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Moment of Peace

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Toby paced the length of the pod, his agitation growing with each step. Eight days, they had already been in lockdown for eight fucking days. When was it going to end? Maybe it would never end. Maybe they were just waiting for him to crack, so they could taunt him as he screamed and begged to be let out. Toby ran his hands over his face. Jesus Christ, he had to stop thinking like this. He was being ridiculous. The lockdown would be over soon, wouldn’t it?

He stopped his frantic movements and pressed his nose to the glass, gazing out at Em City. He wanted to be out there, watching TV, or playing a game of chess or, shit, just working in Sister Pete’s office. Anything but trapped in here. He needed to be out of this goddamn cage for longer than it took to shower. Toby pressed his right palm hard against the glass, and then pushed himself away, turning sharply and resuming his pacing. He heard Chris sigh and put down the magazine he was reading, but he didn’t spare his podmate a glance.

“Beecher, you okay?” Chris asked.

Glad to have a focus for his frustrations, Toby, a sneer marring his face, spun toward Chris. “Why, I’m absolutely fine. So delighted to be trapped in here. It’s much better than say skiing in Vail. I’m enjoying myself immensely.” With a growl of frustration, he once again headed to the front of the pod and rested his forehead against the glass-like barricade, breathing heavily. Toby could feel Chris come up behind him, cutting off what little personal space he had.

Chris placed his hands on Toby’s shoulders, trying to massage away the anxiety, but Toby’s whole body tensed at his touch. “Take it easy, Beech. Just relax.”

Toby bit back a groan. Chris’s presence was overwhelming. He needed space. Time to think and to get a handle on his emotions. It was just too much. Dear god, he just needed to get away.

“Come on, try and relax. It’ll be lights out soon, okay?” Chris said as he continued to massage Toby’s shoulders.

Goddamn one-track mind son of a bitch. Toby pulled out of Chris’s grasp. “Lights out, and what Keller? You’ll fuck me and that’ll make it all better? Christ, do you ever think of anything else? That’s not what I need right now.” Arms across his chest, Beecher walked to the other end of the pod.

Keller leaned against the door, hands resting on his hips. “So why don’t you tell me what it is you need.”

Toby chewed on his lower lip for a second, seeming a bit uncertain. He stared at his feet, and then his head jerked as if something had just occurred to him. When he raised his eyes to meet Chris’s, his lower lip was pushed forward and his chin was raised defiantly. “I need to be able to talk to Said,” he said.

“Said? What the fuck for?”

“Because maybe with him, I can sort some of this mess out in my head. Really come to terms with the things I’ve done, the things done to me, and find some way to make amends,” Toby said, his voice becoming more strident with each word.

Shaking his head, Chris walked over to their bunks. He grabbed onto the top bar, and neither man said anything for a moment. Then, Chris turned to look at Toby. When he spoke his tone was soft. “Ya know, I’m not going nowhere. Why don’t you try talking to me? It might help.”

Toby snorted. “Oh really. You’re going to be my moral compass. That’s a good one.”

Chris smashed his hand against the top bunk. “Damn it Toby. Why don’t you use that fuckin’ brain of yours and figure out that Said’s direction, it’s gonna get you killed. His last bit of Muslim bullshit got you shanked.”

The anger that Toby had used as a shield to keep Chris back for so many months called to him, offering up its momentary safety. It had gotten so easy to push Chris away, and it was so hard to let him back in. It was too dangerous without his defenses, but oh how he wanted to lay them all down.

Toby gave into the familiar, his nose flaring in anger. “Just because *you* don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s bullshit. Why would I even bother trying to discuss this with you? What would be the point? All that matters to you is the bottom line, getting what you want.”

“Hey, that’s all that matters to a lot of people,” Chris said.

The condescending smirk on Chris’s face made Toby shiver with memory. Images he couldn’t forget, no matter how much he wished he could, moved through his mind like a jagged marquee. Metzger’s arm around his neck. Chris’s arm draped around Schillinger. I don’t love you.

The anger soared, protecting him from the pain that was etched into his soul. A hack called “lights out,” and just as the darkness descended, Toby stared into Chris’s eyes looking for the superiority that went with the smirk. It wasn’t there though. All he saw was pain — hurt. His words were hurting Chris. Good. Hurt motherfucker, hurt like I do. Let it linger coming back to bite you when you least expect it.

“You know. You’re right, Chris,” Toby said. He grinned manically at the wariness on Chris’s face. You’re wondering where I’m going with this, he thought, aren’t you? It worries you, and it should. He took a step toward Chris, a mock look of realization on his face. “It was bullshit to try to make amends with Schillinger, right? So logic follows that it was bullshit to forgive you.”

Chris swallowed hard, but he didn’t say anything, which wasn’t good enough for Toby. He wanted more of a reaction. He needed more of a reaction to make sure he’d gotten under Chris’s skin. “So do I have it right? Is it ALL bullshit?”

“Fuck you,” Chris said and got into his bunk.

“Not tonight, thanks,” Toby said. Chris glared at him, and Toby laughed as he climbed up into his own bunk.

Toby leaned against the wall gloating over his verbal victory, and for an entire five minutes, he managed to forget about feeling trapped. Then the guilt slammed into him, and he had to ask himself what the fuck he had just done. He was such a malevolent shit sometimes. Chris had only been trying to help; he hadn’t deserved the volley of invective that had been tossed at him. Chris trying to help, though, only made things worse as he was part of the problem. Toby was drowning in Chris Keller, and maybe if he were able to let go, it would all be peaceful, but he couldn’t do that. He kept clawing his way to the surface, trying to breathe in something other than Chris and failing every step of the way.

On New Year’s Eve, a little over a week ago, finally being able to touch Chris again had been wonderful. After some initial nervousness, he had felt such a physical relief when Chris’s lips touched his. Even at his angriest, Toby hadn’t been able to stop his body from responding to Chris’s presence. His body had craved the other man’s touch, no matter how much his mind said no. They had spent the first few days of the lockdown satisfying their need to touch each other, and Toby had enjoyed every moment of it. He should have known, though, that Chris would want more than just mutual physical satisfaction. Chris would want to possess all of him, and he should have been prepared for that attack, but as always, Keller surprised him.

A few nights ago, after lights out, they had slid into the lower bunk with Toby welcoming the feeling of his own hardness pressed against Chris’s. Just as he had been about to see to the removal of Chris’s boxers, he had found himself nudged onto his back and Chris straddling him. Dark blue eyes had stared at him with such intensity that he had found it hard to breathe.

“Toby, I want to make love to you,” Chris had whispered.

Trying to ignore the panic building in his stomach, Toby had chuckled and said, “Well if you hadn’t stopped me a second ago, I would have had your boxers off, and we would have been part way there.”

Chris had traced a finger along the line of Toby’s jaw and then across his lips. “No. I want to be inside you.”

Toby had swallowed hard as the panic in his stomach swelled upward. He wasn’t ready for this. Why couldn’t they just continue as they were? After Vern, he wasn’t sure he ever wanted another man to do that to him. He’d have to tell Chris, no, he couldn’t.

Before he had been able to voice his objections, though, Chris had pressed a gentle, lingering kiss on his lips. Then, he had slipped his hand into Toby’s, twining their fingers together, and had said, “I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.”

And what had he done? Had he asked Chris to be patient with him, to give him more time? No. Trapped by Chris’s gaze, all he had done was nod his assent. His body had tensed in fear, and Toby had no idea what he had been expecting, maybe a flashback to Schillinger. If he had expected Chris to trigger some bad memories, he was completely wrong.

That night, Chris had acted like they had all the time in the world, as if he had forgotten that there was the constant danger of their being interrupted by a hack. After he had removed both his boxers and Toby’s, instead of returning to his position on top of Toby, Chris had lain down beside him. Gentle but firm hands had caressed tense muscles, tracing their way around a nipple, across ribs, along a hip, and moving ever so slowly lower.

While those hands had been erasing tension, Chris’s mouth had never strayed far from his. The kisses had been gentle at first, almost as if Chris had been memorizing his taste. They were soft, non-demanding kisses that traced a path from his mouth, down his neck, and to the hollow above his collarbone, where Chris had paused for a moment, sucking lightly. Then those lips had returned again to Toby’s mouth, and Toby had eagerly met them, demanding and receiving more.

Toby had felt one of Chris’s hands come to rest on his nape as the other wrapped around his penis, and then Chris had recaptured his mouth in a kiss that had sent shivers of desire coursing through his body. The taste of Chris, the feel of his warm skin, and the pleasure rippling through him had been so incredible that Toby had forgotten that there was anything else in the world besides Chris. He had been lost to his own senses long before Chris had even entered him.

Memory flushed Toby’s cheeks. Suddenly hot, he pulled off his sweatshirt and tossed it to the end of the bunk. As he tugged at his now sweaty gray t-shirt, Toby had to admit that Chris making love to him had felt so unbelievably good. He couldn’t recall having ever felt so aroused and so in tune with someone, not even with Gen, which fucking terrified him. He had loved Gen so very much. Maybe at times he hadn’t been the nicest of husbands, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t loved her. So why was it that he couldn’t remember making love to his beautiful wife so passionately that the rest of the world fucking disappeared? If Gen, with whom he had everything in common, hadn’t been able to make him feel like that, dear lord, why could Chris Keller?

Toby sighed and rested his head on his knees. He just needed some time away from Chris so that he could think all this through. Each hour that passed made it seem like more of him was being swallowed up by Chris’s overwhelming presence. He had never had much in the way of self control, and part of him feared that this thing he felt for Chris was nothing more than another one of his addictions. And would this addiction be one that would devour him, subjugate him? If he relaxed his defenses, would he once again find himself defined by the word that gnawed at his soul — prag?

No. Never again. He wouldn’t let that happen. No fucking way. Toby raised his head, letting it fall back against the pod wall. Shaking with rage and nausea, he had to force himself to take deep, even breaths until he was able to control the disgust and anger that had rippled through him at the thought of that hated word. As always, the anger eventually deserted him, leaving him unbearably tired. Toby ran his hands over his face. He knew that despite his exhaustion, sleep would be a long time coming. He needed a distraction, and he knew just the thing if he could slip it out without waking Chris.

He cautiously slid to the floor, hoping Keller was actually asleep. Toby knew he owed Chris an apology, but he didn’t know if he could find the right words at the moment. He needed this time alone to center himself, and then maybe tomorrow he would be able to handle Chris. A quick glance at his podmate confirmed for Toby that he was indeed asleep. With a small sigh of relief, Toby knelt down beside his locker, opened it carefully, and removed a large pad and a small metal case.

After quietly closing the locker, Toby stood, pressed the pad and case to his chest, and started toward the front of the pod. He had only gone two steps when Chris made a sound and then turned so that he was facing the wall. Toby froze, and his eyes were immediately drawn to Chris’s bunk. Chris’s movement had caused the sheet that was covering him to slide down to his hips, revealing the top of his boxers and the smooth planes of his naked back.

Toby licked his lips. His hands tingled while his mind urged him to slide into the bunk with Chris and caress that now revealed back. He wanted to feel himself pressed against the warmth and comfort that Chris’s body offered. As badly as he wanted distance from Keller, he just as badly wanted to be in Chris’s arms. How pathetic was that?

His mouth curving into a bitter pout, Toby pondered the question that had been bothering him for the last few days. What would it have been like if Chris had never betrayed him? What if it had all been exactly as it had appeared instead of some fucking Schillinger plot? Christ, he wanted to know what it would be like to touch Chris without having to battle off the doubts and memories that crowded his mind. Wouldn’t it be nice to gaze into Chris’s eyes, feel the touch of his lips, and just let go? Goddamn it, Chris, Toby raged internally, why did you have to make this as fucking complicated as the rest of my life? As he glared at Chris’s back, Toby wondered if fate had decreed that he should never again feel pure happiness, that it should always be marred by doubt, feeling, at most, bittersweet.

This was pointless. What if’s changed nothing, and they only increased his bitterness. Yes, Chris had betrayed him, but he had also saved his life. He had proved his sincerity. Besides, Toby couldn’t deny the truth in Chris’s eyes. Chris loved him. It was a truth that battered into his soul, knocking on the precarious doors of hope and need. For if Chris loved him, that raised the question of what did he now feel for Chris. It was a question he feared to answer.

Contrary to what they taught in law school, he had learned that there were certain questions that it was better not to ask, better not to have answered. Questions like did that first kiss in the laundry room mean anything to Chris. Toby didn’t know which answer would disturb him more: Chris saying that his thoughts during that kiss were all directed toward the plan; or Chris telling him that the kiss had been just as passionate and earth shattering for him, and yet he still had managed to go through with Schillinger’s plan. Both answers would hurt like hell, so maybe it was better not to give voice to that question. After all, it wasn’t like the truth would set him free, not in this world.

With a quiet sigh, Toby tore his eyes away from Chris and continued on toward the front of the pod. He sat down on the floor, placing the metal case beside him. Only a sliver of light was making its way into the pod, but that would be enough. It would have to be. He opened up the pad and carefully turned its pages, relishing the feel of the paper. Finally, he reached the page he wanted. Toby stared down at his latest sketch, one he had started a few nights ago, and which he probably would finish tonight. The sky, the beach, and the ocean were basically complete; well, maybe the sky needed a bit more definition. Then he would have just one more thing to add. Of course, that was the most important part of the picture.

Toby opened up the metal case, selected a pencil, and began to work a bit more on the picture’s sky. He had always loved to draw, even if he had absolutely no talent at it. A waste of time, his grandfather had called his childhood sketches. His grandfather had said he should apply his mind to studying rather than pointless scribbling, and maybe he had been right. Still, even though he admitted his drawing was probably frivolous, Toby had never been able to resist. Sometimes drawing was the only thing that gave him a sense of peace. Over the years, he had learned to destroy his drawings upon completion. No sense in leaving something around that might prove embarrassing. Yet, he hadn’t destroyed a single drawing in this pad. Well, what the fuck did he care if someone in here knew he couldn’t draw worth shit.

There, the sky looked angry enough now, Toby thought, as he put the pencil back in the case. His forehead wrinkled as he gazed at the sketch. This one was so different from anything else he had ever drawn. On the outside, he had always sketched his surroundings — a park bench, the skyline from his office. Here in Oz, though, the last thing he wanted was to be reminded even more of his surroundings, so he mostly sketched from memory. This recent piece, though, was pure fantasy. Well, not all of it was fantasy. Chris was real, too fucking real at times. Ah, but it remained to be seen if in this picture, he could make Chris as real as life. That would be no easy feat.

With a sigh, Toby closed his eyes, letting himself visualize the scene. He had been fighting this fantasy for far too long now, and it was a relief to just give in and let it run. Maybe this way, he would be able to get it out of his system. Toby took a deep breath, and with it, he could smell the saltiness of the ocean. Yes, it was all clear, the stormy day, the gusts of wind tossing up grains of sand, and the waves crashing along the beach. Now all he had to do was imagine Chris.

His mind, always set on working against him, had dared to wonder what it would have been like to know Chris on the outside. He had tried with guilt and disgust, to push the thought away, but instead had found an image of Chris alone on a beach flashing through his mind. Day after day, week after week, he had forced himself to banish that image, but it had kept returning.

It’s okay now, Toby thought. You don’t need to fight it anymore. Go ahead. Picture it. Toby slowly released a breath, and as he did, Chris appeared in his mental landscape. He was crouching down, gazing at the waves with an intense expression on his face. Toby now recognized that expression well; it was how Chris looked at him when they made love. He let his mind drift from that expression, so that he could make out other details. Bits of wet sand clung to the bottom of Chris’s jeans, and the white button-down shirt he was wearing billowed slightly in the wind. And even with the endless ocean raging before him, Chris Keller still dominated the landscape.

Toby opened his eyes, chose another pencil, and began to let Chris reign over his sketch. His thoughts coalesced, narrowing to focus on one thing, Chris’s body. Mentally, Toby poured over details like the shape of Chris’s thighs, the power in his biceps, and those dark blue eyes that followed his every move. He allowed his mind to do exactly what it wanted, to think only of Chris, but he coached it into translating that desire into painstakingly drawn pencil lines.

He leaned closer to the paper as the lack of light began to bother his eyes. He was so intent on his work that he didn’t even look up when a hack walked by and flashed a light into their pod. Besides, there was no reason for him to be alarmed. By this point in the lockdown, the hacks were ignoring all but major infractions. Tempers were running short, and fights were becoming more frequent. The hacks knew there was no sense in reprimanding a prisoner for something as harmless as reading, or in this case drawing, after lights out. After a brief pause, the hack continued on his way. Toby barely noticed.

When the last bit of shading had been added to the picture, for all Toby knew, minutes, hours, or even days might have slipped by. Time, often an enemy in Oz, had briefly ceased to remind him of its slowly passing existence. He placed the pencil he had been using back in the box, and then rubbed closed fists against his eyes. Toby yawned and looked at his drawing critically. It really didn’t seem too bad. Chris looked pretty damn real, if he did say so himself. Of course, his mind might be filling in the details and making it seem as if Chris looked real. With a frown, Toby glanced up to compare the real thing with his drawing. Instead of being met by his sleeping podmate’s back, his gaze was met by a curious and intense stare.

“What are ya doing?” Chris asked.

Startled, Toby gripped the edges of the pad and tried to make his mouth work. “Uh, nothing. I mean, I was drawing, but it’s nothing.”

Chris tossed aside the sheet, sat up, and put his feet on the floor. He braced his arms on the edge of the bunk as he said, “Drawing? Hey, I didn’t know you could draw. Can I take a look?”

Toby closed the pad in panic. “There’s really nothing to look at.”

“Just forget it,” Chris said and lay back down, staring up at the bunk above. Chris’s voice was cold, and Toby swore he could hear a tinge of disappointment.

Damn it, he was doing it again, pushing Chris away, but he really hadn’t meant to this time. It was just, well, it had been a long time since someone had caught him drawing. He took a deep breath and said, “You can take a look if you want. It’s just I’m not much of an artist. It’s really just doodling.”

Chris turned onto his side and said softly, “You don’t got to share your drawings with me, Toby. You’ve got a right to keep them to yourself. Go back to drawing. I won’t bother you no more.”

“You’re not bothering me. I don’t mind you looking at them, but don’t expect much. I’ve been told my drawings really aren’t worth the time I waste on them,” Toby said and shrugged.

“You sure you don’t mind?”

“Yeah.”

As Chris headed over to sit next to him, Toby felt his stomach nervously twisting. He hadn’t shared his sketches with anyone since he was a child. Hell, he hadn’t even bothered to show Gen any. He was positive the pictures weren’t good, so why did Chris’s opinion of them matter so much? Very aware of the feel of Chris’s shoulder pressed against his, Toby handed over the pad and watched nervously as Chris turned to the first sketch.

The first drawing was of a river whose banks were lined by trees and a path that was speckled with a cyclist and a few joggers. Chris raised his eyes, astonished. “Holy shit. Who told you your drawings were a waste of time? A goddamn blind man? This is fucking incredible.”

Toby blushed, feeling awkward and extremely pleased. “You really think it’s okay?”

“More than okay,” Chris said as he very carefully turned the page. “This the same river?”

“Yeah. It’s the Charles River,” Toby said pressing closer to Chris. “When I was in law school, I used to like to walk along the river. I was on the Cambridge side, and at night you had a good view of the Boston skyline.”

Still looking at the picture, Chris asked, “It really have that many sailboats on it?”

Toby laughed. “In the spring, absolutely. Once the weather started to get warm, the boats were out there. And you’d see a sail or two tumble, as a newcomer managed to capsize his boat.”

“You sail?”

“I did. I loved it. It was so peaceful, even when the river was flooded with boats. If you knew what you were doing, you could always sail away from the pack and find yourself a quieter bit of the river,” Toby said.

“So, I take it you weren’t one of those capsizing your boat,” Chris said as he traced a finger along Toby’s forearm.

“No, I wasn’t. Believe it or not, I was the one calling out sarcastic comments to the poor slobs who had landed in the river. As much as I loved the Charles, I wouldn’t have wanted to end up in it. Let’s just say, you sometimes wondered what was in the river.”

Chris snickered as he turned to the next picture. He shook his head as he said, “Toby, these are damn good. You can’t tell me no one has ever said they liked your drawings.”

Toby stared at his knees. “I don’t normally let people look at what I’ve drawn. I usually just tear them up after a bit. You know, get rid of the clutter.”

“Get rid of the clutter?” Chris repeated, sounding upset. “You ain’t planning to tear up these drawings?”

“I don’t know,” Toby said with a shrug. “I’ve usually gotten rid of them by this point. I just haven’t yet for some reason.”

“You’re not going to tear these up,” Chris said firmly. “Doesn’t it bother you, tearing something up after all the work you put into it?”

Toby turned away from Chris and pressed his forehead against the pod glass. “Sometimes.” He let out a small sigh, and then admitted, “Every time.”

That it actually hurt to rip up his pointless drawings had always seemed to Toby to be part of the penalty he paid for foolishly wasting time. Time that should have been spent billing hours, garnering new business, or pretending to care about some community issue. A bit of sharp, warm alcohol coating his throat had always helped to dull the ache that came as he tore paper that had ceased to be just paper. Maybe that was why he hadn’t bothered to rip up any of these recent sketches. He couldn’t — no wouldn’t — use alcohol as a way to dull the accompanying pain.

“Toby, look at me,” Chris said, placing a hand on Toby’s shoulder.

As he did as Chris asked, Toby was shocked by the concern and sadness on Chris’s face. Jesus, he hadn’t meant to upset Chris. This was silly. He had decided to draw to get away from his thoughts, to stop obsessing about Chris’s presence, and now here was Chris offering him undeserved sympathy. He forced a smile as he said, “This isn’t that big of a deal. It’s just a hobby.”

Chris didn’t return his smile. “It is a big deal. Can you tell me you didn’t put your heart into these?” he asked indicating the pad. “That you didn’t care about every detail?”

Toby shook his head, feeling a tightening in his throat.

“Each time you tear up a drawing, you’re cutting into yourself,” Chris said.

“Shit, Chris, you’re blowing this all out of proportion.”

Not looking even slightly dissuaded, Chris continued, “Promise me you won’t tear these up. They’re good, real good, and they’re yours. Keep them, okay? Promise me.”

“I promise,” Toby said gazing at his knees. He swallowed hard, and then looked up at Chris and said softly, “So you really like them, huh?”

Now Chris smiled. “Yeah, I really like them.” He reached a hand out and ran it through Toby’s hair.

Toby found himself smiling back. He felt comfortingly warm and content, but that contentment lasted barely three seconds as he realized Chris was turning the page to the last drawing, the one of himself. Jesus Christ, what had he been thinking handing Chris the pad with that drawing in it? His stomach felt like it had suddenly grown piercing icicles, and Toby shivered. He wanted to pull the pad out of Chris’s hands, but it was too late. Chris was already staring at the drawing, had already lifted it to see that there were no more drawings after it, and had surely come to the conclusion that this had to be the one Toby had been working on tonight. Oh shit, what is he thinking?

“You were drawing me?” Chris said, his voice giving away nothing.

“Yeah,” Toby said, and he somehow managed to keep his voice calm and even.

“Why?”

“Well,” Toby drawled. “It’s not like I’ve got a camera.” He paused, waiting for Chris to say something, and when silence continued to answer him, he nervously asked, “Does it bother you?”

Chris shook his head, seeming a bit stunned. “What? Bother me? Nah. I just wasn’t, uh, expecting it.” His gaze stayed focused on the picture, but his hand found and grasped Toby’s.

Feeling Chris’s fingers interlace with his, Toby released a long breath, and the chill started to dissipate. “I probably should have given you some warning.”

“Uh-huh,” Chris replied absently. He ran a finger lightly along the side of the pad. “This someplace you know?”

“No. I just started imaging it one day,” Toby said.

Chris nodded. “You got a thing for water, Beech. The river, this ocean.”

Toby snorted. “A thing for water, huh? Not that I know of.” He gazed out into the darkness, and his face grew serious. “Well, maybe I do. It’s just that every time I was out on the Charles, for just a moment, things seemed easier, simpler. And that ocean…” Toby paused for a second.

He moved closer to Chris, so that there was no space between their bodies, and turned his gaze to the drawing. “Look at that ocean. The waves are so damn angry, and yet there’s something peaceful about it, or maybe there’s just peace in knowing that tomorrow when the weather changes, this same ocean will look blissfully calm. It’s constant in its inconstancy. And no matter what, you can’t control it. It’s always there, and it’s always…” Toby stopped, at a loss for the right word.

“Free,” Chris said.

Toby nodded. “Yeah, free.” That was exactly it. With a sigh, he leaned his head on Chris’s shoulder and closed his eyes. Both men stayed quiet for a while, as Chris continued to stare at the drawing resting in his lap. Toby might have actually dozed off if Chris hadn’t suddenly chuckled.

“What?” Toby asked, removing his hand from Chris’s and then wiping at his eyes.

Chris smiled wickedly. “I was just thinking maybe you might want to practice drawing nudes. You know I’d be happy to help you out if you needed someone to pose.”

How the fuck did Chris do that? A sentence or two, that smile, and here he was finding that even though they were right next to each other, there was too much damn space between them. Toby shifted slightly, adjusting himself. “You do realize that when you do nude modeling, you have to actually just lie there. You’re not supposed to pounce on the person sketching.”

“Who says the artist can’t pounce on me?” Chris asked, his eyes on Toby’s groin, and the smile on his face widening.

Toby’s mouth went dry as the image of Chris pinned underneath him came instantly to mind. He had to swallow hard before he could manage to say half-heartedly, “Because that’s not how it’s done.”

“So we change the fucking rules,” Chris said, and then turned slightly to kiss Toby.

A few minutes later when Chris finally relinquished his lips, Toby found himself breathing heavily and more than just a bit warm. He closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them, he found that Chris was once again staring at the sketch. He watched as Chris carefully closed the pad, running his hand over the cover.

Suddenly serious, Chris handed the pad slowly back to Toby. “Thanks for sharing them with me.”

Holding the pad as if it were a bit more precious than it had been before, Toby said, “You’re welcome.” He struggled with the torrent of feelings whipping through him. There was a feeling of closeness that soothed over doubts and barely acknowledged pain, but it battled with the fear of being overwhelmed. At the moment, though, one feeling was stronger than any other — desire. He wanted Chris.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to drawing,” Chris said as he got to his feet.

He has to be fucking kidding. Toby’s eyes narrowed as he gazed upward, but sure enough Chris was smirking. Bastard, Toby thought fondly. “Actually, I think I’m done drawing for the night. You know, my eyes are getting kind of tired.” Playing along, he kept his voice nonchalant.

“Oh, yeah, they’ve got to be killing you, working in that little bit of light,” Chris said moving over to their bunks and leaning back against the top one.

“Yeah. It’s time to give them a break,” Toby said as he stood and headed over to his locker. He put the metal pencil case and the pad away, slid off his sweat pants, and started getting ready for bed.

He could feel Chris’s eyes marking their way up and down his body. Clad only in his gray t-shirt and boxers, Toby leaned against the sink and brushed his teeth. He looked in the mirror, meeting Chris’s steady gaze. Some day he’d have to ask Chris what the hell he found so damn fascinating about brushing teeth.

Toby rinsed the toothpaste from his mouth, and for a moment the water tasted salty. He closed his eyes, and, in his mind, he was kissing Chris as the water from the ocean sprayed them. The image was gone almost instantly, and the water in his mouth reverted to its normal, slightly metallic taste. He spit it out, and as he did, he recalled Chris saying, “Who says the artist can’t pounce on me?”

An idea flared too vivid to resist. A test, just a little test, and if Chris passed it, he just might be able to put aside his fear that this relationship, or whatever you wanted to call it, was far from equal. He could do this. All that time drawing had inflamed rather than exhausted his fantasy. That sketch only touched the tip of what he had imagined. There was so much more. Oh yes, he could do this.

Toby finished up at the sink, and then turned to look at Chris, his gaze smoldering. Here was a chance to explore a fantasy, and a chance to take some control. He wanted Chris in the worst way tonight, and he needed Chris to pass this test.

Chris met Toby’s gaze with a sliver of a smile before climbing into his bunk and saying, “Goodnight.”

Toby knew what Chris was expecting, the ritual they had been following the last few days. Chris would say good night, and then after a few moments, Toby would come over to sit beside him. He might rest his hand on Chris’s chest, or he might just simply sit there. Eventually, Chris would take his hand, and they’d kiss. After a few more gentle kisses, Chris would rest on his side and make room on the bunk. Only then would Toby lie next to him. Well, that wasn’t how it was going to work tonight.

Not bothering to hide his desire, Toby let his eyes devour Chris, who was sprawled on top of the sheets with his arms tucked underneath his head. The position provided Toby with an unobstructed view of Chris’s naked chest. It was a view he was thoroughly enjoying. Chris ran a hand over the empty spot beside him, an obvious hint for Toby to sit, but Toby had other plans. He strolled over and smoothly got into the bunk so that he was straddling Chris. He couldn’t resist a small smirk as he saw Chris’s eyes widen with surprise and delight.

His fingers slowly made a path up Chris’s chest, and Toby followed that path until he reached Chris’s mouth. A flick of his tongue, and then Toby was kissing Chris, hard. He ended the kiss and slid his way back to his original position, feeling Chris arching against his ass. Upright, again, Toby said softly, “I don’t want to say goodnight yet.”

“Then don’t.”

Toby grabbed the bottom of his t-shirt and with incredible slowness lifted it. He let it graze across his abdomen, then along his ribs, paused for a second at his well-shaped shoulders, and then finally lifted it over his head. The shirt was tossed aside in one languid motion. Toby didn’t need to look at Chris to know that he had gotten the reaction he wanted. He could feel Chris’s arousal. So far so good. He traced a finger up from Chris’s stomach to his chest, as he wondered how to phrase things.

He knew he had taken too long to wonder when Chris startled him by asking, “Hey, Beecher, you there? Don’t tell me you’re thinking now.”

Game time, Toby thought as he smiled. The finger was exchanged for his hand, which followed the same pattern, except with more pressure. Toby tilted his head and asked, “Do you remember that time you woke to find me jerking off?”

Underneath him, Chris’s body tensed, and blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. Way to fucking go, Toby thought. Game started, fumbled immediately. He hadn’t meant to say it just like that. Smart move to remind your lover out of the blue of a time when you tried to show him that he would never touch you again. Fucking brilliant. Damn it, he needed to fix this now.

Toby quickly moved to kiss Chris, hoping to relieve some of the tension his words had caused. The kiss he gave was soft, but insistent, almost apologetic. Cautiously he relinquished Chris’s lips. He placed a hand on the side of Chris’s face, and their eyes met. He could see that a slight wariness remained, but at least Chris’s body was once again relaxed. Time to go on.

Toby took a deep breath and said, “You asked me then how I was picturing you when I came. Do you still want to know?”

Curiosity was battling the wariness in Chris’s eyes. “Sure,” he said, staring intently at Toby.

One hand on each of Chris’s shoulders, Toby said, “Well like you were in that picture.”

Chris looked doubtful. “You came just from imagining me on a beach. You really do have a thing for water.”

Toby chuckled. “No. Not quite.” He paused for a moment, his hand trailing along the tat on Chris’s arm. “What I drew tonight was from the beginning of this little fantasy that keeps playing inside my head. I never draw myself, so in the sketch, you don’t see me standing off to the side…watching…you.”

Resting his hands lightly on Toby’s waist, Chris asked, “So do you do anything besides watch in this fantasy?”

“Yeah,” Toby whispered as he took Chris’s hands off his waist. He pressed each arm back on the bunk, slightly above Chris’s head. Holding them firmly in place, Toby slid his tongue across Chris’s top lip, then his bottom, and then inside his mouth as Chris pressed upward into a kiss.

Lost for a moment in the taste of his lover, Toby pressed himself hard against Chris, chest to chest, their boxers the only thing preventing him from sliding his penis against Chris’s. Toby released Chris’s hands, and Chris immediately wrapped them into Toby’s hair, deepening their kiss.

Reluctantly, Toby pulled up slightly and continued, “I kiss you, just like that, deep and long, when I come over to you on the beach. It’s chilly with the wind and the spray of the ocean, but our bodies are already starting to build heat between us, so I start to unbutton your shirt.” Toby moved his hands down Chris’s chest imitating the movement of opening buttons. He lightly pinched a bit of skin each time he opened one of those fantasy buttons.

When Toby reached his belly button, Chris groaned, muttering, “Take off the fucking shirt.”

“No it doesn’t come off yet, Chris. It’s just open, blowing in the wind. And now I’m sliding my hands beneath your undershirt. You’re cold, but my hands are warm. Feel them?” His hands massaged their way firmly up from Chris’s stomach to his chest, over to his shoulders, and back down to his hips. Toby lifted himself slightly, moving down a bit, and hearing Chris’s hiss at the loss of pressure from Toby’s ass. Now Toby’s hands were sliding past Chris’s hips, and moving firmly across Chris’s erection.

“Yesssss,” Chris said arching into Toby’s touch.

He parted the slit in Chris’s boxers, and one hand slid inside, seeking out and then swirling around the head of Chris’s penis. He removed his hand quickly, after all that wasn’t part of the fantasy, yet. He was getting ahead of himself, easy enough to do when the need for Chris was rushing through his veins. Toby moved up again to kiss Chris. He kept the kiss soft, refusing to let Chris prolong or increase its intensity. He had to slow down, or he’d never last.

A deep breath, and then Toby was leaning down and whispering into Chris’s ear. “It’s getting cold, and I think the rain is starting. Our place is right on the beach, don’t you think we should go inside and get warmer?” He sucked on Chris’s throat right beneath the ear.

“Shit, Toby. Yeah inside,” Chris panted.

“Good,” Toby whispered as he blew on the spot he had just sucked. He smiled as he felt Chris shiver. “You’re cold. That’s because we didn’t quite beat the rain. We really should get out of these wet clothes.”

He carefully got off Chris and out of the bunk. His eyes never leaving Chris’s, Toby pushed his boxers down and over his erection. He let the boxers drop to the floor, and then casually stepped out of them. Instead of getting immediately back into the bunk, Toby grabbed the rail of the top bunk with his hands and stood there, inviting Chris’s gaze.

The adulation in Chris’s eyes was a heady rush, and Toby could feel desire flushing his skin. He needed to feel Chris, so he let go of the rail, sat down on the bunk and reached for the edges of Chris’s boxers. His fingers slipped into the sides of the boxers, and he was inching them off, as Chris lifted his hips to help. Down Chris’s legs, past his feet, and then the boxers were tossed aside.

“It’s chilly as the rain batters the windows,” Toby said as he continued his narrative.

“Then get the fuck down here on the bed with me,” Chris said reaching out for Toby.

Toby grasped Chris’s outstretched hand, and moved on top of him, moaning softly as his own hardness slid against Chris’s. One leg was in between Chris’s thighs, as once again they kissed. They rocked into each other, tongues teasing, while they chased away Toby’s imaginary chill. One of Toby’s hands grasped at a sweaty sheet, and for a second, Toby thought it was damp from the rain and ocean on their bodies. He could hear the storm beating outside, and when he trailed kisses along Chris’s jaw line, he swore the skin there tasted salty.

“I want you,” Toby said when Chris put a little distance between them by resting their foreheads together.

“Yes,” Chris said, breathing heavily.

“I want to run my hands over your back, down your ass, and then I want to be inside you,” Toby said, trying not to rush the words. He waited anxiously for a response, and he didn’t have long to wait. Chris immediately moved back, those soul-devouring eyes widening. Toby tried not to let his tension show as he searched Chris’s expression for any sign of disgust. He found none. All he saw was love and desire.

Chris kissed him roughly, and then said, “Yes. Oh fuck, Toby. Yes. Now, do it now. Please fucking do it now.”

Toby placed his hands on Chris’s face, as they continued to kiss and rub against each other. He could feel a tendril of nervousness curling around his stomach at the thought of what he was about to do. Chris had passed his little test so easily that Toby felt guilty that he had thought of it as a test at all. Now, could he do this? He wanted to; he wanted to know what it would feel like to be inside Chris. Yes, yes, he could do this. He wanted it, and it seemed so did Chris.

He rolled off Chris, and without any hesitation, Chris turned over. Toby ran his hands reverently down Chris’s back, pausing when he came to a scar. His fingers barely grazed the scar — his handiwork marring Chris’s body. He placed one of his hands against his own barely healed wound, pressing hard enough that it hurt. The pain seemed a physical manifestation of all the hurt and betrayal that shadowed he and Chris.

“Toby?” Chris’s voice, breathy and questioning, kept him from falling into the trap of bitter memories that his mind had started to unearth.

He placed his hands on the curve of Chris’s firm ass and pressed hard into muscle, letting the edge of his hand trace its way between the cheeks and then teasingly along Chris’s anus. God, he loved the way Chris pressed into each of his touches.

Toby gazed at the sight of Chris spread out before him. Chris trusting him. Chris eager for his touch. Chris wanting him. And he wanted Chris, needed the feel of his skin. He needed to get lost in Chris. No, not lost, found. He’d been getting it all wrong; he wasn’t losing himself in Chris, he was finding himself. Finding each other, and that connection that allowed them to reach a place where none of the bullshit mattered. Chris a part of him, and he a part of Chris. And he had to have that. He couldn’t fight it anymore. He couldn’t deny Chris his soul, and couldn’t deny he wanted Chris’s. He had to have it.

He pressed himself onto Chris’s back, while his penis rubbed against Chris’s ass. Toby kissed his lover’s shoulder, and then teased the skin with a sharp little bite. Chris buried a groan, and then Toby found Chris’s hand pressing something into his — lube. He took the tube and the blatant hint.

Trailing wet kisses down Chris’s spine, Toby flipped open the cap on the lube. He coated a finger and tentatively pressed it against Chris’s opening. The tip slid in, and Chris squirmed lifting his hips. Toby pushed more, and his finger easily slid all the way in. He felt Chris’s muscles tighten, trying to capture his finger. He slowly removed his finger, so that he could return to that warm spot with two. As one hand moved inside Chris, the other was caressing his lower back, feeling that incredibly warm skin.

“Fuck. Toby, now. You have to do it now,” Chris growled.

Toby removed his fingers, wiped them off on the sheet, and retrieved the lube. He squeezed it into his hand, and liberally coated his penis, jolting slightly at the coldness. A pass of his hand on the sheets, and then he was positioning himself behind Chris. A flutter of nervousness was drowned out by the heat in his groin and the need burning in his chest. He pressed the tip of his penis against the entrance and felt himself glide part way in.

Oh, Christ. It felt so good, so warm and tight. He had to resist the urge to thrust all the way in. He didn’t want to hurt Chris. He took a deep breath, and moved in a little further. Chris pushed back against him, and Toby was pulled further inside. Another push from Chris, and Toby couldn’t wait any longer, he pressed in as far as he could go. Toby heard Chris release a low moan, and swore he muttered something like, “Yes, Toby, yeah.”

He draped himself over Chris’s back, arms wrapping around his chest. Then, just as Chris had done for him that first time, he let Chris set the pace. Long, slow strokes soon became hard, deep thrusts as Chris rocked against him faster.

Suddenly there was no need to hide in fantasies or behind anger. The reality of Chris was more than enough. Toby couldn’t think. He didn’t need to, and it was so fucking liberating. He just felt. Heat. Sweat. Pressure. Desire. Need. Love. There was no need to separate the emotions from sensations and analyze them. They just were.

He slid one of his hands down to wrap around Chris’s penis, as his own breathing increased dramatically. Faster, angled thrusts, and then Toby was spilling into Chris, barely aware of the warmth dripping over his hand as Chris came.

Once Toby moved off of Chris, and they both sort of collapsed onto the bunk, the pod was silent for a while as both men waited for their breathing to return. Then, Chris pulled Toby closer so that Toby’s head was resting on his chest. As he ran a hand through Toby’s hair, he said, “I love you,” in a voice rough with emotion.

“Yes,” Toby said, exhaling the word across Chris’s chest. “Yes.” I love you, he thought. And for now it was enough that he could think those words again. He could face the truth. Chris loved him, and he loved Chris. He loved him more than he thought possible, and that was all right. Maybe some day soon, he could say those words again to Chris with all the meaning they deserved. For now, though, it was enough to be able to think them and not be afraid.

He felt Chris kiss the top of his head, and Toby softly repeated, “Yes.” Once again, I love you, echoing in his mind.

They’d have to move soon, clean themselves up, and he’d have to return to his own bunk, but that was soon, not now. Right now, all he had to do was enjoy the sense of peace that was wrapped around him. Later his mind would probably bring new doubts, but surely they could be battled with this feeling.

Toby’s fingers traced random paths on Chris’s cooling skin. The pod was growing chilly. He could grab the sheet and cover them both, but it seemed too much of an effort, too much of a disturbance. And so he lay here in Chris’s arms, listening to Chris’s heartbeat, and feeling a strange sense of completeness that he wished would stay with him always. He lifted his head to kiss Chris softly, and then returned it to that comfortable spot. His fingers stilled, and his hand rested on Chris’s chest. Toby closed his eyes thinking once again, yes, I love you.