."

The words skittered across Toby's skin, like a chill. He rolled over onto his back, looked up at Chris hovering over him, and tried to picture him in Oz.  The image fit, he thought, and quickly pushed it out of his mind.

Feigning a casual tone, he asked, "You've done time?"

"A stretch up in Lardner when I was a kid. No big deal."

"What'd you do?"

Chris grinned. "I got caught."

"Well, there's your mistake, right there," Toby said dryly.  Chris laughed, and Toby laughed with him, thinking: I used to be a lawyer. When the hell did I switch sides?

'But you, Toby -- you were playing with the big boys."

"Hence the tattoo. We didn't always play nice." Time to change the subject, Toby decided. "So tell me something about you." 

"Mmm." Chris lowered his head and tongued Toby's nipple. "Like what?"

"Like--" Jesus, that felt good. "Like, what do you do?"

"Do?" Chris licked a long stripe from Toby's navel all the way up to his chin.  "I do what I have to."

"Smooth." Toby gasped. "Okay then, where do you live?"

"An apartment."

"Right. Where?"

Chris turned his face into the pillow and sighed, then rolled onto his back again, folding his hands under his head. "Jesus, you're a pain in the ass. I'm staying with a friend of mine."

"A friend." Toby snorted. "Do you fuck him?"


Fuck, yes, Toby thought. And said, aloud:  "Maybe." 

Chris laughed. "Toby, did you even get a good look at that guy last night before you put your dick in his mouth?"

Toby figured he had a point, but stubbornly chose to ignore it. "I was looking for you."

"Well, you found me, baby." Chris turned, bent his head again, and Toby leaned up to meet him. He met the kiss open-mouthed, hooking one arm around Chris's neck to pull him closer. Words and reminders were things he could get anywhere. Everywhere. This was what he wanted -- and Chris seemed to feel the same way, tossing the covers aside and lowering himself onto Toby without another word, his hard body blotting out everything else.

"You realize," Toby insisted, spreading his legs wide, "that you didn't really tell me anything at all."

"Maybe there's nothing to tell," Chris countered. He pulled Toby's legs up and over his shoulders, and grinned. "Or maybe I just know a better way to spend my time."

And it was better, Toby admitted. It was hot and rough and it made him feel good and Christ, after all the shit, he'd earned it. He deserved it. Opening himself to Chris, he chose to let the rest go. Just for now, he told himself; just for as long as this lasted.

And if letting himself feel good for a while made him feel even more guilty tomorrow, he'd deal with that when the fucking time came.

There's a buzzer, blaring again and again, like the buzzer for Count. It keeps blaring and it won't stop and Vern is laughing at him, laughing, laughing, but then he's fading away and now Toby is on the floor in the gym, and Chris is there, underneath him. Chris is in Oz and they are rolling together on the gym floor, sweaty with exertion and sexual heat. All the other inmates are watching and jeering and shouting at them as they wrestle and roll, Chris's body pulling away and then pressing close again, and Toby can feel Chris's erection, hard against his thigh. He can see the satisfied gleam in those dark eyes as Chris flips them both so that Toby is lying on top.

He looks down at him, breathless. Panting: "You're letting me win."

Chris gives him a strange, triumphant grin. "Tell you what. Next time I won't."

And then, darkness.


He awakened, sometime in the mid-afternoon on Sunday, to an empty bed and a silent apartment. The dream, with Oz in all its grey, suffocating detail and assortment of images best left buried deep in his subconscious, had the nasty after-effect of blurring the edges of reality into indistinguishable lines, leaving him feeling suspended between where he was and where he once was. For a long moment he lay there, unmoving, curled up on his cheap sheets and staring at the dust motes floating in the air, trying to forcibly sharpen those edges.

Chris was not in Oz. He was not in Oz. It was only a dream, a sick joke his mind seemed determined to play: But you were there! And you, and you! He closed his eyes, imagined the images from the dream like raindrops on a windshield and wiped them away, a trick he’d picked up in one of his many rehab sessions. Only a dream, he told himself, and God knew he was no stranger to nightmares. The years inside would take years to recover from, as Sister Pete liked to say.

Sitting up, he kicked off the sheets, running one hand through his damp hair, and glanced around the tiny room. Chris was gone, had apparently cleared out sometime after their early-morning wrestling session, and thoughts of the dream were immediately eclipsed by memories of the previous night. Chris, in the bar. Chris, in the cab. Chris, face-first up against the wall, Toby pressing close from behind, both of them shouting so loudly the neighbors downstairs would probably have heard even if they had remembered to close the door. Sleeping a little, fucking a lot, and Christ, that unbelievable feeling of freedom. So vivid, so real, in a way freedom hadn’t felt in so fucking long.

Already, he wanted to feel that again.

He spent Monday morning at Adam Guenzel’s pre-trial hearing, watching from his spectator seat in the front row. Though his disbarment made it impossible for him to sit at the lawyer’s table or make any motions in court, he attended every one of Adam’s sessions, mainly at his mother’s request. Personally, he thought it would be better for him not to be present – the relationship between his family and Guenzel’s was not lost on the press – but his mother had insisted, tearfully, that he assist Angus however he possibly could.

It wasn’t going well, and they knew it. Adam seemed relentlessly determined to destroy his own case, much to the frustration of Beecher and Sons, and it didn’t help that the story was big news in the city, where the Guenzel family and their high-brow acquaintances usually made up the society pages, not the police blotter. A pack of hungry reporters dogged Guenzel’s every step, many of them the same ones who had once captured Toby’s own fall from grace for posterity, and Toby had no doubt, as he dodged the microphones on his way out of the courthouse, that they would be rabidly rehashing his own sordid history on the six-o'clock news, in addition to speculating on Adam's fate.

It would be bad. Even if his mother didn’t see it, some of her socialite friends undoubtedly would; there’d be a new, endless round of phone calls, the relentless pursuit of gossip disguised as sympathy. By the time Toby got home tonight his mother would be in seclusion, doped up on Xanax and hugging a box of Kleenex as if it could take the place of the errant son who’d once shown such terrific promise, but had, instead, somehow gone so horribly wrong.

The mere thought gave him a splitting headache, and a particularly vicious case of the ex-boozer’s blues.

He was back in his office no more than ten minutes, barely enough time to indulge in a fantasy of a nice glass of Stoli on ice, when Angus walked into the room, his face flushed with anger.

"I can't do this, Toby," he blurted, without even a greeting.

"What's the matter?"

"Guenzel's a first-class, unrepentant asshole, that's what, not to mention he's guilty as sin. How the hell am I supposed to argue why a slime-ball like that shouldn't be sent to jail? Why should I even try?"

Toby raised an eyebrow. "Because he's paying you to?"

"And that makes it okay?"

"It’s your job,” Toby said, shrugging. “It's what you do. It's what we all do."

"But he's guilty. I know it, and you know it. How are we fostering justice by protecting him from the consequences of his actions?"

"Angus, come on. You know the drill, here. Adam Guenzel has the right to a rigorous and impartial defense, just like everyone else." The words came almost by rote; Toby wondered if they sounded as hollow to Angus as they did to his own ears.

"Does he?” Angus shook his head. "I don't know. He raped that girl. He beat her and raped her and left her for dead, and then laughed about it afterwards. I can’t help but wonder if people like that really deserve anything at all."

"Whether he's guilty or not isn't your concern," Toby reminded him. "Let the jury decide where the justice lies."

"But if we win, a guilty man will go free. How can I justify that? How can you?"

Toby leaned back in his chair, gazing up at Angus, trying to muster up a sympathy he didn't particularly feel. He had been like that too, once -- full of ideals, plumped up with pride about being a soldier for justice, but his years in Oz had re-trained him well. At best, he'd learned to distrust the legal process; at worst, he’d begun to feel sympathy for the wrong side.

"What is it you want to happen?" he asked, curious. "Do you want Adam to own up to his sins, to confess, just so you don't have to defend him?"

"God, if only he would," Angus groaned. "No, I don't expect that. But winning this case will take a miracle. Adam doesn’t even give a shit about the trial; he expects his parents to buy his way out of jail, even if he loses. I don’t think he understands that he could end up going to prison for a long time. And in the meantime, I’m bending over backwards trying to find a way to create some reasonable doubt, when I don’t even have any myself.”

Toby sighed. Guenzel was an ass, it was true, but Toby also knew that it was Angus who bore the brunt of the train-wreck that this defense had become. The Guenzels were counting on him to get their boy cleared of all charges, which didn’t look likely at this point, and from all accounts, Adam had no remorse whatsoever, no sense of personal responsibility for what he had done. That people like that existed no longer surprised Toby, of course; he'd been one of them. He was one of them -- O'Reily, Alvarez, a dozen others Toby could name, men who had been deemed unfit to live among decent people. He'd sat with them, showered with them, suffered with them, and he'd cheered right alongside them when one managed to slip loose the knots of justice and somehow go free.

But Angus, understandably, was troubled.

"If you feel this strongly about it," Toby said, "then why don't you just advise him to plead?"

"Believe me, I've tried. He's so goddamn sure he can convince a jury that he didn't do anything wrong.” Angus shook his head again. “Maybe I'd feel better about fighting to get him acquitted if I knew at least he was sorry for what he's done."

"His being sorry won't make a goddamn difference to that jury," Toby said, bitterly. "Trust me. But either way, you can't go into the trial hoping your client will lose."

"I know that. God, you know I wouldn't do that. Besides, Mother and Dad are counting on me. And the Guenzels . . . shit."

They sat there together for a moment, silent, and then Angus rose from his chair in a decisive motion. "Never mind all this,” he said to Toby. “Really, I’m fine. I’ll handle it.” He headed for the office door, and then turned back. “By the way, Katherine called the house yesterday. She was looking for you.”

“She did?” Toby froze. “Why?”

“She said you’d gone home early Saturday night, and was calling to see how you were. Apparently she tried calling you at Dad’s house but you weren’t there, and she got no answer on your cell.” He paused, uncertain. “I told her you’d gone out for a walk.”

“Thanks, Angus. I owe you one.” Another one, he thought, grimly. How the fuck old am I, anyway?

“Toby -- is everything okay with you?”

“Sure. Of course. I’m fine.”

Angus sighed again, taking up his coat and draping it over his arm. “Adam looks up to you, you know. He told me that, once. Me, I'm just a suit to him; he thinks he's smarter than me. But you – you’re like his hero." He paused, flushing a little, and then continued: "But he doesn't know, does he? He doesn’t know what that place did to you. What you did in there. How you changed. That's what I can’t get him to understand. Maybe if I could, he would take this a little more seriously.”

Toby sighed, rubbing his temple with one hand. He already knew where this was headed, and didn’t like it. “You want me to talk to him, don’t you?”

By late that afternoon, the stage had been set. Visiting a rape suspect in jail was not a good idea on any front, regardless of the family connections, so Toby spent three quarters of an hour on the phone with his parole officer, asking for permission. It made him feel like a lesser being, a disobedient child who couldn’t be trusted, and more than once during the conversation he silently cursed Angus for this fresh humiliation. On the other hand, it was slightly comforting to know he hadn’t lost his touch: by the time he hung up the phone he'd not only secured a private meeting with Adam, he'd also managed to convince his P.O. that assisting in the Guenzel defense -- pro bono, of course -- was a truly benevolent act on his part, one that might even constitute a public service.

The meeting itself was not nearly as much of a success, however. Guenzel, as predicted, was high on a distorted sense of self-confidence, and he made no bones about his intention to get on the witness stand and tell the world to fuck off. Toby spent a completely unproductive hour trying to talk some sense into him, but in the end, all of his hard-earned wisdom seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

"Adam, you have to listen to what Angus is telling you. If you don’t --"

“No, way. No deals.”

"Listen to me. If a jury gets hold of you, you could be looking at fifteen years, maybe more. Save yourself, for Christ’s sake. Play fair with the D.A. and you could walk after seven, maybe even five if you behave yourself. Cut the deal, serve your time, and get out. It's the best advice I can give you."

"I'll take my chances," Adam said, waving Toby's objections away. "I got nothing to hide."

Toby gazed at him, at that young, handsome face, that confident smile, and felt something like hatred sparking inside him. This boy had everything -- everything Toby himself had once had, everything Toby had lost, and he was about to piss it all away. He had no idea what he was doing -- or what was going to be done to him. Toby imagined Adam walking into Oz, saw it as clearly as if it were happening right in front of him: the vultures gathering, circling, waiting for night to fall, when Adam’s delusions would be shattered beneath the blood-red reality of life in Oz, the same way his own had once been.

But Adam refused to listen to any of it.

"Look, don't be fucking stupid," Toby said finally, his voice harsh. "Do you have any idea what they'll do to you in there? Christ, you’ll be lucky to survive your first day.”

“You did, didn’t you? You think you’re stronger than me?”

“It has nothing to do with how strong you are,” Toby insisted. “There are other things . . . things you don’t know anything about.”

Adam sat back in his chair, his eyes narrowing. “I heard things, you know. My parents, behind closed doors -- things they’d say when they didn’t know I was listening.” A look of disgust crept over his face. “They said you lasted two nights in Oz before ending up the boy-toy for some old Nazi. My dad -- he said you went down on your knees faster than a Catholic at Mass.”

Toby ran a hand through his hair, and looked away. “Adam --”

“I didn’t believe him. But it’s true, isn’t it? That’s how you survived - by bending over and letting some gray-haired fag make you his girlfriend?”

“Things aren’t–”

“It is.” Adam laughed, and it was not a pleasant sound. “You’re nothing but a pussy b--"

Toby’s clenched fist connected with Adam's chin with a satisfying, fleshy smack, knocking the boy halfway off his chair. Though the last word had been left unspoken, it echoed loud and clear in the small room, vibrating in the air between them, and only the knowledge that they were surrounded by armed court officers outside the door held Toby back, cutting a cold, sharp path through the rapidly-forming red haze in his brain.

“Are you listening now?” he asked Adam, softly. “That’s nothing compared to what they’ll do to you. Trust me. They’re going to eat you alive.”

“Fuck you,” Adam spat, one hand pressed to his reddened jaw.

Toby picked up his coat slowly, shrugged it on, and was headed for the door when he heard Guenzel speak again, behind him.

"I'll never be like you, Beecher. Never. You hear me? They’ll have to kill me, first."

"I know," Toby said, his voice cold. “And they will."

Out of deference to the guards standing outside, he managed to refrain from slamming the door as he left the room, though it was probably pointless; the ramifications of physically attacking his own firm’s client would no doubt become clear soon enough. He was half a block away from the courthouse when he began to run. Six blocks later he ripped off his tie, tossing it into a corner trashcan; another six and he was breaking a sweat, plowing through rush-hour crowds at full speed. He had no real idea where he was headed, knowing only that if he didn’t keep moving he would somehow burst apart, explode into tiny fragments, marking a sad, pathetic end to an even sadder, more pathetic life. Or, perhaps even more likely, he would simply freak the fuck out and kill somebody.

The Guenzels would be at the house with his parents. He couldn’t go there, now; couldn’t stand there in his mother’s parlor with them, trying not to watch as they fell apart again, trying not to know that what they were feeling was the same soul-searing grief he had once put his own parents through. Couldn’t watch Mrs. Guenzel sobbing on his mother’s shoulder, mourning the imminent loss of her son, or the awkward way his father would pat Adam’s dad on the back in empathetic silence. A matched pair of parents desperate for reassurances that no one could give, wondering where they hell they’d all gone wrong.

Halfway downtown, his hair and clothes damp with sweat, he slowed to a walk and took in great gulps of the cold evening air. The crowds were thinner here; most normal people were well on their way home from work by now, heading back to their spouses, their houses. Their homes. He had none of those things. People walked by him with purpose, with goals and destinations – he had none of those, either.

Finally, he turned the corner onto Leroy, walked down the narrow street lined with faded brick row-houses, each one more neglected than the last. Past the crumbling concrete steps, the sad window-boxes with their chipped, plastic flowerpots and sagging geraniums. He walked slowly, gazing up at the windows and the facades now eroded by time, thinking of the pretty, two-story split-level he’d once shared with Gen, the stately townhouse his parents kept uptown, the sprawling acres owned by his in-laws which Holly and Harry now thought of as home. Neat, well-kept houses that he had no place in, not anymore.

He was still half a block away from his building when he finally looked straight ahead, and saw Chris.

His first thought, incongruous as it seemed, was that it was Monday. Not Friday, not Saturday, not any day that Toby would normally make his way down here -- and yet there Chris was, his profile to Toby, standing in front of the steps leading to the entrance of number 23. As Toby watched, Chris draped both arms over the wrought-iron railing flanking the steps, rubbing his mouth lazily over his forearm, gazing just a little too intently at a pair of slim girls in tight skirts walking by in the opposite direction. He turned, slowly, as Toby approached, his lips curving into a satisfied half-smile, and their eyes met and locked, that now-familiar spark of sudden heat, like a flame flaring to life.


Chris’s gaze swept him from head to toe and back again. “Hey.”

“How’d you know I’d come?”

Chris ignored the question, flipping Toby’s open collar with one finger. “You’re a fucking mess. What, you walked here?”

“Actually, I ran.” Their eyes met again, and Toby laughed. “I think I pulled a muscle, too.” The impotent rage was rapidly fading, leaving behind something even more elemental. And, potentially, much more satisfying.

“Yeah? Which one?” Chris’s smile was slow, and wicked. “ ‘Cause you know, Beech, I got no use for you if you’re injured.”

“None of the ones you’re interested in, I promise.” Toby turned and walked past him, sprinting up the steps, pausing at the doorway to pull his keys from his pocket.

Chris followed him, close. “Good. That’s good. Oh, and Beecher?” He leaned against Toby from behind, his breath warm against Toby’s ear: “I’m gonna need a key.”

Toby glanced back as he pushed the door open, and grinned. “I already made you a spare.”


"Saw you on the news today," Chris said, as they walked into the apartment together.

"Oh, yeah?" Toby snorted humorlessly. He so did not want to think about that. "One of the perks of the job, I guess."

"What, mugging for the cameras?"

"Dodging reporters. Apparently they have nothing better to do than sniff around the courthouse for their next story."

Around them, the apartment was still and dark, indistinguishable shapes shrouded in grey. Toby shut the door firmly, locked it, tossed his keys on the counter and shrugged off his overcoat, dropping it onto a chair. He moved into the kitchen with Chris close behind, and reached up to switch on the overhead light, wincing at the harsh glare cast by the uncovered bulb.

"So who’s the twink?" Chris asked him.

"He’s, ah, sort of a friend of the family." The little prick. "We’ve known his parents for years."

"Must be a big deal, for them to hound you like that."

"Not really big," Toby said with a shrug. "The press just loves shit like this. The pretty, privileged boy who goes south -- they lap that up. If Adam goes to prison, they’ll gloat about it for months." And that, he decided, was just a little too close to home.

He leaned one hip against the kitchen table, gazing at Chris. "So is that why you’re here? Because you saw me on the news?"

"Fuck, yeah. You looked hot."

Toby laughed. "Sweet talker."

"I’m serious, Toby. Why’d you take so fucking long to get here?"

"Why’d you leave without waking me yesterday?" Toby countered.

"You were having another dream." Chris was doing his thing again: circling the room, opening cabinets, looking in drawers. It made Toby want to laugh, wondering what the hell he thought he was going to find. Besides condoms and lube, there wasn’t much. "Looked like a good one. I figured I’d leave you to it."

The reference to the dream stiffened Toby’s spine. "Ah, yes," he said. "You were teaching me to wrestle." A decidedly shorthand version, but it was true, nonetheless.

Outside, the sun had gone down, and lights from passing cars down on the street expanded and retreated through the bare window on the far side of the room. Behind them, the ancient refrigerator hummed, the faucet dripped, the clock on the stove clicked the hour. Toby paid no attention to any of it. Chris was standing in the middle of the tiny kitchen, leaning against the opposite end of the table, his hands shoved in the front pockets of his jeans. His jacket was unzipped, slightly parted, giving Toby a glimpse of a lean waist, tapering into narrow hips, and Toby watched him, his breath turning shallow. He already knew what it would feel like. What it would be like. His fingers throbbed with the urge to touch.

"Wrestling, huh?" Chris looked amused. "So how’d you do?"

"Let’s just say I’m better at chess."

"I think you’d do all right." Chris grinned at him, a wide flash of white teeth, and it was startling, the way it seemed to transform him, make him seem less dangerous. Harmless, even. Toby couldn’t help wondering how many people had been fooled by that, even as he responded in kind.

"Besides," Chris added, his voice lower, sexier, "wrestling’s like fucking. It’s all about learning the moves."

Toby waited all of fifteen seconds before reaching for him. His fingers curled around worn, supple leather as he grabbed hold of Chris’s arm, pulling him close, momentum propelling them into a kiss that was little more than a painful clash of parted lips and half-bared teeth. Toby barely noticed the pain. Hyper-stimulated by anger and anxiety, energized by his downtown sprint, he felt ravenous, limitless, and Chris’s presence, as perfectly-timed as ever, was rapidly channeling all of that excess energy into one, very single-minded purpose.

Chris’s arms came around him, warm hands sliding over his back, and Toby leaned into it, into him, sliding his hands beneath Chris’s jacket, lifting his shirt, searching for skin. He was already hard, just from this; both of them still fully dressed, barely touching at all. He didn’t care that it wasn’t an answer, didn’t give a fuck if it solved anything. Outside this room there were dozens of people just waiting to pick him apart, family members and reporters and people like Adam Guenzel, people who judged him and thought they knew everything there was to know about him when the truth was, they fucking didn’t. Toby was so tired of all of it. Tired of feeling useless, tired of guilt, tired of always feeling like a victim, of not knowing how to be anything else.

Christ, he just wanted to feel something else for a change.

Chris tugged at his jacket and Toby helped him with it, yanking it off, tossing it aside. Toby’s suit jacket followed, and then his shirt, landing with a soft rustle on the floor at their feet. Toby dragged Chris’s t-shirt over his head, sliding his hands over Chris’s arms on the way down, kneading the warm flesh, feeling the muscles flexing underneath, and he hissed through clenched teeth as Chris made short work of his fly, his fingers brushing lightly over Toby’s erection, already straining inside his pants.

They moved together toward the bed, locked in a kiss, shedding the rest of their clothes as they went.

"Come on," Toby said, and his own voice surprised him, guttural and unfamiliar.

"What, Toby?" Chris breathed the words against Toby’s cheek. His hands were on Toby’s hips, keeping him close. "What do you want?"

"Your mouth."

Even through the haze of lust, Toby half-expected Chris to argue, to make some comment about asking nice, or delaying things just to be contrary. Chris did none of that, though. He simply smiled, sultry, mysterious, as if Toby had pleased him. As if Toby were behaving exactly on cue. Toby didn’t bother to try to decipher that, not now: Chris without clothes was a feast, and Toby was ready to gorge.

They wasted no time on preliminaries. Chris pushed Toby down on to the bed, kicking his legs apart, and Toby lay back without saying another word, his whole body tensing as Chris sank to his knees on the thin carpet. He felt Chris’s stubbled cheek scraping against his thigh, those hands gripping his hips… and then Chris’s mouth was closing around him, hot, wet, suction and friction and a wicked, curling tongue, and every thought in Toby’s mind fled as the grey behind his eyelids exploded into fractals of light.

Just before he came, Toby opened his eyes and found Chris watching him. Intent, intense, his eyes dark with desire and something else. Toby shuddered through a ripple of pleasure, and came, only moments later, with Chris’s eyes still locked on his, unable to look away.

Afterwards, Toby lay back on the bed, panting, as Chris stood up, wiping his mouth, looking smug. Toby figured he probably ought to be irritated by that, but hell -- he was willing to give credit where it was due.  And besides, afterglow left him feeling too good to care much, one way or the other.

"Want a drink?" Chris asked him suddenly, turning toward the kitchen.

"No," Toby said, reaching out, stopping him with a hand on his wrist. "Don’t. Stay here."

Chris pulled his arm free easily, but he grinned down at Toby. "You looking for trouble, Beecher?"

"So it seems." Toby smiled back at him, unconcerned. "We have unfinished business."

Another slow grin, but no trace of mockery this time; Chris simply looked amused. "I’m in no rush." Unlike you, his tone seemed to say.

Toby lay back again, turning his head on the pillow to watch as Chris headed into the kitchen. Clothing, he realized, was completely extraneous on Chris. It could never do justice to all those tight muscles flexing, all that restrained power. Toby felt a twinge of envy, replaced quickly by a pang of proprietary lust.

He was still watching a moment later, when Chris returned with a bottle of beer.

"One left," Chris said. "Want to share?"

"I’ll pass."

"You don't drink," Chris observed.

"Noticed that, huh?"

"I notice lots of things, Toby." Chris leaned against the wall, tilting the bottle to his lips. "So, you dance the twelve-step?"

"Not exactly." More like five years at the mercy of a fiery Italian nun, Toby thought, wryly. "It’s pretty easy to quit when you’re stuck behind bars. Besides, it was alcohol that landed me in Oz. I won’t go back."

"To the booze, or to jail?"

"Either or. Take your pick."

"But you drive," Chris pointed out. "Must’ve been hard, getting back behind the wheel."

Toby’s gaze snapped to his. "Why would you say that?"

Chris tossed back the rest of the beer in one swallow, and shrugged. "You nail that girl with your shiny high-end Toyota, end up in prison -- and man, that judge had it in for you, didn't she, Toby? Even your fancy family connections couldn't keep you from nabbing a fifteen-year stretch." His voice was impassive, impersonal; he might as well have been discussing the weather.

Toby stared at him. "How the fuck do you know about that?"

"Saw you on the news, remember? And your face has been in the papers for weeks." Chris threw the empty bottle into the sink and climbed on to the bed, hovering above Toby. "I know all about you, Toby. It was almost too easy." There was something odd about the way he said it, combined with the mild but pointed look he gave Toby; like a subtle warning. "Besides, I like to know who I’m dealin’ with."

"And now you think you know?"

"Killing a kid," Chris said, shaking his head. "That shit will do some damage. That’ll fuck you up."

Toby winced, unable to stop himself, and closed his eyes as scattered images played through his mind like disjointed frames from some B-rated horror film: His children, screaming. Angus’s desperate pleas. Katherine’s confused concern, Adam Guenzel’s scorn, and his parents, their eyes mournful, shadowed with grief. And of course, as always, Kathy Rockwell -- her bright red braids flying, that horrifying sound as his car ended her life, and his own. The frames seemed to meld together in Toby’s mind, congealing like cold blood, his own personal trail of tears.

He opened his eyes again, gazing up at Chris. "If I’m so fucked up," he said softly, "then what the hell are you doing here with me?"

Chris said nothing for a moment, the muted grey light filtering through the window casting his face in half-shadow. And then he moved, unexpectedly quick; a freeze-frame thrust suddenly into fast-forward. Toby barely knew what the hell was happening until it was already over and done: his world tilted, righted itself, and somehow he ended up lying face-down on the bed, sheets rucked up beneath his hips as Chris pressed against him from behind, pinning him down.

It was just like the dream, Toby realized -- except this time, there was no doubt that Chris wasn’t planning to let him win.

"You know what I was thinking, the whole time I watched you yap at those reporters on TV?"

Toby shook his head, his hips jerking involuntarily as Chris ground down against him. "No."

Chris sank one hand into his hair, tugging on it. "I was thinking -- mine."

Something in Toby jolted and flared, like an electric shock to his subconscious, powering up a dozen memories, forcibly forgotten. Another voice, at another time, in another place -- dull grey light like a fog all around him, the flash of a spotlight glinting briefly against a balding skull. Hot, damp breath against his neck, and a deep voice in his ear: You’re mine, bitch. Don’t you ever fucking forget it. Your ass belongs to me.

"No," he gritted, between clenched teeth. "Fucking don’t."

"Don’t what?" Chris shifted, and Toby groaned as Chris’s cock nudged his ass. "Don’t do this?"

A hard, heavy body, pinning him down. Suffocating him. Sharp teeth sinking into the sensitive skin of his neck; a sudden jolt of scissor-sharp pain. A low, gruff voice, laughing: Don’t bother resisting, sweetpea, it only hurts that much more if you try...

"No," Toby hissed, again. "Get the fuck off."


Don’t tell me you don’t want it. After all, if it’s not me, it’ll be one of them -- and you wouldn’t want that, would you, prag?

"Mother fucker--" Caught beneath Chris, trapped by a powerful sense of déjà vu, Toby bucked violently, twisting his body in an attempt to throw Chris off.

"Toby, hey--"

Chris’s voice barely penetrated. Toby bucked again, hard, and his head connected with Chris’s chin. The impact left him momentarily stunned by pain, and Chris took advantage of his sudden stillness to grab him around the waist and roll him onto his back, catching his arms and pinning them above his head. Toby kicked out wildly and tried to twist again, but Chris’s hard body seemed to weigh a ton, holding him firm.


To-bi-as . . . A singsong voice, tormenting him even in his dreams. His nightmares. You’ll never be free, you know that, don’t you? Wherever you go, I’ll be there…

"Get the fuck off of me, you fucking--" Toby managed to pull his right arm free but there wasn’t much he could do with it: Chris was obviously stronger, and his position put him at a tactical advantage. Cursing, Toby groped beneath the pillow, feeling around blindly until he found what he was looking for, his fingers curling around the hilt of the knife, yanking it free. He raised his arm without even thinking, felt the resistance as the blade touched flesh, and through the blinding haze of frustration and rage he saw and recognized Chris’s surprised expression, but it lasted only a moment, only one moment before Chris was grabbing his hand, slamming it down against the bed frame. The knife fell from Toby’s numb fingers, landing on the floor with a soft, dull sound.

"Toby. Fuck."

Toby stilled instantly. The bed shifted beneath him, and warm skin pressed against his chest as Chris leaned over him, picked up the knife from the floor.

He closed his eyes, his chest heaving in anger and exertion. The rush of blood to his head was receding, the grey fog slowly clearing, leaving behind a dull sense of horror, a sick recognition of what he’d done. What he’d been about to do.

Holy fucking *shit*.

There’d been other times… other men, but he’d always been able to get it under control before any real harm was done, shrugging it off as a kink, or a particularly warped sense of humor. Sometimes they stuck around, excited by Toby’s anger; more often, they called him a crazy bastard and hightailed it out of the room.

He’d never used the knife before, though. In fact, he barely remembered stashing it there.

"Shouldn’t keep things like this lying around," Chris was saying. Toby opened his eyes and found Chris gazing down at him, testing the tip of the knife with his thumb. "Somebody could end up getting hurt."

"Give it to me."

Chris only laughed. "You think I’m crazy?"

It took a moment for Toby to answer. Christ, he’d gone completely postal -- and instead of getting up, walking out, or doing something worse, Chris was laughing at him.

"Yeah," Toby muttered, finally. "I think maybe you fucking are."

"You and me both, then." Chris smiled down at him, and for the first time, Toby noticed the cut on his lip, where the knife had nicked him. He watched in fascination, unable to look away, as the cut bloomed, flesh-pink to deep crimson, blood already pooling in the small wound.

"You’re bleeding," Toby said softly.

Chris said nothing, smile still in place, and threw the shank across the room with a jerk of his hand. Toby heard it clatter somewhere on the kitchen floor, but the sound seemed too far away, and meant nothing: Chris’s mouth was on his again, rough and hard and maybe angry, and instead of trying to get away, Toby was kissing him back, pulling him closer with his free hand. He could taste Chris’s blood, bitter and sharp on his tongue.

Chris released Toby’s wrist, both of his hands coming up to slide into Toby’s hair, holding his head still. Freed, finally, Toby pulled him closer, sliding his hands around Chris’s neck, fingers digging into flesh. Chris’s skin was warm beneath his fingers, the pulse at his throat vibrating with life – all of it so real, so much more fucking real than the dream, even more real than the memories he still refused to acknowledge. Chris’s body was a solid mass of heated flesh and muscle, as hard and unmovable as a brick wall-- and winning, Toby decided, was really so fucking overrated, because knowing you couldn’t win meant that you could finally stop trying to, once and for all.

"Mine," Chris repeated, and there was nothing impassive about his tone now. It was demanding, possessive, a claim being staked.

"I don’t fucking belong to anyone," Toby said tightly, even as he caught Chris’s neck in the crook of his arm, dragging him close. "Not you, not anyone. Not anymore." It was admitting too much, but he couldn’t hold back the words.

Chris laughed softly in his ear, biting down on his earlobe, and then he found Toby’s mouth again, pushing his tongue inside. They kissed again, long and deep, and by the time they broke for air they were both panting hard, the sound obscenely loud, pornographic, in the silent room.

"Shut up and fuck me, Toby."

Toby hiked his legs over Chris’s hips, a low moan escaping his lips as he surrendered to it with a low, shuddering sigh, letting Chris take him. Maybe it was just another addiction, he told himself, wildly -- but Jesus fuck, it was different. Different in the way light and dark are different, the way doing is different than being done to. Chris moved over him, into him, one long, slow, relentless burning-hot stroke that seemed to go on and on and on, and even the pain was intoxicating -- every sensation seemed infused with color, chasing away the grey.

It was approaching dawn when he finally rolled out of bed and headed into the bathroom. When he came out, Chris was still lying in bed, one arm thrown over his head, the sheets caught up around his hips.

Toby stood at the foot of the bed, watching him. The skin on the back of his neck prickled with a vague sense of premonition; like all of his other addictions, this one would undoubtedly end badly. There was no way it could do otherwise.

Finally, Chris stirred, stretched, and opened his eyes. "Hey."

"Hey." Toby moved into the room and picked up his clothes off the floor, knowing that Chris's gaze followed every move he made. He felt raw, unprotected, like new skin exposed beneath a fresh wound. "I have to go. I have to work this morning."

Chris made a sound like a low purr and stretched again, the movement directing Toby's gaze to the thin, cotton sheet, which had slipped noticeably lower. "You sure about that?"

Nothing, Toby thought. I’m sure of nothing, not anymore. "Yeah."

Chris tossed the sheet aside and rose to his feet, moving toward him slowly, until they stood face to face. As always, it threw Toby off-balance, the way Chris completely invaded his space -- claimed it, permeated it, until nothing else seemed real, or even to matter. Away from Chris, Toby often thought he’d imagined the effect, or at least exaggerated it in his mind -- but no. He hadn’t.

Toby lifted his gaze, noting the traces of blood on Chris’s cheek, the faint streaks on his chin. "You should have that looked at," he said softly.

Chris shrugged, careless. "I’ve had worse."

Toby stared at him, feeling like he should apologize, not knowing exactly how -- and sensing, instinctively, that Chris would somehow think less of him if he did. He wasn’t sure why that mattered to him, but it did.

"Look," he managed, finally. "I don’t know what you’re -– what you want from me. But -- it’s hard, for me to trust somebody."

Chris stood without moving, gazing at him with a small smile, and then he nodded. Just once, a short, slight dip of his head, the smile still in place. "Why don’t we just see what happens, all right?"

The kiss was a deep-sea dive into wild, swirling waters, and Toby allowed himself to be drawn under.

It was a simple equation, really, he told himself. Most of the time, he felt like shit. Alcohol made him feel shittier, even if it also made him too fuzzy to care; drugs made him believe, temporarily, like he wasn’t shit, but there was always that inevitable moment of re-realization, once he came down.  But Chris . . .

Being with Chris made him feel -- not like he wasn’t shit, more like his being shit didn’t matter so much.

He wasn’t sure if that was even remotely healthy, strongly suspected it wasn’t. But he had to admit that he just didn’t care. Not anymore.


It occurred to him, later, that once the decision to go down a certain path has been made, everything suddenly becomes much easier. It’s the making up your mind that’s the tricky part—standing at that fork in the road, a cacophony of warnings going off in your head—but once you’ve committed yourself to a direction, for better or worse, you’ve essentially been set free. All that’s really left to do at that point is to follow the road you’ve chosen, wherever it goes.

With that firmly in mind, Toby immersed himself in his liaisons with Chris with an enthusiasm he hadn’t felt since days long before Oz. The apartment on Leroy Street—which, in Toby’s mind, had represented his weakness, a physical representation of the broken man he’d become—now seemed more of a haven, a refuge, the only place he wanted to be. Resignation was replaced by the full-body twitch of anticipation, a feeling which grew by infinite leaps and bounds after each meeting with Chris. Eating, working, and everything else became things he just did in between.

The logistics worked themselves out more by accident than any kind of conscious design. Friday nights were relatively easy: Toby had been using dinner with Angus as a standing alibi for months, so nobody had any real reason to suspect anything had changed. Toby knew Angus assumed he was having an affair with another woman, but Angus never actually came out and asked about it; don’t-ask-don’t-know was the handy prerogative of any good defense lawyer, after all, and Angus was one of the best.

During the week it was slightly more challenging, but even then, things somehow seemed to fall into place. He and Chris met at the apartment as often as Toby could get away without raising suspicions—which, as it turned out, was more often than he would have imagined. Although he had several elaborate excuses prepared just in case someone should ask where and how he’d been spending so much of his time (Daytime AA meetings are so much less crowded! he would say. And the gym really fills up after five...), no one seemed to notice as his lunch hours grew longer, his workdays grew shorter, his number of unused vacation and personal days dwindled. Chris carried a pager (for work, he’d said once, though he'd refused to elaborate), and Toby couldn’t deny the rush it gave him to use it, his blood thrumming in his veins as he dialed the number, letting Chris know without any words that he was ready—and, God, willing—to meet. Sometimes Chris would call Toby’s cell, leaving raw, uncensored messages on his voice mail; after a while, Toby began keeping his phone set to vibrate, in order to avoid making explanations when Chris called him at some ridiculous hour, or while he was in meetings, or heading to court. Over time, Toby began to have a kind of Pavlovian reaction to the vibrations. When he laughingly told Chris about that, the calls began to increase in frequency, often during times when Chris already knew Toby couldn’t possibly get away.

Chris never told Toby what he did during those times Toby couldn’t get away, and Toby, with instincts born and honed in prison, chose not to ask. It gnawed at him sometimes, knowing that there were large chunks of time Chris would never account for, things he refused to discuss—but since Toby had a few of his own sordid secrets to keep, he thought it wise not to make a big deal out of it. And so, despite the amount of time they spent together, Chris remained an enigma—he rarely spoke about his past, and it was only through direct, sometimes dogged questioning that Toby learned what little he knew: Chris had left home at fifteen, was arrested on drug charges and sent to Lardner at seventeen, and had been married four times to three different women. He was currently living with a friend named Ronnie, who ran an auto repair shop in the Bronx. Through bits and pieces of conversation, Toby found out that Chris had been to Vegas with his second (and fourth) wife, spent a year in L.A. with his third, and had been living in Miami before picking up and moving to New York, although here the details always grew vague. Chris never mentioned a job, but he always seemed to have money; whenever Toby asked about that, Chris simply shrugged and said he was helping Ronnie out at the shop, and that was as far as it went.

By contrast, Toby told Chris more than he’d ever expected to, more than he’d expected to admit to anyone. He told Chris about Genevieve, what she’d been like when they met, how badly he’d treated her during his hazy alcohol days. How she’d never been able to handle his incarceration, not from the very beginning. He talked about his history of addictions, using the dubious gift of hindsight to trace the lines from one substance to another, and he talked about the nightmares that had been plaguing him ever since Kathy Rockwell’s death. He told Chris about Sister Pete, and Said, and Ryan O’Reily; sometimes he talked about work, and the prisoner advocacy work he was doing with Katherine. He talked about Guenzel’s case (not surprisingly, Adam had refrained from reporting Toby's assault on him; it seemed taking a beating from a "prison bitch" wasn't a stigma he felt prepared to face), and sometimes—rarely—he mentioned the kids, although Chris never seemed very interested in them, unless visiting them kept Toby away from him. But he never, ever talked about his early days in Oz. That was a line he still couldn’t cross.

They were in bed, sharing a cigarette, the first time Chris asked about Katherine.

Toby was frank with him. “I thought I loved her, at first,” he said, exhaling a cloud of smoke into the air above them. “She was everything I thought I should want. Smart, kind, a good mother…”

“Great legs?” Chris asked.

Toby laughed. “Yeah, that, too.” He handed the cigarette over to Chris. “She reminded me a little of Gen. But the difference was, she understood where I’d been. She’d seen my file, knew everything I’d done, and she was still interested in me. Gen never could get past it.”

“What, that you went to jail, or what went on inside?”

“Both, I guess.”

“That why she offed herself?”

“I think so.” Toby struggled to keep his voice casual; this was a wound still too painful to probe.

“And this Katherine,” Chris said. “She doesn’t mind what you do?”

Toby glanced over at him, and then shrugged. “She doesn’t know,” he said. “Not about this.”

Chris raised an eyebrow. “But you fuck her.”

“No. I mean, yes, I did—we did, but not anymore.” Christ, how could he explain the situation with Katherine? Toby could barely make sense of it himself. “In the beginning, when I first got out, I was—yeah, I wanted to. But the first time was a fucking disaster.” He closed his eyes, remembering every detail of that night as clearly as if he was watching it play in his head: the way the walls had seemed to close in all around him, his heart racing like crazy and his skin clammy with sweat and fear, and through it all, Katherine’s pathetic attempts to act as if it was all so perfectly fucking normal for Toby to be sitting buck-naked on her bed, hyperventilating, lost in the throes of a full-blown panic attack.

Opening his eyes, Toby took the cigarette back from Chris, took a long drag and exhaled again, slowly. “It got better, after a while. But it always felt like she was trying too hard. Or maybe I was." He gave a humorless laugh. "Finally I told her that I needed time, that I was still too fucked up in the head. Not one of my better closing arguments, but she agreed with me anyway.” Handing the cigarette back to Chris, he added: “To be honest, I haven’t had sex with Katherine in weeks.”

Chris laughed at that, tossing the butt into the ashtray and reaching for Toby. “And she’s still sticking around?”

His relationship with Katherine was one thing that still made Toby uneasy. He didn’t love her, couldn’t and wouldn’t, but he had no desire to hurt her, either. Away from Chris, Toby felt incredibly guilty for using Katherine the way he did, and as a result, he often overcompensated by sending her flowers, buying her gifts, treating her with the kind of reverence that he’d never shown any woman before, not even his wife. It was, he reflected, an unsettling but nevertheless authentic consequence of spending five years living among ruthless, violent men: he had a finer appreciation for women now, for their softness, their kindness, the way they looked and felt and smelled. But along with that reverence came also a feeling of distance, of difference, as if women were no longer real to him—they were like fine works of art, to be appreciated and handled with care but never brought too close, because Toby, with his brutal prison education, had the capability to cause serious damage.

He couldn't hurt Chris, though. And ironically, it was that which made Toby feel safer with Chris than he had around anyone in a long, long time—Katherine knew a lot of things about him, but she didn’t know it all. With Chris, Toby could do anything, be anything, and the more time they spent together, the more comfortable Toby began to feel in his own, altered skin.

Besides, he told himself whenever the guilt crept up behind him again, the simple truth was that Katherine was too good for him—and sooner or later, she would realize it. It was a shaky rationalization at best, but it seemed to serve both their purposes well. And so he continued to escort her to the dinner parties and business affairs that were expected of them, playing the faithful companion to her up-and-coming power attorney, and as long as he did so, everyone—Katherine, his family, his co-workers, even his parole officer—was happy, and basically left him alone.

It was at one such event, on a Tuesday evening six weeks after he’d given Chris the key, when Toby’s two lives unexpectedly converged, colliding across a thick oak table and half-finished plates of bucatini all'Amatriciana.

He and Katherine had spent the evening at a prisoners-rights seminar, followed by drinks (Just water for me, thanks) at the hotel bar, and then they’d headed on to 'Cesca for a late meal. Toby was half-listening to Katherine discuss her latest case, while subversively checking out the nicely toned arms of the hovering waiter, when from behind him, someone called out his name.

“Tobias Beecher. How the hell are you, man?”

Toby stiffened, instantly recognizing the voice.

Turning, he found Chris standing over him, smiling, dressed as Toby had never seen him before--black tailored pants, and a white shirt left unbuttoned at the collar, giving a tantalizing glimpse of smooth skin. The leather jacket was nowhere in sight. Beside him stood another man, dark-haired, tan-skinned, with a good three days’ worth of stubble shading his jaw, and the longest eyelashes Toby had ever seen on a man.

Toby racked his brain, trying to remember if he had mentioned to Chris where he would be having dinner that night. He was pretty sure he hadn’t, but it was hard to be sure: the last time they’d been together, Chris’s tongue had been doing amazing things to his ass. There could have been babbling involved.

“Chris,” he said faintly. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I come here all the time,” Chris said, his smile deepening as he silently challenged Toby to contradict him. “And who’s this?”

Toby cursed silently. Chris knew damn well who Katherine was. “Katherine,” he said, his voice tight, “this is, ah, a friend of mine, Chris Keller. Chris, this is Katherine McClain, an attorney for the Alliance for Prisoners Rights.”

Katherine smiled up at Chris politely. “Hello.”

“Katherine,” Chris repeated. Toby watched, silent and stiff and unmoving, as Chris made his way over to Katherine’s chair. Eyes crinkling, charm at full-throttle, Chris held out one hand, and when Katherine put her hand in his, he held on to it—not shaking it, not letting go, just holding her fingers loosely in his.

“Why don’t you join us?” Katherine asked. She looked over at Toby, who shrugged and said nothing. “Bring your friend, too. We’ve got plenty of room.”

The "friend," Toby learned, was Chris's roommate, Ronnie. And Ronnie had a car. Quite a few of them, as it turned out; apparently, he was not only a repairman, he was also heavily into restoration. While Chris flirted with Katherine not more than two feet away, Ronnie told Toby all about his most recent acquisition: a 1987 Grand National GNX. By the time they’d moved onto dessert, Toby had heard all the specs.

“A real American beauty,” Ronnie told him. “Man, you should come see her sometime.”

At the other end of the table, Katherine had succumbed to Chris’s considerable charm and was talking animatedly about her work. Toby heard her mention Cyril O’Reily’s name and knew she’d go on about that for a while; Cyril’s death-row sentence was Katherine’s newest and most fervent challenge, and it had already become quite a cause-celebre, with the possibility of setting precedent not only at the state level but at the federal one, too. Chris was sitting too close to her, hanging on her every word as if prisoners’ rights were his new favorite hobby, and Toby couldn’t help noticing the way Chris’s gaze roamed over her body, as if he were planning to crawl up her skirt right here in the dining room. It was all Toby could do not to roll his eyes.

“So what do you do, Chris?” Katherine was asking.

Chris leaned back, one arm thrown over the back of his chair. “Ah, you know. This and that.”

“Do you live here in the city?”

“I’m sorta in between places right now. Staying with a friend.”

Toby shot Chris a warning look, but Chris ignored him, reaching one hand out to finger the necklace Katherine wore. He ran the tip of his finger under the chain, lifting it from her skin. “Gorgeous,” he said finally, with a slow, lazy smile. “Brings out your eyes.”

Katherine laughed. “That’s exactly what Toby said when he gave it to me.”

“Is that right? Well, Toby here has good taste.”

Choking on his drink, Toby realized, would be seriously clichéd, so he put his glass down firmly on the table and turned his attention to Ronnie.

“So,” he said politely. “How do you know Chris?”

Ronnie grinned, a quick flash of flawless white teeth. “In just about every way there is.”

“I see.” Toby picked up his drink again. Jealousy would be just as clichéd as choking, he reminded himself—and also fucking ridiculous, considering the situation.

A situation, he mused as Ronnie inched his chair closer, which seemed to be rapidly descending into some kind of French farce.

“Damn shame you’re a straight boy,” Ronnie said softly, so only Toby could hear.

“Oh, yeah?” Toby’s smile was wry. It seemed the subtle portion of the evening was over. “And why is that?”

“Because you’re hot.”

“Ah. And what about Chris?”

Ronnie shrugged. “Chris and I, we don’t have no rules, you know what I’m saying? Anything goes.” He looked Toby over, a slow catch-and-drag of his ice-blue eyes, and then he smiled. “Besides, he wouldn’t have to lose out. I think we could all play nice together. What do you say?”

Toby glanced across the table again. Chris appeared to be thoroughly engrossed in whatever Katherine was saying to him, but Toby knew full well that nothing, not even the tiniest of details, ever escaped Chris’s notice. Chris would be fully aware of what Ronnie was trying to do, just as he was also undoubtedly conscious of the current rush and hum of Toby’s body, that slow, stealthy rise of anticipation that being near Chris always triggered in him.

Chris would know all of that. And that being the case, Toby’s lawyer-brain reasoned, this whole scenario reeked of some kind of test—or a game. Or maybe it was just Chris’s cute little way of retaliating for that night in the back room at the Cock.

Whatever it was, though, Toby hadn’t come this far by playing it safe—and he sure as hell wasn’t about to start now.

He turned back to Ronnie, giving him a slow, deliberate once-over, topped off by a generous smile. “What do you propose?”

They were in the bathroom maybe two minutes, tops, before the door flew open, banging sharply against the wall.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Slowly, Toby turned to face Chris, but left his right hand where it was, resting lightly on Ronnie’s hip. “Your friend Ronnie here wanted to show me his engine.”

Chris’s eyes narrowed as he turned to Ronnie, who took a quick step backwards, raising his hands in the air. “Hey, Keller, easy. I thought you wanted the chick?”

Toby watched Chris, his pulse quickening. So it wasn’t a set-up, then—Ronnie had been acting on his own devices, and Chris seemed as surprised by that as Toby himself was. Surprised and furious, Toby amended, silently; anger was emanating from Chris in almost visible waves, like heat on a blacktop.

Chris turned to Toby, one cool eyebrow raised. “You fucking with Ronnie to make me jealous?”

“I’m sorry," Toby drawled. "I thought jealousy was your agenda for the evening.”

Chris stepped closer. “And I thought you said you didn’t want to share.”

“Mm, I did say that, didn’t I?”

“Hold on.” Ronnie stepped in between them. “Let me see if I have this straight. Beecher, you’re in here fucking around with me because your girlfriend is flirting with the guy you’re fucking behind her back. Do I have that right?”

Toby gazed at Chris steadily. “That about sums it up.”

“And Chris, unless I’m a fuckin’ idiot, you brought me here just to mess with Beecher’s head. Am I right?”

Chris said nothing, his eyes never leaving Toby’s face.

“You’re crazy, both of you,” Ronnie said, grinning. “You know that?” He threw an arm around Keller’s neck, then did the same to Toby, linking the three of them together. “Now, me?” he said easily, all friendly-like, “I have no problem with sharing. No problem at all. So how about you two discuss this amongst yourselves, and let me know what you come up with. I’ll be waiting outside when you figure it out.”

He walked out, still chuckling, and his exit left the small room in silence.

For a long time they stood where Ronnie had left them, not touching, not talking, surrounded by the stinging smell of disinfectant and the harsh glare of fluorescent light. As the moments passed, Toby felt his anger wilting beneath Chris’s focused gaze.

“How did you know I’d be here?” he asked, finally.

Chris shrugged again, and said nothing.

“You know, Keller, you know a lot about me,” Toby said. “Where I live, what I do. Who I fuck. And I still don’t know shit about you.”

“Maybe that’s because there’s nothing to tell.”

“And maybe that’s bullshit,” Toby shot back. “Your friend Ronnie seems to know you pretty well. I bet he could tell me a lot of things.”

“Shut the fuck up about Ronnie, Beecher.”

The thought came to Toby like a flash of sudden understanding, of knowing, as if it were there all along, way beneath the surface, something he must have always known. “You’ve brought him there, haven’t you?”


“The apartment,” Toby snapped. “My apartment. You’ve brought him there. You’ve had him there.” And my God, he thought, a little sickly; there had been so much time. Hours and hours while he was at work, or with Katherine, or seeing his kids—hours, days even, when he had been doing other things. Why had it never occurred to him? “I’m at work all day,” he said, and somewhere in his brain it registered, how completely fucking ridiculous he sounded—after everything I do for you, this is how you repay me?—but he couldn’t stop himself. "Have you fucked him in my apartment? In my goddamned bed?”

Chris laughed. “Toby--”

“Just tell me, goddammit. Have you?”

“God, you’re sexy when you’re jealous.”

Toby shoved at him. “Get your fucking hands off me.”

He never saw Chris’s next move. One minute he was leaning back against the sink, and the next he was being dragged forward, a strong hand gripping him by the collar of his shirt. Tugged up against Chris’s chest, eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose, with Chris’s breath hot on his face—and Chris wasn’t laughing anymore.

“How many people have been in that bed with you, Beecher?”

“Fuck you.”

“Oh, I promise.” Chris’s voice was deceptively soft, dangerous. “But really, how many? How many nameless fucking cocksuckers have you had in that bed besides me?”

Before you,” Toby said, without thinking--and then stopped.

There was a pause, a sudden silence made all the more striking by the intensity of the words that had led up to it. Toby had the uncomfortable feeling they’d done this dance before; Chris’s eyes were still trained on him, studying him, and Chris was as unpredictable as the wind at the best of times, but Toby had the undeniable feeling that something was about to change, that some indefinable line had been crossed.

But a moment later Chris’s face cleared, his mouth lifting into an amused grin as he let go of Toby’s shirt, smoothing the collar with one hand.

“Okay, Beecher. You want to see how the other half lives? I’ll give you a personal fucking tour.”

To be continued...


Author's Notes

My endless thanks to Rustler, not only for tackling this beast and beating it into submission, but also for always seeing where I want to go and somehow knowing how to get me there, making this story so much better than it would have been.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Christy for the birth and growth of this story; for seeing what it could be from the very beginning, for believing that I could do that vision justice, and for loving it even during the times when I didn't. And also for her invaluable help with the setting, which is as much a part of this story as Beecher himself.

Thanks also to Kate for listening, advising, and encouraging during the early days, and to everyone who has continued to encourage me along the way.

This story was, is, and will always remain dedicated to Christy.

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