He regained consciousness in a wash of pain; the world an upside down, kaleidoscopic blur.
"There you are," said a faraway sounding voice.
Blinking twice before he realized the kaleidoscope came courtesy of his broken glasses, Toby tried to focus on the object rushing toward his head. He winced and raised his hands over his face, but the only thing that struck him was a piece of paper.
"Harvard Law, very impressive. I'd say congratulations were in order, but..."
Toby groaned when he realized what the paper was—he'd stared at the stupid acceptance letter often enough the past week. He strained to lift his head. He was flat on his back in some kind of alley. Which explained the smell, and the fact that his back was kind of... wet. Gross. But where were Trevor and Jay? They'd all gone out together, to celebrate being home for spring break and Toby’s acceptance into law school. He'd brought the fucking letter along so they could toast it.
"If, by friends, you mean the terrified preppies I saw hightailing it back toward Broadway? I'd say they ditched you."
"Assholes," Toby muttered. His head was pounding. He hurt everywhere. "What happened?"
"You got mugged."
"And who are you?"
A pause, then a chuckle. "A Good Samaritan."
Toby squinted through his broken glasses. The guy sat on a stack of wooden shipping pallets piled alongside a row of dumpsters a few feet away. Toby was able to make out short dark hair, jeans, and a leather jacket.
"Do I even want to ask why you know so much about my evening?" Toby removed the glasses and slipped them stiffly into his pants pocket. Marginally better vision wasn’t worth the strain.
"We were at the same bar. Let me guess, someone told you this was the hot new neighborhood to party in, right? All these cool, un-gentrified places, so hip nobody's even heard of them yet."
"Something like that," Toby mumbled, not wanting to admit that was almost verbatim what Trevor had said before they'd headed out that evening. He still couldn't believe they'd abandoned him in this fucked up place, to get mugged and who-the-hell-knew what else. He clutched his pounding head. "Do you have any idea what happened?"
"You got jumped by some guys—knocked you around a little, got your wallet, and your watch." Toby glanced at his wrist in dismay. Money was easy enough to come by, but the watch was his early college graduation gift from Grandmother. Shit. "I guess your friends decided they'd had enough of this hip and happening neighborhood when you got grabbed."
Hearing that there had been multiple assailants made Toby feel a little better. Nobody would blame him for not being able to fend off more than one attacker. Not by himself, anyway. "You saw all this?" he asked, wishing his memory would chip in with a couple more details.
The wail of a siren pierced the night, then another, growing closer. Maybe Trevor and Jay had at least enough sense to call the police after fleeing the scene. Fucking cowards. Well, whatever. Help was on the way now. Toby cupped his hands around his mouth to shout out his location.
"What the fuck are you doing? We've gotta get out of here," the ‘Good Samaritan’ said, jumping up from the pallets. He raced over and hauled Toby roughly to his feet. "Come on. Let's go!"
"Wha... but..." Toby could barely feel his rubbery legs moving as the guy yanked him along.
Toby's vision reeled as the guy pulled him through a steel door off the alley into what smelled like a commercial laundry. The sound of sirens receded as the door snicked shut.
"Police not your friends?" Toby gasped, comprehension dawning, as he bent double to stave off a bout of dry heaves.
"Shit, I just got out."
The guy leaned against the door, tipping his head back and closing his eyes. His jacket fell open, and Toby was able to make out the dull gleam of a gun handle, barely visible against the taut black cotton hugging his torso. Some 'Good Samaritan!'
"Not a word until I say so. I mean, don't you even breathe," the guy said in a dangerously soft voice, but Toby was too busy staring at the gun to think much about talking. Finally, the guy pulled the door open a crack and peered into the alley. "That was fucking close."
"Who are you?" Toby realized too late the question sounded a little snippy for someone in his circumstances. The guy (the guy with the gun, Toby mentally amended) pushed off from the door and loomed over him.
"The guy who saved your ass from getting capped by El Norte tonight. You're welcome."
"El...what? El Norte? But..."
The term "capped" finally registered in his brain. Mugged, okay, he knew that—but capped? As in, killed? By a gang? Toby rubbed his head as a disjointed collage of images finally struggled up from his memory. He remembered the glinting silver flash of a knife, and cruel eyes. The next thing he knew, something struck him down to the greasy, wet pavement of the alley. He was punched, kicked, his pockets rifled. He'd puked his guts out somewhere along the line, but couldn't slot it into the sequence. He tried harder to recall faces. Latino gang members? Yeah, he'd buy that.
"But kill me? I don't under... they got my money, my watch. Why would...?" The guy sighed like he really wasn't in the mood to explain Street Life 101 to some idiot college student.
"The guy who hit you first—the short, really mean looking one?" Toby nodded warily, those were eyes he'd see in his nightmares for a long time. "Raoul Hernandez. The tall, skinny kid was his cousin, who still needs to make his bones."
Toby swallowed. He'd seen enough movies to know what that meant. Then it occurred to him, "Hernandez?" Toby straightened and stared. "You know the guy who mugged me?"
A shrug. "Well, it's not like we’re pals. But yeah, he was at Lardner for a while."
"Lardner..." Toby tried to place the name.
"Prison," the guy said, and Toby felt a flush rising on his face.
"Right." The nightly news, that’s why he knew it. "How did you..."
"Never mind how! Quit asking fucking questions. Let’s just make sure the heat is gone and get you back home to mama."
"Make sure the heat is gone? Maybe you just got out of prison, my dear 'Good Samaritan,'" Toby said, making air quotes around the name. "But I'm a citizen. Bizarre as it may seem, I’d like to report my missing property and give a description of the guys who mugged me... Wait, I'm sorry, make that a description of Mr. Hernandez and his extended family! So if you'll excuse me? I'm going back outside now to see if I can flag down the police." Toby made a move toward the door, but paused when he noticed the guy staring at him. "Don't worry, I won't mention your involvement. You can go about your business," Toby assured him.
"Thanks,” the guy said with a low, throaty laugh. “And since you're in such a considerate mood, why don't you consider this? Besides the fact that Mr. Hernandez will probably find you before you find the cops—are you sure you want to explain what you were doing in that alley?"
Toby's indignation faded quickly. He couldn’t remember anything past sloshing over the bar, staggering into the street, and the hard, cold faces of his attackers. "Uh... I was..."
"You were asking where you could buy pot. Loudly. I bet Hernandez can round up lots of local witnesses. Now, I'm no expert at these things, but I doubt that would go over so great at Harvard Law School."
Toby spluttered. "I've never bought... Well, you know just from that girl up at school, not off the stree..." The guy raised his eyebrows, and Toby had to concede the point. "Yeah, I guess maybe the less explaining the better." He hesitated before adding a quiet, "Thanks."
The guy rolled his eyes. "Here's your wallet, citizen Beecher," he said, digging into his jacket pocket. "Hernandez' cousin dropped it at the end of the alley when they took off. Cash is all gone, and if you had any credit cards, they're gone too. But your school ID and stuff..."
Toby brought the wallet close enough to his eyes to verify that his cash and the American Express card his father had gotten him to use "in case of emergency" were indeed missing, but that everything else seemed intact. "Fuck." Toby sank dejectedly onto a pile of laundry bags printed with Chinese characters. He buried his head in his hands and groaned. "This has been the worst night of my life."
Toby glanced up, suddenly aware of how that must have sounded to someone who'd spent time in prison. "I'm sorry, that was..."
The guy waved him off. "Forget about it."
"No, really, I... sheez, you saved my life, and I don't even know your name."
The guy smirked. "Well, that was deliberate, but, anyway... Chris."
"Chris," Toby said. "Chris..."
"Keller! When I find your ass, I'm gonna kill you, motherfucker!" a voice shouted out in the alley.
"Shit," Chris muttered under his breath, "we gotta go."
This time, Toby didn't hesitate before following him. Their dash through the Chinese laundry was a surrealistic blur—Chris pulling Toby by the arm as they ducked around stacked cartons, wheeled canvas bins, and night-humming machinery under the strange wash of yellow-tinted security lights. Some security, Toby thought absently, dodging a hanging sack of something-or-other. Then he realized that Chris had probably been through this way before.
"Here!" Another yank on his arm, and Toby spun around as Chris shoved him past yet another steel door, this time leading to a steep, narrow staircase, so old there were depressions worn into the center of each stone step. "Up!" Toby went after Chris as quickly as he could, but the rise between steps seemed odd and off—Toby didn’t know if they were too close together or too far apart, but he kept stumbling and barked his shin at the top of the sixth landing.
"Come on." Chris grabbed his arm again, and they banged through the roof access door into the night. "I don't think they followed us."
"Damn it!" Toby hopped on one foot then bent to grab at his shin. "That was Mr. Hernandez, I presume?"
"Yep," Chris said, dropping his hands to his knees, catching his breath. "I knew he was pissed at me, but not that pissed. He must've pegged you for his idiot cousin's best chance."
"Great. The 'idiot-proof' victim," Toby grumbled.
"No offense," Chris said with a not-particularly-apologetic-looking smile. "But you were a fucking gift. All you’re missing is a bow."
Toby made an effort not to show how badly that stung, and attempted a simple pre-law redirect: "So what, exactly, did you do to interfere?"
Chris let out a long sigh. "Tobia... fuck that, too many syllables," he muttered before starting over again. "Toby, I'm serious." He rested a hand on Toby's shoulder and leaned in, as though wanting to demonstrate just how serious he was. "The less you know—about me, about any of this, the better."
"But—" Toby started, and Chris leaned in even closer.
"Uh-uh. And quit asking, okay? I’m not gonna say it again." Toby felt strange. It was...intimidating, having Chris so near, with his hand lingering on Toby's shoulder. Intimidating, definitely—the rich scent of that leather jacket on the crisp night breeze, the unwavering intensity in those sharp blue eyes now that Toby was close enough to really see them. Toby found himself nodding his assent distractedly, only half aware he was doing it.
Chris clapped his shoulder. "Good. Now, come on, these roofs connect. Let's get the hell out of here."
The series of rooftops was more difficult to negotiate than Toby expected. They weren't all level, forcing several climbs, both up and down, from Toby's protesting body. And they didn't all exactly connect, either. ("It's two fucking feet—jump!") But finally, they reached the roof of the last building in the row, and then it was clang, clang, clang, down six stories of fire escape, and one last drop to the street below.
"Ow!" Toby sat down hard on landing.
"You and alleys just don't mix." Chris's booted feet landed lightly next to Toby's ungainly sprawl.
"I'm sorry, I never took the seminar on criminal trespass."
"If they taught anything that useful, I might've stayed in school,” Chris said. “We're only a couple of blocks from Broadway now. Think you can get yourself home from there?"
"Home, yeah. God does that sound good." Toby struggled to his feet. He'd have to come up with some bullshit excuse to get the cab fare from his parents, but it wasn't like he'd never done that before after a late night out. The thought of home had never been so appealing: a hot shower, a snack, a big handful of Tylenol, and bed. Toby bent to brush himself off and noticed the condition he was in under the gloom of the streetlight. "Holy shit."
He plucked his polo shirt away from his skin to get a better look, wincing as it stuck to cuts. Blood and other substances (he was sure he didn't want to know precisely what) liberally stained the pale blue cotton. Then he looked down at his wet, grime-covered tennis shoes and torn khakis. This wouldn't pass as a “late night out.” Fuck no, this would be questions, and calls to Trevor and Jay's houses, and once Dad got going, the police would be involved for sure. "I can't go home like this," Toby said in a panic. "My parents will freak!”
Chris rubbed his forehead. “If I'd had any idea you were gonna be this much trouble.... Come on, we'll get you a clean shirt."
Toby tried to keep up with Chris as they ducked down a zig-zagging series of alleys and dark streets. Chris was silent the whole way, peeking around every corner for signs of Hernandez or his men. They emerged onto the street again and walked along a row of depressing brick buildings that looked like every other row of depressing brick buildings they'd passed before. Except this time, Chris turned and went inside one of them.
The small lobby and stairwell were yellowed and dingy, and old cooking smells hung in the stale air. Toby followed Chris up three flights before they stopped at one of a dozen identical brown metal doors with chipping paint.
Once inside, Toby looked around the narrow, dimly lit room. He didn't dare offer the standard, mindlessly polite "nice place" comment, because it was clearly not nice. He stood in the doorway, silently watching Chris chuck his worn leather jacket over the arm of an overstuffed, mold-green club chair that had definitely seen better days. Chris didn't look much less intimidating without the jacket—not the way that black t-shirt clung to every muscled curve of his back and shoulders. Toby found his gaze traveling lower, noticing just how solidly Chris filled out his jeans….
"You wanna invite the whole world in? Shut the fucking door."
Toby startled, then turned to fumble with the lock—face hot, hands trembling. What the hell was wrong with him? Well, aside from the hung over, beaten, exhausted, and generally traumatized part. But what was he doing staring at Chris's ass? Not that Chris didn't want his ass to get noticed, obviously, wearing jeans that fit like that. Toby finally managed to twist the knob and heard the deadbolt cylinder slide into place. Then, like an echo, another metallic sound in the small room made the hair stand up on the back of Toby's neck.
Dear God, the gun. Suddenly, the simple act of locking the door felt manifestly more dangerous than anything Toby had been through that night. In a cold-sweat flash of too-late certainty, he knew that coming up here had been a very bad idea. Chris's offer of a clean shirt was obviously nothing but a cheap ruse to get him off the street, out of the public eye....
"Uh, I think maybe I'd better go after all," Toby stammered as he turned to face Chris, a jumble of excuses and lies fighting for prominence in his brain. But before he could get another word out, he stopped, mesmerized by the sight of the pistol in Chris's all-too capable looking hands.
"Relax," Chris said, taking one hand off the gun to raise in a placating gesture. "I told you, man, I just finished a stretch. I'm not looking to get jammed up here." He plunked the gun unceremoniously on top of a scarred wooden cocktail table, then shot Toby an inscrutable smile. "Anyways, you got nothing of value left. I checked before I woke you up."
Toby opened his mouth to blither in outrage, but that was silenced too, as Chris bent to yank a huge, serrated hunting knife from his boot. "Jesus," Toby said, flattening against the door until the ridge of the peep-hole dug into his back. Unable to stop the thoughts bubbling out of his brain, he asked, "Isn't carrying all that weaponry illegal? I mean especially considering you just got out of..." He hesitated, trying to remember which was the correct term. Prison? Jail? Like it mattered!
"Yeah, well, sometimes 'legal' and 'necessary' don't line up." Chris set the knife beside the gun, studying them silently. He looked tired.
"You're on the run," Toby said as the realization hit him.
"Generally. It's no wonder you got into Harvard."
"Can we lose the sarcasm, like, for a minute?" Toby rubbed his forehead, the ache in his temples throbbing back to life with renewed vigor as he tried to digest this new information. His picture of Chris kept changing, too quickly to keep up with. Chris didn’t look any older than Toby. They lived in the same city, spoke the same language. How could their worlds be that different? It didn't make sense—but the gun and the knife, and this awful little room spoke a different story. "It's not just Hernandez you’re hiding from, is it?"
"I said not to ask me any fucking questions."
"Sorry," Toby said, sensing the sudden change in Chris's mood. After an awkward moment of silence, Chris took a deep breath and the storm seemed to pass.
"Bathroom's down the hall if you want to take a shower. Which I suggest, because you stink. It ain't the Hilton but...."
"You've got their towels," Toby said as he reached the dingy bathroom and saw it stocked with unexpectedly fluffy white terry. There was even a matching robe hanging from a hook on the wall.
"Yeah." Chris poked his head through the doorway. "Nice, huh?"
Looking more closely, Toby noticed that the chipped sink and ledge of the rust-stained tub were lined with small bottles of soaps and shampoos, also obviously liberated from hotel rooms. Quite posh hotels, judging by the labels. Where would Chris have gotten....
Toby turned and studied Chris. More and more questions were circling his brain, all the while being chased and barked at by the sensible voice repeating: You don't care. Long night. Wild time. Go home. Forget about it. His curiosity won out.
"Why are you doing this? Helping me?"
Chris paused a long moment. "I dunno,” he said. “Must've been bored. Or, maybe I'm just a sucker for a pretty face. I'll go find you a shirt."
"Pret—" Toby started, but Chris had already left. He was kidding, Toby told himself, wondering at how oddly disappointing that felt. He got down to the painful task of undressing. All the scrapes and bruises from the mugging—not to mention their dash through the Chinese laundry and across the rooftops—were howling for his attention now that the adrenaline-and-lingering-booze cocktail was wearing off.
He gingerly peeled away the blood-stiffened polo shirt and saw the angry welts and abrasions marking his torso. Gathering resolve, he dug his glasses from his pants pocket, fit the cockeyed lenses over his eyes, and faced the mirror. Shit, what a mess.
He prodded experimentally at a bruised scrape across his collarbone. A clean shirt might cover the worst of the damage, but he was still going to have to explain the blackening eye and the cut on his forehead. Toby could already hear the lecture on responsibility his father would launch into the minute he walked in the door. He sighed and worked his way out of his shredded-kneed, filthy khakis.
God, some celebration this had turned out to be. Whoopee, Harvard Law! How come none of his friends ever seemed to get stuck in these crazy situations? Because none of them drink like you do, said a little voice floating in from some uninvited whoknowswhere in the back of his brain.
Toby scowled at his reflection and went to turn on the shower. He emerged from the bathroom, still aching and sore, but clean and undoubtedly smelling better. He had been tempted by the luxurious white robe, but thought that might be presumptuous and settled on one of the towels to wrap around his waist.
The moment he left the shelter of the bathroom, he regretted his choice. He felt skinny and vulnerable and stupid, standing there half-naked in front of Chris. Every mark on his body was a screaming indictment of his soft, naive weakness, his inability to take care of himself on the mean streets. Like Chris. Like a man. But Chris seemed unaware of Toby's inner distress, handing him a fresh white t-shirt and a pair of navy blue sweatpants.
"Um—" Toby was about to politely decline, but an audible growl answered from his belly before he could reply.
"You dress, I'll go get us something," Chris said with a smile. He dug a wad of bills from his pocket and flipped through them as though doing a quick mental tally.
Toby knew he was staring at the money, knew it probably wasn't a good idea, but he couldn't seem to stop.
"Rolled a drunk for it," Chris said, glancing up. Toby felt his face burn as Chris laughed. "A different drunk, I swear. Pizza okay?"
Toby raked a hand distractedly through his wet hair. It was impossible to know when, if, and how much truth was contained in anything Chris said. He decided to just not worry about it.
"Yeah, that sounds perfect. Thanks."
After dressing, Toby wandered around the main room. Aside from the funky green club chair and chipped end table, the only other furniture was an ugly brown five-drawer chest that must have had twenty coats of paint on it (three drawers stuck, the other two were empty), and the slightly saggy twin bed in the back corner.
There was an ancient kitchenette against one wall—empty. No phone. No television. No mail. No stuff, except a medium-sized gym bag on the floor, which Toby already knew was filled with the rest of Chris’s clothes. There were the pilfered toiletries in the bathroom too, but all in all, the evidence was scant. Then again, it was just as well Toby didn't know him any better, right? What would be the point? When Chris got back, Toby was going to have some desperately needed food, and then he was going home. And that would be it.
The sound of a key scraping in the lock startled Toby out of his thoughts. He panicked until he heard, “It’s just me,” in Chris’s now-familiar voice.
Chris came in and perched the pizza on top of the battered chest of drawers. He rummaged through the pockets of his jacket, producing a small bottle of Tylenol.
“Got you this,” he said, tossing it to Toby.
“Wow, thanks,” Toby said. He hadn't expected Chris to be that thoughtful. He also wondered if the Tylenol had been shoplifted, but ultimately decided he didn’t care. He struggled off the childproof cap, shook four tablets into his palm, and swallowed them dry.
Chris shrugged out of his jacket and opened the lid of the pizza box. Toby’s stomach gurgled loudly as the smell wafted into the room on an inviting curl of steam.
“Guess you left your first dinner behind, huh?”
“Yeah,” Toby said. Under more ordinary circumstances, he might have felt sheepish about being reminded of the whole puking-his-guts out business, but he was too hungry now to care.
“Since you’re company, let’s bust out the good china,” Chris said, industriously ripping away sections of the pizza box lid to use as plates. He dragged a slice of pizza onto a ragged square of cardboard and handed it to Toby before tearing off another slice for himself.
They sat on the bed to eat. Toby wolfed down his first slice with near-absolute concentration, looking up only when Chris waved an open can of 7-Up under his nose. Toby accepted the can with a nod, imagining his mother’s mortified voice in his head (Tobias!) chastising him for bolting his food like a wild animal. Well, no, he thought, almost choking on a laugh as he gulped soda—she would have fainted clean away several hours ago upon seeing his drunk-ass, bloody self lying in that alley.
“Good?” Chris asked.
“This might be the best fucking pizza I’ve had in my life,” Toby said, folding the last piece of crust inelegantly into his mouth.
Chris grinned and took the piece of cardboard from Toby’s lap, brushing his hand against Toby’s leg in a way that felt more deliberate than strictly necessary. Most guys considered the thigh region on another guy to be a no-fly zone, but Chris had been totally nonchalant about it. Hmm...although, Toby had to admit to himself, it might have just been wishful thinking. And how was that for weird? But he'd caught himself having unexpected reactions to Chris several times now, ever since that moment on the roof of the Chinese laundry.
Of course, no one had ever saved Toby’s life before, so he supposed a certain amount of confusing feelings were natural, but still...this was weird. Because most of the things he was responding to were kind of physical. In fact, it was the same pattern of internal indicators he’d learned to gauge when he was hitting it off with some girl at a party and his prospects for getting laid seemed above average.
Toby was relieved when Chris handed the “plate” back to him, loaded with another slice of pizza. At least there was nothing confusing about that. He nodded his thanks and tore off a bite that would have left his mother appalled. Good thing she’d fainted.
“So.” Chris leaned back against the headboard and gave Toby an appraising look. “You’re going to be lawyer, huh?”
“Oh, yeah.” Toby took another bite of pizza. “Supposed to be.”
“Supposed to be?” Chris smiled. “Not what you want.”
“Well...no. I mean, yes.” Toby swallowed. “My dad. The firm. I have to—”
“Want to join it,” Toby corrected, frowning.
“Hey pal, it ain’t me you gotta convince.”
Chris’s smug, knowing expression said he had Toby all figured out. What really burned, was the realization that he was probably right.
“Oh, and you just do everything you want?” Toby snapped. “You wanted to be in jail?”
Chris laughed. “Fuck, no.”
Toby’s pique subsided, sidetracked again by curiosity. He turned the 7-Up can slowly in his hands. “Am I allowed to ask?”
“Whatever. Robbery gone sideways. No one was supposed to get hurt, but...”
Chris nodded. “I got ten, they let me out after five.”
“Five years? Holy shit. You don’t look old enough to have...”
Chris took the soda can from him. “I was seventeen.”
“Jesus.” Toby tried to wrap his brain around that. “When I was seventeen, the only thing I worried about was whether I was going to have to take the SATs a second time.”
“Life is rough all over,” Chris said with a grin.
“Fuck. Chris, I’m...” Toby didn’t know what to say. Sorry?
Chris shook his head. “Ah, that whole mess, man...pretty stupid.”
“Being in on the robbery.” Toby nodded sympathetically.
“Getting busted.” Chris tossed a crust into the pizza box. “Not a mistake I plan on repeating.”
Toby opened his mouth to comment, then shut it promptly. What the hell, it was probably good practice for when he really was a lawyer.
“How long have you been out?” he asked instead.
“Four days. Nine hours, give or take. I could tell you more exactly but, ya see…” Chris smirked and tapped Toby’s bare wrist. “We got no watch.”
Toby couldn’t believe Chris was actually teasing him about that. “No. No more watch.” He laughed in surprise.
“It’s better when you smile,” Chris said, taking Toby’s cardboard plate and flipping it up onto the dresser.
Toby swallowed hard. He had no idea what to say to that. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself at all. They’d finished eating, he was supposed to leave. He was supposed to want to leave.
Chris got up and stuffed the remains of the pizza box into a brown paper grocery bag near the door. Toby watched him for a moment, still trying to piece together the puzzle.
“Hernandez and his guys, why did you really stop them?”
Chris straightened and turned. He was smiling, but it looked strange.
“I saw you, in the bar. Asshole rich kid with your asshole friends, out slumming. I fucking hate guys like you.”
Toby went stiff as he watched Chris come slowly back to the bed. Jesus. Where had that come from?
“But…" Chris softened his voice, as though sensing that Toby was starting to freak out. "I don't know, there was something that didn’t add up. You were laughing and stuff, but you weren’t really there. Maybe it was seeing you take two drinks for every one your friends had."
“You noticed that?”
“I saw you. You seemed lonely. Sad.”
Toby tried to remember back to the bar, through the noise and smoke and haze of alcohol. “I didn’t—I didn’t see you.”
“You wouldn’t have,” Chris said, shaking his head. “I’ve been keeping a pretty low profile since I got out.”
“So, when my friends and I left the bar, you…followed us?” Toby asked uncertainly.
“Not really.” Chris shrugged. “I mean, I thought about robbing you, myself—just on principle, but Hernandez beat me to it.”
Toby’s jaw dropped. “You were going to—”
“Thought about it,” Chris corrected. “Of course, I wouldn’t have let your friends get away.”
Oh, God. Toby scooted back as far as he could, then realized he was trapped against the wall, in the corner. How stupid was he, anyway? Why the hell was he still here? Why had he come at all? Why hadn’t he left?
“Toby, come on, relax,” Chris laughed, patting Toby’s knee in a way that was probably supposed to be reassuring. “If I’d wanted to mess with you, I would have done it a long time ago already. Right?”
The lump in Toby’s throat subsided a little. Chris did have a point, there. For everything about him that seemed unpredictable and scary, Chris’s actions had been nothing but, well, nice.
“I’m sorry,” Toby managed sheepishly. “I’m just kind of…” He made a helpless gesture.
“Yeah.” Chris nodded. They sat in silence for a moment before Chris said, “That little drinking habit of yours is gonna get you into real trouble one of these days.”
Toby looked at his hands as he twisted them in his lap. He didn’t have much to say to that.
“It’s not even that great,” Chris continued. “I mean, if it’s all you got, okay. But I’ll take blow over booze any day, man. Sweet rush, no pain.”
Toby suddenly became conscious of every ache in his body. The Tylenol had helped, but still…
“No pain, huh? I’ve never actually done coke.”
Chris grinned. “Oh, it’s awesome. And sex, man, is fucking amazing.”
Toby swallowed hard at the mention of sex...
“Got any?” he blurted out.
Chris slid down onto his back, laughing. “No, I don’t have any here.” Then he rolled over onto his side and propped up on one elbow, fixing Toby with that intense blue gaze again. “But if it wasn’t for all this fucking heat on my tail, I’d go out and score you some, just to see what you thought of it.”
“You would?” Toby could barely breathe. He slid down too, until he was lying on his side facing Chris.
Chris nodded and reached out to brush a lock of Toby’s hair back from his face. Toby closed his eyes and leaned into the touch.
“You know what was one of the worst things about being locked up all that time?” Chris asked. Toby shook his head. “There were hundreds of guys I could fuck, and not a single one I wanted to kiss.”
“Kiss me, Toby,” Chris whispered.
So Toby did, leaning in for a hot, sweet brush of lips, then another; opening, the scrape of teeth and then his tongue searching, seeking, finding Chris's, tangling and stroking in a rhythm that matched the heavy thudding of his heart. Whoa.
“I wanted you the moment I saw you,” Chris said when they broke apart.
Toby laughed nervously, ducking his head. “You really were locked up a long time.”
“Don’t do that,” Chris said, pulling him back. “Don’t sell yourself short.”
Toby blew out a breath. “Right.”
“You’re worth something, Toby. I could tell that. I helped you tonight because I wanted you to be able to... go home. Start over tomorrow.“
Chris covered his mouth with another kiss—longer this time, deeper. Toby made a helpless noise in the back of his throat, then just gave up and gave in, letting Chris settle over him. Because really, what the hell?
Nobody knew where he was, or what he was doing. Certainly nobody knew he was with a guy, in a bed, kissing and touching and really, seriously, hopefully, getting off. As far as Tobias Beecher's "real life" was concerned, he was off the grid tonight—not responsible, and more importantly, not accountable, to anyone, or anything. And Chris was here, now. Chris felt solid, and real, and Chris wanted him. Really wanted him—kissing him wet and hot, tinged with a wild edge of something that reached right down into Toby's balls and made him ache.
Chris slid a hand under Toby's t-shirt and Toby groaned and arched up into the touch.
"Like that, huh?" Chris whispered, nuzzling hotly against the skin of his neck. The unexpected rasp of stubble just made it more.
"Yeah." Toby nodded and squirmed as Chris's calloused, capable fingers reached his nipple. He worked his own hands under Chris's shirt, moving cautiously at first, but then there was hot, smooth skin and thick planes of muscle under his fingertips and soon he was digging hard into Chris's back for the sheer feel of it. Toby wasn't even going to try to sell himself on the idea that the covetousness he felt toward Chris's body was simple admiration. Not anymore, not tonight.
Chris's weight felt surprisingly good. Being pressed down, simultaneously overwhelmed and grounded, made it easy somehow, to just go with it. License to get lost in the flood of aggressive sensation washing over him. Chris took Toby's mouth deep and hard, again and again, with a kind of longing that felt incredible, even if it stemmed from a place Toby didn't want to think about too much.
"I got it," Toby panted when Chris reached between them to tug on the waistband of the too-large sweatpants.
He broke away from Chris's mouth just long enough to look down the length of his own body as he shimmied out of the sweats. His shirt was all rucked up around his ribcage exposing a lean torso with pale skin glowing from exertion. His stomach muscles fluttered, tight with anticipation, and his dick...Toby was twenty-one, he got hard all the damned time, but this was hard—flushed, straining, touchmenow hard. Wow. Was that really what he looked like? That was...that was pretty fucking hot. Toby glanced back up at Chris and saw him taking in the same picture, heat and hunger reflected in eyes gone dark with arousal.
"Told you," Chris said with a soft laugh, pushing Toby down onto his back.
Toby went more than willingly. The kissing and groping were all fantastic, but he was ready to move on to the main event now. Chris seemed to agree, sitting back to pull off his shirt in a move that was still sexy for all its haste. The jeans went next, and then they were rolling together again on the narrow bed, bodies fitting together, skin on skin this time.
Toby felt a wild thrill at the hot, hard press of Chris's dick against his hip. He was really doing this, wasn't he? Clutching at Chris's back as they began to move—a slow roll at first, then finding a rhythm as sweat and precome slicked the way for a harder, faster, dirtier grind.
"Fuck," Toby gasped, closing his eyes as the sweet pressure began to build.
"Yeah, you're close," Chris breathed into his ear. "You gonna come for me, Toby?"
Toby nodded wordlessly, sliding his hands down to Chris's ass, pulling him in harder, finding more friction, shoving up against him frantically, desperately, out of control, until the tension in his body surged impossibly, then released; blooming out into long, hot, wet pulses of gorgeous relief.
When Toby opened his eyes, he found Chris looking down at him with a satisfied smile.
"Shut up," Toby laughed, giving Chris's ass a smack. Chris wiggled against him, and Toby felt a distinct hardness still poking against his hip. "You done showing off now?"
Chris nodded, eyes darkening as he lowered his head to Toby's for another kiss. Toby kept his hands on Chris's ass, guiding him as Chris began to move again. Now that the urgency of his own orgasm had passed, Toby tried to concentrate on giving Chris what he needed—kissing him endlessly as Chris ground down against him. Toby felt it when the change hit, when the intensity of Chris's movements suddenly picked up, hips driving harder and faster, pressing Toby down into the ancient mattress.
They were still kissing when Chris came, growling quietly into Toby's mouth. Toby was a little surprised that Chris's pleasure was so low-key. He wasn't sure what he was expecting. Something more flamboyant, maybe—but Chris seemed really happy, rolling off of Toby and flopping down beside him with a contented hum.
So, okay. Good. It was all good. It was actually kind of incredible. Toby let out a yawn and closed his eyes just for a moment, to savor the feeling.
He woke again with a start, panicking until he remembered where he was. Who he was with. He looked down at Chris, sleeping soundly, still stretched out exactly the way he'd been after... Sex. Yeah. Toby ran a hand through his hair, trying to decide exactly what it was that he was feeling, beyond exhausted. Not regret, he knew that much, but... well, what was he supposed to do now?
Get up, he concluded. Quietly and inconspicuously. Get dressed. Find his way home to face the music. Toby carefully sat up, trying to make out the piles of clothing in the gloom of early morning.
“What’re you doing?” Chris’s voice drifted up to him.
“I’m, uh, shouldn’t I...?” Toby wished his instinctive WASP etiquette extended to this situation.
“Sleep.” Chris wrapped a hand around Toby’s wrist and pulled him back down.
Sleep. And Toby was surprised at how good he felt at that one mumbled word. The tension that had been holding him awake drained away. He settled in next to Chris on the narrow bed, and slept.
When Toby opened his eyes again, hard sunlight was streaming through the bare window in the far wall. He had no idea what time it was, or how long he’d slept. His head hurt again, his body ached and popped when he moved, but the got-laid-last-night buzz helped to ease his physical objections.
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.”
A flying t-shirt hit Toby in the face. “Mmmph,” Toby groaned, sitting and rubbing his eyes.
“It’s almost noon. I bet your parents are gonna be pretty worried about you by now,” Chris said. He was already dressed, sitting in the green chair across the room.
“Shit, yeah.” He hadn’t even called them. That wouldn’t normally be a big deal, unless stupid Trevor or Jay had decided to check up on him…. Toby pulled the t-shirt over his head. “I guess I’d better—”
Chris nodded, silently watching him dress. Toby ducked into the bathroom to escape Chris’s scrutiny. He felt impossibly awkward again. His wild night was over, and now it was time to go back to being Tobias Beecher. He wasn’t particularly looking forward to that.
Toby washed up at the rust-stained sink. When he met his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror, it seemed a little odd that he didn’t look any different. He flicked his dripping fingers at the glass and looked at himself again, image now blurred through the water-spots.
Better. It was a start, anyway. He took one last deep breath. Time to get on with it. Time to go home.
Chris walked him to the door.
“Your clothes,” Toby said.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I could bring them back to…. Oh,” Toby said as it dawned on him. “You’ll be gone, won’t you?” Chris just shrugged, which was answer enough. “Where will…What...” The grim reality of Chris’s situation crashed in on him again. “Will you be all right?”
Chris laughed. “I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah. Duh.” Toby looked at the floor and nodded.
Chris slipped a gentle hand under Toby’s chin, tilting his head back up. “How about you?”
“I’m okay.” Toby tried to sound convincing.
“Hmm. Still, it’s kinda rough out there.... Hang on a sec.” Chris turned back into the room, returning with the hunting knife gleaming in his hand. “C’mere, Toby.”
Toby sucked in an involuntary breath as Chris grabbed him by the waist. “Chris, I—”
Chris hauled Toby in closer and covered his mouth with a kiss. Toby thought his heart might quit when he felt cool metal against his hip, the shape of the knife’s blade sliding expertly smooth and flat along the line of his body. Chris broke off the kiss, a wicked smile on his lips. He patted Toby’s side, making minute adjustments to the knife’s handle, now tucked snugly between Toby’s waist and the elastic of his briefs.
“Just a little something to remember me by,” Chris said.
Toby sagged against him, laughing. “I wasn’t likely to forget.”
“Eh, never know with you drinky types.” Toby frowned, and Chris cut him off with another quick kiss. “Go home, Tobe.” Then he laughed. “And make yourself into one kickass lawyer, huh? God knows, I’ll probably need one some day.”
Toby jogged down the narrow flights of stairs, deliciously aware of the knife with every step. By the time he hit the street he was grinning like a madman, and shielding his eyes against the glittering sun, he began to make the long trek back to Broadway.